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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

It's Ok to Bully Bike Hipsters on Ladyblogs

I read a few "ladyblogs," primarily xoJane and Jezebel. If I click on a post, I usually read the comments, too. When the topic of bikes comes up, there's always a mini-war in the comments between people who despise "bike hipsters" (read: entitled, privileged jerks who think they own the road) and people who actually ride bikes. Commenters trot out their most extreme stories of negative interactions they've had with people on bikes, sometimes concluding with things like "FUCK BIKING HIPSTERS I HOPE A BUS HITS YOU."

These are the same websites that promote things like fat acceptance and anti-bullying campaigns. Why are bicyclists portrayed as inhuman creatures unworthy of sympathy, dismissing an incredibly diverse world of practice (bicycling) because of the stupid behavior of a few jerks? And, this is the thing that really confuses me, why do people find jerk bicyclists so harmful to society when they constantly interact with motorists who run red lights and stop signs, use infrastructure like traffic circles in dangerous ways, talk and text in the car, drive without looking from side to side when entering intersections, and engage in other dangerous behaviors that kill people every day?

I asked a few of my friends, one a bicyclist and one less inclined to the bicycling arts, what they thought about this phenomenon. Both responded that it's because you can see a bicyclist's face, whereas it's easier to think of a motorist as a car. The interactions with bicyclists stick out in people's minds, and maybe they feel more personally insulted by the face-to-face flouting of laws. I think it's also because we've trained ourselves to think of driving as passing through an obstacle course rather than moving through a social space. Cars that do dumb stuff are a nuisance, but they do not interrupt the illusion until there's an actual crash. Bodies that do dumb stuff are a threat to the idea that driving is a no harm, no foul activity. You might actually hurt someone!

Getting sensitized to this fact has made driving a lot more harrowing for me than it was when I was an Orange County teenager. I spent a lot of time in my car, especially when I was home from college in the summer of 2002, since I didn't have much space at my mom's house and I was working as a pizza delivery girl. I thought of the interior space of my car as a private world where I could listen to music and the exterior of my car as an identity statement, putting on bumper stickers and gluing astroturf racing stripes to the roof. The car was a mobile place. I didn't think much about the people outside my car, except for always locking my doors. Now when I drive, I think of myself as operating a dangerous and unwieldy mass of metal.

So, when I hear people who regularly operate dangerous and unwieldy masses of metal characterize people outside of those masses of metal as objects of hate, I can see that there's some car culture discipline going on. People who act like jerks behind the shelter of a windshield may also be despised, but they don't seem to come up as much. Driving is the norm, and doing something different gets policed as deviant. But what about when the people complaining are pedestrians who feel harassed by bicyclists? I wonder if they feel as harassed by motorists, and, if not, if maybe it's because they know what it's like to drive but they don't know what it's like to bike. Maybe they have sympathy for drivers, but not for bicyclists.

All this has made me think about the impact that our everyday interactions have on our worldviews. There just ain't no denying that driving is a deadly mode of transport, and yet the statistics seem to influence people's perceptions of safety less than their individual experiences of bike jerks. I'd say that bike jerks should stop being such jerks, but a) being a self-righteous turd is clearly part of the fun for some people on bikes, and b) what makes a "bike jerk" is totally subjective in a country where many motorists have no clue that bicyclists can use streets just like they do. And, as this piece on xoJane points out, trying to ride a bike, even in a bikey city, might reinforce negative views of bicycling. So the real point to me is that people who don't know what it's like to ride a bike should try talking to some people who do ride bikes, and maybe going for a ride with them to see what it's all about. Hopefully positive engagement with bicyclists can have as much of an impact as negative engagement does.

60 comments:

  1. Good thought-provoking post...

    Somewhat tangential: I have a half-baked (or maybe more like 1% baked) theory that sort of goes against your friends' "because you can see a bicyclist's face, whereas it's easier to think of a motorist as a car" My idea is that helmets prevent drivers/peds from seeing cyclists as people. Wearing a helmet possibly interferes with observers recognition of cyclists as fellow humans - it interferes with millenia-long-evolution of facial recognition. Folks wearing are maybe seen as machines or bugs or something else - not quite fellow-humans. (To a small extent, just the bike itself also does this - makes riders taller/bigger/faster than humans - so observer maybe sees "cyclist-other" more than "human on a bike")

    That's the first time I've put this inchoate theory down in writing and, at first blush, it sounds worse than I thought... and I am not sure that it leads toward any greater understanding of the ideas you've blogged about here...

    (it's showing me as Anonymous - but I am actually Joe Linton)

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    1. Hi Joe! Ooh, bicyclists as bugs, I like it. This could really add fuel to the helmet/no helmet debate, which flares up every now and then on the U.K.-based bike research listserv I'm on.

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  2. In some reptilian part of the ancient brain, motorists simply cannot abide that a fellow citizen would not subscribe to their car culture. "Roads are for cars", their primal urges scream, and they've been trained since birth to think so. In our Manichean culture, Cyclists and skaters occupy a grey area - legally banned from the sidewalk, but unwelcome in their designated realm. Banished to the "door lane", forever hugging the curbstone. When a cyclists claims what is rightfully theirs - The Lane - the motorist's conceptual everything-in-its-place framework comes crashing down, and their instincts take over, manifesting as irrationality and violence.

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    1. Now I'm thinking about a half fish, half bicycle creature crawling onto land from out of the primordial soup

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    2. @Aaron B: "...legally banned from their sidewalks, but unwelcome in their designated realm". Man, Aaron, you nailed it. As regards driver instincts: in cultures in which cycling is the norm (e.g., Dutch), drivers and cyclists co-exist rather peacefully. Roll on, folks./jb in Marylad

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  3. I like this post so much. Ditto the comments preceding mine.

