Welcome to Santa Cruz County’s Bicycle Courier Blog

I thought it would be great to have a place where Bike Couriers and Bike Riders could meet and talk, share stories, trade advice, and build an online community. I look forward to reading and writing our Courier stories, news, and comments.

Rick Graves

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Ongoing discussion of bicycle entitlement vs empowerment and what that means to our real time relationships on the road...


Anonymous writes in response to my article:

"Entitlement means you should receive something by right. All people on bikes should be entitled to safe, comfortable passage.

When you say someone is 'taking up more room than they need' what you really mean is 'taking up more room than I think they need.' As a skilled, former bike messenger, you may not understand how much space someone who is a little wobbly or carrying children needs to be safe. Maybe to you 'cars that cut her off are simply obstacles that she has the deftness to go around' but to me they're physical threats that could leave my children without a father."

In reply:

Thank you 'Anonymous' for your well taken points and for pointing out a valid perspective differing from my own. I see this as an opportunity to foster mutual respect and forge positive discussion about common ground solutions.

I wholeheartedly feel the validity of being vulnerable as a cyclist on the road, but how do we get beyond that feeling of fear and get home safely on our bicycles? I think we can agree that all cyclists - no matter how wobbly - are entitled to safe passage. But feeling comfortable is an entirely different and subjective thing based on each individual's experiences and opinion, and it's much harder to write that into the law books.

For me personally, pushing myself beyond the bounds of comfort - getting out there every day and conquering my fears - has led to the kind of empowered cycling I'm talking about. It allows us the ability to assert our rights on the road while remaining above all - aware, cautious, and conscientious of the other travelers around us. While it's true that cyclists are relatively more vulnerable, we also have more freedom of movement, and the convergence of these two realizations should lead to a heightened awareness of our spatial relation to other people and things on the physical plane, as well as our options for avoiding collision - an increasingly crucial skill for survival in today's distracted and hurried world.

Safety on the road is all about your awareness and expectation of the objects around you on a very concrete level. If you expect a motorist to cut you off - regardless of how you feel about it - you are better prepared for how to deal with it. If you can let it slide off your 'duck's back' and keep going without becoming fearful or indignant, you stand a better chance of staying on the road and becoming a more experienced and stronger (less wobbly) cyclist. Alternatively, if all day long you see every car as a life-threat, you may conclude that bicycling is dangerous and give it up entirely until society creates an infrastructure built just for you and your comfort level.

I submit that a certain amount of faith and responsibility in becoming competent and comfortable is required in stepping outside every day. I know that when I was first starting out as an urban cyclist, if I felt particularly nervous on a certain busy thoroughfare, I would seek alternative routes until my skill level and confidence matched the flow of traffic on those streets.

To me empowerment is the act of carving out your niche in the ecosystem we all intend to share in a way that takes into consideration all the players involved. After all we are all just people trying to get somewhere alive and continuing the 'us vs them' narrative leads nowhere fast.

I do see a middle ground that provides for everyone's safety while keeping in mind the need for the efficient flow of all traffic. (see positive examples of dedicated NYC/Portland bike lanes) The vehicle code, although not set up originally for the rights of all, is a means of correcting the equation between motorists and cyclists. Dedicated and painted bike lanes that are routed 3 feet out of the path of opening car doors and jay-walking pedestrians are one example. Another is the recently passed law in California requiring cars to 'safely' pass cyclists by giving them at least 3 feet of leeway.

One proactive step we could all personally take would be to lobby our state politicians for stricter penalties on motorists who kill and maim cyclists with reckless or negligent driving.

Bill Monning State Senator


Mark Stone State Assembly


Finally, while I appreciate the input, I do have to correct you on calling me a 'former bike messenger'. I'm not just writing about this stuff, I've been a working messenger for over 20 years and I still regularly ride 50 mile days on my bike to Watsonville and back for Clutch Couriers. Also as a worker/owner I'm proud to say I don't take any accounts or jobs that I wouldn't be happy to do myself for the price offered; An important distinction and another building block of empowerment for my crew.

"Rather than pave the whole world in leather.. put on a pair of shoes." - Unknown

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