Here in North America, bicycles have been in the news quite a bit lately. From the various bike share programs popping up across the US, to high profile bike lane debates in Brooklyn, the bicycle has been getting it’s fair share of attention. Unfortunately, it hasn’t all been positive. A piece recently appeared in the Boston Globe titled “A New Menace to Freedom: The Bike. How two-wheeled transit became the latest conservative bugbear.” Written by Jordan Michael Smith, the article highlights how in response to the growing popularity of transportation cycling, some rather right-leaning politicians and news outlets have begun to demonize the bicycle.
You undoubtedly know Toronto’s “beloved” mayor, Rob Ford for his recent scandals, but if you follow any bike or transportation news you probably knew his name long before that. In 2007, in front of the Toronto City Council, Ford claimed that roads are designed for buses, cars and trucks. In his opinion, if cyclists are killed on the roads “it’s their own fault at the end of the day”. He then compares riding a bike on the street to swimming with sharks saying, “sooner or later you’re going to get bitten.” Later in his term he had bike lanes in Toronto torn up, costing the city $300,00 for the removal. He was then attributed this gem of a quote: “Cyclists are a pain in the ass to motorists”.
When you first read this rather irrational reaction to urban cycling, you expect it to be an isolated incident; that other more sane public figures don’t feel this way. Not so.
Dorothy Rabinowitz of the Wall Street Journal made headlines over the summer when she used NYC’s new bike share program as an opportunity to go on a very anti-bicycle rant. Claiming “the most important danger in the city is not the yellow cabs, it’s the cyclists who veer in and out of the sidewalk.” A ridiculous claim considering the following statistics for New York City:
# of pedestrians killed by cars since 2010: 569.
# of cyclists killed by cars since 2010: 67.
# of pedestrians killed by bikes since 2010: 0
She claims to “represent the majority of citizens.” with her hatred of the CitiBike program. When it was pointed out to her that hundreds of community meetings were held about Bikeshare before it was approved, and it has seen positive reception in the polls, she dismisses it. According to Rabinowitz, the council people and community leaders are being influenced by the “all-powerful bike lobby.” Laughable, given the tight grip that big oil and the auto industry have on the US political system. Cycling isn’t expensive. Bike companies are not recording record profits. There’s no money to pay for a powerful bike lobby (though wouldn’t that be great?).
All right. Let’s move on to some more instances of demonizing bicycles so you can get as angry as I am. Dan Maes, a republican candidate in Colorado’s latest gubernatorial race said a bike share program “could threaten our personal freedoms.” A column in the Washington Times called DC’s bike share program “broken down socialism”. Everyone’s favorite radio personality, Rush Limbaugh has even said he “won’t care” if his car door knocks over a cyclist. Guess what Rush? Opening your car door into traffic is illegal, you’re at fault there bud. I have a feeling you’ll care when you get sued, even if you don’t care about human life. Have some decency you apathetic, bloated excuse for an intellectual. I hope the next time you open the door of your luxury car, a truck comes along and takes it right off. That might teach you to turn your head and look first.
Opposing a healthy, emission free form of transportation, that if embraced would actually decrease car traffic seems insane to me. But with a group that sees any threat to the dominance of car culture and gas consumption as an affront to our freedom, I’m not surprised. Our economy, and the political machine is propped up by oil after all. Do you think oil and automotive companies contribute any money to our leaders political campaigns? Side note: This article could quickly spiral into an piece about Citizens United and campaign finance reform, so I’m gonna leave that alone.
Somehow the far right has become almost anti-environmentalism.
A stance that apparently garners support from suburban and rural voters. Painting bicycles as the enemy is just another part of the same equation, another step in the “Us vs. Them” mentality that has done nothing but give us partisan gridlock and over the top, uneducated opinions.
The one bit of solace offered by Jordan Michael Smith in his Globe article is this: “In politics, you get attacked because you matter.” Politicians and their sympathetic news outlets wouldn’t waste a breath talking about bicycles if they weren’t finally relevant. So keep on fighting the good fight, keep riding your bike, and put cycling in the national spotlight. It deserves the attention.