Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Twin Cities Braces for the RNC of 2008

You must read this article by Peter Smith in the Huffington Post where he describes what happened at the August 31 critical mass in Minneapolis, MN.

(Minnesota happens to be the state where the Benepe's progressed to, down from Canada, back a couple of generations, before Grandpa Bob Benepe hoofed it over to Queen Anne, Maryland and Grammercy Park, NYC.)

Smith does a terrific job scaring the hell out of us New Yorkers who saw it all happen in 2004 when we hosted "those people", who turned our city into a hell of over-reactive police and divisiveness--a state of affairs that under ordinary conditions were quite different.

Prior to the RNC coming to the city in 2004, Critical Mass in the city was a casual affair, with the Big Blues accompanying us on rides through the streets, and even good-naturedly holding up car traffic so we could ride through unencumbered. Then it was just part of the job, some sweet overtime that allowed them to get the wind in their hair on police scooters.

Then came the glare of those radical rightists with their disapproving inferences, and suddenly it was 'clamp down' time! Not only did they make war in Iraq, but they made war on our own darn streets!

We haven't been the same since, and it looks like Minneapolis is about to face a similar transformation. We progressed from massive arrests in September 2004, to a monthly face off between police and cyclists on the last day of every month, with bitter feelings in both directions, lawsuits, and the introduction of an ante-upping parade law by the NYPD, engendered by thinly disguised "terrorism" readiness.

Smith describes Minneapolis' Critical Mass group as a little past their prime with nothing but a Yahoo message board and some sidewalk stencil action. But the monthly ride went seriously wrong at one point, and 48 officers from 6 different law enforcement agencies descended on the group and pepper-sprayed and arrested 19 people, including 16-year-old Annie. She said the police told her to "get moving" which she did, but got arrested anyway, and watched as the police tried to find something to charge her with--by her own account, on Google. Not able to find anything they left a blank space next to Probable Cause.

In the end, her Probable Cause never got filled in, and her case could be dropped, but the incident "radicalized" her she said., and will probably skip school for the next "mass".

And judging by Annie's firm determination, I have a feeling her city is in for more of a fight than New York was.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What to do or say on this day

Today is forever etched in our memories. Of course, for those of us who were living on 9/11/2001. Just as with World War II survivors and possibly their children, collective memories fade with the generations as they pass away. I spoke with a young cyclist whose relatives were inked with numbers in German concentration camps. But he does not hold the vibrant hate and fear of Germans that no doubt his relatives might.

So this memory too will pass one day.

But for now, this is a good time to remember not just the people who died, or the people who loved them. These were all good people, no matter how complicated their lives, no matter their faults, or which paths they decided to take. Each person is born with goodness in their hearts, and a chance to live a beautiful life.

Personally--and this does come down to the subjective sooner or later--I do not believe in fate. I do believe in chance and luck, and sad events that we cannot prevent. Life is a very fragile thing that we will not have forever and that can disappear at any moment. It is important therefore to treat all people with love and kindness, and to forgive whatever weaknesses they might have. They will not be here forever.

But the fragility of life is one of the reasons why I write Benepesbikeblog--because when we as cyclists go out on the road, our risk factor is multiplied by 1,000. We become statistics, either of the past or the future, and our chances of living are entered in a probability table that is far different from that of the driver behind the wheel of the vehicle.

There is no doubt that the heinous crime of the Arab hijackers on 9/11 is one of the single most evil events that ever took place in the U.S., or anywhere.

But we must also stay strong and focused in recognition that in 2002, the year after 9/11, more than 42,000 people died in the U.S. in car crashes. This number has stayed more or less the same since 2000.

Says the site, Car-accidents.com, "About 115 people die every day in vehicle crashes in the United States -- one death every 13 minutes."

Unlike 9/11, these are preventable deaths for the large part, but their prevention is ignored day to day by federal and local departments of transportation who ignore the basics of traffic calming road design and ignore the need for bike lanes; lax lawmakers who do not create tougher accident (incident) laws and don't force their DOT's to create better bike infrastructure; port authorities who ignore our essential national right to cross bridges on foot or by bike; police who chase down drug dealers over errant car drivers; car companies who manufacture faster and faster cars and portray their cars in ads zooming down empty streets where people do not, and need not exist; and the irresponsible people who drive too fast and without care.

What's worse, studies have shown that motorists are more likely to be at fault in the death of a cyclist or pedestrian . The excellent site, BicycleUniverse.info tells it like it is (and they refer to some very respected studies by Charles Komanoff's organization, Right of Way):

Motorists usually at fault. Motorists are exclusively at-fault in 60% of car-bike collisions, vs. 17% for cyclists. (League of American Bicyclists). Drivers are at fault in almost 90% of pedestrian and bicyclist deaths in New York. In over 90% of pedestrian fatalities, the driver is male. (RightOfWay.org, 1999)

Most at-fault motorists who kill cyclists and pedestrians get off the hook. A study by the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition shows that three out of four at fault drivers were never even cited for hitting and killing pedestrians. 22% of fatal pedestrian crashes involved hit and run drivers, yet, none of the runaway motorists were found or charged. In New York, 70-92% of drivers were at-fault in killing pedestrians and cyclists, but 74% didn't even get a ticket. (RightOfWay.org, 1999) The story in Austin is similar.

This is a silent epidemic, that is allowed to continue on and on, without the nationwide commemoration for the lives suddenly snuffed out. These lives were as valuable, as significant, as beautiful, as all the lives of those who died on 9/11.

We must continue to help protect, and work towards securing a better future for ourselves in this all important area--that is neglected day by day in the media, by President George Bush--whose emphasis has been on generating more sources of oil to fuel ever-increasing car traffic, rather than more bike paths-- and by so many of us.

This is a day to recognize the need to redouble our efforts to make our nation a safer place to ride, a safer place to walk, and a safer place to live. Not with bomb searches, traffic stops, and taller walls to keep immigrants out--but with more bike lanes, greater penalties for hitting cyclists and pedestrians, more traffic enforcement, inter-traffic modalities such a bike-carrying buses, seamless bike networks across bridges and state lines, and a wholescale change of focus on what is important.

I would like to hear what you think. In the meantime, do something!!
Courtesy of Greenpeace, here is an easy way to do that. This tool allows you to write to your Congressperson and then automatically copy specific news outlets.