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Urban [all] bicyclists have an image problem
December 4, 2011 12:53 PM   Subscribe

"Urban bicyclist have an image problem...." "They’ve become stereotyped as pretentious, aloof jackasses, and a lot of this has to do with the changes taking place in cities right now."
posted by jeffmac (207 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
I knew it, the cabal is involved, as usual.
posted by tomswift at 12:59 PM on December 4, 2011


When I started commuting by bike in the 60s, I was merely a weirdo. It's a step up to be a pretentious aloof jackass.
posted by Obscure Reference at 1:02 PM on December 4, 2011 [17 favorites]


Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes asserted last year that Denver’s efforts to encouraging bicycling “threaten our personal freedoms"
Some days I wonder if the Yes Men have fully infiltrated the GOP consultants hierarchy...
posted by deanklear at 1:05 PM on December 4, 2011 [8 favorites]


They’ve become stereotyped as pretentious, aloof jackasses,

You should hear what people are saying about car drivers!
posted by odinsdream at 1:07 PM on December 4, 2011 [13 favorites]


You don't have to be clipped and then cursed out by a cyclist who ran a red light very many times at all before a somewhat negative association develops.
posted by planet at 1:09 PM on December 4, 2011 [28 favorites]


The cyclist/non-cyclist fight brings some of the worst human tendencies to the fore: our desire to feel as though we're on the side of the angels, and our tendency to demonize the other.

When it involves the most dangerous thing most humans in the developed world will ever do (i.e., driving a car) then it's pretty much impossible to imagine there won't be at the very least a war of words.

Anyway, I'm sure this iteration of the Bike Conversation On Metafilter will go much better than all the previous iterations.
posted by pts at 1:11 PM on December 4, 2011 [23 favorites]


The deal is that it's a subculture, and subcultures self-segregate. It'll pass.
posted by rhizome at 1:11 PM on December 4, 2011


pts, you forgot about envy, also not a beautiful human tendency.
posted by homerica at 1:12 PM on December 4, 2011


Thank god I'm a runner, no one hates us.

Nevermind.
posted by Fizz at 1:12 PM on December 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


Somebody's gotta do it.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 1:12 PM on December 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Anecdata: Never met a laid back bicycle commuter. It's like the bike comes complete with a few hits of speed.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:12 PM on December 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


If we want to improve the image of urban bicyclists, we need to start with ourselves. If we’re successful, the concept of the elitist bicyclist will one day seem as silly as, well, driving in Manhattan.

This is not true. Those that complain about aloof jackasses are using that as an excuse for what they really think: they don't want change. They are terrified of a world without cars, without convenience, and of what they see as an eroding quality of life.

I agree that there are some stupid cyclists out there, but for the most part I think the average commuting cyclist is more road-aware than the average commuting driver. Being a commuting cyclist myself, I yell at drivers and pedestrians occasionally; mainly because they're doing something without thinking that could easily have seriously hurt or killed me. It's not a trivial thing. I understand the comfort and convenience of being removed from interaction when in your car; I love the mental and physical break I get from driving to work once every few months or so when my wife isn't using the car. It takes a conscious driver to pay close attention to cyclists, and to drive with empathy. I struggle with it and I'm someone who really understands.

I've been driven off the road by people who clearly don't understand; do I think they're trying to actually kill me? No. Did they almost? Yes. This is a fundamental lack of understanding that will be very difficult to change.
posted by jimmythefish at 1:14 PM on December 4, 2011 [43 favorites]


What's weird about the whole "bike riders are privileged hipsters" meme is that I think we all know that a significant portion of cyclists-for-transportation are poor. It's like everyone involved in the conversation has agreed that poor people are so inconsequential that we won't even address them.
posted by craichead at 1:16 PM on December 4, 2011 [57 favorites]


