Policy

Two Wheels Bad

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Facilitator and vehicularist alike are terrrified by digitized walkie-talkies.

Slate's Christopher Beam shines his helmet-light on the question of bicyclists, motorists and traffic laws. 

Today's cycling activists generally split into two groups: "vehicularists" and "facilitators." Proponents of "vehicular cycling" believe bikes should act as cars: occupy full lanes, stop at red lights, use a hand signal at least 100 feet ahead of a turn. That's the best way to make cars—and policymakers—aware of bicycles and to respect them as equals on the road. When it comes to making roads safe for bikes, vehicularists tend to favor training, education (most cities offer bike safety classes), and enforcement. Cyclists should not grouse about moving violations, the vehicularists argue. It is a sign that they're being treated as equals.

Facilitators, meanwhile, say we should change the laws and the environment to recognize the innate differences between bikes and cars. That means special facilities like bike lanes, bike paths (elevated trails separate from the road), and even Copenhagen-style traffic lights for bikes. It would also mean changing car-centric laws that don't make sense for bikes, like the rule that says you need to come to a complete stop at a stop sign.

If I had to pick one of these designations I guess I'd be a vehicularist. Bicyclists who lobby for bike lanes are cattle asking for a taller fence. But I don't think it's a smart move be a pure play of either type. I used to participate in Critical Mass not only for a chance to say "Up Yours, Baby" to The Man but for its forcible reminder that bikes are different from cars, and that as much as you don't want to hit another car you triply don't want to hit a bike (and some part of every driver's heart says "Floor it" whenever he or she sees a bike). In L.A., which has some of the most rambunctious driving in the United States, following a strictly vehicularist routine -- for example, not using the sidewalk to get away from hostile traffic -- would be suicidal.

But the article is about that very ambiguity, and is worth a read.