Bike Advocacy Alone Isn’t Enough


bike protest
15,000-25,000 protestors showed up at the 2019 International Motor Show to demand a "transportation revolution." Photo credit: Euractiv.com

I’m frustrated with the pace of progress. The mile or two of protected (but unconnected) bike lanes that get added each year. The senseless bike and pedestrian fatalities. The fights over much needed affordable housing that doesn’t have “enough parking.” The lack of dedicated bus lanes on arterial streets. It’s become painfully clear that advocacy in itself is insufficient. And it’s not just elected officials and the people in charge; we are also complicit. We haven’t organized enough, we haven’t been creative enough, we haven’t dreamed big enough, and we haven’t made drivers and elected officials uncomfortable enough. Advocacy alone will not achieve the pressure needed to effect the change at the scale and speed we need.


Have you ever ridden in Critical Mass or Kidical Mass? Then you’ve experienced the awesome power of a group of people on bikes to cause frustration for motorists and joy for riders. It doesn’t take thousands or hundreds or even dozens of riders to block traffic and get drivers frustrated enough to start complaining to their elected officials. We need to use that power to achieve something more, something specific, something grand and achievable now. We need to frustrate drivers enough so that they are also calling for bikes to have streets of their own. We need to make it so that we’re collectively deciding only how to achieve the goal, not whether or when we’re going to achieve it. Those are no longer negotiable.


So, let’s start with a city-wide network of bike-prioritized streets, where bikes always have the right of way and riders can travel side by side and take up as much space as a car would. One way to do this would be with residential streets designated with 10mph speed limits, plenty of signage, speed cameras, and low-cost traffic calming. If people just can’t stomach lower speed limits on some residential streets, then we could keep the speed limit as is (30mph unless otherwise posted) and remove on-street parking to make dedicated bike lanes. Maybe we’ll still need to build traffic-calming infrastructure on some residential streets as needed, and certainly on commercial ones, but we need to start with something that can’t be dismissed because there’s just not enough funding.


Let’s not wait for our dream mayor or a city council bike caucus to come along with a mandate for bike equity and a vision for a more livable city. We are the leaders we’ve been waiting for. So let’s start jamming streets, making signs, having fun, and demanding a more livable, less car-centric city with bike prioritized network, new housing without mandatory minimum parking requirements, dedicated bus lanes, and a world class lakefront.


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