Thursday, 8 August 2013


Are cyclists effective lobbyists? If you look at the relative numbers of cyclists on the road compared to automobile drivers, the answer would be, "Are you kidding? There aren't enough of them."

At first glance, the decision by Vancouver respecting Pt Grey Road seemed politically insane. After all, about 10,000 motorists per day use the road as compared to about 500-600 cyclists. How could a lobbyist for such a small minority achieve such a great result for its client/member cyclists? Why would anyone who wants to get re-elected favour the very few over the many by making this established commuter road a bike lane?

The reality is that they are not just lobbyists. They control Council.
In Vancouver, HUB, is an association that represents cyclists. It receives a grant from the City of Vancouver. Its efforts include lobbying on behalf of cyclists. They are paid by the City to tell it what it wants to hear.

Zack Furness, in One Less Car, Bicycling and the Politics of Auto-Mobility (Temple University press Philadelphia 2010), seems to answer the question.  Furness is an assistant professor of cultural studies at Columbia College Chicago [not to be confused with Columbia University in New York] His writing is highly resistible. If one struggles through it however it becomes clear that the bicycle lobby is about a lot more than bikes. It seeks much  more than the repeal of the internal combustion engine.

Furness reviews the history of cycling advocacy including Critical Mass, which originated in San Francisco. He assumes that the bike lobby is directly associated with the various planning goals of the countries in which it exists. It seeks radical change.

The bike culture, according to Furness is linked to anti-automobile and anti-freeway movements that seek to convert North American cities to their pre-highway days. It supports the American Smart Growth movement. Smart Growth, the current fad among U.S. planners is about adding density to cities so that everyone can commute short distances to work. 

The arguments by now for both sides are  formulaic. 

 Several months ago Vancouver’s Cyclist in Chief, the Traffic Engineer was quoted in an article to the effect that cyclists actually subsidize roads. A few days ago former Councilor, Peter Ladner, argued  the same thng.

Ladner's article is at

There are plenty of other articles floating in cyberspace  saying the same thing: It is the cyclists who subsidize cars. The argument, however, is nonsense.
Road users, whether on bikes or cars, do not gain the majority of economic benefits from roads — the general population does. One writer puts it this way:

95% of everything we physically consume  gets to us via roads/highways. Food, clothes, furniture, building materials for homes/offices, PC’s, soap, medications, gasoline, etc. — are all trucked to you (or nearby retail outlets) on roads within a vast transportation network. You are almost totally dependent on that road infrastructure for your daily life. How do think all that stuff gets on your supermarket & shopping mall shelves ? And road infrastructure provides many other tangible economic benefits to the general population. Everybody is a big ‘user’ of roads/highways — actual vehicle drivers are merely the highly visible minority of ‘users’.

The Cyclists sometimes seem to have the sanctimonious sense of entitlement of people infatuated with their own virtuous, bike seated rear-ends. That is nothing new. In the 1890s, Furness says, cycling was considered to encourage "self-control and balanced conduct in life" [86] "cycling as a sport is still more interesting from a moral point of view. Quite a large number of our young men, who formerly were addicted to stupid habits, and the seeking of nonsensical distractions and vulgar pleasures are now vigorous healthy energetic, and for the sake of this extraordinary machine submit themselves to an ascetic rule of life ***." [87] 

In England the wealthy members of  London Society  formed a separate tricycle union 
in 1882.  Substitute the word "cars" for "bicycles" and it seems to have been a precursor to Vancouver's bicycle lobby. “It put pressure on British city governments to exclude bicycles from parks and made no bones about their disdain for the blossoming bicycle culture. "It is desired by most tricyclists to separate themselves entirely from the bicyclists, who are a disgrace to the pastime, while tricyclists includes princes, princesses,dukes and earls. It is plain that the tricyclists are altogether a better class than the bicyclists, and require better accommodation on tours." [121]

Furness gives examples cited by cyclists linking the automobile culture to the Nazis: It is more than a little ironic that Dwight Eisenhower, Nazi fighter extraordinaire, was impressed by the efficiency of the autobahn and at once incapable of recognizing its deeper implications in totalitarian logic. [20] while the autobahn project began prior to Adolph Hitler and was not solely reducible to the tenets of national Socialism, it was nonetheless ideological in its effects….***  Furness concludes that this is instructive as it speaks to the "Similarly intertwined militarist/capitalist logic at work in the development of the US highway system under Eisenhower. [23] 

If, however, you favour the anti-bike lobby, I recommend Road to Valor, a True Story of World War 2 Italy, the Nazis and the Cyclist Who Inspired a Nation by Aili and Andres McConnon. This great read is a biography of the anti facist Italian cyclist, Gino Bertali. The authors describe how Mussolini aggressively pushed cycling because it fit in with the Nazi image. Bertali, who won the Tour de France, joined the underground and is credited with having saved hundreds of Jews. The Church supported him at great risk.

