On the politics of cycling

On the whole, i suspect, there aren’t a great many things that Gordon Price and i would find in common were we ever huddled together in an election voting booth. I’ve never actually met Mr. Price, and therefore have had no opportunities to delve deeply into his his psyche, or any of his other parts, so i can’t make this claim authoritativey. In fact, the claim is largely based on experiences from many years ago, when Price was a Vancouver alderman (as city councillors were then known), elected under the banner of the Non-Partisan Association (NPA), a municipal political party that claims it isn’t a party at all (a contention with which Vancouver’s No Fun City complainers would happily concur).

Having been intimately involved with the NPA myself back in the 80s, i abandoned the non-party shortly after Price was elected for the first time, though my decision had nothing to do with Price, personally. It did, however, have a lot to do with the greedy cronyism of the privileged, along with increasingly Soviet-style nomination meetings. As i said, i’m not intimately acquainted with Price’s actual positions on things, but that he stuck with the NPA for six elections as alderman (three of those under the leadership of the ever charming Gordon Campbell) hints at some incompatibilities in how we each experience the world.

This disparity in worldview was demonstrated in my only real interaction with Price in, i think, 1996. I was participating in a financially disastrous AIDS fundraiser that involved 1,500 or so cyclists pedalling to Seattle. As the crowd was crossing the Grandview Viaduct, just a few kilometers in and still full of energy, everyone was yelling and honking bicycle horns, and prompting motorists to do the same. Price pedaled up beside me and called out enthusiastically, “Isn’t this great?”.

“Too much noise!” i answered, me being rather sensitive to unnecessary aural stimulation. I just wanted to ride and couldn’t wait to get out into the country.

“Noise is good!” replied Price, who then pushed on to share roadspace with someone more cheefully responsive. I ceased henceforth casting ballots in his favour on that opinion alone.

This anecdote does reveal, however, one common interest: cycling. Price is well known to be an advocate of urban cycling, a cause that is of some significant interest to me. Since i have paid only peripheral attention to civic politics in the years since my flight from formal involvement, i can’t recall how Price actually voted on questions that came before council pertaining to cycling infrastructure. Since i’m insufficiently motivated to do any research on the subject, i’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he voted in ways that i’d have approved of. If he’s anything like that other NPA cycling advocate, Peter Ladner, though, he may have voted against his own beliefs in favour of maintaining the support of those who have a vested interest in the continued growth of car culture. Not that i’d blame him, necessarily – such is the way of governing in our fucked up electoral system.

Meanwhile, Michael Geller, a local architect who likes to describe himself as a “failed NPA candidate”, mainly because he is a failed NPA candidate, has a blog. Recently on this blog he posted a photograph of Dunsmuir Street, apparently taken from the Pacific Centre overpass looking east, that shows a long line of idling cars beside a bike lane that is devoid of any bicycles. Geller claims that the photo was sent to him by “some of my colleagues”, who perceive him to be an advocate of cycling infrastructure (based, presumably, on a single article he wrote that voiced flighty enthusiasm for the separated bike lanes he saw in Amsterdam). The unnamed colleagues, it is assumed, consider the photograph evidence that the bike lane is not being used and therefore cycling infrastructure is a grossly unfair inconvenience to poor tortured motorists.

Geller, apparently inspired by the unnamed colleagues, says that Mayor Gregor Robertson may be doomed in the next election “unless these lanes attract a much higher level of use by cyclists, and the congestion and traffic safety issues caused by the lanes are addressed.” I have no problem at all with Geller writing thoughtfully about negative perceptions about the Dunsmiur bike lane, but his lame attempts to brand himself a cycling advocate are laughable, and his reaching a conclusion on an important issue based on a single photograph as evidence in support explains why Vancouverites sensibly declined to offer him a seat on council. By all means, Mr. Geller, write a post about concerns of the mysterious unnamed colleagues and their issues with bikes, but if you’re really a balanced advocate for cyclists, at least have the decency to critically evaluate the opinions of the unnamed colleagues. I didn’t see a single word questioning the logic of the unnamed colleagues. Is the congestion caused by the bike lanes? Or are the bike lanes caused by the congestion? Why are cars idling a traffic safety issue? Isn’t it a bigger safety issue when those cars are racing up Dunsmuir, trying to get ahead of each other, because the green lights are timed in a way that encourages them to do so? What is it about the way people drive cars that makes people so afraid to ride their bikes downtown? But no, Geller just throws the picture on his blog along with a not-so-veiled threat toward the Mayor.

Geller suggests that the Mayor “could” lose the next election, but then says that “The new Mayor will remove [the bike lanes] in whole or in part after winning.” The use of “will” seems pretty revealling to me. How does Geller know what the new Mayor “will” do? The NPA hasn’t even got a nominee yet. I’m not buying this “some of my colleagues” stuff that Geller has posted. It sounds more like Geller is using his blog to begin the official NPA baiting of the anti-car crowd, a Fordian tactic designed to stir them into a bloodthirsty fervor that will throw the bike-loving bastards out and get city hall safely back into the hands of the “cronyistes”.

Anyway, enough conspiracy theorising. I don’t actually dislike Geller, the guy. I’ve heard him speak at various events, and i think he really is interested and thinking about the city. The trouble is, he’s a bit like the NPA’s only sitting councillor, Suzanne Anton (except, you know, with some brains). They’ve both either been born with money and privilege, or they’ve had money and privilege long enough that they’re grown completely out of touch with the reality on the street. And, perhaps they’re so addicted to the pleasures of this privilege that they’re single-mindedly occupied with keeping it.

So, getting back to Gordon Price. Price, to his credit, posted on his blog a mildly critical response to Geller’s post. Okay, he doesn’t actually criticize Geller, but he does point out the logical failures of Geller and/or the unnamed colleagues, using an old postcard. Check it out.

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