    Back in 1987, new to bicycling advocacy, I wrote a so-less sophisticated and wise article, "The In-Between Bicyclist," trying to articulate ideas similar to Adonia's and Aaron B's, in the NYC 'zine "City Cyclist." Happy to see the points I struggled to make then getting such fine expression now.

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    1. Is City Cyclist online? Sounds like an interesting bike artifact!

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    2. Alas, no. It was published bimonthly by Transportation Alternatives from 1986 until maybe 2000 or later when it was rebranded and somewhat fancied up as "Reclaim," which is published quarterly and is on-line. During the years I headed TA and edited City Cyclist ('86-'92), CC was a highly spirited 'zine which both reflected and animated the rebirth of grassroots cycling activism in NYC. I have several complete sets, but there's never been interest in pdf'ing them so they could go on line.

      I really like your writing and your overall "take" on stuff, and will try to stay/get connected.

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  4. I know why I'm irritated at bicyclists, personally. First why I think bicycles are good:

    * They're environmentally friendly
    * They're affordable
    * They promote healthy living and an active lifestyle

    Now why I feel irritated/ angry when I see bicyclists on the road:

    * I ride motorcycle and drive a car. For both of those, I had to take classes teaching me the rules of the road and how to properly utilize my vehicle on public roads.
    * I also have to maintain insurance and licensing on my vehicle. Bicyclists do not. Their bikes aren't licensed or registered, and they don't have to take a class to get a bicycle endorsement certifying that they know and will obey the rules of the road.
    * Bicyclists are not required by law to maintain insurance. In my particular state, I don't need to have motorcycle insurance UNLESS I run a red light. Sometimes motorcycles run a red light (after waiting a cycle or two) because the motorcycle can't trigger the light cycle. I can see the same issue happening for bicyclists. As a motorcyclist, if I want to legally run a red in my state, I have to be insured. If I run a red and a cop pulls me over and I'm not insured, I get a big fine. This is not the case for bicyclists.
    * Bicyclists start riding at a very young age, often in neighborhoods and sidewalks (as children). That's fine, but it also creates a blurred line situation. At which point is a minor cyclist okay to ride in traffic? How do we know a cyclist knows the rules of the road? Should mentally disabled adults who can cycle but not drive required to bicycle in traffic or bicycle lanes with motorized traffic, or would we consider them to be like uncertified minors?

    Right now, in my state, the laws require no riding bicycles on the sidewalk. This creates a weird and frustrating situation where technically it's illegal for a small toddler to ride their bicycle on the sidewalk while their parents are out walking, or for 10 year old kids to ride on the sidewalk when they're out playing. I personally don't want to see small children or young tweens/ teens riding their bicycles in traffic -- but nor do I want to take away their bicycles. I think the laws are set up all wrong and screwy right now, treating all cyclists alike when you're not all alike. Some are serious about bicycles and bicycle safety and awareness, and some are casual riders not interested in the laws surrounding cycling or the culture around it. Personally, I think that cyclists who use the public roads should take a certification course and be required to license and register their vehicles. An unlicensed bicycle on a public road would clearly indicate said cyclist is not certified to ride in traffic, and they'd get a ticket. And I think minor cyclists should use sidewalks until they're of an age to get traffic certified (say, 13 or 14?)

    Basically, there are rules to the road and using the road, and even if a bicyclist completely obeys the traffic rules, they are still not taking the appropriate certification classes, maintaining insurance, or licensing and registering their bikes -- like the other vehicles on the road.

    So that's why I don't like bicyclists on the road. I don't call them hipsters and hope they get hit, though, because I understand that it's just the way our laws are currently set up. Plus, like I said, I ride motorcycle, so I get where y'all are coming from with the cagers thinking they own the road.

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    1. I think everyone has a very individualized perspective on these things based on their own personal modes of transport, thanks for detailing yours! Our traffic laws are all screwy, and bicyclists occupy a gray area that often makes no sense. One thing that occurred to me after reading your comment is that bicycles don't have engines, so they entail less responsibility than motorized vehicles. This is a big piece of what gets left out when I hear people rag on bicyclists. People operating motorized vehicles have more potential to hurt others, not to mention the shared burden of breathing in the emissions from combustion engines.

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    2. Yes, let's make it much more cumbersome, costly and bureaucratic to ride a bike. That will get people riding. I want lots of kids out on the streets, and teens and tweens and everyone else...all unlicensed! But OK...hopefully trained.

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    3. There's contradiction there... because the laws are so screwy, then all the certifications in the world don't make a whole lot of sense. Cyclists have to figure out -- and aren't always right even when there *is* a "right" answer -- which laws and customs and expectations to go along with, and which ones to modify and/or ignore, and when.
      Oh, yea, and before cyclists could get tickets, the ticket-givers would have to learn that, too.

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    4. I'm not opposed to required training and licensing for cyclists; in the Netherlands children learn to bicycle in traffic in school. I also think traffic laws should be enforced for all users of the road. I don't know about bicyclist insurance. It's not like we are operating potentially dangerous machinery. I worry about the medical cost of getting hit by one our numerous speeding drivers where I live though -prefer just to pay into a national healthcare system.