Also:
Jeff Mapes, author of “Pedaling Revolution,” thinks the smugness factor is almost accidental: “I know a lot of cyclists who say their commute is the best part of their day” — not exactly the kind of thing that the co-worker who just spent an hour in gridlock wants to hear at the water cooler. And just like “I don’t have a TV” guy, those who eschew modern conveniences can rub people the wrong way. In fact, the antipathy toward bicycles resembles the Republican aversion to trains, a form of transport that’s older and slower than flying but seen as elitist nonetheless. Like trains, bikes are looked at as a boutique form of transportation that pretentious liberals like because they want to Europeanize our cities.
That may be a good idea: the EU uses 27.88 barrels per 1,000 people per day, while the US is at 61.14.
posted by deanklear at 1:16 PM on December 4, 2011 [8 favorites]


And of course urban cyclists are brash; from the first day someone rode a bike to work to about six pm yesterday, if you weren't aggressive and selfish you'd be a smear on the pavement. A Copenhagen bike culture requires the city to change, not the cyclist.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 1:17 PM on December 4, 2011 [11 favorites]


It's like everyone involved in the conversation has agreed that poor people are so inconsequential that we won't even address them.

You know what helps? Reading the article. That thing? At the top? That prompted this discussion? You should read that.

posted by Roman Graves at 1:18 PM on December 4, 2011


Yes, proper use of italics will help too.
posted by Roman Graves at 1:18 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Linkbaiters gotta link bait, but mark my words, cycling will stop being an "affectation of the elite" once gas goes back over $5 a gallon.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:19 PM on December 4, 2011 [11 favorites]


First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
posted by stbalbach at 1:20 PM on December 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


Ugh, and the worst part is, bikers who try to follow traffic rules are the ones who get punished!

Nearly run over by a car running a red light? Check
Nearly run over by a car that blew through a stop sign? Check
Nearly run over by a car who forgot to use blinkers and tried to turn left without checking? Check
Nearly run over by a bus because a car was literally squeezing me into the bike lane? Check

It really makes me wonder how so many people get their drivers licenses!! Maybe a new part of the practical driving test ought to include bicycle awareness if you live in an urban area. That'd be scarier than parallel parking!!!



(I bike because I'm a student, can't afford to buy a car, pay for outrageous Chicago gas prices, pay even more for outrageous parking in Chicago, or spend an hour wondering whether or not the bus is actually going to come)
posted by astapasta24 at 1:20 PM on December 4, 2011 [12 favorites]


It doesn't have to be about a culture clash [this is an old and boring argument] if City officials have the political will to build off-street bikeways and paths. Why do bicycle advocates settle for "sharing the road?" Cars are a useful tool [I drive often], but I'd like the opportunity to ride my bike to the store/work when I can.
posted by jeffmac at 1:20 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't have any animosity towards cyclists. My mindset is that I'm driving a several thousand pound box of steel, they're on a 20 pound bike, and we're both just trying to get from point A to point B, so if I have to wait a little bit or give them room, whatever.
posted by hellojed at 1:22 PM on December 4, 2011 [40 favorites]


City officials have the political will to build off-street bikeways and paths

This is not an easy thing. Rarely can you retrofit a roadway within the existing right-of-way; especially in an urban area. Often there is other infrastructure in the way or there is private property that needs to be purchased, and even then you still have to cross streets where I would wager that upwards of 90% of incidents occur.
posted by jimmythefish at 1:24 PM on December 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


hah! you pretentious urban cyclists and your "lanes." Try biking out in the country where there ain't no bike lanes or shoulders for that matter, proper lighting at night depends on the cycle of the moon, and traffic consists of logging trucks, gravel trucks, and trucks with truck nuts.
posted by Glibpaxman at 1:27 PM on December 4, 2011 [9 favorites]


Linkbaiters gotta link bait, but mark my words, cycling will stop being an "affectation of the elite" once gas goes back over $5 a gallon.

I remember when it was at $5 a gallon in Atlanta, and there were gas shortages. All of the sudden there was this commentary about "What's wrong with Atlanta's Mass Transit?"

