This week is the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin's Bike to Work Week. In celebration of this event, OnMilwaukee.com will run new bike-related stories each day.
Last night I finally got around to seeing "X-Men: First Class." There are two decidedly main characters pitted against each other throughout the series. One is Professor X, the wise and kindly mentor of the X-Men. The other is Magneto, who (do I really need to say Spoiler Alert?) eventually succumbs to his darker side and defects from the team to form his own opposing Brotherhood of Mutants.
It would be unfair to label Magneto as the bad guy (perhaps a lapsed good guy?), as his goal is essentially the same as the venerable professor: to create a peaceful world where all can live free. It's just their plan of action is a bit different.
I feel the same dynamic among cyclists. As a whole, bicyclists just want to ride their bikes in peace. Whether they're in training for a race, attempting to save the environment, get in better shape or just get out and enjoy the day, they ultimately just want to feel safe and happy on the roads.
But sometimes it's the plan of action that causes the rift. Some cyclists will argue that everyone should follow the rules of the road and that will ultimately gain the respect from motorists. The others would argue that as long as there is one person acting a fool, motorists will never respect cyclists and the myth of the scofflaw cyclist will continue to perpetuate, so you might as well take advantage of the nimbleness of the bicycle.
While I'm ultimately on Professor X's side, I can't say I entirely blame Magneto's brotherhood. Any time the mainstream media picks up a story about bicycling, commenters come out of the woodwork to complain about how they always see "a cyclist blow through a red light" even though the vast majority of accidents are caused by the motorist (in Canada and Britain, anyway). And those agonizing red lights, particularly in the middle of Downtown at night.
I stop. I look both ways. I open my ears. It is so obvious that the car three blocks down is not going to hit me. And by the time that motorist gets to this light it'll be red anyway. And would I blame the driver if they stopped, looked both ways and advanced slowly against the light like I am tempted to do?
It's a tough decision and, if made unwisely, could be used as fodder against the cause. Bicycling infrastructure funding is often fought against bitterly by the Motorist-Only crowd (should I say the Hellfire Club to stick with the X-theme or would that be a bit mean spirited?) even though providing such guides and paths would corral cyclist behavior much more safely and effectively.
But since we're in a three-way split on how best to handle ourselves on the roads, maybe we can agree on a few easy rules of thumb today to gradually improve our relationships in the road.
1. Cyclists, don't blow through red lights. This is the No. 1 complaint cited by mainstream media commenters. If anything, I'd prefer you not do this just so I can read another, more creative complaint. And don't do that thing where you turn right at an intersection, then do a U-Turn and turn right back onto the road you were just on. That's even more bizarre, confusing and dangerous.
2. Motorists, share the road, don't share the lane. Most of the streets you want to be on will be two lane anyway. Give cyclists their space and they'll feel safer and more gracious for your patience. We'll pay attention at the red lights, you pay attention to the three-foot law. See how this works?
3. Cyclists, don't ride against traffic. It is terrifying and confusing to motorists, and it is more dangerous and unexpected than riding with the flow of traffic. Logic and the law are not on your side if (when?) you get into an accident.
4. Motorists, don't honk (you're already pretty loud back there). There is likely a good reason why we're "in the way." It might be broken glass from a frat boy party, or potholes from a plow party, or we might just feel unsafe in the door zone.
5. City of Milwaukee, stop striping bike lanes in the door zone. And stop striping them on the busiest, scariest streets. Let's start implementing Sharrows on less busy streets instead. They're cheaper to paint, will wear off more slowly and provide a safer, more comfortable, environment.
6. Cyclists, put a bell on your bike, even your race bike. Like it or not, cycling is a social engagement and a even when you're whipping down the Oak Leaf Trail at 30 mph it's hard not to smile when you hear that ring of acknowledgment and encouragement. We're lucky: our mode of communication is much more friendly than a car horn.
7. Motorists, get on your bikes and ride through the city once a week, even if it's only for a few minutes at lunch so you can gain an understanding of what is happening on the streets. Cyclists have a greater understanding of motorist behavior because most cyclists drive periodically. Most motorists probably have a bike, but that same user frequency is lacking. You'll begin to see why choices made in the streets are not always black and white.
Do these seem reasonable enough that we can all agree upon? Do you have any more suggestions on which all three teams can mutually agree? Normally these things end in volcanic vitriol, so the more light-hearted you can express yourself the better off we'll be. After all, we're all people underneath and our ultimate goal is peace.
Jason McDowell grew up in central Iowa and moved to Milwaukee in 2000 to attend the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.
In 2006 he began working with OnMilwaukee as an advertising designer, but has since taken on a variety of rolls as the Creative Director, tackling all kinds of design problems, from digital to print, advertising to branding, icons to programming.
In 2016 he picked up the 414 Digital Star of the Year award.
Most other times he can be found racing bicycles, playing board games, or petting dogs.