Wednesday, 4 June 2008

The Nanny State

I'm probably infringing on Unholy ground here (especially since Jim has talked me off the ledge a bit and given me some good advice and reading lists lately), but I'm going to run with it anyway.

Let me preface this whole thing by saying that I rarely ride on bike trails (or multi use trails, whatever you want to call them). Mostly, I find them annoying since people ignore good sense when using them. However, the Cap Crescent has provided me with a ready way to get from River Road to Macarthur, where many of my training rides begin. I also used to ride down the trail to get to Hains on Thursday nights, although I think I won't be doing any part of that in the future.

We now have a 15mph speed limit on the CCT. I imagine that what necessitates this is the donkeys who either train at significant speeds on the trail or just plain act like general irresponsible asses, darting in and out among crowds, passing into oncoming traffic and what have you. These people are a danger to the greater population of trail constituents.

The problems I have with the speed limit are several. It doesn't address most of the problems. Whether someone snakes through a gap, passing slow traffic into the face of oncoming traffic, at 10, 15 or 25 mph, you are talking about someone going multiple times the rate of the people with whom he's interacting. Annoying for cyclists, frightening for runners and scarring for small children. I mean I guess go ahead and throw a speed limit on there, if you think it will help. In my experience, most of these incidents have more to do with aggressiveness than speed. They often happen at low cycling speed.

The speed limit does nothing to address bad citizenship on the trail. I think it actually does the opposite - placing the blame for all inter-use group mayhem on the shoulders of those baddy cyclists. This is to say that the group of power walkers who take up the entire width of the trail are blameless, as is the runner who runs in the wrong lane, the people who stop to have a conversation in the middle of the trail, the people who enter the trail without looking, the unleashed dogs, the parents teaching their little kids to ride tricycles on the trail on a busy Saturday - they are all now officially blameless. I, on the other hand, obeying all laws and etiquette of the trail, save for an insignificant mph or two over the speed limit, am to blame. We of the lycra clad, team name and logo adorned gear set, are particularly frequently singled out in letters to the editor, etc. Some recent examples of ill-considered TT practice aside, I generally find the team riders to be gentlemen of the trail. Model citizens if you will. How about having an idiot limit? You can only act so stupid on the trail before you get a ticket. All trail users would be subject to it. Act like an idiot and it costs you money.

A lot of people commute on the trail. It's a convenient and safe route. We want to encourage people to get out of their cars and onto their bikes. Observation of this speed limit will cost commuters probably about a 25% premium on their commute times. My personal anecdotal evidence is that commuters are the true knights (and knightesses) of the trail, and they are generally on it at a time when few others are.

Perhaps the thing I find most disappointing about the speed limit is the death of a utopian ideal of people interacting responsibly. All you have to do is sit on the bench above the Macarthur tunnel (inside which, by the way, is the coldest place in North America at any given moment) for a half an hour to see egregious bad behavior from every type of trail user. But now every time a bad interaction includes a cyclist, the immediate response will be “the bike must have been speeding, it’s his fault.”

The trail is a road, and just like a road it has rules that need to be obeyed in order for the system to work. Just like the toolboxes who drive 45 in the left lane on 95, yakking on their cell phones, the people who cluelessly use the trail or make up rules to suit themselves put pressure on the effective workings of the system which cause the system to fail.

I predict that the speed limit does zero to make the trail safer, but that blame of cyclists for every incident (and again, there are plenty of jackass cyclists out there, fully deserving of a smack in the head) will be 100%.

I hate the nanny state.

Other than that, still bored out of my skull although the Kiwi muscles are starting to return. As if being unable to bend or bear weight on my right leg wasn’t detrimental enough to cycling.


DJ Bike Police said...

I agree with you 100%. I work for the Mont. Co. Park Police on the daywork shift, so you can imagine the responsibility has been given to me to "enforce the speed limit on the Capital Crescent Trail during the early morning commute hours." But, as an area cyclist/cat 4 racer, and go-to guy on all things cycling related within the department, I've tried to express my dissatisfaction with the emposed speed limit. Unfortunately I don't really wear enough brass to make any real changes.
Just like you, I think it places 100% of the blame on us cyclist and not the real ignorant behavior that goes on on the trail. Honestly, out of all the accidents we have reported on the trail, most of them have been when walkers, not paying attention, move into the path of a biker. This spells disaster whether we're going 25, 15, 10 or 5 mph.
So to all the cyclist out there, if you're ever stopped by a park police officer and about to get a ticket, shamelessly name drop! I am Officer Brew and since we're all cyclist, we all know each other, so you know me.

P.S. the real problem we have is when we (cyclist) blow through the stop sign at Little Falls Prkwy. Very dangerous and you can't name drop to get out of being t-boned by a car.

Chuck Wagon said...

Officer Brew -
Thanks for your comment. Good luck with the next couple of weeks as people get used to this. I'm sure it will be an blast.
Good point on the Little Falls intersection. The stop signs on trail couldn't really be any bigger or more obvious.