Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Road N--ers Pushed to the Margins

Happy Valentines Day.

Oh and by the way, while you're at it, get off the road, stop talking on the phone and soon I will have the right to arrest you for having something to drink before you got on the bike.

We all know about the first item: as Steve Faust of ebikes referred to cyclists, we are the "Marginal People". We are now accustomed to being pushed off roads that don't even give us space to ride in the first place. There are no shoulders, no designated lanes, and no rights on most roads.

To add to the indignity, drivers are known to tell us to "get off the road you f--ing idiot," we've had beer bottles and sodas thrown at us, and 6-foot, 200-pound males on bicycles have been literally pushed off the road --in what is called "buzziing"---with the massive, 3-ton steel vehicles. Never mind that we are forced to wear helmets for our own good, even though head injuries sustained inside cars are one of the leading causes of death in car accidents.

But now a new draconian law is being considered in the New Jersey legislature that will limit even further the rights that we (don't) have: to fine us for using a phone while on a bicycle.

This was reported on WCBS radio in late January: "A legislative committee has approved a bill that would make it illegal for people to use a hand-held telephone while riding a bicycle on a public road. Hands-free devices would be allowed and lawbreakers would face fines ranging from $100 to $250."

The bill was sponsored by Assemblyman Jon Bramnick who said "the measure is meant to protect bicyclists and the people they may strike when riding and yakking at the same time," according to WCBS. The bill still needs to be okayed by the full legislature.

While the law is being hotly debated in the media, all the fine rational people who know nothing about cycling have trotted out the statistic that 25 percent of cycling accidents have "involved alcohol".

Even though the statistics say nothing about whether the alcohol had to do with the cyclist's death (funny I can't imagine even a drunk cyclist plowing themselves into a car--but maybe I lack imagination). But those same febril statistics will of course be used to limit now whether we can drink and ride a bicycle, as is exists in many U.S. states already.

On the face of it, these seem like reasonable propositions. Why should anyone ride while on the phone, or drunk? But the reality is this: Everyday people in cars drive while on the phone--and drive drunk-- and no-one stops them. One reason, they can't be easily seen. But a person on a bike, out in the open? Easy to spot, easy to stop.

The fact that the phone-talking laws in New York and New Jersey are rarely if ever enforced is doubly injurious to cyclists who would be hit by those very same people as they drive glassy-eyed straight into us.

Many people also drive drunk--all the time, and never get caught. They don't even get put in jail when they kill a cyclist or pedestrian. Alcohol testing at the scene of a crime is required, but if the officers on the scene do not have a breathlyzer, it doesn't get done. And don't get me started about the Breath Alcohol Content (BAC) that you are allowed to have while driving which is currently at 0.8 in most states--way higher than most countries (in Japan it's zero--zero point zero). Still, the fact is, more cyclists and pedestrians are killed by dangerous and careless drivers than drunk drivers by a factor of more than five to one--and they never even see a jail cell, and in most cases, even a ticket.

In this context it is the ultimate perversion to now start targeting cyclists when our talking on the phone will only be a danger to ourselves, and not to others. The fact that we will be easily spotted, -- and more likely ticketed--adds to an already long list of abrogated rights.

In other words, we're Road N--ers. I am sorry, I have to use the word. It's like stripping "rights" from an African American down south before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Do I dare say, it feels like we are not only sitting in the back of the bus, but rather, we're not even being picked up at the bus stop (no room on the road for us); we're being spit on as the bus passes, and then we're being ticketed for walking down the street and minding our own damn business.

Just to refresh your memory--the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which was passed by the U.S. legislature, Sec. 201. states: (a) All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.

They need to add, "without discrimination or segregation on the ground of vehicle use."

I realize it is not accurate or even fair to compare the treatment of cyclists to the hundreds of years of slavery and brutal subjugation of African Americans. But can you point to any single class of people other than cyclists that is currently not afforded the same rights as others on the road? Yes immigrants and others of color are routinely stopped, frisked and arrested at rates far surpassing the rate they are breaking laws. But at least in theory when they drive on the road--in a car--they are guaranteed a space--and a right--to be there. They can drive from point A to point B without fearing that every car that comes up behind them may be the last. That is what it is like to ride on most roads in New Jersey and New York--where you must resign yourself when you leave the house that you may not return that day.

Okay, maybe the southern civil rights comparison is a bit of a stretch, but perhaps it is not a stretch to say that we have become Road N--ers in the most brutal sense of the word. And our continued subjugation by additional laws--before we have even achieved the most singular of rights--space on the road that is safe and continuous--is a downright travesty of human rights, a perversion of what is right and wrong, and a waste of the New Jersey legislature's time.

Let's see them legislate space on every single local road first, stop drivers from drivng dangerously, and then we'll welcome --with open arms--every single ridiculous attempt to further enhance our safety by eliminating our rights.

(Use Road Noodlers in Place of Road N--ers and you have the same meaning.)