Go back a couple of years, and you'll read articles from the same people about how we're wasting money on mass transit and no one uses it. One of the main flaws in this over-dependence on profitable solutions to infrastructure is that you end up with short sighted urban planning that eventually wastes more of your economic resources than it saved in the first place.

If you spend all of your money keeping up roads and bridges, then your economy will be more sensitive to movements in oil prices. If you at least hedge it with some investment in light rail and "greenlines", you have some options. That's how Cuba survived peak oil during Perestroika. They all started riding their bikes.

I would have loved to commute on my bike to work — it was only six miles — but the route was too dangerous. There was no way to get there without going through some major intersections. What's the cost of building pedestrian/bike lanes and overpasses intelligently throughout an urban area, versus adding another lane to the highway which will help no one?
posted by deanklear at 1:27 PM on December 4, 2011 [12 favorites]


every car driver, bicyclist, skateboarder, pedestrian is an idiot except me. [/sarcasm]
posted by edgeways at 1:28 PM on December 4, 2011 [7 favorites]


With the typical American grid system, it'd actually be pretty easy to radically rebalance bike/car road allocation. Just take every 4th vertical street and every 4th horizontal and replace one car lane with two bike lanes, and at intersections add separate crossing lights for bicycles (so no getting sideswiped by cars and no hitting/scaring pedestrians).

Then it becomes safer and more civilised for everyone, a broader (less fit, less aggressive) demographic can start using cycle lanes and this image problem disappears.

Will it ever happen? Of course not.
posted by dickasso at 1:30 PM on December 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


This is not true. Those that complain about aloof jackasses are using that as an excuse for what they really think: they don't want change. They are terrified of a world without cars, without convenience, and of what they see as an eroding quality of life.

This is not true. I don't drive a car. I'm not a big fan of cars. One of my loved ones was killed by a car. I'd be happy to see cars become less prevalent in the US. But bicycles break the law so much more than cars. I live in Manhattan, and I do see cars run red lights occasionally, but bicyclists usually run red lights. And unlike cars, many bicyclists bike on sidewalks. I don't understand why the article says this is "overhyped" by the media.
posted by John Cohen at 1:30 PM on December 4, 2011 [15 favorites]


You know what helps? Reading the article. That thing? At the top? That prompted this discussion? You should read that.
Thanks, I did. But hey, he's not wrong about patronizing!

I still think it's a weird article. He seems to assume that there's a "we" who are "bicyclists," and that means upper-middle-class people who live in gentrifying urban neighborhoods. They should combat the image of bicycling as elitist by, among other things, advocating for bike infrastructure to be extended to "the slums." But as a cyclist who lives in a working-class neighborhood (trailer park, not slum), I'd rather that bike advocates work to include working-class and low-income cyclists in bike advocacy, so that we could have a voice in determining our own needs. And that might also combat the image of cycling as elitist by giving the media a more diverse pool of cycling advocates to feature.

(But honestly, what my neighborhood needs desperately are sidewalks. I don't think bike infrastructure would be anyone here's first priority.)
posted by craichead at 1:30 PM on December 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


rhizome: The deal is that it's a subculture, and subcultures self-segregate. It'll pass.

I think it's more of a square-peg-in-a-round-hole issue.

Most major US cities were developed around cars and pedestrians. Our infrastructure - roads, traffic lights, crosswalks, traffic shaping, traffic rules - were all designed around accommodating cars and pedestrians.

Without any commentary on the relative utility of various modes of transportation, trying to shoehorn bikes into the existing infrastructure winds up being a stressful transition that inconveniences a great many who are part of the walk-or-drive duopoly, while only sort of meeting the desires of the bicyclists. Even if bikes were some great wave-of-the-future technology that we'd all someday adopt and use, such a situation would meet with public push-back.

Now mix in that bikes aren't a desirable or viable mode of transportation for most people, and mix in the public persona of bicyclists as self-entitled, combative, holier-than-thou evangelists, and you get the current situation.

