Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Cyclists Battle for Space on New York City Streets

The Battle for Space on New York City's Streets (opinion)
By Cody Lyon

New York City, unlike most American urban areas, offers numerous transportation alternatives beyond the private automobile. Walking is wonderful and the extensive 24-hour mass transit system is certainly quick and convenient. But nothing is more exhilarating, efficient and enjoyable than getting on a bicycle zipping through the crowded streets of New York City, provided the rider does not mind assuming the role of transit pioneer and cycling soldier.

New York City has made great attempts to accommodate cycling commuters and recreational riders on its streets. The city maintains about 400 miles of bike paths and greenways. The March 2006 issue of “Bicycling Magazine” said New York City is the third best cycling city in the United States. The city’s Department of Planning printed and distributed over 200 thousand copies of its map of city greenways and recommended street routes this year. One of the goals of the map is to “recognize bikes as a legitimate mode of transportation” according to the Department of Planning.

But, truth be told, there is a daily battle occurring on the streets of New York City between automobiles and bicycles. Automobiles, whose weight is measured in tons and speeds capable of triple digits, maintain the clear safety advantage over the pedaling human eggshells called cyclists. Cyclists glide through streets on two wheels all the while dodging arrogant SUVÂ’s, cumbersome bullying busses and manic trucks on deadlines making deliveries to homes and businesses across the five boroughs. Yellow Cabs race for fare paying customers, phantom looking black sedans zip through lanes ignoring all around them and lost or intoxicated commuters attempt to pass, cut in front of or compete for parking in the chaotic, poorly policed traffic choked streets of New York City.

In addition to the unpredictable cars, cyclists must be on the lookout for the thousands of Carries and Bills, who while frantically discussing the evening’s plans or an earlier lunchtime meeting on their cell phone, tend to jaywalk, wonder aimlessly into a crosswalk or bike lane, disregarding traffic signals or worse yet, completely ignoring the moving human on the bike headed right for them. Perhaps they’re on the phone chatting with the countless car drivers who forgot that there is a law that “prohibits” cell phone use while driving. And then, there is the inconsiderate cab passenger who insists on not looking back for the approaching bike, instead hurling the car door open, bags in tow, as if he or she meant scare the stranger on the bike. Of course this careless but common New York move has the ability to send a cyclist flying head first directly into a serious head or back injury or even death. And, Lord knows, riding a bike at night in New York is a crapshoot all its own. While cyclists are slightly safer with a headlight, there is no protection from the masculine challenged hot rod types who seek to impress passengers and pedestrians on the sidewalk with high-speed antics, burnt rubber and deafening music that ignores any sense of the ongoing crowded reality of life carrying on around them. And, there’s no ignoring Little Lucy Hummer girl, who drives with blinds through the streets of Soho , feeling safe in her tank, but wreaking havoc on the young woman with flowers in the basket of her bike, as she tries to make it home for dinner.

It is true that some pedal power types are less than angelic, sometimes brazen. Some bikers embody what it means to be a menace. Nothing is more infuriating than an errant biker, running against the signal through traffic lights, those who go the incorrect direction on one way streets, those who terrorize elderly folks by jumping up on the sidewalks and displaying what appears the cyclistÂ’s version of inconsiderate dangerous transportation arrogance. Often this behavior is remedied by a good New York tongue -lashing. But in reality, the menace that bikes present to pedestrians pales in comparison to the real dangers that cyclists face on city streets.

Cyclists are in a psychological, political and legal battle for acceptance of biking as a legitimate mode of transit in New York City. The battle has led to competing visions of what urban life in the Big Apple and other cities can and should be. It is still risky to pedal to a destination in the city.

According to a Joint Report prepared by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, The Parks and Recreation Department, Transportation Department and the NYPD the battle for acceptance on the street continues to take a significant toll. 3,462 cyclists were seriously injured in crashes with motor vehicles between 1995 and 2003 and unfortunately, between 1996 and 2005, 225 cyclists were killed in crashes. Eleven cyclists have died in crashes so far this year.

