Ride Boldly!

Bikes, bicycling, and road safety.

Toys, Letters & the “Bullying Response”

Following a Nick Coleman column in the Strib about a guy who got taken out by an inattentive SUV driver on Summit Avenue, the haters came out to play in the Strib letters.

Once again, the following attitudes were espoused:

  1. People who wear bicycle-specific gear are Lance Armstrong wannabes.
  2. If there’s a bike path, cyclists should be on it because the drivers’ good tax money paid for it.
  3. All cyclists are bad drivers who blow stop signs, block traffic, and impede traffic.

I’ve always felt that at their core, people espousing these beliefs feel that cars = transportation, and bikes = toys. I can’t agree, even if circumstances prevent me from bike commuting at the present time. To go through their points:

  1. Bicycle-specific gear is worn by bike commuters too. The mere wearing of spandex does not equal a wish to be a racer. High-tech clothing is comfortable, allows a range of motion, wicks sweat, keeps the butt from chafing, and comes in obnoxiously visible colors.
  2. Demanding use of a bike path is very much in keeping with the bike-as-toy issue. If a bike is on a road, even single-up, it is automatically blocking traffic.

    One of the key places you’ll hear drivers getting cranky is on both East and West River Parkways, which are narrow parkways with 25mph speed limits, and nearby sidepaths. The sidepaths are shared with dogs, joggers, children, squirrels, rollerbladers, and potholes, and have 10mph speed limits. To a regular bike commuter or road cyclist, 10mph is poky puppy time. Of course, many drivers on the River Roads aren’t going 25, especially as people use them to ‘avoid’ traffic congestion due to our fair cities’ interesting combination of unweave projects and bridgelessness.

    There is also an assumption that bicyclists aren’t taxpayers, and they aren’t buying gas. Taxes on gas comprise a very small percentage of road funding, and many cyclists are riding pretty expensive bikes, or are commuting to their income sources, which are subsequently taxed. Cyclists pay taxes. Many/most also own cars, for that matter. Studies also show that on a percentage basis, regular cyclists tend to be better educated than the norm. Given how education tracks to income, it may even be arguable that we cyclists pay MORE in taxes than the people yelling at us!
  3. Bad behavior from cyclists is not called for. However, assuming that every cyclist is a jerk is not called for. Poor road-sharing behavior from motorists is not called for. The poor behavior of others does not justify poor conduct by oneself. The bikers who don’t recognize that River Road is definitely a single-up situation aggravate me, as a cyclist, as do the jerks who blow lights. But then, the jerks who honk a lot at cyclists (and slow old people), yell out windows accusing people in spandex of deviant (and normal) sexual behavior, and who attempt to drive bikers off the road (assault with a deadly weapon, please?) also aggravate me.

    There’s a popular world religion that had a prophet/messiah (depending on your belief structure) who suggested turning the other cheek, doing unto others, etc. It’s a good place to start for many things, sharing the road among them.

Some of my colleagues refer to motorist anger, and this underlying sense of bicycle as toy, as a bullying response. Agitation and belligerence come into play when someone on a bicycle
appears to be slowing their progress. Should cyclists stay out of the way because some motorists are jerks? Should motorists be jerks because some cyclists are irresponsible users of the road? Are motorists who are jerks to cyclists also likely to be jerks to pedestrians, slow-moving vehicles, ducks?

It would be nice to believe that the presence of more lawful, educated cyclists would have a traffic-calming effect. However, I’m not sure I can believe that in the face of the motorist entitlement attitude that decries perceived cyclist intrusion and entitlement. However, as a cyclist, I recognize that I cannot control the behavior or reactions of others. All I can do is ‘drive’ my bicycle predictably, following the same rules as other road users, as a full, legal user of the roadway, and I can encourage and empower others to do the same.

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Author: julie

Julie Kosbab is an online marketing consultant and active transportation advocate living in Anoka County, Minnesota. She was one of Minnesota's only League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructors when certified in 2005. She is a past member of the National Bicycle Tour Directors Association. She has 2 children and 4 bicycles. Find her on Twitter as @betweenstations.

2 Comments

  1. I’ve pondered this for years.

    The harshest opinions of cyclists I’ve ever heard came from a group of nurses chatting while I wrote up my charts. They seemed to feel adult cyclists were an affront to nature. In particular they had a great deal of difficulty with the concept of crossing a solid midline to pass a bicyclist. For whatever it’s worth men seem to enjoy crossing that forbidden line; consequently I have had many more close encounters with frustrated female than male drivers. The men tended to just pass – albeit technically breaking the law.

    On another level there’s a strong cultural component. Adult cyclists tend to be middle to upper class, and most have at least a college degree. From a primate point of view, the power relationships for some drivers are temptingly inverted.

  2. Re fear of crossing the center line:
    http://pressherald.mainetoday.com/story.php?id=135634&ac=PHedi

    Portland Press Herald reports a new law that motorists may cross a solid yellow line in order to pass a bike.

    “When passing a bike, a car or truck will be permitted to cross a solid yellow line. Those no-passing zones are designated as unsafe for one motor vehicle to pass another. Since bikes are smaller and slower, a car or truck can safely venture across the center line in many circumstances.”

    I wonder if we have that here. I didn’t see it in your entertaining and helpful interpretation of Minnesota bicycle statutes.