Group human systems frequently behave in a fashion akin to the mechanism of the human brain, wherein that marvelously complicated and flexible device adapts to situations utilizing so-called neural pathways. These electrochemical connections that appear spontaneously between multiple regions of the brain from neuron to neuron in response to a situation, existing for as long as the situation presents itself and when the situation is re-experienced conjured via memory.
Neural pathways are in a sense similar to a path through the woods commenced at the outset simply by a person’s need to get from one place to another. Perhaps not fully cognizant as to how to get to the destination, one uses geolocation and direction to calculate the best way to attain the destination, factoring in obstructions and temporal conditions. We are all subject to the choices that favor the familiar, even when the familiar is not the best decision. Fear, prejudice, etc. can cause a less-than-avantageous pathway to become the favored one. the path of the familiar becoming trod so often as to become worn down to the very bedrock. Sometimes it just takes a bit of repositioning to gain the all important view of a new perspective.
Raleigh’s relationship with the bicycle brings this bit of mental architecture to mind. We collectively seem reluctant or unable to strike out toward a direction that can enhance and revalue this readily available and irreplaceable component of the transportation matrix to a more utilitarian, everyday mode. It is incumbent on all of us to make this happen. There is no other group resource better positioned to begin to devolve what passes for “normalcy”: the hegemony of the petroleum-driven automobile, the economic, environmental and social ills that stem from its ubiquity. The bicycle.
For the bicycle to attain the status of just another means of transportation that it is given in other nations, it first requires a primary repositioning above the purely recreational, hence “not serious” vector of transit common to Raleigh. And indeed across the US in comparison to its more respected and essential position in other nations. In the US, the bicycle is often considered some species of toy. Therein lies the roots of a conflict that plays itself out daily on the streets, sometimes with disastrous and deadly consequences.
A primary factor could negate the conflict is the commonality of the motorist’s and cyclist’s pursuits. When intent and purpose become stripped away, the both are simply trying to get from one place to another and are granted a theoretical equality in that pursuit. In practice, that commonality becomes often distanced and submerged in the semantic layers and sense of privilege. All the theoretical and legal niceties fall away, in its place come beeping horns and raised fingers. Given the vaunted cultural position the automobile enjoys, visible in mass media or wherever else one cares to look, the relationship exacerbated by the fact of the physical disparities between a two hundred pound vehicle and payload meeting another weighing in at two tons. In this construct, anything other than another automobile becomes a competitive but ultimately inconsequential pest.
There is a fundamental binary sort of factoring where the relationship is heading playing out vis-à-vis the bike lane movement, especially in regards to Hillsborough Street. I have lived in places that have accommodated bicycles and I would enjoin all parties to look at this matter from as many angles as there are to insure that the fundamental shifts are injected gently and in a non-threatening fashion. The world is preparing to undergo some essential changes in how we utilize energy. The more realistically and with a sense of commonality we absorb the changes, the better served will we all be.
The only system of bike/car I have seen that really worked was in the places in Europe where bicycles have a dedicated, segregated network integrating only in town centers. European city planner and governments recognize that segregated system presents the only truly safe means for the two to move together. The drawbacks for the US are a (current) lack of will and perceived value needed to justify the cost. The other, less effective means of integrating are segregated lanes enforced by statute and fines, something that just isn’t possible in the case of Hillsborough Street given the commercial nature of the street and the need for parking.
Not to kowtow to the automobile, but the simple fact is that we bicyclists are likely going to end up with a shared lane, not the best of worlds but one that with some nurturing could form the basis of a new relationship based on the shared purpose mentioned above. The biggest risk to the shared lane is, of course, the door strike that that may well form the basis of the commonality of purpose v. risk. If we can achieve a sense of consensus in that one key factor, a courtesy lane we could call it, denoted by a unique paint scheme, we could go far in enhancing the shared experience of car and bicycle.
This unifying purpose of transportation will require reeducation and is one served best by calm heads. No matter what satisfaction anger conjures upon point of application, rage serves no positive purpose. Cyclists take note: when one resorts to aggression, hard words carve mental pathways that color future perception. A friendly exchange will do more for fellow bicyclists down the road. As difficult as it may be in terms of one’s pride/ego, let it go with as cheery a wave as possible. If you can get in a calm word of explanation, so much the better. We on two wheels are ambassadors for the rest. The more gently we can conduct ourselves with motorists, the better for us all.
To enhance the visibility of the bicycle in this changing world, it is time for the city to begin accommodating bicycles, starting with a rack in front of the Upchurch building. As to gain maximum attention from the public and press, I suggest a competition.