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Please Don’t Kill Me; I’m Just Riding My Bike

A Reply to Frank Hotchkiss


At this critical juncture in the history of humanity on Planet Earth, many cities are trying to reduce vehicular traffic and promote alternative transportation: mass transit, walking, cycling. Looking around, you’ll see that our communities have thriving bike cultures. Count the bike shops; from Carpinteria to Goleta we have many, with more coming. Visit SBCC and UCSB, and note the bicycle traffic; students, faculty, and staff don’t ride their bikes exclusively on campus. Up and down State Street, you’ll see bike riders, day and night, including low-wage employees on bicycles for whom driving to work is not an option.

So many bike riders, yet we have a limited bicycle infrastructure. Bike commuters in the Carpinteria/Santa Barbara/Goleta area have few “dedicated” bike paths, most of which are actually multi-use — full of walkers, runners, baby strollers, dogs on leashes, little kids on little bikes or trikes — frequently with uneven and broken surfaces. The so-called “bike paths” are often the least safe place for a cyclist. And the alternative is city streets, riding on the far right, as close to the gutter as you can, the part of the road where all the nasty debris ends up, further degraded by the often sloppy patchwork done after sewer/cable projects.

Some drivers assume a white line painted on the road margin marks a bike lane, but such a line is properly called a fog line, there to help drivers see the edge of the road. It does not create a bike lane. The mistaken assumption of a bike lane causes drivers to resent the cyclists for getting in “their” road. Even when there is a designated bike lane, staying on the right side of that line may not be the safest path. Drivers generally can’t see the debris or broken asphalt that keeps the cyclist out of the bike lane, leading to more resentment. Every cyclist on the road has terrifying stories about near misses involving either angry and aggressive drivers or oblivious and uncaring ones.

Santa Barbara is already a cycling destination for many professionals training in the Santa Ynez Valley and amateurs enjoying our region’s beauty; it should be a cycling mecca for both residents and our many tourists. Increasing bicycle safety for recreational cyclists, commuters, and kids who bike to school should be a goal, not a burden.

Our town is relatively uncongested (drive around Los Angeles for a reality check). In this gorgeous place, with short commutes and excellent weather, why aren’t more people cycling to work? In short: The roads for cycling are bad, and the traffic is scary. We get little help from local government, and if Mr. Hotchkiss prevails, things will go from bad to disastrous.

Contemplate for a moment life without bike lanes. Unless all those cyclists just disappear, they still will need to ride somewhere. Should that be sidewalks (unwelcome and illegal)? Or streets (legal, but taking up that newly reclaimed traffic lane)? Why is this determination about bike lanes based solely on commuter use? In what world do we ignore errand or pleasure or exercise riders on this almost 200-year-old human-powered conveyance?

Many places lacking the stellar qualities of Santa Barbara support and encourage a functional cycling culture. Minneapolis/St. Paul, not known for its great weather, has year-round bike commuters. New York City has a corporate partner for its exciting commuter bike program. Our nation’s capital and other major cities have rental bikes available everywhere; residents and visitors alike use these bikes. Albuquerque is a very bicycle friendly city; rainy Seattle encourages cycling. Throughout Europe and Asia, cycling is an important mode of mainstream, not alternative, transportation.

Santa Barbara could easily create safe routes, secure bike parking, a bike-share program, and driver education for safety. The city could encourage businesses to provide changing facilities for their bike commuters.

Hotchkiss makes a good if disingenuous point about cyclists obeying the law. But, in reality, how many bike v. pedestrian accidents end as badly as bike v. auto or ped v. auto? If bike lanes are eliminated, cyclists will not just vanish. His idea of driving us backward to the golden age of the automobile — when the car was king, roads were open, resources unlimited, and no one dreamt of anthropogenic climate change — ignores the creative and exciting ways to drag us out of the fossil-fuel-dependent past and get us away from the cars-everywhere dead-end philosophy.

Many ways to gauge public opinion exist: elections, polls, protest marches, town hall meetings, and so on. And if many people attend a bicycle safety meeting to make their feelings known, their opinions should be heard. Don’t discount democracy in action in favor of the unheard feelings of those who don’t bother to show up.

Improving our meager cycling infrastructure will improve our community, make our roads safer, and reduce our carbon footprint. Now is the time to move forward into a more bike-friendly future.

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