Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

“Rules are like kryptonite to cyclists”

with 17 comments

Wayne Moriarty, the Editor in Chief of the Province decided this week to have a go at the regular Critcal Mass ride in downtown Vancouver. The coverage was extensive and wildly biased – and topped off with an extra-ordinary piece of vilification of cyclists in general.  That’s his opening shot I have used as the headline. You probably don’t need to read further since it has all been heard before. Of course I responded – though I doubt it will be printed. But that is why I have a blog. Here is what I sent him.

What an astonishingly stupid piece of writing.

I can only assume that you have chosen to ignore the evidence of your own eyes. Every day you will see the law broken with impunity. Indeed, the very instruments of law enforcement in this province have been adapted to meet the demands of the law breakers. All day, every day on every roadway motorists break the law and very few are ever required to give an account of themselves. The most frequent offence is speeding – and almost without exception you will be told by the law breakers that it is the law that is wrong, not the driver. That the posted speed limits should be raised everywhere – and that roads must be “improved”  to allow faster travel. Indeed this government abetted such attitudes by removing photo-radar, and spending a fortune on the Sea to Sky Highway which was not a dangerous road at all – but one infested with drivers determined to show they could drive faster that the rest – no matter how dire the consequences.

The death toll on our roads is horrendous – and perhaps we need to have ramp ceremonies for the victims. These people die because of the dangerous use of motor vehicles – not bicycles. The only reason a helmet is needed here is the risk of injury when hit by a motor vehicle: when a car or truck is not involved, going over the handlebars usually resulting in no more than a broken wrist. In civilised countries with better cycling facilites helmets are simply not needed.

You also see every day drivers who are aggressive, who weave in and out of traffic, who make sudden lane changes without signalling, who cut into line at the last moment. Vehicles are illegally adapted to increase performance – not just for illegal street races but for the daily commute. Have you checked how many people with their vehicles registered in BC who have decided that the requirement for a front number plate does not apply to them?

Every time there is a sudden spot check of trucks or taxis at least half the vehicles stopped are prevented from moving further until essential adjustments and repairs to safety critical devices are made.

AND I have not even started on the behaviour of pedestrians – or dog owners.

This nothing to do with any regular monthly celebration for a few hours in approximately a similar area, fairly easy to avoid with a little forethought. This is a daily, continuous occurrence. And incidents of road rage are usually responses by drivers to appallingly bad behaviour by other drivers.

You will have to accept, as the rest of us have, that compliance with the law is in many respects deficient, and that somehow we manage to cope with that. That enforcement of the law occurs by exception – and that very many bad deeds go unpunished. That absolute adherence to every regulation and rule is not only unlikely but completely impractical, and only a tyrant would demand absolute obedience. If you had to get a sick child to hospital at 3am on an empty road I bet you would run red lights. I will even go so far as to suggest that you may well have exceeded the speed limit on a freeway – for example the 60kph limit from the south end of the Oak Street bridge to a point well past the No 4 Road intersection. I know the RCMP find that a very useful place when they need to get some easy tickets issued.

Your recent campaign against Critical Mass may have helped you sell a few more papers in a slow month, but it does you as a journalist absolutely no credit at all.

Why don’t you get on your bike? Visit some other cities where cycling is common. Think about how we are going to get around now that the days of cheap gasoline are certainly numbered, and the future of humankind on this planet uncertain at best. A little perspective in your opinion columns might be a welcome reprieve too.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 2, 2009 at 9:42 pm

Posted in bicycles

17 Responses

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  1. I got a response to my email almost immediately

    Your argument is a false dichotomy. I agree with almost everything you write. I wasn’t writing about motorists, however. I was writing about cyclists.

    As for the personal attack on my writing, I certainly feel no need to defend myself. Besides, i suspect anything I wrote in defence of my column would not magically have you change your mind. So, think I will let it go.

