Change is hard. Introducing new elements to an ingrained routine, pattern or belief requires overcoming resistance, often for a long and sustained period of time.
By any measure, Chattanooga is nationally recognized and admired for its social and economic reinvention. Hold this city up to a mirror and what’s not to like about what you see? Progressive ideas in action combined with natural resources that are lacking in most cities, is a powerful formula that attracts great “quality of life” devotees.
When the harassment incident involving a cyclist and two teens in a pickup truck on Raccoon Mountain challenges the exact message of change Chattanooga sells to its residents and visitors alike, we SHOULD begin the process of trying to make sense of the situation and start rebuilding.
Which brings me to an editorial I read with great interest that was printed on the Chattanooga Times editorial page. It attempted to find middle ground in the situation (“Seize the day: Make cyclist’s encounter with teens a cause for innovation,” Jan. 18, 2014.)
While we can’t control every incident that happens on the road, we certainly can control our response to these incidents. The “Seize the day” editorial was a costly mistake that undercuts Chattanooga’s credibility, messaging and opportunity.
It was a disappointing read — a shameful vision and poor characterization of the interaction between the perception of traditional culture and enlightened community growth.
At the outset, I could easily be framed as a loyal and progressive outdoors advocate and leader that would support cyclists. I lobby for public and private investment in outdoor resources, activating youth programs, promote health & wellness initiatives and serve on the Board of a Chattanooga adventure sports event.
But, I also have dedicated years of my own time, energy and resources preserving Appalachian culture and values. My family and I maintain a rural home in Polk County, and along with my wife, an Americana musician, co-founded an organization with events that are dedicated to celebrating and preserving Appalachian arts, music and values. While I am “outsider” to Chattanooga, my grandmother was born in the city in 1892.
My belief about tradition and progress is simple — to sustain the lives and values you want in Chattanooga today, comes with the fortitude and discipline to embrace the change that supports these ideals.
So when a newspaper editorial suggests that pickup truck drivers misunderstand cyclists and their funny clothes and that “building better roads” is the takeaway solution from the harassment incident on Raccoon Mountain … we start down a path of embarrassing failure.
Failing to recognize the evolving relationship between bicycles and cars as it relates to transportation in Chattanooga, while excusing gross misconceptions about the rules of the roads by which we all agree to abide, damages Chattanooga more than the incident itself. It signifies ignorance, lack of vision and that solutions and common ground will not be found when you cannot identify the problem.
As Chattanooga presents itself — not only to the country but to the world — as an outdoorsy, active and bike-friendly community, let’s agree that:
•Cycling is first and foremost a form of transportation. Cycling takes place in Chattanooga in far more places than on mountain roads. Chattanooga has invested in bike lanes, “Ride to Work” campaigns and a bike share program. One of Chattanooga’s leading employers, Volkswagen embraces these ideas through its multimillion-dollar “Think Blue” campaign. Cycling in Chattanooga is a quality-of-life element aligned with transportation. We all must treat cycling as such. From this, an amazing subset of sport opportunities is created. When we understand cycling for what it is, we stop framing cycling for what it is not.
•Cycling clothing is NOT the issue. Related to the above point, people on bicycles wear suits, sundresses and sandals while riding. For some cyclists, spandex serves a technical purpose. Suggesting that cyclists are flaunting or “look funny” demeans what Chattanooga sells. This suggestion has absolutely no role in a newspaper editorial attempting to diffuse the harassment incident on Raccoon Mountain.
•Road Rules Rule. There is no interpretation of the rules on the road. It is reckless and wrong to suggest that cyclists need to be aware that drivers will act out because they dislike another mode of transportation. There is no middle ground on breaking the law — you do or you don’t.
Regaining the confidence of the very people Chattanooga relies upon to sustain itself and its brand requires understanding the nature of real problems, and from that, bringing forth real solutions. Newspaper editorials are here to present broad perspectives and ideas that align with our community’s challenges, opportunities and values. They should add context to our stories and be a part of the solution — not a tool for the problem makers.
Joe Jacobi is an Olympic whitewater medalist and has a home in Polk County, Tenn.