October 19, 1991

Stephen Wheeler

Urban Ecology

P.O. Box 10144

Berkeley, California 94709


Re: Bicycle Activism


Dear Stephen:


     After our conversation yesterday, I tried to understand my uncomfortability with your approach to forwarding the cause of bicyclists in Berkeley. I think I have discovered the cause.


     Bicycling has been around for about a hundred years, as has the automobile. In that time, bicycling has steadily lost ground, while the automobile has steadily expanded its power and sphere of influence. Let's be honest. In over a hundred years, in spite of the efforts of millions of enthusiastic activists, bicycling has made no meaningful progress whatsoever!


     Why? Obviously, because we have allowed the automobile and its proponents to take over our lives, our natural resources, our land, our time, our government, and our wealth. We ourselves have fallen for the same myths that have imprisoned the whole world in a race to see who can squander the world's natural legacy the fastest. We own cars. We fill them with oil and gasoline. We drive them to our backpacking trips and to our Sierra Club meetings. We support our government in its rush to kowtow to the every whim of the auto users. We allow our tax dollars to be spent paving over our most valuable farm land, putting out car fires, dealing with traffic accidents, signalizing streets, and providing everyone with free parking. We are our own worst enemies!


     As the highway lobby bulldozes aside the needs of the local community in order to rape West Oakland once again with a 20-lane freeway (no, that is not a misprint; the right-of-way is 262 feet, as shown in Exh. 12-2.6!), the mild-mannered Alex Zuckermann merely asks "that bicycle access be incorporated into the design of the proposed Cypress facility" (1/18/91 letter to Caltrans). There seems to be a bit of a reality gap here. Who with any sense would want to bicycle near a freeway?! Bicyclists, because they exercise (even near cars!), incur a much greater risk from air pollution than drivers and even walkers. They, of all people, would seem to have an interest in clean air, and hence in stopping the progress of the freeway juggernaut.


     It is high time that bicyclists, transit advocates, and other pedestrians stop begging for the crumbs dropped from the table of the auto users. We have all stolen the homes and habitats of our wildlife. Wildlife have no way to defend themselves. But bicyclists don't have that excuse. We vote. We spend money on the products of the auto and oil industries. We pay the taxes that subsidize the automobile-dependent government, the auto-dependent industry, the auto-dependent landscape.


     No significant progress will ever be made until bicyclists stand up on their hind legs and demand an end to their imprisonment. We can't do this while surviving on hand-me-down crumbs from those with the real power. We have to break the back of the automobile/highway system: stop voting for pro-highway politicians; stop spending our hard-earned money (what's left after the auto/highway lobby takes its cut) on auto company and oil company products; start demanding an end to the welfare system for the (rich) auto users. And in general make sure that our every movement tends in that direction, and not in the direction of more accommodating of the automobile (and the truck and other relatives of the auto). Nobody is forcing us to buy the products that finance the auto/highway lobby.


     Are we slow learners? Isn't 100 years of enslavement enough? Lincoln freed the involuntary slaves in 1861. We need another Lincoln to free the voluntary slaves.





                                     Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.