Velophobia: Fear and Backpedaling in Colorado


Photo credit Arvindgrover @ flickr.

Never mind that it is hard to define what a "U.N. city" might be, nor why it would be so horrible. Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes said this week that Denver will soon become this unsavory thing, and it's all due to those dang bicycles. Huh? Velophobia, which simmers in Colorado, now seems to be bursting out with Mae's proclomation that a "bike agenda" will lead the state's capital city to be a den of......happy, healthy, less stressed riders. Oops, no, wrong playbook. Maes says that Denver will ignore personal freedoms, and that B-Cycle, Denver's heretofore celebrated network of 400 bike share bicycles, is part of the green, environmental agenda that specifically ignores those freedoms.

"This is bigger than it looks like on the surface, and it could threaten our personal freedoms," Maes told the Denver Post.

"These aren't just warm, fuzzy ideas from the mayor," he said, referring to the bike share and promotion of biking. "These are very specific strategies that are dictated to us by this United Nations program that mayors have signed on to."

Maes told the Post that Denver is a member of an organization called the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives which has 1,200 communities as members, 600 of them located in the U.S. Denver has been part of the ICLEI since 1992.

Maes also added that supporters of B-Cycle, which is a privately funded bicycle sharing scheme with support coming from Trek and the Humana insurance conglomerate, among others, is lead by environmentalists that value the earth above citizens' rights.

Colorado is also the home of the casino town of Black Hawk, which recently banned bicycle riding in a number of streets due to "safety" concerns. (At that time, Cyclelicious noted that between 2004 and 2008 there were only three traffic fatalities total in the Colorado county where Black Hawk is located and none of them were cyclist or ped related.)

So here's the question. Is there something that makes Colorado especially susceptible to velophobia, or is there some national bike fear bubbling up?

It's probably the latter - for in contrast Colorado is home to the university town of Boulder, which takes Bicycling Magazine's #3 spot in this year's survey of the Top 50 Bicycle Friendly Cities. Colorado Governor Bill Ritter is an enthusiastic cyclist, and Denver's current mayor John Hickenlooper a proponent of cycling and public transport.

In fact, last year Colorado's Department of Transportation adopted a policy that aims to "accommodate bicycle and pedestrian use of the highways in a manner that is safe and reliable for all highway users."

So if it's not just Colorado, where's the bike hate rhetoric coming from? Here's a theory. Rather than a car versus bike thing, I think at issue is the old-fashioned approach to urban traffic planning (i.e. motor vehicle centric) versus a new-fangled one (eg. complete streets).

This is reflected in the debate going on this week at the National Journal, which asks, "Will Bicyclists And Pedestrians Squeeze Out Cars?"

It's the wrong question, of course, because car-centric America is still very much in place. Hairline fractures have only begun to be visible because the old-fashioned approach to traffic management - build more roads - doesn't seem to work for long. Even worldwide, motorists find traffic more intense and stress-filled than ever.

At the National Journal debate, Oregon's Representative Earl Blummenauer says motorists should be thankful to see people walking and biking on the street because it means less cars congesting the road they are currently driving on. Obviously many in Colorado don't see it that way. What about in your part of the country?

Note: By Wednesday evening, Maes had recanted, saying in the Steamboat Today paper that he does not want to be seen as anti-bike, he is only against the ICLEI and its sustainability goals.

Tags: Bike-Friendly World | Bikes | Bike Sharing | Biking

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