The question posed in the headline has probably flitted through the mind of many a cyclist after an encounter with an angry driver, who saw the cyclist as simply a pesky impediment to speed.
Jim Saksa, writing this week in the online magazine Slate, has an interesting take on the question.
The animosity, he says, is partly due to cyclists like him.
He writes that he has frequently been a jerk on his bike while riding in his hometown of Philadelphia – “weaving in and out of traffic, going the wrong way down a one-way street, and making a left on red.”
But even if most cyclists are cautious, respectful and obedient to the rules of the road, many motorists view them the same way they would the jerks on two wheels.
The reason, Saksa writes, is what behavioral economists call the affect heuristic, a “fancy way of saying that people make judgments by consulting their emotions instead of logic.”
Here’s a key passage from Saksa’s essay:
[B]icycling as a primary means of transportation — I’m not talking about occasional weekend riders here — is a foreign concept to many drivers, making them more sensitive to perceived differences between themselves and cyclists.
People do this all the time, making false connections between distinguishing characteristics like geography, race, and religion and people’s qualities as human beings. Sometimes it is benign (“Mormons are really polite”), sometimes less so (“Republicans hate poor people”).
But in this case, it’s a one-way street: Though most Americans don’t ride bikes, bikers are less likely to stereotype drivers because most of us also drive. The “otherness” of cyclists makes them stand out, and that helps drivers cement their negative conclusions.
This is also why sentiments like “taxi drivers are awful” and “Jersey drivers are terrible” are common, but you don’t often hear someone say “all drivers suck.” People don’t like lumping themselves into whatever group they are making negative conclusions about, so we subconsciously seek out a distinguishing characteristic first.
Category Archives: Politics
The question posed in the headline has probably flitted through the mind of many a cyclist after an encounter with an angry driver, who saw the cyclist as simply a pesky impediment to speed.
New York is a notoriously tough town to try out anything, whether it be a Broadway play, a comedy act – or bicycle lanes.
Everybody’s a critic.
Such was the case in 2006, when the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced plans to greatly increase the number of traffic lanes designated for bicycles instead of motor vehicles.
The decision prompted a lawsuit by some residents of Brooklyn’s Park Slope, who argued in part that bike lanes reduced space for cars; some merchants claimed that the lanes impeded truck deliveries; others grumbled generally about government overreach.
But now, six years after the city has added about 255 miles of lanes previously used only by motor vehicles, New Yorkers seem to be coming around to the idea that bike lanes aren’t so bad after all, judging from a survey published Wednesday in The New York Times.
“When asked simply whether the bike lanes were a good idea or a bad idea, 66 percent of New Yorkers said they were a good idea,” the Times reported, citing a poll conducted by the newspaper.
“A majority in all boroughs said they thought the lanes were a good idea, with support highest in Manhattan.
“Twenty-seven percent of residents called the lanes a bad idea, and 7 percent had no opinion or did not answer,” the Times said.
“The poll results suggest that residents have gradually become accustomed to bike lanes, which have been frequent targets of tabloid ire and are already emerging as a flash point in the 2013 mayoral race.”
New Yorkers who told pollsters that they favored the bike lanes “cited environmental, health and safety benefits, as well as the addition of more space for bicyclists to ride. Some respondents said they were simply happy that the lanes had encouraged bicyclists to stop riding on the sidewalk.”
The Times said the poll of 1,026 adults was conducted Aug. 10 to 15 using landline phones and cellphones. The poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
So there you have it. To paraphrase the Frank Sinatra song “New York, New York,” if bicycle lanes can make it there, they can make it anywhere.
We hope, anyway.
This really chaps my hide.
A bicyclist – who happens to be a friend and fellow blogger – was riding his bike at night on a major Fort Worth thoroughfare, Camp Bowie Boulevard, wearing a helmet and with lights front and rear, when he was hit from behind by a motorist and left for dead.
The good news is that the cyclist, Zac Ford, is recovering nicely after a couple days in a hospital with a concussion and severe road rash on his back and the left side of his body.
“Whoever hit me didn’t stop and didn’t even know if I was alive or dead,” Ford, 26, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “It just kind of blows my mind.”
The bad news is that the motorist is still at large and probably will remain so unless he or she has pangs of conscience and goes to the police.
