OTEC is the annual Conference for Ohio Traffic Engineers. It’s a “big deal” at the Convention Center in Columbus each year as hundreds of traffic engineers, planning professionals, industry representatives, professors and others meet to watch experts present on a variety of topics. Through the efforts of some concerned bike advocates, there was a half day of “Bike” stuff presented as one of the seminar/conference options for attendees. I was asked to speak on “Bike Law” of all things.
Instead of speaking about legal research and cases and such dry mumbo jumbo stuff, I decided to speak about “UNDERSTANDING THE DNA of the CYCLING ADVOCATE.” From this title, I argued that transportation professionals who had a role in deciding and planning and designing and implementing bike lanes, sharrows, bike trials and city bike plans, these people needed to know a bit about the “DNA” or make-up of those lycra-clad Bike Advocacy fanatics who have been screaming at them!
I was watching my dog get ready for a nap the other night. As he prepared to lie down, he circled several times on the carpet. Virtually every I’ve ever seen does this. We had a brief discussion of why, and my contribution was the thought that buried deep in my pup’s DNA is some sort of reason for this. Maybe dogs long ago had to mat down the tall grass and weed before tehy could comfortably lie down, or maybe they picked a spot inthe tall grass because it hid them well from predators. Whatever the initial cause, the need to circle still exists in most dogs.
To take a look at what’s in the DNA of a Cycling Advocate, I begin with a story about a car crash. The crash happened on Memorial Day in New York City. Tens of thousands of people were riding their bikes. We were in the middle of a Bike Boom & bikes were everywhere. Cosmopolitan magazine was sponsoring a car race through the city streets. During the race a driver, Henry Wells, lost control, zigzagged around and ran into a vehicle operated by Ms. Evelyn Thomas. Mr. Wells was arrested by police as Ms. Thomas was rushed to a local hospital where she was diagnosed with a leg fracture…
A Ho Hum story, you say… well, perhaps but I left out 3 key points…
1. The crash occurred on Memorial Day in 1896!
2. This was the FIRST recorded vehicle crash in the U.S.
3. Ms. Evelyn Thomas’s vehicle of choice was a “Columbia” – one of the finest bicycles available at the time~!
In 1896, “The Law” had not caught up with technology. In fact, there were no laws governing “motor cars.” However, New York’s courts decided and held that a bicycle was a “vehicle” and the operator had to follow vehicle rules. The New York Times said, in an 1896 editorial, that”…since bicycles had been declared by the courts, they should be declared by statute entitled to the privileges and subje t to the duties of wheeled traffic.” Later, New York’s first Vehicle Code was written and included in the definition of a “vehicle” was a “bicycle.”
Ms. Thomas’s First Crash, and the work of the courts and legislature recognizing the right of a person to operate a bicycle on the roadway all comprises a section of the DNA of a Cycling Advocate. These historical victories instill an inherent sense of BELONGING on the roadway.
This Vehicle Code, and paving of the country’s roads, was the high point of the “Good Roads Movement” in the U.S.
The Good Roads Movement is another strand of the Cycling Advocate’s DNA. You can check out a wiki article here. The Good Roads Movement began when cyclists by the hundreds of thousands banded together to a common and easily definable goal – Good Roads, Paved Roads. Again, this occurred in the 1880’s or so. “Roads” at that point were little more than a mucky, rutted mess made by horses and wagons. To RIDE one needed smooth, paved roads. As noted above, we were in the midst of a Bike BOOM and people were ready to ride!
The Good Roads Movement was an odd assortment of advocacy bedfellows – cyclists, farmers, politicians. But they had CLOUT. The League of American Wheelmen was founded and soon had a Million Member Mailing List for its Good Roads publications! If you wanted to get elected in many parts of the country you had to talk to the Good Roads people and make it happen!
Roads started getting paved, which led to improved commerce as it was easier to get products to move around the country. The successes of the Good Roads Movement led to the adoption of “bicycles” as part of the “Vehicle” definitions of many states vehicle codes.
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This, too, is a strong strand of the DNA of the Cycling Advocate.