I don't think it's just going to blow over. Cities would need a major change in infrastructure to allow that.
posted by Vox Nihili at 1:31 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't have any animosity towards cyclists. My mindset is that I'm driving a several thousand pound box of steel, they're on a 20 pound bike, and we're both just trying to get from point A to point B, so if I have to wait a little bit or give them room, whatever.

Man if you weren't simply the exception but the rule...
posted by alex_skazat at 1:32 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I agree that there are some stupid cyclists out there, but for the most part I think the average commuting cyclist is more road-aware than the average commuting driver. Being a commuting cyclist myself, I yell at drivers and pedestrians occasionally; mainly because they're doing something without thinking that could easily have seriously hurt or killed me.

I'd suggest yelling at the stupid cyclists as well. And I say this as a fellow urban cyclist who does this very thing. I mean - the fuckers are making ME look bad, so HELL yeah I'm gonna cuss them out.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:33 PM on December 4, 2011 [9 favorites]


Here's an idea: Cars are fucking crazy inventions. I mean, what the fuck?
posted by alex_skazat at 1:33 PM on December 4, 2011 [9 favorites]


Anecdata: Never met a laid back bicycle commuter.

Visit the Netherlands!
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 1:34 PM on December 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. --- More like "first they ignore you, then they run over you, then they laugh at you, then you die."
posted by crunchland at 1:36 PM on December 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


People on bikes first and foremost have a classic visibility problem. The visible 5% of dickheads doing wrong makes people believe that 100% of people on bikes are doing the wrong thing. See also: BMW drivers, motorcyclists.

That said, I ride a bike and I drive. I follow traffic laws in each setting to the best of my ability. I don't roll through reds, I don't drive or bike on the sidewalk, and I don't crowd pedestrians. If you can't manage that, take the bus.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:36 PM on December 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


Well, I posted this once, but this thread is more topical so I might as well post the Driver Privilege Checklist again, with a relevant excerpt:
13. If I make a mistake while driving, am in an accident, or cause injury to myself or others, this will not be held against all drivers or considered proof that driving is inherently dangerous or irresponsible.
posted by anthill at 1:36 PM on December 4, 2011 [9 favorites]


Heavy signage indicating that bikes can have a lane and or share the entire road can help. Mainly it just lets drivers know that we are legit, so if they feel the urge to curse, honk or through another slushy then they are also going against public policy as well as common decency.

Also what might help our image is for cyclists to obey stoplights and other signals whenever possible. I make a point of saying so to my fellow riders who run the light as soon as I catch up to them--I usually point out that you get a better workout by stopping anyhow, and then demonstrate the value of that workout.

Finally why can't there be some technology and planning that incorporates the idea that bikes might be using the road? Lights that work on inductance should have some alternate way of detecting a cyclist, and turn lanes ought to be marked as optionally straight for bikers.
posted by TreeRooster at 1:37 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've really never understood the Driver v. Cyclist thing, at all. To me, the discussion should be framed more as Commuter v. Municipal Authorities discussion (which likely would splinter into Engineer v. Planner, but you get the idea). Framing the discussion in terms of forms of transport battling for supremacy ignores the lack of choices being provided by many cities.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:38 PM on December 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


But bicycles break the law so much more than cars. I live in Manhattan, and I do see cars run red lights occasionally, but bicyclists usually run red lights. And unlike cars, many bicyclists bike on sidewalks. I don't understand why the article says this is "overhyped" by the media.

Part of the problem is that vehicular laws and infrastructure aren't really designed with bicycles in mind. The spacing of intersections and the timing of lights are made for cars that are often able to move much quicker than bikes. Lanes are wide and more difficult to get across. Turns are much more difficult to make; every movement in converging traffic is an order of magnitude more difficult and dangerous on a bike. As such, even responsible cyclists tend to bend the rules more when they feel it's appropriate. I often try to stagger my own riding so that I'm out of sync with car traffic; it's considerably safer for me.