New York’s Transportation Alternatives, a non profit organization that advocates for safer walking, bicycling and sensible transportation, notes that New York has the highest number of pedestrian and cycling deaths in the U.S. The majority of all traffic fatalities in New York City are cyclist and pedestrian deaths. Cyclists were 12 times more likely than car occupants to get killed than car occupants in traffic accidents according to a study by Professor John Pucher PhD and Lewis Dijkstra PhD that was published in the “American Journal of Public Health” in 2003. That same study noted that per km per trip cycled, American bicyclists are twice as likely to get killed as German cyclists and over three times as likely to get killed as Dutch cyclists.

Dutch envy is in order when one considers that from 1978 to 1996, Holland more than doubled its already extensive network of bike paths. In addition, there are increasing numbers of “bike streets” in both Holland and Germany. On those streets, cars are “permitted” but cyclists have the right of
way over the entire breadth of the roadway. One wonders what the results of such an urban refuge on Broadway, Fifth Avenue or any busy street in an American city would be. The results might show up in lower obesity rates and slightly decreased levels of car exhaust. Maybe too, American cities, like New York, would find that individuals who ride a bike to get around, are in better spirits thanks to the raised levels of endorphins that exercise like cycling has been proven to increase.

New York’s Transportation Alternative’s roots are in bicycling. The organization, with its extensive cache of cycling data, attributes a great deal of the dangers that pedestrians and cyclists face to automobile driver’s “widespread speeding and a general disrespect for cyclists and pedestrians. In spite of increasing environmental concerns, gas prices and the general frustration of commuting by automobile, we continue to invest heavily in the endless cycle of road infrastructure and highway expansion. Plain and simple, the car is still king on the streets of America.

Despite the carÂ’s dominance, an estimated 120 thousand New Yorkers put their legs, lungs and hearts through an exhilarating but often nerve racking work out by hopping on bikes, pedaling from Point AÂ’s to BÂ’s throughout the busy Big Apple streets each day. In spite of real dangers, it is still the fastest way to get around the city. Riding through the streets of New York offers amazing views, smells and sounds real connections to the souls of each passing block and neighborhood, experiences that the protected bubble of an automobile denies. But, bikers must share the road with the up to one million automobiles that enter the crowded streets each day as well. In spite of the formidable overwhelmingly vast army of gas guzzling, road hogging sometimes erratically driven horn honking machines, the bikers pedal on.

This year, the city promised that it was going to move forward with the addition of 200 miles in new bike lanes. Hopefully, in the future, these bike lanes will be more than marks on the road that some cars tend to ignore. Bike lanes in New York are usually sandwiched between parked cars on one side and moving cars on the other. They are certainly not the most ideal solution, but they are better than nothing at all.

Cycling advocates should continue the fight for safer biking conditions and greater road space in New York and other cities. Those on the frontlines of the battle, the cyclists themselves, should try to ride safely by the rules while encouraging friends to join them for a recreational ride or a trip to another neighborhood for dinner or a movie. Businesses and other institutions would be well served to provide facilities for changing and showering so that employees can cycle to work. Cyclists should remember what the automobile figured out years ago when they took over the roads and seized power in government, that there is power in numbers.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Gay Bash Highway of Lies and Division

The Gay Bash Highway of Lies and Division
By Cody Lyon
Right wing organizations are working overtime to convince their flocks that gays and their “deviant” lifestyles are somehow to blame for the Mark Foley, page and text messaging scandal still unfolding in Washington. Republican party leaders and strategists, who’s knees are surely knocking with fear about November 7th, appear to have given a green light to the loudspeakers of the far Right, with the hopes that the false “all gays are pedophiles” rhetoric might shift voter focus from those who bear real responsibility in what appears to be a cover-up. So, in attempt to fire up the base, they dispatched some of the usual suspects of the Conservative Right onto the politically popular gay bash highway. Along this highway will be mistruths, lies and hypocrisy, current Republican Party strengths.

Concerned Women of America kicks off the campaign of misinformation with a divisive approach stating “The fact that Americans find Rep. Foley’s alleged conduct reprehensible shows we have not bought into the false ideology that all sex should be celebrated” and “not all diversity should be accepted.” The official CWA statement sums it up with “some lifestyles, such as aberrant sexual behavior, are just too damaging to individuals, and that society and especially children should be protected from them.”

