Ray’s Crash Course in Respectability Politics

The power of social media, especially Facebook, helped me learn about respectability politics. I had never heard of respectability politics before today. As my below Facebook post shows, I thought I was helping to improve bike advocacy efforts by policing badly behaved cyclists.

For example, I saw a cyclist go through every stoplight on Fairfax Drive in Arlington, VA last Wednesday during afternoon rush hour. Since I’m tired of hearing well behaved cyclists and motorists tell me how badly behaved cyclists are ruining the image of all cyclists, I tried to chase down the badly behaved cyclist and tell him to stop breaking the law.

While I wasn’t able to catch up with the badly behaved cyclist, I’m thankful I posted this experience on social media. My friends were able to educate me about respectability politics and why it doesn’t work. Even though I was convinced I was doing the right thing by policing badly behaved cyclists, I’m thankful my friends stuck to their reasoning and waited patiently for me to show them that I understood their viewpoint. It took a few days for me to stop arguing my viewpoint and finally understand their viewpoint. Now I can share their reasoning with others that may not fully understand respectability politics.

In case you haven’t heard of it before, respectability politics “refers to attempts by marginalized groups to police their own members and show their social values as being continuous, and compatible, with mainstream values rather than challenging the mainstream for what they see as its failure to accept difference.” Instead of policing cyclists, my friends suggested I encourage people to do the right thing. As Zvi Leve, who is an experienced cyclist living in Montreal, wrote, “I find that positive reinforcement is a far more effective strategy to encourage people to ‘do the right thing’.” Zvi also shared the following CityLab article, which discusses Sweden’s Vision Zero approach to education and enforcement.

Vision Zero Enforcement

Source: CityLab

Speaking of Vision Zero, I’m currently working with GGWash‘s staff to publish my next blog post about why Sustainable Safety, which is the Dutch alternative to Vision Zero, is more effective than Vision Zero.

What should I do to avoid being left and right hooked?

I was almost left and right hooked several times last week while riding in bike lanes in downtown Portland, Oregon so am planning to buy a $65 Orp. The below video and photo show how an Orp works.

Unfortunately, I can’t use the Orp to communicate with motorists waiting at a stop light that I’m planning to continue straight from the bike lane. The Orp just alerts motorists that I don’t want to be hit. It doesn’t inform motorists whether I will be turning or continuing straight. Since I can see whether the motorist’s turn signal is on, I know when I need to communicate with the motorist that I plan to continue straight. In order to inform motorists that I plan to continue straight, I have been pointing straight, trying to make eye contact with the motorist and yelling “straight”. Even with all of this, I had two motorists almost hit me while I was biking in the door zone bike lane on SW 5th Avenue in downtown Portland on Thursday, October 22. I kept trying to make eye contact with the motorists and yelling, but their windows were up so they couldn’t hear me and they didn’t see me until I heard their brakes squeak. Thankfully, they both were going slow, which allowed them enough space to stop in time. However, I felt my heart beating very fast so know it was way too close for my safety and comfort.

Since my strategies aren’t working to keep me safe from being left and right hooked, what should I do to avoid being left and right hooked in the future? Vehicular cyclists (according to this discussion, I have now learned that they prefer to be called bike drivers) keep telling me in the Cyclists are Drivers! facebook group that I need to “just line up with the rest of the traffic that’s going straight.” Unfortunately, as I wrote in this blog post, Oregon law requires me to use the bike lane in most situations and doesn’t allow me to impede traffic so I am forced to feel unsafe and uncomfortable in the bike lane. I have copied the Oregon statutes to show you why the law needs to be changed. Section 814.420.3.e is copied below.

“A person is not in violation of the offense [of leaving a bicycle lane or path] under this section if the person is able to safely move out of the bicycle lane or path for the purpose of: (e) Continuing straight at an intersection where the bicycle lane or path is to the right of a lane from which a motor vehicle must turn right.”

Note the phrase: “where the bicycle lane or path is to the right of a lane from which a motor vehicle must turn right”, as this only applies to bike lanes to the right of right turn only lanes, and not lanes where motorists can go through or turn right, which is the overwhelming majority of cases on the streets.

After receiving more advice from the Cyclists are Drivers! facebook group, I am planning to break several Oregon laws starting on Monday by controlling the full travel lane on roads with a bike lane and impeding traffic. Since I value living another day more than following unsafe Oregon laws, I am open to being arrested and receiving a ticket. Do you see any safe and comfortable options that are permitted under Oregon law so I don’t risk dying while biking?