The real question is: Are the rules appropriate in addressing public safety? What could we do to bring infrastructure and rules closer to what would be safe and effective for everyone?
posted by jimmythefish at 1:40 PM on December 4, 2011 [7 favorites]


Bad bicyclists annoy me. Bad drivers scare me. There is really no comparison.
posted by fatehunter at 1:43 PM on December 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


I walk and ride the subway. You wheeled motherfuckers can kiss my ass.
posted by jonmc at 1:53 PM on December 4, 2011 [7 favorites]


This is deserving of it's own FPP, but I'll put this here anyway: How the Dutch got their cycle paths.

Hint: Cars are the leading cause of accidental death in the US, especially among children. Additionally, increased gas prices.
posted by Freen at 1:54 PM on December 4, 2011 [12 favorites]


Bad bicyclists annoy me. Bad drivers scare me. There is really no comparison.

By analogy, shoplifting annoys me; burglary scares me. But I'd still be happy to see the police crack down on shoplifters.
posted by John Cohen at 1:55 PM on December 4, 2011


which likely would splinter into Engineer v. Planner

Which is a much, much more bitter and vitriolic fight than Driver v. Cyclist. At least you didn't say Engineer v. Architect.
posted by hwyengr at 1:56 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I walk and ride the subway. You wheeled motherfuckers can kiss my ass.
Well, you sure are awesome, but there's no subway here, and walking in the dark, which would be necessary for me to get to and from work in the winter, is really dangerous.
posted by craichead at 1:58 PM on December 4, 2011


By analogy, shoplifting annoys me; burglary scares me. But I'd still be happy to see the police crack down on shoplifters.

I complete agree. It just sits better with me when people argue "bad cyclists are bad" instead of "cyclists are worse than drivers." Shoplifters are bad; burglars are worse.
posted by fatehunter at 1:59 PM on December 4, 2011


This is not true. Those that complain about aloof jackasses are using that as an excuse for what they really think: they don't want change. They are terrified of a world without cars, without convenience, and of what they see as an eroding quality of life.

I am sorry but that's a bit of self-delusional bullshit. I ride my bike a lot and am certainly pissed off with drivers who don't know how to maneuver around bikes or drivers who simply don't give a damn making my bike ride a really scary 30 mins. everyday.

At the same time when I used to drive a few days a week, over a period of two years, my right rear view mirror was broken twice, my right trunk panels were scratched twice and one biker basically fell onto my trunk because he miscalculated the amount of space between my car and the one behind me as he tried to split between us.

In 4 out of 5 cases I was stationery with a lot of room between me and the pavement and in the last case my speed was under 5 miles an hour.

I am all for bike lanes and stronger enforcement of bike rules on the roads, however we as bikers need to train ourselves regarding those very same rules and be just as nice (if not more) when dealing with other vehicular traffic. After all if we screw up we break shit in our bodies, not just get a dent. Unless that happens I will probably have a very low opinion of most bikers on the roads.

BTW car drivers, a lot of bikers are not very nice to other bikers either, so you are not quite alone :)
posted by ding-dong at 2:00 PM on December 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


Well, you sure are awesome,

I am, but that's beside the point. I was making a joke mocking the bikes vs. cars pissing contest that always erupts in these threads and which is truly a fight which I have no dog in.
posted by jonmc at 2:02 PM on December 4, 2011


I've really never understood the Driver v. Cyclist thing, at all.

It's the "smug" phenomenon. The classic examples are cyclists, hybrid drivers and vegetarians.

To be a member of a "smug" population, one must have made a personal choice to give up something which the majority take for granted. Criteria include:

-- The choice will benefit your own personal well-being
-- The choice will save you money
-- Almost anyone could make the same choice
-- The choice involves giving up some measure of pleasure/convenience
-- The choice will rarely if ever inconvenience people who declined to make the same choice
-- It would be a net positive if an entire community made the same choice, but no one is pushing to outlaw the majority behaviour.