    I just got in from a run and now I’m heading downtown on my bike … Helmet, light and a plan to stop at every stop sign🙂

    Cheers
    Wayne

    Stephen Rees

    August 2, 2009 at 9:46 pm

  2. It looks like that this battle is a bit of a draw. My philosophy teacher would say that Moriarty (THAT name? no wonder he is bitter)is technically right as you have to stick to the subject, not get off on a tangent. Children do that all the time.. “I can’t play ball with you? why not? my Dad is bigger than your dad”
    AND The Province doesn’t cater to broadminded, educated, slightly left of the centre, “NDP Light” people who should know better than take its bait! I don’t even look at their headlines!

    Life in a big city is a collection of planned and unplanned unusual events that makes living there worthwhile…Every so often in Paris hundreds of people, all dressed up in fancy white clothes, show up on a square in the evening and have a gourmet meal then and there. Totally illegal but they are so well behaved that the police now turns a blind eye and has even been known to sip champagne with them.
    In Vancouver we have the Critical Mass..

    As a pedestrian, part-time car passenger and former cyclist who used to ride bikes in a major foreign city at 14, without having to fear accidents, I MUST say that far too many cyclists here are BAD! VERY BAD! Where did they learn to drive? in a car?

    Red frog

    August 3, 2009 at 12:18 am

  3. I wasn’t going to respond since he wrote “I think I will let it go” but Monsieur Frog needs answering.

    The original article is a slur on all cyclists – quite deliberately – by characterising all of them by the behaviour of a few. He creates a stereotype. Then he generalises from the few to the many.

    My point was that compliance with the law is never perfect. And I was not just writing about motorists – I was pointing to the consequences of low compliance when in charge of a motor vehicle, which are more serious than when on a bicycle. If we are going to point fingers, we should concentrate on where the most damage is done.

    I object to newspaper editors who resort to bigotry and prejudice. Identifying a group, and then characterising them in this manner is unnacceptable behaviour. Yes there are some bad cyclists – just as there are some bad drivers and some bad dog owners. But none of these groups can be said to be entirely composed of law breakers. That is false. And it is, in this case, intended to direct anger at people on bicycles. If there are now random attacks in this region on cyclists by enraged Province readers I expect Mr Morairty to accept full responsibility for their injuries.

    Stephen Rees

    August 3, 2009 at 6:15 am

  4. Thanks for writing your response to the editor. You put it in much better words than I could have. As a daily cycle commuter who follows every law to the letter when riding, it was very painful to read the editorial in the Province.

    Alex

    August 3, 2009 at 7:22 am

  5. “I can’t play ball with you? why not? my Dad is bigger than your dad” — I don’t think that talking about the behaviour of car drivers when the behaviour of cyclists is maligned is such a huge non sequitur.

    I ride my bicycle in this city all the time. I wear a helmet. I signal my turns. I have never blown through a stop sign in my life. I don’t think my cycling style is rare in this city.

    I take the lane when it is the only safe thing to do — when the lane is too narrow to share with a car. Guess what? this does not stop cars from trying to share the lane with me, dangerously, since their vehicle outweighs me by a couple of orders of magnitude. Shocking, I know. Some drivers are BAD! VERY BAD!. Sometimes it seems like common sense, patience, and seeing past one’s own nose is like kryptonite to car drivers.

    sgt.turmeric

    August 3, 2009 at 9:00 am

  6. Of course Mr. Rees you are right, 100% right.. I still sincerely believe that there is no point arguing with racist, sexist, xenophobic people. You put yourself down in the sewer they live in by doing so, as they need controversy to justify their existence. Remember that Moriarty and his ilk wouldn’t last long in their job if they were fair minded.

    Red frog

    August 3, 2009 at 10:59 am

  7. I’ve been having a bit of an exchange with Wayne as well. Here is the most unexpected comment from him, “I love bikes. I especially love bikers who at least make an attempt at obeying the law.” I replied, “You have a strange way of showing love. Sorry I confused it with hate.”

    Richard

    August 3, 2009 at 11:58 am

  8. The police and the city are unable or unwilling to stop the often illegal bullying of cyclists by a relatively small portion of motorists. Critical Mass in many ways simply a reaction to this bullying. When the authorities are unable or unwilling to protect people’s rights and safety, this is unfortunately the result.

