Urban Cycling Movement – Divisive? You Must Be Kidding!

Background Reading


Bicyclists pedal north on Dearborn Street at Kinzie Street in Chicago. (John J. Kim, Chicago Tribune)

Bicyclists pedal north on Dearborn Street at Kinzie Street in Chicago. (John J. Kim, Chicago Tribune)

Conventional wisdom tells us not to bring up politics or religion in polite discussion. And if you live in a city, specifically Chicago, go ahead and add bicycles to that forbidden topics list.

For such a seemingly innocent and harmless activity, bicycling can enrage even the most mild-mannered people. It can cause otherwise mellow drivers to shout through their car windows, honk their horns in frustration and purposely cut off cyclists. It can cause people to speak of cyclists as though they’re a pariah group put on earth solely to inconvenience those who drive. It can even cause pedestrians, eyes normally glued to their phones, to look up and yell at cyclists who blow past them on the sidewalk. (Biking on the sidewalk is prohibited in Chicago for those age 12 or older, unless it’s a designated bike route.)

There’s no denying lots of cyclists break the rules of the road. But so do plenty of drivers and pedestrians.

So what is about bicycling that elicits such strong emotions from its foes? Are we really that annoyed cyclists can run red lights and stop signs without consequence? Is it an unbearable hassle to be forced to wait 15 seconds before we have space to pass them on narrow two-lane streets? Are we jealous as we watch them cruise along on the lakefront trail on warm, sunny mornings while we sit at a standstill on Lake Shore Drive? (For the record, yes, I’m extremely jealous of this.)

Or could it be the cyclists themselves who bother us — or rather, the kind of people we imagine cyclists to be?

Ron Burke, executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance, a group that advocates for better cycling, walking and transit, said the most likely reason cyclists are disliked by some is because “cyclists, in the numbers we’re seeing them now, are relatively new on the streets.” Drivers are already accustomed to hating other drivers and pedestrians, but bikes add a new factor to the equation.

They’re one more obstacle, one more thing to slow down the almighty car. 

Burke acknowledged that, sure, there are obviously some cyclists who don’t obey traffic laws and ride recklessly. But, he said, “the reality is, the same can be said for motorists. You probably hear fewer complaints for motorists because we’re used to it.” 

Burke said there is also, generally speaking, the notion of a generation gap regarding attitudes toward cycling, with older people viewing the streets as a domain exclusively for cars.

And then there are the stereotypes projected on cyclists: Hipsters. Presumably liberal yuppies. People who harbor animosity toward these groups might just lump all cyclists in with them.

Whatever it is about cyclists that can incite such fury (and your theories are welcome), I think Chicagoans realize they’re going to have to just deal. For being “little bike people“, the city and some suburbs sure seem to have shown a lot of commitment to getting them from point A to point B more safely.

Tell us what you think irritates people most about cyclists or why the anger directed at them is unwarranted in the comments.

Copyright © 2015, Chicago Tribune


Cyclists have begun to hold the same place in the hearts of the public once occupied by the Tea Party. They are petulant, and elitist in their attitudes. For some inexplicable reason they have taken turns ‘kissing the ring‘ of City Hall and then deciding to ‘bite the hand that feeds them‘ during the most recent election.

If racks at Navy Piergo missing‘ the assumption is that it was being done with malice by the Mayor. If cars park in the bike lane or drive through them to race ahead of other cars, cyclists complain. But when they purposely ride along Michigan Avenue using the sidewalk they have their laptops write articles to explain that this behavior is not harming any pedestrians even if it is illegal.

In short this is a group that believes that all rules apply to others and not to themselves. That is why they indeed ride recklessly through crosswalks, disobey stop signs and run red lights, while demanding that red light cameras be kept to keep those pesky drivers from behaving in a manner similar to theirs.

The Tea Party is not a welcomed group amongst even many of the GOP. The Urban Cyclists of Chicago are firmly convinced that they do not need to wear helmets, dress in brightly colored clothing, use front and rear lights at night and obey the Rules of the Road. And while they have no love for drivers of any motor vehicle who operates without a license they see nothing wrong with eschewing licensing for themselves.

When you have a group like the Tea Party that sees itself as not needing to have any restrictions at the polls, but demands that people of color have hurdles to voting placed in their way, you have begun to see the framework under which this Urban Cycling Movement is operating.