I was reading a post on one of the dedicated Key West Facebook pages and as is so frequently the way the thing got completely out of hand. I don't do much with Facebook because of that, but from time to time I look in to keep up with friends. When I was in the hospital it was a life saver so I am reluctant to be too distant from the service. But...
Some dude posted a rather negative paragraph about electric bicycles and how they speed down the sidewalks at "30 to 40 mph" which sounded like a horrible exaggeration to me. Well, the shit show started and as far as I know it continues because I stepped away. The comments were so derogatory and angry I was quite shocked by the tone of the whole post.
Funnily enough it fell to a friend of mine, a mild mannered soul who potters to his voluntary environmental causes on an electric bike to defend the use of these instruments of the devil. Of course the clamor against electric bikes headed into the "report this to the police" stuff from outraged citizens and my buddy patiently explained that under Florida law if electric bikes don't exceed 20 mph they are mere bicycles. That contention set off another firestorm of vituperation of an intensity sufficient to burn the city down.
The paragraphs got longer and longer which on Facebook is the equivalent of shouting to be heard and not being listened to...no one reads more than three sentences if that. Writing ten column inches on Facebook is the equivalent of pissing into a hurricane, no one notices. And that's what all the posters were doing.
The thing is there is already a solid contingent in Key West that absolutely positively hates bicyclists. And on bad days you can see why. Locals and tourists (who already treat city streets as extensions of Disneyland) do frequently ride with total contempt of rules common courtesy and common sense. I feel that car drivers who hate cyclists are frequently expressing fear in reaction to a near miss, as most people really don't want to kill their cycling neighbors.
Given that cyclists are scofflaws when it comes to stopping for stop signs and red lights it is rather hard to expect car drivers who are bound by these irritations to care very much at all if bicyclists get annoyed by car drivers accidentally failing to in their duties to bicycles, passing too close or opening doors into bicycle lanes and so forth. In Old Town it's almost impossible to give three feet of room when passing an ambling distracted cyclist blocking traffic.
So when you are driving in Key West's congested narrow lanes and looking for somewhere to park you may be forgiven for bursting a blood vessel when an inconsiderate hoodlum on a bicycle slides wildly by, hopping off the sidewalk, swinging too close while running a stop sign...and then parks and walks away while you are still figuring what to do with your land yacht.
Oddly enough the debate I had dropped into quite by accident had taken bicycle hatred to a whole new place and one of the loudest angriest voices was a bicycle promoter in Key West. It turns out everyone wants to see people riding bicycles just they have to be the bicycles advocates describe as acceptable. And apparently in the socially fractured world in which we live electric bikes are the devil's handiwork.
I find it nuts, frankly. It seems to me the more people riding bicycles, electric or not, the fewer cars we have to contend with and putting people on electric bikes can lead us to hope the pedals may get some use, increasing with time and familiarity to increase the practice of beneficial exercise. The beauty of an electric bike is that it allows you to get to work in good order, not sweating and discombobulated. The riding home you can cranks the pedals for a bit of stress reduction in pedal assistance...
Electric bike advocates are pushing their machines as true alternatives to cars and I think they are on to something, as bicycles are familiar, friendly (usually) and require no bureaucratic paperwork or enforcement. Compared to a motorcycle that requires a licence and skill to ride as well as insurance and so forth a bicycle is as familiar as any other household appliance. Adding a motor makes it just a bit more useful. Fantastic.
It is time for the advocates to wake up and support getting people out of their cars instead of worrying about what kind of bikes they are riding. The law is clear and manufacturers know their machines are speed limited. In Florida bicycles have to yield to pedestrians but are permitted on sidewalks. Key West has the state's worst bicycle fatality rate so riding ion the street though permitted seems like a terrible roulette risk to me. Instead of remaining calm and carrying on people seem ready to start fighting over nothing very much.
I see an electric bike in my future and sooner possibly rather than later, namely when road work starts on the bridge into Key West. Traffic is expected to be impossibly backed up for the best part of a year. My plan is to park my car outside the city and ride a bike - electrically - into town, side stepping traffic back ups. Smart eh? Not universally appreciated then.