    Richard

    August 3, 2009 at 12:12 pm

  9. That response is the biggest cop out I’ve ever seen. You can’t call every single cyclist a scofflaw criminal menace to society without any context and then just claim false dichotimy when someone adds context or says that this is categorically false. What a terribly irresponsible piece of journalism. I hope they lose subscriptions over this issue.

    Tessa

    August 3, 2009 at 2:03 pm

  10. I believe the editor loves his bike and biking, and I believe that he has a pathology common to people in the news industry that compels him to incite and enflame conflict in the community in any way he can to sell papers. Just as talk radio wins when it has people screaming futilely in their cars about political issues, newspapers win when they drag regular life into the frame of a winner-take-all cage match.

    Truth and inquiry are kryptonite to editors of tabloids like the Province, and it’s sad that people pick it up, read the headlines or a few choice words and then walk away feeling empowered in their hatred of their neighbour. I’m sure any publisher would just smirk and say ‘it’s what sells.’ It sure is, and that’s why it’s called selling out.

    Todd Sieling

    August 4, 2009 at 6:35 am

  11. Red Frog: I think your philosophy teacher might disagree, as Mr. Moriarty artificially abstracts a group out of an enmeshed whole. Cars, bikes and pedestrians, all of them sharing a context and negotiating their place with respect to each other, constitute a working system, and pulling one piece out and saying it doesn’t work without explaining its two-way relationship with the other parts of the system creates an oversimplification, even a straw man of sorts.

    In the end he was looking to stir up enough anger that broke out into violence at last week’s Critical Mass ride. I’d wager a steak dinner that he was mildly disappointed to read it was more peaceful than previous rides.

    Todd Sieling

    August 4, 2009 at 6:40 am

  12. I think we should keep in mind for whom The Province is writing. Somebody who works with media told me last year that The Province aims at one particular type of reader. That person is a single mother in Surrey. That is The Province’s typical reader. Someone the paper feels doesn’t have much time to read the paper and is typically a driver. So through that lens, it’s not surprising that The Province editors painted cyclists negatively with such a broad brush stroke.

    It’s a shame because I think single mothers are smarter than this article from The Province.

    Henry

    August 4, 2009 at 6:55 am

  13. The following was sent to the trans-action list serve by Kathy Sinclair. It is, in my view, brilliant and kathy has kindly consented to my copying it here

    Rules are like kryptonite to drivers. Stop signs are there for amusement and traffic circles, apparently, mean “go any which way you wish.”

    Many of them don’t wear seatbelts. They treat the bike routes, on which young children cycle to school, as though they are highways. And I swear, when I see a driver come to a complete stop at a stop sign, I drop dead in gobstruck shock.

    All this is nothing new.

    Vancouver drivers have always had a difficult relationship with rules.

    I was an avid driver in the 1990s. Then, survival in a car was entirely based on an ability to drive at least 10 kilometres over the speed limit.

    Today, the driver is entitled to a lot more of the road. In fact, today, the drivers’ entitlements are many and their sense of entitlement is transcendent. It seems only a matter of time before drivers lobby YVR for a runway. Or B.C. Ferries for a boat.

    With all these entitlements one would think a respect for the rules would follow.

    But, as noted, rules are like kryptonite to drivers.

    In fact, sometimes I think drivers are worse than ever.

    If the city is in need of a cash cow, go to the Granville Street bridge and ticket everyone who goes more than 5 kilometres over the speed limit.

    Cha-ching!

    Or if the city really wants to hit the motherlode, send the entire police department to the stop signs at Ontario & 11th, armed to the teeth with pens and ticket pads.

    A friend of mine commented recently how he loves driving on the open road.

    Who doesn’t? Freedom, independence, and all that.

    But he also pointed out that people who operate motorized 2,000-pound vehicles must be prepared to pay fully for their behaviour. In other words, you are not really a responsible driver unless you accept the fact that each and every time you get behind the wheel, the briefest moment of inattention has lethal consequences.

    It’s just my opinion, but I don’t think drivers have any idea of the havoc they wreak. I really do believe that a few million tickets would bring a quick end to this daily nonsense of mass four-wheel civil disobedience.

    Unfortunately, not only are the police unwilling to ticket anyone, our law enforcement has moved to the exact opposite extreme: Enable and accommodate.