And perhaps even worse news, for the future of cycling in Fort Worth and car-centric America at large, were some of the online comments posted in reaction to the Star-Telegram story.
The story, of course, prompted the usual back and forth between motorists and cyclists about rights on the road.
Some drivers suggested that roads are for cars and trucks, not bicycles, that cyclists should ride into traffic so they can see what’s coming, or ride on the sidewalks or on those bike paths that government has so frivolously spent tax money on. Even on the trails, one commenter said, cyclists “knock down people walking and run over puppies.”
But some of the comments by motorists, among the 154 posted on both sides of the issue as of this writing, were downright scary. Others were deleted by the Star-Telegram, apparently because they were so over the top.
“These bikers want all the respect but refuse to obey traffic laws as they are supposed to,” wrote a driver with the handle HonestTX_Proud. “I had one turn into my vehicle. They all lied and said I hit him. He scratched his elbow. 6 weeks later here comes the lawsuit for $75K. Insurance gave him a few thousand to go away. If I’d known they were going to do that I would have hit the punk. And backed over him a few times. Want to ride with the traffic? Obey the laws and be courteous.”
Added a critic with the Internet moniker RonRico: “It will be interesting to read the future story about the cyclist who ended up like a bug on a windshield. Au revoir…”
RonRico, who apparently fancies himself as oh-so-clever, couldn’t resist jumping into the comment thread time and again. There was this gem: “Common sense for cyclists seems to be trumped by reduced bloodflow due to those gay spandex riding suits they wear.” And this one: “Ahhh… I see. Go figure… another victim who helped himself to victimhood.”
I liked this bit of idiocy from Obama_Hoax: “If Obama’s re-elected we’ll all be on bicycles!”
Wouldn’t that be great!?
But perhaps most disturbing in the series of comments was the seeming sympathy for the driver, despite the fact that whoever hit Zac Ford left the scene without checking whether he was hurt and failing to render aid. The driver probably would have been pilloried had he or she run over a dog sleeping in the road. But hitting a cyclist and leaving the scene seems to be OK with some folks.
By all accounts, Zac Ford was doing nothing wrong. His bike had a headlight and a red taillight. He was wearing a helmet and he was riding in the right lane of a boulevard that has two lanes of traffic in each direction. But many motorists see him as the villain of the piece, apparently because he was riding a bicycle.
Damn, some people are sick!
But a friend and fellow cyclist struck an optimistic note in a comment on Facebook:
“The only consolation I have is knowing those fat bozos that want to run down cyclists for putting them out 30 seconds and wish their death is knowing we are making this city better for future generations, empowering all sorts of people to take back their streets. Not just by typing at a keyboard, but by getting out there and doing something.”
“When you get out in a casual setting and you put on your spandex, people will ride up and talk to you and tell you stuff.”
— Betsy Price, the bicycling mayor of Fort Worth
If you need to meet with the mayor of Fort Worth, you could, of course, arrange an appointment at City Hall. Or — and this is an option appealing to an increasing number of Fort Worth residents — you could hop on a bike and ride with the mayor during one of her “rolling town halls.”
Mayor Betsy Price, an avid cyclist for 25 years, stages weekly bike rides throughout Fort Worth to meet and greet her constituents, listen to concerns of residents and to gather ideas on how to improve the city. She is usually accompanied by scores of cyclists – people of all ages and cycling ability on all kinds of bikes.
The mayor’s next rolling town hall is scheduled for Wednesday evening. The start and end point will be LaGrave Field, home of the Fort Worth Cats baseball team on the near north side.
Cyclists are asked to gather for a ride start at 5:30 p.m. After the ride around the north side, the cyclists can attend the Cats season-opening game, beginning at 7:05 p.m. Ride participants will be able to buy a game ticket at a reduced price of $7, and cyclists who come to La Grave Field by car will be offered free parking.
“I’ll be throwing out the first pitch, too, so keep your helmets on,” the mayor wrote on the city’s website. A fireworks show will follow the game.
Baseball and bikes! Sounds like a splendid way to a spring evening.
NOTE: The mayor’s spokesman, Jason Lamers, has posted the route of Wednesday’s 10.73-mile ride on MapMyRide.
