Davis Straub is hard to miss. He stands almost in the middle of 8th Street. He wears a fluorescent yellow shirt. Its lettering is backwards – the better to be read in a rear-view mirror. PLEASE DON’T RUN ME OVER.
He and about 20 other people are lined up along 8th Street, acting as human traffic dividers, using their bodies to mark the street’s bicycle lanes. It’s part demonstration, part protest and part publicity stunt.
For an hour Wednesday night, they stood there, receiving high-fives from bicyclists and occasional glares from drivers.
This is where bicycle advocacy in Boise is today: action over words. Activists aren’t just standing in the streets in bright colors. Bicyclists are shaming people who park in or block bike lanes, particularly Downtown and especially on busy 8th Street, posting photos of the cars and sometimes license plates on social media, and filing complaints asking for the drivers to be ticketed.
Bicyclists are generally an easy-going lot. For some, this militancy is uncomfortable.
Straub is fine with the practice, but it’s not his. “Other people are more upset about people parking in the bike lane,” he said.
Brothers Clancy and Tucker Anderson are pretty worked up. Friendly and mischievous, they organized this human bike lane event. They played cat and mouse with the cops, who closed 8th to cars from Main to Idaho before the humans could assemble their human-body-barrier. So their crew moved up to the next block, from Idaho to Bannock, where they could stand between cyclists and cars to make their point.
Clancy describes the two as “amateur safety hacks,” who became active urging ACHD to educate construction crews about not putting road signs — you know, such as “Road Work Ahead” — in bike lanes that force riders to veer into traffic to avoid the obstacle.
The twin brothers are proposing specific 8th Street delivery zones so that delivery drivers have a place to pull off and drop off goods to Downtown businesses and not block Downtown’s primary north-south bicycle corridor.
“That should be an easy no-brainer,” Clancy said.
But that’s not all. They want local governments to separate bike lanes from car lanes physically. Such separators between auto and car lanes are the holy grail for many bicycle and safety advocates — and for City Hall as well, which has bumped heads over bike lanes with ACHD, which owns most Boise and Ada County roads.
For bicyclists such as Steve Holbrook, taking to the street for bike safety is not an abstraction. He was hit by a car in the early 1990s in Coeur d’Alene. The car clipped his bike going fast enough to flip him up and over the car; he walked away with a bad case of road rash.
“I’m lucky to be here,” he said Wednesday night. “I’m just lucky it wasn’t the age of the SUV.”
The experience didn’t get him off his bike. It made him a “super-defensive, super-cautious” rider. And enough of an advocate for safety to stand in traffic.
TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT
Lisa Brady is one of Boise’s best known bike-safety advocates. She’s director of the Treasure Valley YMCA’s Safe Routes to School program and sits on the board of the Treasure Valley Cycling Alliance. As I chatted with her on 8th Street, she noted how uncomfortable it is to have cars pass just 3 feet away — the minimum in Boise when cars pass bicyclists.
As if to make her point, a black sports car edges close to us, inches away. “This guy is driving purposely close,” she said.
Brady is standing in the street not just to protest cars that block bike lanes, but to make “a larger point” about the need for awareness, education and good bicycle facilities.
She says the higher-profile tactics are generating attention, from the public and public agencies, which are talking about better programs to educate motorists and make sure everybody understand routes and rules.
“The conversations are changing,” she said.
Over at City Hall, spokesman Mike Journee is careful to make two points: In-street stunts are risky, so please don’t do that; and Boise leaders are on the bicyclists’ side.
“If they’re trying to get the attention of the mayor and City Council, they don’t need to do that,” said Journee. He ticks off the things the city is working on for bikes and bike lanes, especially Downtown, and notes the block-long project on Capitol Boulevard for a bike lane separated from traffic.
Are the bicyclists’ tactics making a difference? I think so, even if watching video of some of the nastier confrontations with drivers makes me cringe. I worry about my fellow bicyclists ending up on the losing end of a case of road rage. And I know I’m not the only bicyclist uncomfortable insisting on a rule-obeying purity for drivers that many bicyclists (myself included, to be honest) don’t practice. Sometimes drivers have no choice but to stop in a bike lane.
But in general, I have no problem with the naming and shaming. Bicyclists are realizing they can use the laws and the process to get what earnest pleas and polite requests haven’t always gotten — attention and results. It may be easy for the driver of a truck to ignore a flashing, fluorescent bicyclist; that driver can’t ignore a police officer writing a ticket.
Everybody benefits if we make cycling safer and get more people out of cars and onto bikes.
For bicyclist Joyce Johnson, who’s ridden in Detroit and other cities, that’s what her activism is about. She has little patience for acquaintances who complain about riding in traffic, or about not knowing where to ride.
“It couldn’t be more obvious,” said Johnson, her toes at the edge of the bike lane. “It’s painted green, people. Ride here.”