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    5. @ Adonia -- you say, "One thing that occurred to me after reading your comment is that bicycles don't have engines, so they entail less responsibility than motorized vehicles," but I'm not thinking engines/ emissions when I suggest registration and licensing. I'd love to see more bikes on the road, because they are environmentally friendly. The thing is, public roads/ lights/ crosswalks/ safety signs/ etc. are maintained by taxes -- taxes generated by fuel taxes, licensing, registration, and classes. Obviously, bicyclists don't pay fuel taxes, so why not contribute to the upkeep of the roads we all share and want to maintain by paying licensing, registration, and certification taxes?

      @ Amico -- Actually, I'm suggesting a system where serious riders -- people who want to use bicycles as their primary form of transportation -- take a course to certify they can ride safely and defensively on public roads. Serious riders would register and license their bikes in part because such fees maintain the public roads they're now sharing. Meanwhile, casual riders -- like young children or tweens -- could learn to ride and be comfortable on their bikes on sidewalks or other paths away from motorized traffic. I also think it would be beneficial if kids could take a certification course at a youngish age, like 13 or something. This would give them a leg up on learning traffic laws and road rules.

      @ SiouxGeonz -- I'm not quite sure what you mean by your comment. If certification classes were offered, a cyclist wouldn't *have* to figure out the right answer on the fly. The most common situations would be addressed in the certification course. All those beneficial bits of knowledge and how to deal with the road that an experienced rider learns over time through research and/ or experience, could be very beneficial in raising safety and preventing accidents for cyclists newly introduced to the road. In a cyclist certification class, an experienced bicyclist would be able to teach these tricks of the road to cyclists unfamiliar with riding safely in traffic. Since the course would be specified to cyclists, it would also cover the state/ local laws regarding bicycling -- an area in which many people are confused. As far as I can see, offering bicycle certification courses has many benefits and few (if any) drawbacks, other than cost and time.

      @ She Rides -- I actually agree with you. I threw bicyclist insurance in there because I know some bicycles can be extremely expensive, and because (medically speaking) the insurance company (ideally) should argue on your behalf with the at-fault driver while you're recovering from any injuries. It's pretty much accepted by most people that if I get hit on my motorcycle, I will probably die (even if I'm wearing safety gear and helmet). So my insurance is actually in case my motorcycle is stolen, damaged, or knocked over, as well as a fund for after-death payout to my loved ones if I am killed by an inattentive cager. I can see how such an insurance policy might be beneficial for some bicyclists, so I went ahead and included it. That said, I would also prefer to pay into a national healthcare system rather than buy insurance.

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    6. Kids in Portland Public School learn about biking in traffic too! I was just talking with some 10yr olds that I babysit for about a test on bike safety that they had to take. Additionally, the Oregon DMV drivers booklet and exam includes bike safety, which is important to inform drivers as well as drivers who are also bikers.
      You can get insurance for your bicycle. A simple google search turned this up http://www.phred.org/~josh/bike/bike_insure.html and
      http://bicycleinsuranceblog.com/
      It seems to usually just be a part of another type of insurance, but I assure you if there is something that people want to protect, the insurance companies will let you pay them money.

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    7. Bikes should not be subject to the same laws (like having insurance) because riding a bike is not inherently as dangerous as driving a car or riding a motorcycle. You see...bikes weigh 20-40 lbs and travel 10-20 mph. Cars weigh 3000 lbs and can travel upwards of 1000 mph. Motorcycles are also very heavy and can travel very fast. Bikes, on their own, cannot do any damage. Cars and motorcycles, on the other hand, most definitely can.

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    8. @Laura: Cyclists most certainly do pay for road and signage upkeep. The myth that cars pay "road tax" and that covers the damage that their vehicles do to pavement as they drive and idle is pervasive in our culture, but the truth is this is all subsidized and in most states and provinces and countries, the funding comes from general funds that cyclists contribute to through payroll taxes, income taxes, property taxes, and local sales taxes.
      We also do far less damage to pavement (Ever seen a truck-traffic-heavy road with giant ruts at intersections? Ever seen one with narrow bike tire imprints?) and have much less of a share to cover.
      More importantly, almost all cyclists in suburbs and many urban cyclists still have cars and thus pay those licensing, registration, and fuel taxes you claim pay for roads -- they just also like riding their bike on what they're paying for. (Incidentally, many car insurance policies can also cover you for any third party damages when you are on your bicycle. Ask your broker for more information!)

      What we need isn't licensing or helmet laws. They both keep people off bikes and reinforce car culture. We need education starting in middle school or thereabouts. That's when kids tend to get bikes and physical abilities that allow them to ride at speeds that are dangerous on the sidewalk. When they ride in the road, they should know what is expected of them.

      Of course, first, we need legislators and police and drivers to realize what is expected of them and move away from door-zone bike lanes and to either segregated lanes or vehicular riding with enforcement of unsafe riding habits for cyclists *and* driving habits around cyclists.

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  5. Why do so many drivers hate cyclists? Because driving actually does make people crazy. Not figuratively crazy. Actually crazy. See: http://www.collegeathome.com/killer-commute/ Here's an excerpt: Every day, of all traffic, 2% tried to run someone off the road.

    And I agree with Joe (May 16, 12:22 comment) in the sense that I think cyclists are treated better when they are perceived as humans instead of "bugs" or some other "other."

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    1. A quick followup about that point: I think it's really easy for motorists to forget the fact that they are hurtling around on several tons of lethal steel. As comfortable and quiet as they are inside, cars lull their drivers into a weird human-machine hybrid. This creates dissonance in the subconscious and causes the motorist to act anti-socially and take on characteristics they would not otherwise exhibit.

      I'm a regular bicyclist and occasional motorist, and personally I take on a completely different persona when I get behind the wheel. I just can't help it!