    By allowing law-abiding citizens to be threatened, injured, and killed daily by drivers who disobey traffic rules by speeding; texting, talking on cellphones, eating, drinking, and applying makeup while driving; passing cyclists with less than 1 metre’s distance; turning in front of pedestrians at crosswalks; failing to signal; failing to come to a complete stop at stop signs; and failing to devote their full attention to other road users who pay their equal share for road infrastructure through property taxes, they are effectively complicit in the crime.

    If you’ll excuse the alliteration, police and the city need to get a handle on this malevolent motorized mess before something tragic happens.

    Ultimately, nothing good will come out of it if nothing is done.

    – Kathy Sinclair
    Vancouver, BC

    On the same list Steve Kisby suggests that the controversy over the Critical Mass was deliberately fomented by the VPD as a way to distract attention from the shocking court case, where a police officer was given a slap on the wrist for beating up a newspaper delivery man when drunk and off duty. The timing is also notable for the presence of the police and firefighters games in the city at present.

    Stephen Rees

    August 4, 2009 at 7:02 am

  14. I feel that most of the mainstream media completely missed the point behind Critical Mass rides. While it was true 10 years ago that the rides were protesting the lack of cycling facilities, today I think the rides are more a protest over the lack of respect shown towards cyclists by drivers. “We are traffic” sums it up pretty well.

    Drivers think nothing about pulling into the bike lane to drop off or pick up a passenger, or dodging into the bike lane to avoid an obstacle in their lane. Squeezing a cyclist into the curb or onto the shoulder to pass them? Routinely done. Let us not forget the famous left and right-hooks!

    One of the consequences of drivers not respecting cyclists as legitimate traffic is they consistently under estimate the speed a cyclist is traveling at. Ask the average motorist what the speed of a cyclist is on a flat road and they will probably tell you 10 to 15 km/h when in reality that cyclist is traveling 20 to 30 km/h. This under estimation can have tragic consequences when a motorist misjudges how quickly a cyclist is traveling and turns in front of them.

    I’m certainly not saying that there are not issues with cyclists disobeying the traffic laws. I certainly see enough stupid behavior by other cyclists during my daily commute and it leaves me frustrated that the stupidity on the part of some cyclists is reinforcing the public perception of cyclists as a law-breaking community. I don’t have any problems with the police cracking down on cyclists for breaking the traffic laws, but I expect a similar crackdown on drivers who endanger cyclists by not treating us like traffic.

    There also needs to be an evaluation of cycling routes where there is a high number of cyclists ignoring stop signs. For example the Adanac bikeway where the route moves from Adanac to Union at Vernon Drive. There are stop signs on Union and Adanac with no stop signs on Vernon. Every time I cycle through there I see countless cyclists ignoring the stop signs and very rarely do I see a car. Would it not make more sense to put the stop signs on Vernon and inconvenience the occasional car that travels that route?

    Jason

    August 4, 2009 at 2:00 pm

  15. In all of this “but they do it too” back and forth, remember it’s not cars that violate the MVA or city bylaws, or bikes that violate the MVA or city bylaws, it’s _people_ that violate the MVA or city bylaws, and we all should be equally liable to the penalties for violation, no matter how capracious we (as people) may feel they are.

    David

    August 5, 2009 at 7:31 pm

  16. Stephen,

    As always, I really enjoy your writing and your commentary. I was personally criticized for criticizing Critical Mass (wow, that was a LOT of cacophony and repetition of the same word).

    My view of Critical Mass is that it’s an idea that needs to evolve and that has become somewhat of an unruly social order.

    I have complete faith that if we had better infrastructure for cyclists, there would be no need for Critical Mass. There would be a critical mass and we’d be beyond the tipping point already!

    Raul Pacheco

    August 9, 2009 at 11:04 pm

  17. How about the lack of respect shown to pedestrians by cyclists? It works both ways. The hipster imbeciles I see riding down the sidewalk of Hamilton Street look mysteriously similar in attire to the types seen in Critical Mess. I also suggest you Google “Courteous Mass”.

    Mark

    August 18, 2009 at 12:35 pm


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