Bike lanes are track marks of an addiction to a progress which is neither progressive nor useful. They are both nefariously neoliberal and blissfully liberal. The twisted logic of the social use of bike lanes act as a stall. They do not impede traffic; this much has been proven. But they do impede justice.
In a lecture titled Progress and Freud’s Theory of Instincts, Herbert Marcuse, considering progress, state, “progress itself, according to its explicit concept, is laden with disturbing activity, transcendence for its own sake, unhappiness, and negativity. It becomes an unavoidable question whether the negativity inherent in the principle of progress is perhaps the motive force of progress, the force that makes it questionable.” Marcuse later continues this line of thought: “It may be less irresponsible today to depict a utopia that has a real basis than to defame as utopia conditions and potentials that have long become realizable possibilities.” This is not a statement on any moral arc of the universe curving towards justice, rather, it is an observation that progress for the sake of progress is nothing more than a reification of existing power. The progress which allows the West to continue to enjoy an unchanged state of relative prosperity is the same progress which actively destroys any chance of balance in the remainder of the world. Capitalism has not yet reached its last throws – despite many heroic efforts – because progress has lost any attachment to effective change.
The question facing all would-be radicals has always been twofold: “Are we creating systemic change? Does this change, rather than equalize power distribution within a system of meaning, overthrow said system of meaning?” This should be the question facing those who campaign for bike lanes. In Eagle Rock, CA, bike lanes line streets filled with mechanics and smog check shops. In Chicago, they are everywhere. These areas have not been saved by bike lanes. The lanes are not even there for those who inhabit(ed) those areas. Bike lanes are there so that when the liberal white people drive through Chicago’s south side, they can consider equity reached, not because there are black people riding bikes on the bike lanes, but because the superficial improvement of infrastructure counts as progress. As Steve Biko comments on the white liberal, they can return to their homes in their white neighborhoods with their white friends they can say “the South Side is not so bad now – they have bike lanes. Give it a try!” This stall, this absolute erasure of any ability to witness struggle that merits critical reconsideration of Chicago/Los Angeles’ political economy can be said to be active social change and allow those who should be sleepless to rest easy.
Progress has become something that exists as a roadblock to justice. The collaborative conditions that would allow for interactions between people to function in such a way that every person could live a meaningful political life (whether created by fully funded public schools, prison abolition, or a total revolution) will never be brought about by designating spaces for bikes. This should be a consideration for the time after these actions have been taken. In the words of James Baldwin, “A person is more important than anything else.” Regardless of whether that person is on a bike.
Marcuse, Herbert. Five Lectures
Biko, Steve. I Write What I Like
Baldwin, James. Clip from “Take This Hammer…”