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  6. In my town (San Diego), I have bike lanes that stop and start inconsistently. I use the bike lanes when I can, but won't go in the 40mph road with three lanes each way of traffic with parked cars on the side because cars, to avoid crossing their lane line, will pass me within inches. I use the sidewalk in this circumstance. Also, as opposed to motorcycles, we can't trigger light sensors, so I pull over and push the crosswalk button, then cross as a pedestrian, which is probably illegal. The technology/infrastructure forces me to act as half car half pedestrian. We should all try to be more understanding of each other and understand that our observations can be very flawed. Also, my kids biked at 3 years old, and there is no way they should be in a bike lane. I still keep my 5 year old on the sidewalk, but the 7 year old goes in the bike lane when it is available.

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    1. You can indeed trigger properly calibrated light sensors on any bicycle. Here's how:
      If your system is in-ground coils that detect the steel of a vehicle above it:
      -If you have a steel frame, ride up to it along the square cut in the pavement and it'll sense and trigger it.
      -If you have a carbon or aluminum frame, get a small rare earth magnet and attach it to someplace inconspicuous: the head of a spoke, or the inside of your pedal bolt.
      If your system uses small video cameras mounted above ground:
      -It should trigger from your presence. If it doesn't see you at night, make sure you have a headlight of sufficient brightness.

      If neither of these tips successfully trigger a light, report it to your local DOT -- it's defective, by definition. They want to know about stuff like this because they want their stuff to work. Note that some lights, especially in cities, are completely timer-operated. This sucks a lot, but all you can do is wait it out.

      Unfortunately, there are roads that simply aren't safe for cyclists. (In Chicago, those are main arterials -- Western Ave, for instance, has so much truck traffic in the right lane, such low quality pavement, and such a high velocity of traffic flow (35-40mph in both lanes both directions) that I just plain don't ride there. I take side streets.) Unfortunately, we don't always know they exist until we're on them.

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  7. thanks for writing this post :)

    -- a ladyblogger who blogs about loving bikes

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    1. Thanks ladyblogger! I like your group website, fun stuff.

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  8. I'm a mom that has 2 kids (5 and almost-7) and we live car-free. We use our bakfiets and occasionally ride the bus. I have only had 2 interactions that were less than lovely. In both instances the cars came from behind so maybe they didn't see the kids. Most of the time though people drive around us carefully and we often get waves and smiles and a thumbs-up. My husband has not had such nice experiences, even here in bike-friendly Portland. Even when he's been out with the kids on the bakfiets he encounters rude drivers. I don't know if I've just been incredibly lucky or if it's the huge grin on my face (I LOVE my bike), or if it's because "mom + kids" = "be nice" but something is happening to give me such a better experience. For the record (and the bug research) we all wear our helmets all the time.

    My best guess is that we are going slowly, I stop and signal all the time, and pull over on narrow streets to let cars pass. I think that I generally make it clear that getting there safely, not quickly, is my focus and that's what people pick up on. It's not just bakfiets being rare because then my husband would get the same reaction. I would also guess that he's wearing his angry/protective Dad Face and drivers take that as aggressive. Maybe his posture or demeanor is coming through. I'm not angry, I love being out there and being able to talk to the kids while we cruise along.

    I agree that there should be some kind of training to ride safely on the road, but there is. I see free classes available around town every month. I don't think bikes nor their riders need to be licensed because (as you said about engines) bicycles are much less likely to cause damage. It's inherent in operating a motor vehicle that you could cause yourself and others great bodily injury so you need a license and insurance. That's just not the case with a bike, even a 90-pound monster like mine. I'm not going fast enough.

    As far as interactions with pedestrians go, 9 times out of 10 they wave me on or apologize for making me stop. It's like they don't know they have the right-of-way. My policy is not to demand, but to accept if a car or another bike or a pedestrian yields to me. Like I said, it's a heavy bike.

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  9. I've always felt that part of this attitude stems from how conditioned we are to interacting with motor vehicle drivers breaking laws. It's normal. We anticipate it whether we are walking, driving or biking. Bikes are still such a relative rarity that when a cyclist breaks a law, people notice. For example: drivers complaining that cyclists run stop signs who don't really seem to notice how many other drivers also run stop signs.

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    1. For sure! In my anthropological writing I use Pierre Bourdieu's "habitus" to explain it; we get socialized into doing certain things, and they become normal, and things that don't fit the norm seem unnatural (even though what feels "natural" are learned behaviors too).

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  10. Bikes liberated women from corsets and chaperones. Ladybloggers should learn some history.

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    1. The post on xoJane that got me thinking about this did mention the pantaloons factor, I'm pretty sure

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  11. This article, although correct as to how motorists perceive most cyclists, also implies that most cyclists label themselves as "hipsters". Most cyclist share one or more denominators of hipster culture, but not every cyclist on the road is wearing Ray Ban Wayfarers and skinny jeans. There are also the normal day to day people that ride a bike, not to make a statement, but for the enjoyment and fun that it gives them.

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    1. I'm a proselytizer for bicycle cultures (emphasis on the plural), I'm an anthropologist who studies bicycling and I don't think all bicyclists fit into one category. However, I do wear skinny jeans and knock off wayfarers, and I think dismissing any group based on how it looks is a dangerous proposition.

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  12. I like a strong espresso style coffee and wearing fedora hats, always have. When I ride, regardless of what I wear that day, I ride. I like to say that I was a hipster before being a hipster was cool. Rivers Cuomo glasses? I was all over that before Weezer's release of the green album. I shun skinny jeans because of the comfort issues I have with them. Plus, my frame wouldn't be skinny lad enough to pull them off. The thing is nowadays there is a trend for trying to hard to be in the hipster crowd. You are what you are, we are all cyclist here. That will be what probably sticks with us the most over time.