Some interesting observations gleaned from the Internet on National Bike to Work Day:
— Grant Petersen, founder of Rivendell Bike Works in Walnut Creek, Calif., struck a blow on Friday for utilitarian bikes and comfortable clothing for bicycle commuting, suggesting that commuters abandon racing bikes and spandex livery.
“Wear the clothes that you’re going to wear at work,” he said in an interview with David Greene on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition program.
“If your commute is reasonable – say, 10 miles or under – no problem. Dress the way you’re going to dress for the weather, or the day.
As for the equipment a commuter bike should have, Petersen recommended: “A bell, lights, reflectors, kickstand, baskets, bags. You know, make the bike useful. Certainly for commuting, it is not a workout tool. It should be a pickup truck on two wheels.”
Petersen told NPR that for more than two decades he was caught up in the notion that bicyclists should aspire to be like professional racers, who ride lightweight, high-tech bikes in gaudy, tight-fitting clothing.
But now, he said: “I totally don’t believe that. Racing is fringe. Racing ruins bicycle riding for a lot of people. … Racing bikes are just workout machines, really. So, you can’t put a basket, you can’t put bags on them, you can’t carry weight on them. They aren’t designed to carry weight.”
Petersen’s remarks seem to reflect a changing public perception of bicycles and the people who ride them. Even Bicycling magazine, long the preeminent publication for cyclists, has reflected this change. It used to focus almost exclusively on high-tech bikes and gear. Now it also includes stories on utilitarian urban bikes as an alternative means of transportation.
— Kevin Buchanan, a friend who writes a blog called Fort Worthology, wrote on his Facebook page on Bike to Work Day:
“You know, it’s amazing to me when I think back to when I started Fort Worthology five and a half years ago … one almost never saw human beings on bikes on Fort Worth streets. Only the hardest of the hardcore spandex racer dudes. Today, I see people every day rolling up and down the streets — regular people, in regular clothes, men AND women, often with kids. We have group rides that draw anywhere from dozens to hundreds of riders, every time. We have miles of new bike lanes on the pavement, with more showing up at a regular rate. We have bike racks popping up all over. And hell, we even have a mayor who leads regular rides. It’s hard to believe this is still Fort Worth — truly amazed at the progress we’ve made. We still have a long way to go to catch cities like Portland, Minneapolis, Chicago, or New York (let alone Copenhagen and Amsterdam), but I’m so proud of what we’ve done so far.”
— As an indication of how far some cities have to go, there was a somewhat poignant message on a bicycle club’s listserv from a bicyclist in Arlington, adjacent to Fort Worth, who had resolved to ride to work today.
Arlington, it should be noted, is the largest city in the United States with no public transportation. It has a sizable number of folks who not only are hostile to cyclists and bike lanes but consider them tools of tyranny, part of a United Nations plan to drive people into cities and give up their cars. (See June 29, 2011, blog post, “A parallel universe in the city next-door.”)
The Arlington cyclist wrote that he lives about three miles from his workplace and has to be there early in the morning. Last night, he wrote, he prepared a backpack to carry shoes and a ball cap “to hide helmet hair” and got up early to set out for work. But then he thought about the route, considered that he’d be riding during rush hour and wondered: “Is this really a good idea?”
“I love my bike; I ride a fair amount, around 5,000 miles per year,” he wrote. “But on the roads at rush hour with all the motorists who so dearly love us, I chickened out.
“For all the bikers who rode in this morning in support of making bikes truly a viable means of transportation in our everyday lives, I applaud you – keep up the effort. But until and unless we can convince our cities … to provide bike lanes and trails to facilitate everyday use of the bike as a transportation alternative, I am worried that the Ride of Silence will be in memory of too many bikers who lost the battle for the roads to the automobile.”
Wednesday evening marked a significant milestone for Fort Worth.
More than 200 bicyclists – the official count was 217 – turned out to participate in the Ride of Silence, an annual event held worldwide to honor cyclists who died in the previous year, most of them in road accidents.
It was probably the largest group of cyclists ever to ride as a group in a city that is fast developing a culture of cycling.
