The Bike Commuter Cabal in a New World

The Zombie Raccoon abides

It is now seven months since UK’s Brexit vote to leave the EU, and three days since the US inaugurated a new president, other nations are on the verge of following a rightward course. Regardless of your personal political affiliation, you will agree the western world is amid a philosophical shift. What this shift means for the future is anyone’s guess. We only know what we know, and here is what I know:

The Bike Commuter Cabal is more important than ever.

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The BCC does not have a formal charter, here is what it means to me:

“The Bike Commuter Cabal is a worldwide network of transport cyclists. We ride bikes to go places. We advocate loudly for the rights of all road users. We are dedicated to raising awareness of the bicycle as a valid and practical means of transport and to encouraging the adoption of cycling as a means of transport and recreation by others, including and especially children. We engage others through professional and community service activities.”

There is a lot to unpack in that paragraph. Over the past five years, most of my efforts have been geared towards the ‘awareness’ and ‘encouraging’ aspects of that mission. I am the guy in my community in the cycling cap, the ‘oh hey, you’re that bike commuter guy’ guy, the dude who takes vacation time to put a bedroll on his bike and ride to other parts of the country, all along the way trying to engage personally with as many people as possible the world over.

I am pretty good in that regard, I have the ‘walk the walk’ aspects of the lifestyle down. When you are at a party and someone you never met walks up to you and starts asking bike advice, or (even better) tries to take you down a peg or two with some pithy diatribe on road rights or spouts a paean to his dad’s old ten-speed or asks the musical question, Do kids really belong on bikes?, you know people see you as ‘that bike guy.’

Turns out that is the easiest part of the job.

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As we enter this new political era, I am concerned about many things. I am concerned about austerity and extreme cuts to government spending. I am also concerned about man’s respect for his fellow man. The former breeds cutthroat competition among government programs, while the latter encourages the rule of the mob, domination by the loudest and the least compassionate.

Go back and reread the BCC charter. “We advocate loudly for the rights of all road users.” This is equality. It all comes down to equality on the roads. Universally across the developed world, bicycles and cyclists have the same rights to the road as motor vehicles and drivers. Legally speaking, the hard work is done, everything we do to improve is incremental, even marginal. The world should be a paradise of road-sharing.

Socially though, cyclists and non-motor vehicle users are second-class citizens of the road. Wade into any Facebook story on cycling, or the comments section of any news story and read on: Cyclists are selfish bastards with a death wish that hold up traffic and deserve their fate when hit. Talk to cyclists that have had a reportable incident and often the police and justice system are indifferent at best, and can be outright hostile to cyclists, imposing impossible standards that in effect excuse all driver behavior.

A world where government representation and social mores are outwardly moving right is bad for minorities and underrepresented communities. I can never know what is like to be black, or gay, or a woman, or a Muslim living in a world fearful of Muslims, and I do not pretend to. What I do know is the discrimination of being a second-class road user. I know the hallmarks of discrimination, and there are those drivers that see non-motor vehicle road users as illegitimate and not worthy of access to the roads. I have been honked at, shouted at, buzzed at close range at high speed, had things thrown at me, had dogs sicced on me and had drivers feign getting out of their car to do personal violence on me, all for the simple act of riding a bike on open road. It is all a social campaign of intimidation, geared toward making me decide against clipping in and taking the lane.

Government budgets drying up will mean less money for alternate transportation: Fewer bike lanes, fewer traffic studies, less money for smart planning. It will also mean less money for enforcement as it relates to protecting cyclists and what little money and few resources are geared towards social efforts to level the playing field on the roads will be gone. Every new program will be subject to harsher means testing seeking to maximize public benefit. Alt-transport infrastructure and related programs will face steeper uphill battles for funding.

This fiscal scenario will intersect with new concepts of majority rule in which consensus and the accepted social need to spread benefits to the underserved will be rejected in favor of defining winners and losers. Wealth and the expenditure of it for the public good will be concentrated among the areas and constituencies that are most influential in accordance with the new politics. If you are with the ruling party and their ideas, you get the money and the road projects. If you are against them, your ideas will be buried and you will be derided for ‘encouraging waste.’

Concepts of priority will change. County boards, mayors and public planners will be free to dismiss the interests of minority road users out of hand, using the twin justifications of ‘We don’t have the money for bike lanes no one uses’ and ‘We won and our policy is cars-first, so come back in four years.’

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So what do we do? We fight like hell. We fight for the rights of every road user. We do not let creeping social change sweep away the road-sharing and alt-transport gains of the past twenty years. We call out bullshit and make phone calls and educate. We point out stuff that is good and bad and we back each other up. We get on committees and run in elections and show up at meetings. We use our contacts to find policy-makers and sell ourselves as representatives of a much larger and influential community. WE ORGANIZE.

I am dedicating myself publicly to going above and beyond my role as community ambassador. Many of the people I know on social media and in real life are already doing more than I ever have and from them I need to take inspiration and seek counsel when I am overwhelmed. The BCC is not a tangible organization (yet), it is not a 501(c)(3) non-profit, we do not have a board of directors, we do not have donors or corporate sponsors. What it is, is a very large, maybe 10,000+ worldwide social media penetration, a bunch of people with very high-level common interests, managed by a small cadre of volunteers in consult with an inner Cabal numbering somewhere in the hundreds. Our spread is large.

Can we go legit this year? Make a real lobbying presence? Court donors and walk the hallways of power? I do not know, I am the first to admit I have more ideas than time.

What I know we can do is harden the Cabal. Get back to the juicy roots of enjoying the fight, each deciding what they can give and what they can do, as a community in plain sight.

This is the year the Zombie Raccoon gets in everyone’s trash.

About Ben Folsom

Ben Folsom is a founding member of the Bike Commuter Cabal, a worldwide group of transport cyclists dedicated to protecting the rights of all road users and to encouraging people everywhere to ride more. Ben and his bikes live with his family in Alexandria, Virginia.