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  13. @ Laura Anneli - regarding your paying for the upkeep of the roads comment--- in my state, fuel taxes pay for the upkeep of the interstates and highways, i.e. federal and state roads. The local roads, city streets, neighborhood roads, etc, are paid for by sales taxes collected on every day shopping trips. Food, clothing, hardware stores, etc. My guess is that this is the case in most states. I could be wrong. Also, cars damage the roadway. Bicycles get damaged by the roadway. How about an inverse argument where taxes are collected from car users for the damage they inflict on the surface streets and are used to reimburse bicyclists for the damage they incur from riding on the surface streets? I don't think that is necessary, feasible, nor realistic, but keep in mind that bicycles do zero damage to a roadway while travelling over it. With each bump a car hits, it is damaging the concrete/asphalt/sealant/reflector/paint striping that much more.

    Additionally, every county that I have lived in has required bicycle registration. These have been in Virginia, Wisconsin, Florida, and Louisiana. I know this is not the case in most places. I agree that bicycles should be registered. This registration is mostly useful when needing to report a bicycle as stolen or lost, but still, registration is helpful.

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  14. Great post, Adonia. I really like the idea of driving as navigating obstacles rather than inhabiting a social space. That's been rattling around in my brain for a long time, but I haven't been able to put it so clearly and concisely. What's always struck me about driving is the social patterns that people exhibit, ranging from rude to passive aggressive to outright aggressive, and only very occasionally polite. I try to imagine what it would be like if people's behavior when they are walking down a busy street was the same as when they are driving, and the result is so alien it's almost humorous. And yet every day on every highway and arterial in the country...the impact of the anonymity afforded by a metal box is astounding.

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    1. I also suspect that there's some latent resentment because cars are stuck in traffic so much, whereas bikes can just glide past it. Even though I bike more than I drive, I still sometimes feel resentful of bikers when I'm stuck in traffic.

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    2. Hi Ben! Cool to see you on my blog. This post has been making the rounds like nobody's business.

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  15. Part of the animosity cyclists experience is simple resentment from cars, much the same way people who eat meat resent vegetarians. People in cars know they're part of the problem (traffic, pollution, obesity, impatience, etc.). They also know that people on bikes are part of the solution, and this creates resentment. Someone who drives everywhere he/she goes can't help but feel a bit of self-hate; this hate is then transferred to the ones making them feel the hate- cyclists. Just a theory from a bike commuter/amateur psychologist...

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    1. I think all of us bike commuters become amateur psychologists, cause we feel a need to explain why something we do out of a sense of caring for humanity makes us targets of anger and rage.

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    2. Can you explain why bikers treat pedestrians and public transit users with near universal condescension? Because then I'll buy your belief that bike resentment comes from our jealousy of your supposed superiority.

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    3. Hi Drive-by, what city do you live in? I bet you could find someone in your city to talk to about bikes who would have more insight than I do. Also, what post were you reading that said something about jealousy and supposed superiority?

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    4. I live in New York City (Brooklyn, of course), where bikes like to whizz through crosswalks against the light, screaming, "IT'S A ROAD, GET USED TO IT," and where bikers clip through pedestrian paths in public parkland with great joy. And you're right -- the above comment assumes that it's only drivers who are jealous of bikes ("simple resentment"; "can't help but feel a bit of self-hate"). But my god, the assumption that biking is a humanitarian endeavor is rage-inducing.

      I almost hate bringing up this argument, as a dutiful Transportation Alternatives supporter, and the kind of New York crank who watches MTA meetings on public access, I know that it's a stalking horse for pro-car types (and as someone who has been hit in a crosswalk by both types of vehicles, I know which I preferred): but urban bikers seem to spend a lot of their time wondering why people on foot (who happen to be of less physically able bodies) are in their way. Of course, we're not in the way. You're using our pedestrian space, and assuming consent that doesn't exist.

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    5. New York is such a special case, I don't usually think of it when I'm writing. The force of the pedestrian bloc impresses me every time I visit, but it's very unique. In LA, I got a ticket for walking across a street...at a green light...in a crosswalk, because the "countdown" had begun and the red hand was flashing when I entered the road. That is the kind of discipline pedestrians get on the west coast. I'm curious how the crappy bike behavior you're describing connects with a native New Yorker versus newcomer dynamic, like if the bicyclists are thinking of peds as newcomers or if the bicyclists are newcomers who don't understand the rights of peds, or maybe it's not relevant at all.

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  16. The simplest solution to this is that if bicyclists obeyed all traffic laws, there wouldn't be any problem. Of course, that's never going to happen, so what's a realistic solution?

    I write this as someone who both drives and bikes in NYC. I am very sympathetic to the hostility bikes have faced here over the years, although that is changing about as quickly as a city of 8 million people packed together can change. And obviously, cars are much more dangerous when they do something wrong than bikes are. But in my experience as a pedestrian, bikes are far more unpredictable and frightening than cars. Maybe it's because I keep my distance from cars, knowing that I will always lose that game of chicken. But so many bicyclists -- and again, I say this as someone who rides -- seem almost to revel in their self-righteousness, as though since they're riding a bike, we should all step aside and let them glide through red lights and zip the wrong way down one-way streets with impunity (respect and awe, even!). This is what I think upsets most pedestrians -- the unpredictability combined with the righteousness.