Consequences of being in a "smug" population include

-- Being judged by what the more outspoken/controversial/stupid members of your group do
-- Often being asked to justify your choice
-- Being called "smug" by some members of the majority since they have no real grounds for criticism but still feel threatened by the minority behaviour.
posted by auto-correct at 2:04 PM on December 4, 2011 [56 favorites]


I'm seeing a lot more adult bike riders in my pan-ethnic, semi-shabby, semi-gentrifying west end Toronto neighbourhood. Very few are on expensive bikes (the guy at the FreshCo with the bamboo bike he built himself being a rare exception). Most are on new-ish Canadian Tire bikes or beaters, and the milk crate is almost omnipresent on the rear rack. (I've even seen one guy with a double-decker milk crate assembly -- nice!) My local businesses have been putting in more bike racks, too, and when I arrive at a major intersection on my way home from shopping, I usually see one or more cyclists there. This pattern has continued even into our current cold snap. These are serious cyclists [insert LOLCyclist image if you like], not people enjoying a little fresh air and sunshine. They have places to go, and they use bikes to get there.

Maybe I've been part of a critical mass in this neighbourhood, and more people think cycling is doable, even though some parts of the area are horribly bike-unfriendly. Maybe the continued decline of the TTC, especially the right of way redevelopment of the breakdown-prone St. Clair West streetcar line (which led to narrowed lanes, horrible car congestion and inflamed driver tempers), means that people who used to use transit all the time now use a bike more often for short and medium trips.

But in my working class area of Toronto, at least, bike riding doesn't have much to do with hipsters and the privileged.
posted by maudlin at 2:06 PM on December 4, 2011


I agree that there are some stupid cyclists out there, but for the most part I think the average commuting cyclist is more road-aware than the average commuting driver.

I dunno. I'm so aware of how dangerous the road is that I don't get on it unless I'm strapped into a box and surrounded by airbags.

I kid. Anyway, here in Los Angeles I think bike riders and drivers can band together against the real maniacs: those white-lining motorcycle people. How crazy are they?
posted by Bookhouse at 2:06 PM on December 4, 2011


jonmc: "I walk and ride the subway. You wheeled motherfuckers can kiss my ass."

I have some bad news.
posted by schmod at 2:07 PM on December 4, 2011 [10 favorites]


"Anecdata: Never met a laid back bicycle commuter."

Visit the Netherlands!


Or Stockholm. Or Copenhagen. Or one of many European college towns like Uppsala.

I am a tiny woman and rather risk-adverse. In college in Champaign-Urbana, I tried out biking, but sold my bike a month later after I had an incident on a bike path that was blocked by construction and chipped a tooth. Biking was too scary for me.

Then I did my senior year in Uppsala, Sweden. Everyone biked there. Old people, young people, people with children, and yes, scared people like me. I bought a nice road cruiser and was amazed at how easy biking was there. The bike paths didn't put you in the path of several ton trucks or gas fumes, they were separated from the road and often wound through lush forests. They had there own traffic signals. They were properly maintained and if construction blocked them off, the built detours made it clear that bikes were real transportation. I was never ever ever menaced by a car or truck there. When I walked I was never menaced by a bike. People stopped on their bikes when the walk signal was on. In fact, they even had rests at the stops so you could lean against them and pedal off easily when the signal went green.

I quickly gave up on bikes when I moved to NYC. Sure, they built that nice PPW path, which was kind of like the Swedish bike paths, except there were no signals. And yes, it was kind of scary crossing the paths as a pedestrian. And the rest of the city was scary as f*&$. I knew several people who were injured in accidents there. And one who is no longer alive.

I'm a little more hopeful now I live in Chicago. Seems like the paths are the stupid road paths, but at least they have places to put your bikes at the train station.