It doesn’t take a lot of thought to figure out which lifestyles CWA finds aberrant.

Linda Harvey over at Mission America is a little more blunt when she says of Mark Foley “like many homosexual men, he likes young teen boys”

Over in another important, high profile corner of the “right”, Tony Perkins, leader of the “Family Research Council” said “pro-homosexual activists like to claim that pedophilia is a completely distinct orientation from homosexuality, evidence shows a disproportionate overlap between the two.”

Perkins turns up the heat arguing that “almost all child molesters are male and less than 3% of men are homosexual, about a third of all child sex abuse cases involve men molesting boys—and in one study, 86% of such men identified themselves as homosexual or bisexual.”

The statistics he cites are from a report assembled by Perkin’s own Family Research Council.

Titled “Homosexuality and Child Sexual Abuse” this report was written by Dr. Timothy J. Dailey, a staffer at FRC. Dailey’s Ph.D is in Religion, not psychology. The report was first made public at the height of the Catholic Church Priest scandal. Within its contents, FRC cites work and evidence from studies written and compiled by A. Nicholas Groth, Ph.D.

Note that in a June 2002 letter later published by the Human Rights Campaign, Dr. Groth wrote to the Family Research Council asking that his name be withdrawn from the FRC’s report. Groth wrote “homosexual men pose less risk of sexual harm to children from both an absolute and a percentage incidence rate-than heterosexual males.” Groth also said in the same letter “I would appreciate your removing any reference to my work in your paper lest it appear to the reader that my research supports your views.”

Further disputing the current Right Wing blame game campaign is the fact that The American Psychological Association, The American Academy of Child Psychiatrists, The National Association of Social Workers and The Child Welfare League of America have all stated that there is no correlation between homosexuality and child abuse.

But, of course that won’t prevent the occasionally loose-lipped disciples of Right at Fox News from making some correlations of their own as they did the other night on Bill O’Reilly’s show.

FOX Reporter Major Garret bantered with Bill O’Reilly on September 29th about Foley’s behavior worrying that “It raises suspicions that never had before surfaced publicly about whether or not Mark Foley’s sexual orientation in any way impacts his job—this is the first time those two things have been joined together” said Garret.

90’s Republican Revolution king, Former House Leader Newt Gingrich jumped on the current Republican meltdown claiming on the same network that if Party leaders had acted to quickly to call out Foley on his inappropriate behavior, they might have been accused of gay bashing.

Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund Vice President Denis Dison told the “San Francisco Chronicle” that “it’s an absurd notion to say the (Republican) leadership is so afraid of offending gay people that they’d let a child predator stay in office, while they aren’t afraid of trying to amend the constitution.”

In the desperate attempt to fire up the conservative base, the barrage of falsehoods and mistruths will probably continue to flow. Republicans will do their best to shirk responsibility for its leader’s negligence in this disturbing episode. And, since it’s a well known fact that the GOP big tent never really rolled out a red carpet for gay people, who better to sacrifice than homosexuals.

In a recent e-mail statement, The National Gay Lesbian Task Force chairman Matt Foreman said “the GOP has one response when it’s in trouble—blame the gays.”

Perhaps he is correct in this instance. Gay marriage was a sure fire issue that energized evangelical voters in the last Presidential election. When the party is seeking to fire up its base, gay is the way.

The gay bash highway leads to an even more dangerous freeway of divisive and nasty politics that the United States will hopefully soon exit.

There are darker truths that rise to the surface within the Foley scandal. Thus far, much of the Right Wing and Republican response to hypocrite Foley’s misdeeds smells of the purest form of corrupt and smarmy political rot.

The LGBT civil rights organization Human Rights Campaign’s President Joe Solomonese wrote in the “Huffington Post” that “If Republicans are smart they will admit their complicity, establish safeguards to better protect these young pages and realize that blaming gay America for their misdeeds and mishandling won’t fly this time.”

From the White House down, the recent incarnation of the Republican Party power has cultivated a political culture that thrives on false correlations and mistruths. Accepting blame is not an acceptable option. Selling lies, pointing fingers, making false correlations between unrelated issues while planting seeds of fear and doubt has become what they do best. Dividing the country is what they’ve done.