    I'm sure some of this behavior is an overreaction to the abuse bikers have long suffered in cities, but it's still unacceptable, and bikes lose their natural allies -- pedestrians -- by acting this way. (NYC pedestrians, I should also admit, are probably the worst offenders of all in the predictability category, but they threaten no one's safety directly, so they always get away with it.)

    Anyway, if bikers just accepted that someone has to be the first to model proper behavior -- and really, who's better to do it, since drivers won't and walkers won't -- then suddenly I think they/we would start getting a lot more sympathy.

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    1. I think that focusing on laws can be misleading. Lots of drivers break laws all the time, it's hardly a problem specific to one mode of transport. I've been fined for jaywalking (thanks Los Angeles!), but I still do it all the time. I'm talking more about respecting other people, and recognizing that this applies to all road users. The point of this post was not to deny that some people on bikes are jerks, it was to ask why those people make such an impact on the minds of road users when drivers are a greater threat to road safety.

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  17. I dislike (some bad behaving) cyclists not because I can see their face, but because I am primarily a pedestrian that walks to and from work, and cyclists who behave badly do so both on the road AND the sidewalk, thus inconveniencing and endangering both drivers AND pedestrians, two separate groups of people. At least drivers (for the most part) stick to the roads and don't bother me. Cyclists who behave badly mess up every possible surface area.

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    1. Most bike advocates advise against riding on sidewalks. It's dangerous for bicyclists, in addition to annoying and inconveniencing pedestrians, because you end up darting into driveways at speed when motorists aren't expecting it. Hopefully you've had some conversations with people you see who regularly bike on the sidewalk. Maybe you could make some catchy spoke cards to hand out on your walk to work.

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  18. I bike or bus to work, but man oh man, I get really angry with bikers. It could be because I live in San Francisco – Ground Zero for entitled bikers – but every morning I ride, I see people zip through lights, weave through pedestrians and generally act like dicks in order to get to work maybe five minutes faster. It's annoying as all hell and they're no different and only slightly less dangerous than a jerk in a car. I love biking, I love riding to work and I don't mind prolonging my commute to make sure I don't hit anyone. I know it's a small percentage of bikers, but it's really grating and makes life worse for the rest of us. Not sure about the rest of your theories, but mine is that people don't like jerks and there are a disproportionate amount of jerks on bikes out there.

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    1. My point was that the jerk bicyclists seem to stick out in people's minds more than jerk drivers, and I was speculating as to why that might be. Based on the popularity of SF's Sunday Streets, it seems like there are a lot of people in the city who are interested in bicycling, so hopefully that's creating some more positive images of bicycling than the entitled jerk one.

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  19. People in cars know they're part of the problem ...hey also know that people on bikes are part of the solution

    It this this type of thinking that drives me nuts, you are saving the world so you are entitled to treat others like crap. I'm a NYC pedestrian, don't drive and rarely take public transit. I have to watch out for bad car drivers and not bad bicycle operators who ride to fast, just plow through red lights, don't even slow down when I have the light. OK 100 points for saving the planet but I deduct 500 points for being a self-entitled ass

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    1. I don't live in New York, and y'all have a pretty unique transportation situation, what with the subway infrastructure and entitled pedestrians. If you want to hear commentary about biking there, there's a bunch of bike bloggers that analyze it and probably feel as annoyed as you do.

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  20. I think we are all arguing the wrong point. People are inherently selfish, and though the manifestation of this selfishness and self preservation presents in different ways and circumstances, that simple fact stays true no matter what your vehicular disposition is. I ride bikes both recreationally and competitively as well as hold a drivers license in CA and have insurance on my vehicle that I drive on a daily basis. That was for @Laura that thinks that cycling is done exclusively by people that don't drive motor vehicles and apparently don't know the rules of the road. I see people driving everyday that make bad decisions that could end badly for everyone on the road and I also see cyclists making the same foolish mistakes. The thing is, if I'm riding on the road on my bike, most likely without a shoulder as is the case usually, and a driver makes a bad decision that endangers my safety and I respond with a gesture, vocally, or physically, I'm all of a sudden the single ambassador of the entire cycling nation. Does that scrutiny not transfer to the driver as well?

    There are so many points to bring up but that still won't solve the misplaced anger of motor vehicle drivers and cyclists. This argument as well that cyclists need to obey all the laws and maybe they'll get more respect, as if it needs to be earned, is just obscene. I see more cars run red lights, blow through stop signs, and break the speed limit in one day than I see cyclists breaking laws in a year. Hello pot, I'd like you to meet my friend the kettle. Since I've turned into a rambling mess on here, I'll end with, " just don't run into me, whether I'm in my car or on my bike, and we'll get on just fine."

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    1. I don't think their anger is misplaced, I think it hurts people's feelings when others treat them like dirt, and a lot of people on the roads are treating each other like dirt. To quote George Costanza, we're living in a society (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=usN3rpfFoGA). I'd love to learn about research on autistic people's experiences of traffic, or others who might not be able to read social cues and thus wouldn't be as angered by being dismissed by jerk road users. The point of this post was to speculate about why bicyclists who treat people like dirt get more hate than drivers who treat people like dirt.

