2007-05-12

Civil disobedience on bicycles

There has been a little back-and-forth in the letters page of the Athens Banner-Herald about the Critical Mass bicycle rides. Leslie Bacastow said that the latest event was promoting anarchy; Justing Manglitz responded that the writer should have "empathy" with cyclists and that anarchy is misunderstood.

Let's tell it like it is: When cyclists ride through red lights, alone or en masse, they are breaking the law (assuming no parade permit and police escort). If the Critical Mass rides are a response to "rude or aggressive drivers," then they are only a childish tit-for-tat response. They are an act of civil disobedience. The old saying is that two wrongs don't make a right.

The Critical Mass is a different event than the Courteous Mass organized by the Bike Athens group. "These rides are different from Critical Mass in that they follow a planned route and follow state traffic laws," says their web site (emphasis added). Perhaps the Critical Mass should be called the Discourteous Mass. None of these "masses," of course, have anything to do with a celebration of the Eucharist.

3 comments:

Tim said...

I have been reading that exchange with interest. I am not a cyclist, so maybe I don't understand all the nuances of biking in Athens. However, blocking traffic/intersections just because you can seems like an 'asshole-ish' thing to do. Are they just trying to make motorists mad? I read the position that the actions were taken to raise awareness among drivers of the presence of cyclists. What I think is really at play here is just plain old inconsiderate boorishness. Some folks never grew out of that stage of youth it seems.

LeslieB. said...

I am the one and only Leslie Bacastow and all I have to say is that I think it's pretty goddamn funny that people are actually bent out of shape by my editorial because when it really comes down to it, they were breaking the law. It doesn't matter if they did it to voice their opinion. I had the right of way plain and simple. But the funniest part? That people are pissed that I exercised my right to free speech. I don't have a problem with cyclists at all. It's great exercise. I really just wish they would obey traffic laws. Yes, I know people complain about cyclists A LOT in Athens, but I'm not the bad guy. It's kind of like how the majority of America hates Muslims when, in actuality, Muslims are peaceful people and Christ is mentioned more in the Koran then Mohammad. Point is, it only takes a few bad apples to ruin it for the rest of the bunch. In other words, don't blame me because I complained about some law-breaking cyclists. I didn't do anything wrong. If I were a cyclist, I would go after the ones in the area that give cyclists a bad name because right now you can ride on the roads, but the nifty thing about laws is that they can be changed.

Nicki said...

Leslie, as a cyclist I am a bit miffed over some aspects of your note and totally pleased with others.

First, you'd no sooner see me at a Critical Mass ride than at a riot. They have a similar anarchic ethos, and I just want to ride my bike in safety and happiness. I ride to work, I ride home and to my barn, and I even pick up groceries on my bike. I do have a car, but the benefits to me and to society are pretty significant, and so I ride or walk when I can.

Second, I don't understand where you stand on your view of cyclists as a whole. I understand that you were interrupted by a rude, inconsiderate group of some cyclists, but then there's that comment about laws being rewritten -- any laws being rewritten would affect all cyclists based on an infrequent occurrence involving a small number of people whose purpose is to irritate motorists. Which is, of course, ridiculous.

Don't misunderstand me. I am not "going after" you and I have no means or inclination to "go after" people who I do not know, am not responsible for, and share nothing with other than the inclination to get from point a to point b on a bicycle. In my opinion there are some simple changes that could improve bicycle/car interactions -- like making the laws less prone to individual judgment and making the laws appropriate to the practical exigencies of bike travel. And there is definitely a need to make bike/car interactions safer and better, not just for those of us who can opt to ride our bikes, but for all people who ride bikes, some of whom need access to that form of transportation and have no other option, and for those who would like to ride their bikes but are afraid to or otherwise uncertain that they can do so safely. But we're not really talking about the bigger problem, are we? We're talking about a small group of anarchists, and there's very little you or I can do to address their behavior.