Thursday, April 5, 2007

Cars Rule the World

If there was ever any doubt that cars and their drivers rule the world, the front page article in the Chronicle about the woman whose rear car window was broken and whose daughters were “terrorized” by Critical Mass cyclists confirms it. How about kids who are actually hit by cars while riding their bikes? Unfortunately, you’ll never see any reports about this, though it happens all the time. If the Chronicle were to run a story every time a cyclist was “attacked” or “terrorized,” it would have to become a daily column.

I don’t think Critical Mass’s approach--creating as much of a nuisance with bicycles once a month as cars create every day--is an effective way of promoting bicycle rights (those “terrorized” girls are certainly unlikely to become bike activists), but it has been relatively harmless. Complaints that Critical Mass riders break the law by rolling through red lights and stop signs seems odd in a city where double parking (illegal in the state of California) is a way of life.

What’s amazing is that in Matier and Ross’s original report there is obviously no concern that the woman may have actually hit one of the cyclists. Clearly this is so common it’s not worth their concern. And the fact that the cyclist rode off without confronting the woman is not evidence that it didn’t happen. He’s probably just had the usual cyclist’s experience with reporting collisions with automobiles, bike vandalism, or stolen bikes to the police.

As for the woman’s broken window (which will supposedly cost $5,300 to fix?), well, welcome to the big city, whiny suburban mom. My little Toyota Corolla has suffered four broken windows on the streets of SF since I bought it nine years ago, and though I’ve duly reported them, nothing has ever come of it (no surprise to me). I’ve had two stolen bikes (reported to police with, of course, no results) and one serious accident in which the driver drove off after threatening to make me pay for the scratches to his bumper--though he had pulled into the street right in front of me. With only a totalled front wheel (and a thoroughly bruised body) the police, when contacted later, would only give me the driver’s phone number, but suggested that since I had no real injuries (OK, you slam into a car going 25 mph, flip up and over the hood, land first on your helmet and then on your butt and tell me you have “no real injuries”) and minimal replacement cost for a new wheel, there wasn’t much point in pursuing it. But I consider that I’ve had a relatively benign expericence as a cyclist in San Francisco. I just don’t rely on the police for help (I assume they have better things to do). Whiny suburban mom, on the other hand, seems to have higher expectations.

Of course, I don’t condone the act of violence that created the broken window, but it’s amazing how many people are criticizing cyclists. Here we are in this progressive part of the state where we pat ourselves on the back because we’re supposedly helping to end climate change by remembering to toss our newspapers and plastic containers in a recycling bin or turn off appliances that aren’t in use, but few people are willing to take real action and give up their carbon-spewing WMDD’s (wheeled, motorized destructive devices), an act that may increasingly be seen as heroic.

Maybe it’s time for Critical Mass to change its tactics. I mean it’s nice to go for a bike ride around the city once a month, but nobody is going to be convinced that cars are a nuisance by watching bikes create the same nuisance. Here’s an idea. Everyone who has ever done a Critical Mass ride go out and buy a $100, $500 car, anything you think that will get you as far as the Golden Gate Bridge, then toss the pink slip (don’t register it, of course) so it can’t be traced to you, and at 7 am on May 1, drive to the toll plaza of the Golden Gate Bridge (either side) park your car in the road, get out, lock the door, and walk away. You think a bunch of cyclists cruising through the streets causes chaos, you ain’t seen nothin’.

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