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    2. @Adonia I perhaps got off on a tangent and was aiming my discussion at the other responses. I should have just stuck to the original post. In reference to your speculation, I think a coupling of the tragedy of the commons (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons) rule, the road being the ecological land factor, along with the survival of the fittest, alpha/omega relationship, can really answer at least a small part of the question. The idea that the road was only built for a motor vehicle and cyclists are trespassing can also be a factor in the anger towards cyclists. I do feel that the anger toward cyclists is misplaced, as well as disproportionate. Misplaced through some unknown historical factor and therefore through that earlier idea comes the disproportionate anger at the "jerk cyclist" for simply being. Also, the "how dare they try to take what's rightfully mine," argument. It's a bit of a swiss cheese argument, but I tend to err on the side of emotional reaction when it comes to my life being endangered on a bike more so than when I'm in my car. It's often that a cyclist's safety on the road is dependent on the environment, and sometimes cars have to move over a few feet or be late getting to their destination by a tenth of a second. It's those of us that live in a society trying to make it home safely against those that live in a fortified box being pissed off that other people would dare to exist in the space surrounding that box. I often think about making people have to ride their bikes on the same roads they drive on in their own towns. I think they'd do things differently even if it's short lived. I too would be interested in a study of people that don't pick up on social cues in a driving situation and the responses of others involving cyclists on the road. Cheers!

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  21. Thanks for this thoughtful post. Many of the comments, however, have devolved into the usual black-and-white debate that cyclists would be more respected if they just obeyed all traffic laws. Never mind that the traffic laws were made for cars, not bicycles, and can actually be more dangerous for cyclists.

    For instance, if I'm approaching a red light with waiting cars, I'll usually split the lane to the light and, if it's safe to do so *and* I'm not interfering with a pedestrian's right-of-way, I'll jump the light and ride the next block in comparative comfort and safety. If line up behind the last car in the lane and wait for the light, I risk getting hemmed in on every side by tons of steel that wants to accelerate much faster than me--not comfortable, not safe and it often pisses off drivers to have to be held up behind me (I am not going to sacrifice my own safety by giving up the lane). So as long as I've respected those pedestrians and cars (or bicycles) that have the right-of-way on the green light or walk sign (or stop sign), what's the problem? Everyone wins. It just comes down to basic respect for others' rights. I am taking a risk splitting lanes, but that's on me and a risk I'm willing to take most of the time. Buses, trucks, the possibility of getting hooked can all factor into that.

    I find it helps to address pedestrians verbally and politely. Sometimes they wait expecting you to run the light and I try to wave pedestrians across and give them a "Go ahead." It's perhaps not surprising that they expect you to run the light despite their right-of-way.

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  22. I posted above saying that bikers should just respect traffic laws, which seems to have gotten a few other people very upset. "Obscene," one called it. I don't get why this is such an upsetting notion. Absolutely respect needs to be earned! Do you just ride as you please and expect people to adapt?

    Maybe this is about NYC too -- it's a unique place. In fact I find that from a pedestrian's perspective, cars are more law-abiding than bikes here. Perhaps I'm wrong, but that's my experience, and I'd wager it's many others' experience too.

    Also, I didn't say that bikers should act exactly like cars -- but there are laws for bikes too, and these are still widely flouted. I emphasize laws because, in reality, everyone descends quickly to the lowest common denominator, everyone takes what "they" believe is a reasonable shortcut, and very soon it's a free-for-all. That's why we have laws such as, say, drive on the right side of the road. Sure, if we didn't have that law, lots of people would do it anyway because they don't want to be killed, but lots of others would see the light turning yellow and they *really* need to get to their appointment, so they'd whip into the left lane and squeeze the lemon. The comment above is a perfect example: each person has his/her own rules that they think are reasonable, but without some standardization it all comes apart fast (and the worst offenders are the most salient to everyone else).

    I agree that cars break laws too, and maybe in this battle I'll always lose because cars do kill more people than bikes, and always will. But that doesn't mean bikes can operate with impunity, nor does it mean they don't have some serious PR work to do. The reality on the ground in NYC is that bikes everywhere dart and zip and weave and are very disrespectful. Even if it's just a few of thousands, it has a big impact on the city's psyche. Why else do you think there's such hostility toward such a smart and reasonable form of transportation? There shouldn't be! Bikes should be embraced and supported, but they're not.

    If you don't want to talk about laws, fine. But the essence of the point is the same. If bikes act unpredictably and aggressively, people will get upset and cities won't accommodate them like they should.

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  23. I think the piece of this that often gets ignored is that assuming that cycles and automobiles belong in a position where they need the "share" the road is rather crummy way to ensure public safety. The reality is that automobiles and cycles travel at a wide disparity of speed and are differently-equipped to navigate the hazards and needs of daily transportation. The introduction of dedicated "bike lanes" and acknowledgement of the differences between the two modes of transportation needs to occur. The shame is that the highly-charged feelings and accusations thrown about often create public sentiment against bike lanes (look at NYC) and even further, our infrastructure is simply too often ill-equipped to deal with restructuring our roads.

    I'm a suburban driver, and cyclists often make me very nervous. Mostly it's because even when I'm cruising at 35-40mph (pretty standard in my area), a bike can be expected to be traveling somewhere between 15-20mph. It's like driving in a 40mph zone and suddenly coming around a corner to find the car in front of you traveling at 20mph: it's dangerous and disrupts the flow of traffic. Cyclists and motorists deserve respect and safety, and it can be difficult to achieve such when two vastly different modes of transportation are forced, de facto, to share the same space.

    Cyclists don't upset me, but they do make me nervous. Too often the speed disparity causes motorists to have to suddenly brake or swerve, and everyone would be better off if we were magically able to provide both motorists and cyclists with their own dedicated roadways. From what I remember from my visit to the Dutch many years ago, their streets and pathways are far more friendly to keeping same-speed traffic together in order to avoid such inherent issues.

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    1. I think disrupting the flow of traffic is exactly what we need to do; it's our acceptance of high speeds and inattention that has made our roads as deadly as they are. Many bike advocates push for separated facilities to get bikes "out of the way," so to speak, but personally I think we need to get used to spending more time together on our streets because it makes everyone safer.

