Monday, July 19, 2010

'The cycling epidemic' — a rebuttal

Posted By on Mon, Jul 19, 2010 at 5:03 PM

The following guest column was written in response to a recent opinion piece by columnist Tara Servatius, titled "Crash test dummies: The cycling epidemic."

As cyclists and cycling advocates who also drive cars when we have to, we read Tara Servatius' tired rant against cyclists with much dismay. In her opinion piece, Servatius ignores the many positives of cycling — both for the individual cyclist and the community as a whole — and engages in a callous stereotyping that plays fast and loose with the facts and fails to meet even the minimum standards of professional journalism.

First of all, Servatius’ comparisons of cycling to what she considers socially unacceptable behavior or risks are weak, illogical and completely out of context.

There really isn’t anything positive to be gained by giving a pregnant woman the H1N1 flu, putting a baby to sleep on her stomach, smoking, or texting while driving. Cycling, on the other hand, benefits individuals and society in general by addressing significant problems, like obesity, air pollution and oil dependency. For example, the Alliance for Biking and Walking recently published a comprehensive benchmarking report (available at which found direct negative correlations between the level of bicycling and walking in all 50 states and obesity, diabetes and blood pressure. In other words, states with higher levels of cycling and walking scored better in all three categories.

Second, cycling isn’t some kind of new fad. We remember when kids could ride their bikes to school, or you could ride your bike to the grocery store without fear of death or serious injury. Government policies and practices have sanctioned bicycles and pedestrians on roadway rights-of-way for many decades with bike lanes, sidewalks, crosswalks and uniform signage. North Carolina law includes “bicycle” in its definition of “vehicle” and, in the Bicycle and Bikeways act of 1974, the North Carolina Department of Transportation recognized bicycling as a “bonafide highway purpose subject to the same rights and responsibilities” as motorized vehicles. More and more people recognize the value of communities not clogged with motor vehicle exhaust, where you can chat with your neighbors while walking or riding to restaurants and stores. Hence, the recent trend towards smart growth and compact, higher density neighborhoods and away from single family, auto dependent cul-de sacs.

Recognizing the needs and demands for safe, alternative transportation, the City of Charlotte has rightly undertaken an assertive policy in recent years to restore the balance among the different modes of travel. Implementing the “Complete Streets” or “Share the Road” concept, city engineers and planners are installing “traffic calming” measures such as narrower lanes, traffic islands, midblock pedestrian crossings, lowered speed limits and even reduced the number of auto designated traffic lanes where justified. This plan is validated by the Urban Street Design Guidelines passed by City Council in 2007. And this concept is not just a local idea; it has the full support of Ray LaHood, the United States Transportation Secretary.

There is no reason all modes of transportation cannot safely share our various avenues of transport. It just requires everyone using courtesy and common sense — drivers and cyclists alike. We know people whose only way to get to work is by bicycle. Would Servatius suggest banning them, too? Or banning kids from riding their bikes to their friends’ houses? The occasional cyclist who takes up a lane for safety reasons — and who might delay Servatius momentarily — is someone’s parent, spouse, grandparent, brother, or sister. Point is, cyclists are normal, everyday people, and making the roads safer for them makes the roads safer for everyone.

Servatius’ piece substitutes “shock” journalism for responsible discussion. Let’s have some constructive dialogue on this topic within an established legal and behavioral framework, one that strives towards balance instead of protracted combat. Stereotyping, sensationalism and distortion have no place in a dialogue over matters of life and death.

Ann Groninger, Attny.

Martin Zimmerman

Executive Director, Charlotte Area Bicycle Alliance

Melissa Bell

Inside/Out Sports — cycle shop

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