Advocacy 101

The purpose of this document is to explain my bicycle advocacy efforts.

The situation as it is: overall, I think that cycling, especially in big cities like San Diego, is currently the best option for most transportation situations. I can get to the beach, work, and social events by bicycle. Last weekend, I rode about ten miles one way to play Dungeons and Dragons.

Thus, I currently do not own an automobile because I have no need for one. I have the option of renting one, but I never do this.

For me the benefits of cycling include a bonus of thousands of dollars which makes cycling a great stimulus package that happens every year. Cycling is the gift that keeps on giving.

Additionally, cycling gives me a general feeling of accomplishment and well being. It keeps me in reasonably good shape. It gives me a feeling of connectedness with the city and with other people.

There are other benefits of cycling that I don’t like to talk about too much which are externalized benefits which means that they help other people. I consider them to be part of the “bicycle bonus” but aren’t the original reasons for riding. That is, cycling is better for the environment in many ways. It’s less noisy and doesn’t cause smelly pollution that we all try to escape by “geting away from it all” which really means escape from problems caused by too many autos in one place.

Cycling means less traffic, thus the more people who cycle the quicker motorists can get places. A lower demand on fuel means that fuel prices are lower when people cycle more.

Then there’s the whole global warming and future oil depletion. Exploring these issues is an exercise for the reader.

The reason I don’t like to talk too much about these latter issues is that they are too abstract for many people and require a certain understanding of science. Plus, one can sound a bit preachy and pompous, and I’d like to get away from that.

For me, number one in cycling is that it’s fun and practical. These considerations outweigh all others for me.

So why not just enjoy cycling and forget about the advocacy?

I’m often tempted to do just that, but I feel a small amount of fear that things will change for the worse. In a bicycle, you are too often made aware at how much your commute is controlled by people who live very far away from you and do not know you. That is “traffic engineers”. I fear that a couple of lines on a piece of paper and my commute will be ruined. This has happened before.

I especially fear traffic engineers because they have much different goals than I do, for them most part. Their overwhelming obsession is moving a large volume of autos from one place to another. This is harmful to me because vehicles that drive too fast make cycling much more dangerous and challenging. Speed kills.

It also makes things more noisy, smelly, less fun, and everyone, including motorists, wind up frazzled and stressed out. They don’t call it road rage for nothing. I believe that road rage is literally caused by road design, and the mentality behind these designs, which is obsessed with speed over tranquility and happiness. I think that this is wrong because it’s a highly unbalance view of life. It’s certainly simpler to just wish to maximize one variable, “speed”, but then we lose sight of what made motoring pleasant in the first place which is comfort, tranquility, and luxary. Being moved around like a rat in a maze is not luxurous–it’s stressful and harmful to people.

I have seen the nicest people in the world get highly angry over the movement of other vehicles as seen through their windshield. I’d prefer to live in a world that strives to bring out the best in people, and I think that cycling (and other transportation options) can be a big part of this dream.

An additional impediment to this dream is the other side of the through street which is the “residential street” model which is also harmful. When motorists are home, they have a good intiutive grasp of the damage that too many autos
cause which is why one hand they try to maximize their own speed at great public cost, but they also try to minimize speed and traffic in front of their own homes.

While this is understandable in the short term, in the long term, it hurts all of us because the lack of options puts more traffic on the through streets which in turn needs to move faster for people to get anywhere. These streets are more expensive to maintain because there is more wear and tear. They are less hospitaable to cyclists. Plus, there is a danger in case of emergency to having few options in case one street is blocked.

To sum it up, I have a little bit of fear that I will not be represented when decisions are made regarding road design.

My second reason for bicycle advocacy is that I’d like to share the benefits that I have had from cycling.

Often advocacy consists of “raising awareness” or “changing minds and hearts.” I have little interest in either activity because if people aren’t aware of the benefits of cycling by now, I’m not the one to change their minds. I feel that it’s pretty self-evident.

I also don’t like to change people’s minds. I used to go that route, and I have discovered for me the route to madness. In general, I feel that people have their minds made up. If you disagree with the last statement, ask yourself how willing you are to change your mind and agree with me that few people are willing to change their minds?

I didn’t think so.

So what is my advocacy all about?

I decided to look at organizations that had a powerful impact on the American landscape. I won’t itemize them, because there are so many, and the winners are so clear, but I would like to talk about their techniques that work.

Of course, anything that is unethical, I will not pursue.

But anything else is up for grabs.

My first idea is political endorsements. Successful organizations back candidates that are sympathetic to their interests.

Second, I am a member of the San Diego Bicycle Coalition.

Also, I am listening a great deal–attending meetings, asking fellow cyclists what would make them happier, and discovering what prevents current motorists from cycling.

As to the latter issue, the thing that comes up over and over again is bicycle specific infrastructure improvements. Thus, I am focusing on this issue.

The questionnaire that I sent to City Hall has some questions pertaining to the council member’s attitudes on infrastructure.

Aside from infrastructure, I have a strong opinion with regards to our freedom of mobility, which is actually taking a page from the AAA. They would like to restrict cycling and pedestrian activity because they feel that it takes money
away from “mobility”. I believe that while they are correct in their advocacy towards greater mobility, they are mistaken to artificially restrict our choices.

I believe that the AAA has good reasons for limiting competition for the industries that they support. But I do not think that the AAA’s policies benefit the country, as stated above.

I’d like to reclaim the notion of mobility in a more broad fashion. That is, I believe that in a free country like our own, freedom of mobility should be our right. If we want to get to work by bicycle, auto, foot, or by bus, we should
be allowed to. I think that we can’t have a truly free market if there’s consistantly only one option.

What we have now is akin to a communist store where there’s only one flavor of cheese. Often, we have only a single flavor of transportation.

Having more choice will actually reduce costs because in monetary (and environmental terms) motoring is the least efficient mode of transportation.
Think about it, what could possibly cost more than each person encasing themselves in several tons of plastic and steel and the energy to move all that around.

I am not against motoring, but I do not feel that it has been given a fair place in the market. I feel that we should have a more free market for transportaion options by having more choice.


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