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    2. I can understand your position, but your assertion that "acceptance of high speeds and inattention[s]" have made our roads "deadly" is a bit simplistic. Most accidents are caused not by high speeds, per se, but by a large disparity of speed. It's the individual on the freeway traveling 40mph when the average speed of nearly every other vehicle is closer to 70mph that causes accidents and creates danger. On the flip-side of the example, purely motorist, the jerk flying by everyone at 90mph is the danger, as well. While asking motorists to always travel 20mph is acceptable when we're discussing windy, residential streets outside of the cities, it becomes a much more difficult argument to make when you're discussing major routes where the speed limits are rationally set for automobiles at 35-40mph.

      And traffic engineers seek to create as few disruptions in the "flow of traffic" as possible. Partly it is because they seek to create the most efficient roadway systems and also to do their best to provide the safest experience by minimizing the potentially dangerous disruption to the forward momentum of an auto with over a 100hp on the wheels.

      Further, I think everyone would be a better driver if they operated a manual transmission (heightened awareness and involvement in the actual driving process), but that isn't going to cause automatics (and the, excuse me in advance, often lazy attitude they inspire toward operating an auto) to suddenly stop production. I think it's far more practical to address physical and concrete issues with a real effect on safety rather than to approach this as a psychological issue that could be solved if millions of people just didn't act like have and will continue to act.

      But we're also discussing somewhat different conditions. In a place like NYC, everyone is driving dangerously (both motorists and cyclists). I think your statement has a lot of merit in asking everyone to be more attentive and aware, but the reality is that that is a fantasy. You aren't going to change the cabbie's behavior when they're trying to make a living. I don't have any preconceptions that asking people to be less selfish is ever an effective way to combat an issue outside of smaller-scale, intra-personal dispute. It all, again, comes back to the fact that two such wildly different modes of transportation would both be safer if there were dedicated lanes of transport tailored to their own abilities and limitations (which are wildly different). The safest areas of a city like New York have always struck me as being those few places where bike and car traffic are separated by a small barrier or island. While a bike crashing into a bike, or a car crashing into a car are both dangerous in their own right, a car slamming into a cycle with such a disparity of speed is a downright frightening concept.

      In other words, you don't let the lions share a habitat at the zoo with the elephants.

      Regardless, I think a lot of this is chalked up to the simple infrastructure shortcomings. Cities are shamefully inattentive to the needs of their denizens and there's a whole box of systemic problems that I'm barely aware of, on top of everything else.

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    3. I actually don't approach transportation from the perspective that people are acting selfishly. Anthropology's starting point for understanding human life is to illustrate how deeply embedded we are in particular social and cultural contexts, and how these contexts influence our decisions. A rational self interest perspective has a different starting point. What I've found in my research and experiences as a bicyclist is that our roadways are emotionally charged zones where we display identity, wealth, and social power. This makes me an outlier in transpo research, which tends to strip streets of their specificities in order to make very different situations comparable.

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  24. i have another random suggestion to (perhaps, partially) explain the disproportionately negative attitude people sometimes have toward bicyclists. in certain circles, not limited to places like jezebel but including them, people think of bicyclists as part of "us" and bad drivers more as "them." then they feel a lot more entitled to judge when "one of us" does something that seems inconsiderate or entitled, when really the distinction is a totally false one.

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  25. Wow, Adonia!! You seem to have hit a nerve! This post and responses should contribute nicely to your research.

    Now, my thoughts:

    I drive a car, bike and walk/hike. As a child I rode a bike for recreation. For a short period of time I rode my bike to school in Las Vegas in the mid-sixties in a very low-traffic area. Having said that, until the last couple of years, I only recently started riding my bike through city streets. So, my perspective on bike-riding in traffic is a more recent one. I commute to work most days in a car and find that experience stressful. I have little to no interaction with other people in their cars. In contrast, when biking or walking (or commuting by train - let me add that to the mix here), I engage with other human beings much more. It is easier to resolve issues and conflict with others face to face, without vehicles between us.

    When hiking (before I biked), I found mountain bikers quite irritating most of the time from my perspective on foot. They zoomed past other hikers, often with little or no warning of their approach. I relate this experience to being on a bike sharing the road with cars.

    Now that I bike, I feel very vulnerable sharing the road and there are no viable alternatives if I want to bike/train commute to work (which I do). If I ride on sidewalks, I put pedestrians at risk. If I ride in the street, sometimes cars speed past me and even sometimes honk or yell at me. In the short term, I see no readily available solutions.

    I must also acknowledge that when I am on the freeway in a car, I see such risky, nasty, scary driving behavior that it disheartens me about human nature. I don't feel safe doing the speed limit. So, following someone's reasoning on here, should we build new roads for people who want to drive faster? We already have "carpool lanes" (read fast lane) on our CA freeways. I've often experienced drivers coming right up behind me, flash their lights, then illegally pull around me, honk and cut me off. All because I'm in a car with others (potentially CHILDREN) in the carpool lane and doing the speed limit.

    So, in my 61-year-old opinion as a "walker/hiker/bike-rider sharing city streets/freeway car commuter", we need to share the roads with whomever we are sharing it. We are sharing the roads with other people regardless of how they are passing through our common space. The roads belong to people. It will take time to re-design our infrastructures to adapt to a future in which, hopefully, cars will play a smaller role. It is not just our roads that will be being re-designed, but our entire communities, attitudes and how we interact with each other as well. Only if we hope to survive. :-)

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