As experienced by most, maturation has increased my tolerance for attitudes and actions that heretofore set my teeth on edge. I now accept that there are those who differ from me politically, philosophically and socially. I have learned to tolerate (barely) the cacophonous and obnoxious bass noises emanating from automobile radio; the March Madness of Dick Vitale; 9th Street, intersection and off-ramp panhandlers; Al Gore; TV pitchman Billy Mays; the Dallas Cowboys and, most recently, KU students and alumni.
When it comes to bicycles, however, I am sorry to say my acceptability quotient has bottomed out. Please belay that — I have nothing against bicycles per se. I have owned many, beginning with a balloon-tired Monkey Ward's Hawthorne in 1944 and progressing through multi-speed and mountain varieties for me and my three sons. Biking is a health-friendly exercise as well as a fun and economical means of transportation — weather and road conditions permitting.
The problem I am beginning to experience is not with bicycles, but rather with cyclists and some of their elitist attitudes. It is not unlike an observation of one I know, who, after visiting France, opined “Paris would be a good place to spend a vacation if not for those darn Parisians.” Translated, one might observe “If not for cyclists, the bicycle would be an acceptable mode of transport.”
Before a mob of two-wheeled enthusiasts comes for me with tar, feathers and a fence rail, let me make it clear that most of the cyclists I observe are safety-conscious, road-sharing, law-abiding and courteous. As does the motorized population, they have their share of scofflaws, cowboys, maniacs and idiots who menace the roads and highways. However, the $25 million federal grant awarded the city of Columbia for a non-motorized pilot project to make the city more bike- and pedestrian-friendly has created a cultist atmosphere among a segment of the bikers, resulting in an “us vs. them” confrontation with automobiles.
Along with many Columbia residents, I am skeptical of the propriety of committing taxpayer monies to a transportation project of this magnitude when so many of the streets and sidewalks are in such a sorry state of repair. As an example of misdirected priorities, the painting of the cute little bicycle symbols and the marking of bike lanes may be aesthetically pleasing but, are a complete waste of funds — cyclists who require traffic directional markings and lanes have no business riding in traffic. And, it would appear the designers failed to consider that streets might need resurfacing, thus wiping out the markings.
I am also skeptical of the proposed green-striped turn lanes, bicycle-only streets, conversion of high-traffic intersections and, particularly, a proposal for back-in rather than parallel parking on Ash Street. The accrual of traffic jams and dings and dents caused by reverse-challenged motorists to prevent an obscure happenstance of a cyclist colliding with an open door seems a bit hard to digest.
But the last straw is the ill-conceived, just-passed Columbia City Council ordinance making it a class A misdemeanor to harass cyclists by throwing objects, honking or shouting for the purpose of frightening, disturbing or threatening them. While no one in his or her right mind could possibly condone hurling missiles, does it not appear somewhat odd to afford cyclists a special standing not available to us motorists? Why, may I ask, is it acceptable to yell at and honk one’s horn at a motor-vehicle operator who has executed a knucklehead stunt but not cricket for a miscreant cyclist?
This ordinance all but elevates the disturbing of cyclists to hate crime status. In my opinion, the council has, in overreacting to the plaint of a few prima donna bikers, created an “Animal Farm” environment in which, though all vehicles are equal, some are now more equal than others. We are all, or should be, adults. As motorists must realize the streets must be shared with the non-motorized, cyclists must also be aware that some streets are far from bike-friendly, particularly during peak traffic hours.
Additionally, bikers should understand that riding in tandem at 12 mph is not going to win many friends among motorists when the posted speed limit is 30 or 40 mph. Columbians have no problem with the city’s designation as bike- and pedestrian-friendly; nevertheless, achieving this status to the detriment of motorists is both arrogant and shortsighted. When one considers the demographics of Columbia and Boone County, the percentage of those who can even consider biking or walking as a primary transportation mode is quite small.
Finally, if cyclists really wish to become equal partners in our traffic, perhaps they would agree to become licensed operators along with purchasing a bicycle license and insurance?
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.