But biking is never going to be a "normal person" thing as long as "bike paths" are those stupid road paths. Sorry, normal people don't like to ride next to 20-ton-dump trucks. A girl got killed in Chicago thanks to one of those.
posted by melissam at 2:08 PM on December 4, 2011 [16 favorites]


     ... which likely would splinter into Engineer v. Planner

Which is a much, much more bitter and vitriolic fight than Driver v. Cyclist. At least you didn't say Engineer v. Architect.


"So in this sketch here, you'll see I've elevated bike lanes festooned to the front of buildings along the main shopping street, and-"

"Wait. How do the cyclists get on and off of the bike lanes?"

"Ah, that's where the cornerside elevators come in!"
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:10 PM on December 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


But bicycles break the law so much more than cars.

By not enforcing the laws, the police have basically granted us permission to do what we need to do to survive while getting around. No really, they'll stop someone who's acting particularly dangerously, but otherwise law-abiding cyclists doing what they gotta do don't even stand out to the cops. The cops don't consider us a menace. Drivers are irked because they have to be that much more alert and cautious about their surroundings, which is a good thing. Pedestrians become irked because of isolated incidents they've experienced, but the biking community has become far more self-policing, and there is greater pressure to set a courteous example.

As a cyclist, I remain moving at all possible times. That means coasting through intersections (after checking to make sure the way is clear, giving a wide berth to any pedestrians) and getting creative about finding places to turn if traffic suddenly becomes complicated. I do this because I have more options w/r/t maneuvering or escaping danger when I'm in motion than I do when I'm standing motionless astride a bike. A paused cyclist is basically a person standing in the middle of the road, and that's a position I'm going to put myself in only as a last resort.
posted by hermitosis at 2:11 PM on December 4, 2011 [22 favorites]


Here's an idea: Cars are fucking crazy inventions. I mean, what the fuck?

Cars are awesome.

Weather-tight shelters full of comfy seats on wheels, man! Air-conditioning or heat as the need dictates, lights, music and the things that plug into it. Cellphone chargers, DVD players, little fridges. Plus you can go pretty much anywhere you have friends or relatives. Or you can get away from it all and go camping.

I just wish we could get low maintenance multi-fuel turbined jobbies with forever tires. How cool would that be?
posted by codswallop at 2:14 PM on December 4, 2011 [7 favorites]


Anecdata: Never met a laid back bicycle commuter. It's like the bike comes complete with a few hits of speed.

You can say the same exact thing about motorized vehicles. Some of the most mild-mannered people I know turn into someone much angrier and more aggressive the second they get behind the wheel of a car.

People that are normally polite and patient on foot are suddenly rude and start swearing and cursing at everyone who would dare get in their way or drive 5 mph below the speed limit - and then 20 seconds later they'll be trying to operate their cell phone while driving too slow and distracted - and then they're cursing at the people behind them who are honking at them for doing the exact same thing they were yelling at someone moments before.

Confusing, yeah? It's like logic (and basic human politeness) suddenly fly out the window.
posted by loquacious at 2:20 PM on December 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


Imagine you're working class and you're driving to your job in your too-old pickup truck. You just dropped your screaming kid off at daycare (which you can't afford) and got gas (which you can't afford) and you have a 30 mile drive in stop-and-go traffic ahead of you. You're overweight because you spend 2 hours a day in your car. The other drivers are anonymous, inside their little cocoons, so you don't judge them. Then you see some jerk on his $1000 bike racing along the side of the road and beating traffic. He didn't have to drop off screaming kids; he doesn't have to buy gas; he doesn't have 30 miles between home and work. And, worst of all, he's HAPPY. And HEALTHY. Of course you're going to think cyclists are smug elitist bastards.
posted by miyabo at 2:23 PM on December 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


If you let go of the emotional baggage of the drivers-versus-cyclists feud, this really isn't that complicated.

Our roads were mostly designed for cars. Support for bicyclists, where available, is usually a jury rig. As a result, drivers don't often encounter bicyclists, but when they do it's often a dangerous interaction.