                                     GINO BARTALI

In the Netherlands, daily bicycling reached a peak in 1960 and dropped by nearly 40% until 1977. The increased motorization of Dutch life in the 1960s and 1970s exerted a dramatically negative effect on bicycle transportation that ceased only in response to political pressure applied by cyclists. “If they hadn't put bikes on the agenda and they'd be forgotten. It's natural to cycle, but it's not natural to make policy.” [53] 

Furness reviews the Critical Mass movement which gained notoriety in the 1990s and which included a lot of creative bike demonstrations including the naked bike ride which was billed as a protest against the indecency of oil. [120]  He says, "Critical Mass has at times successfully attracted new people to bicycling who are otherwise disinterested in the identity of being a bike rider.  Makes sense...why not join  a group that makes other people miserable?

The critics of bike culture are well covered by Furness. They say things like, "bicycles are like masturbation – something you should grow out of. I just don't Lycra these cycle yobs," Daily Mirror 2002]

Don't miss P.J. O’Rourke's hilarious parody, "A Cool and Logical Analysis of the Bicycle Menace: and an Examination of the Actions Necessary to License, Regulate or Abolish Entirely This Dreadful Peril on Our Roads

His first argument implies the question,  "Why should I take advice from you when I have brats of my own?"

"1. Bicycles are childish
Bicycles have their proper place, and that place is under small boys delivering evening papers. Insofar as children are too short to see over the dashboards of cars and too small to keep motorcycles upright at intersections, bicycles are suitable vehicles for them. But what are we to make of an adult in a suit and tie pedaling his way to work? Are we to assume he still delivers newspapers for a living? If not, do we want a doctor, lawyer, or business executive who plays with toys? St. Paul, in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, 13:11, said, "When I became a man, I put away childish things." He did not say, "When I became a man, I put away childish things and got more elaborate and expensive childish things from France and Japan."

(P.J. O'Rourke
from 'Republican Party Reptile', The Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 1987)

Australian critics were borderline unkind about Mayor Robertson’s former club whom others have referred to as "Massholes":

Critical Mass is actually selfish inner-city twats who have no regard for their fellow Sidneysiders: people who have worked hard all weekend  just want to drive home. What critical mass fails to realize is that we don't want to spend our Friday night in gridlock while Lycra clad twits with a police escort whiz past- to go have noodles and make the point that Sydney should be free of cars. These are probably also the same errant cyclists who ignore the road rules, jump red lights (thinking it's their privilege) and ride on the footpath. [94]
[ ]
Each of these quotes represent a tiny sampling of more than a century's worth of  inter-continental bitching from both sides.

David Hartgen, an emeritus professor at the University of North Carolina – Charlotte said about cities that are intentionally narrowing their roads to add more sidewalks and bike lanes for the community: "it's really just arrogance and selfishness on the part of usually very small groups of individuals… They exert political power to take back the street but the street is not theirs to take back. [123] 

In Vancouver Hub is not just another society of orchid growers or tuba virtuousi. Ironically, they are worthy successors to the London Tricyclists. They mean business.  Have a look at a current job posting for the Director of Programs.


The role of the Director of Programs is to oversee the delivery and development of all HUB programs. Reporting to the Executive Director, the Director of Programs manages governmental relationships to support programming, seeks additional program funding, and is responsible for ensuring high quality offerings with effective coordination across the different areas of HUB.

The Director of Programs manages staff, program budgets and resources, to help make the best use of them to reach more people, raise the organization's effectiveness and profile and move HUB closer to achieving their mission. 

One conclusion that may be drawn from Vancouver's experience is that the roughly 34 %  who turned out to vote in our last civic election, installed in office representatives of the bicycle lobby. All of their policies relating to development, density and traffic planning show this to be the case. 

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