With a bicycling mayor who leads regular rides called “rolling town halls,” a City Council committed to implementing a comprehensive plan aimed at promoting the bicycle as an alternative means of transportation and a continually expanding network of paved trails and bike lanes on city streets, Fort Worth seems to be well on the way to achieving its goal of becoming a “bicycle-friendly community” in the eyes of the League of American Bicyclists by 2015.
Thanks to Scott Strom for organizing the Ride of Silence and to all who showed up to ride.
First impressions can be deceiving.
Two cities: Toronto and Fort Worth. Two mayors: Rob Ford and Betsy Price.
— Toronto, Canada’s largest city, prides itself on being the country’s cultural, entertainment and financial capital. It has the third-largest mass-transit system in North America – after New York and Mexico City. Its population of about 2.6 million is more ethnically diverse than Miami, Los Angeles or New York City, says Wikipedia, citing figures from Statistics Canada.
— Fort Worth, my hometown, boasts that it’s the place “where the West begins” and cherishes its western heritage. “Cowboys and culture” is an unofficial motto. With a population of nearly 758,000, it’s the western anchor of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, an urban area of about 6.5 million. Fort Worth is at the heart of a county – Tarrant — that prides itself on being one of the most Republican in the country. Freeways abound. The car – or, should I say, the pickup — is king. And mass transit is considered by some to be downright socialist.
In fact, the mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, is vehemently hostile to bicyclists and has begun removing bike lanes on the grounds that they take up space better used by cars.
Ford was elected mayor on Oct. 25, 2010, by a margin of 47 percent to 35 percent after pledging to end what he calls “the war on the car.”
“It’s no secret,” Ford said as a Toronto city councilman in 2010. “Cyclists are a pain in the ass to motorists.”
“I can’t support bike lanes,” Ford continued. “How many people are riding outside today? We don’t live in Florida. We don’t have 12 months of the year to ride on a bike.
“And what I compare bike lanes to is swimming with the sharks. Sooner or later you’re going to get bitten. And every year we have dozens of people that get hit by cars or trucks. Well, no wonder, roads are built for buses, cars, and trucks, not for people on bikes. My heart bleeds for them when I hear someone gets killed, but it’s their own fault at the end of the day.”
In the late 1990s, Bicycling magazine named Toronto the best city in North America for cycling. A study in 1999 by the Canadian firm Decima Research showed that 48 percent of Toronto’s residents were cyclists and that 60 percent of households owned bicycles.
Despite bicyclists’ protests against Ford, the mayor seems intent on turning back the clock in Toronto. It’s an example of how a mayor can change the character of a city.
Since her election as mayor on June 18, 2011, Price has used the bicycle as a tool of her office. An avid cyclist for about 25 years, Price has been organizing weekly bicycle rides throughout the city, which she calls “rolling town halls.”
“We started out about four weeks ago with 25 people and last week we had 74 people,” Price, 62, said in a report this morning by the local CBS affiliate, KTVT/Channel 11. “And if you’re brave enough to wear spandex in public, people will come talk to you and tell you all kinds of things.”
“It’s really interesting what people will tell you on a bike,” Price says in a video about her rolling town halls on the city’s website. “Because they get warmed up and they get loose and you feel friendly and accessible. That’s what we want. This is all about being real open and free with the citizens and letting them know we are here, and listening to their issues.”
The city has a comprehensive bicycle transportation plan, Bike! Fort Worth – put in place under Price’s predecessor, Mike Moncrief — and aims to make Fort Worth a bicycle-friendly community in the eyes of the League of American bicyclists by 2015.
Under Price, the city has been busy expanding and improving its fine network of bike trails, mostly along the West and Clear forks of the Trinity River, and has been striping bike lanes on major thoroughfares downtown and those leading into the city center. Price has even directed the installation of showers in City Hall for municipal employees who bike to work.
But it turns out that other U.S. mayors are also getting out and about on bikes and promoting bicycle lanes in their cities.
Bob Davis, editor of the The Anniston Star in Anniston, Ala., and a friend and former colleague on the editorial board at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, wrote a piece for his paper on Monday called “Politics on two wheels.”
Bob, himself a dedicated cyclist, wrote of Betsy Price and the mayors of Ogden, Utah, and Huntsville, Ala., and their efforts to promote cycling.
What a difference a mayor can make in the character of a city!