An Antidote to the Poison of Urban Cycling’s ‘Elitist Attitude’

Background Reading


Sometimes you get the feeling that you never retired from teaching Junior High School and that you have awakened into a nightmare of childish behaviors and attitudes. Urban Cyclists are as infantile as you might hope to ever see in adulthood bodies and the sickness is spreading to the Chicago Suburbs. Even traditional bicycle club members are trying to justify bad behavior when a “roadie wannabe” group does Sunday rides in peloton fashion complete with 2 (or more) abreast riding, while rolling through stop signs and the occasional traffic signal, all to keep their average speed as high as possible and not lose any of their “momentum“. It’s silly but that is the result of grown men and women who should know better and have lost their vision for training the next generations of children how to ride their bikes. We have devolved into a selfish, arrogant brood.

Cyclists Are More Special Than You... Get Used To It...

Cyclists Are More Special Than You… Get Used To It…

Tanya Snyder is trying to fight the good fight against this elitist attitude that has threatened to engulf cycling. She writes:

There’s a tussle going on right now about how cyclists should ride on city streets. Yesterday’s Streetsblog Network post took a snapshot of this debate, excerpting the WashCycle’s response to a Sarah Goodyear piece in Atlantic Cities.

Bike Messenger - "Wrong Way" Cyclist

Bike Messenger – “Wrong Way” Cyclist

Sarah wrote that cycling is no longer a mode for daredevils and mavericks weaving through traffic. Some cities now have street infrastructure that accommodates cyclists and guards their safety. Bicycling is increasingly incorporated into the transportation system in these cities, and as such, cyclists need to follow the rules.

Few people would contest the idea that for the transportation system to function well and safely, drivers need to abide by the rules of the road. It’s obvious that when drivers break the rules, the consequences are dire, since they’re operating a heavy vehicle capable of high speeds.

But safety isn’t the only issue. The orderly functioning of our streets is also a priority of planners, and should be a priority for all of us. When the signal says walk, we ought to know that we can walk without being hit by a motorist — or a cyclist — who’s decided that the rules don’t apply to him.

I am truly sick, at this late date, of people wanting to have it both ways: calling for protected bike lanes and a bike-share system, demanding that cops step up enforcement when it comes to cars, and then blithely salmoning up a major thoroughfare and expecting everyone look the other way,” Sarah writes. “It makes all of us look terrible and it’s a real hazard.

She also claims that cyclists aren’t special and don’t deserve their own rules. I part ways with her there. Riding a bike doesn’t make you special because it’s badass or good for the environment. It’s special because roads designed exclusively for automobiles don’t work well for cycling. And we should advocate for rules and infrastructure that safely accommodate sustainable and efficient modes of transportation at least as much as destructive and polluting ones.

I really enjoy reading some sane writing about a subject that is very important not just to cyclists, but pedestrians and motorists as well. There is far too much elitism inherent in Angie Schmitt’s writings for my taste. Tanya goes on to conclude:

If we want the transportation system to respect us when we’re biking, we have to respect the system. On the road, the system is enforced with tickets. I agree with Sarah that it’s fair for cyclists to be subject to that enforcement.

I disagree with her when she says, “Is it fair if bikers get tickets when motorists don’t? Nope. You know what else isn’t fair? Everything. Deal with it.” The entire point here is that we’re striving to build a system that is fair, and above all, safe. Enforcing cyclist behavior more than motorist behavior is ludicrous. I don’t think people should “deal with it” when reckless drivers get off scott-free. I think they should clamor for justice when people put others at risk and turn our transportation system into a danger zone.

But neither can cyclists claim to be completely outside the reach of enforcement.

In his piece on WashCycle (which also appeared on Greater Greater Washington), David C writes that cyclists need to ride safely and courteously “whether or not cycling is mainstream.” But he also says the “great cycling cities in Europe” don’t have ticketing blitzes to enforce good behavior. And he makes the somewhat convoluted argument that “increased enforcement is [not] needed to keep growth going.”

Well, that’s true. No one’s saying that biking tickets will spur more growth in bicycling rates. But as more people bike, cycling has a greater impact on everyone else on the road, and we need that impact to be perceived in a positive way. Higher rates of bicycling can reduce congestion and pollution, lower health care costs for everybody, encourage human interaction, benefit local businesses, and free up public space for better uses than car storage. But if people associate cycling with wrong-way riding and blowing through reds, they won’t perceive the positives.

It’s not about holding cyclists to a higher “squeaky-clean” standard of behavior than everyone else, as David C alleges. It’s simply about acknowledging that we’ve fought for our seat at the table, and now that we’re there, we have to stop throwing food.

It is that last paragraph that makes my heart skip a beat! Clearly we are not a lost cause as a movement so long as people like Tanya are alive and well and trundling their offspring off to school or wherever. But it will take people who have more at stake than themselves to pull this off. We are in very sore need of “adults” who despise the childishness of online forums like the Chicago ChainLink Forum. A short time there will have you seeing red if you really care about cycling as much as I do.

We must never let ourselves become elitist in our thinking or our actions on the roadways.

Good Cyclist Behavior

Good Cyclist Behavior