The human species is just bad at that sort of thing. When faced with a scenario with Result A 90% of the time and Result B 10% of the time, we will almost always anticipate Result A (far beyond its actual probability). In fact, most "reaction"-based games are built around this exact flaw in human psychology; musical chairs, red-light-green-light, spoons, duck-duck-goose, etc.

(hypothetical numbers follow)

When I'm a driver in the right lane, trying to make a right-hand turn, 90% of the time I would only need to check for traffic from the left in order to avoid an accident. 99% of the time I only need to watch for traffic from the left, or from someone in the oncoming lanes making a left turn. 99.9% of the time I only need to watch for traffic from the left, oncoming traffic making left turns, or pedestrians in the crosswalk.

And 0.01% of the time I need to check my right-side mirror for a bicyclist passing me.

People aren't going to do that, and it's not because they're bad people who hate bicyclists, it's because our minds are just not designed for doing that correctly and the interface in question (road design) does not provide any affordances that make it easier. I mean seriously, keep thinking about the example above. I get 99% correctness just by vaguely looking to the left for large moving objects. I get another order of magnitude by then looking where I'm going to be going. But to avoid bicyclists on my right, I have to take my eyes off everything else around me and focus on a small side-view mirror; a shift in focus that may very well distract me from one of the 99.9% cases.

In addition to their role of providing space for bicyclists, bike lanes partially address the problem in that they provide drivers with a visual reminder that Something May Be On The Right. However, they don't change the fact that there's no easy way to know if a bicyclist actually is to your right without a significant deviation from rote.

This also (in my opinion) explains a lot of the hostility from drivers to bicyclists: nothing scares and angers our primate brains more than receiving negative feedback for behavior that's usually neutral or rewarding; in other words, we hate being surprised with punishment. So when a driver does have a close call or an incident with a bicyclist, they're almost always going to blame that cyclist for their state of fear and anger.

There are a few things that might solve the problem. Making people use their signal indicators, even if they don't think they need to, would at least give cyclists the info they need to avoid many incidents. Creating interface affordances in cars that warn of oncoming objects without requiring the driver to take their eyes off the road would also do a lot of good.

But probably the most effective would be to just have more cyclists around, to the point where drivers will expect their presence instead of being surprised by it. A sort of "critical mass" of cyclists, if you will.
posted by Riki tiki at 2:27 PM on December 4, 2011 [12 favorites]


Anecdata: Never met a laid back bicycle commuter.

Anecdata in response: there are at least a couple of guys on my regular route who ride recumbents.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:32 PM on December 4, 2011 [17 favorites]


Drivers are irked because they have to be that much more alert and cautious about their surroundings, which is a good thing.

No. I'm not irked at all by cyclists who obey the rules of the road (or at least disobey them -- such as rolling through an intersection where there's not much traffic -- in a predictable, low-risk way). I respect them and give them plenty of room, and I fully support all efforts to create more bike lanes and to make cycling more feasible and attractive in general.

What irks me are cyclists who disregard the rules of the road in a way that is aggressively unpredictable -- because that means there is literally no way I can be alert and cautious enough to accommodate all the possible things that the cyclist might do (swerve in front of me or someone else, blow through a light in heavy traffic, come up on my blindspot or on someone else's blindspot, go into the crosswalk right as someone is making a turn, etc.) while at the same time driving in a predictable enough way that I don't cause trouble for other drivers by disrupting the rhythm of traffic in general.
posted by scody at 2:32 PM on December 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


Baseless assertion: Nobody driving a car thinks they're doing something good for their fellow man, for which they should be respected and thanked.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:35 PM on December 4, 2011


hermitosis: As a cyclist, I remain moving at all possible times. That means coasting through intersections (after checking to make sure the way is clear, giving a wide berth to any pedestrians) and getting creative about finding places to turn if traffic suddenly becomes complicated. I do this because I have more options w/r/t maneuvering or escaping danger when I'm in motion than I do when I'm standing motionless astride a bike. A paused cyclist is basically a person standing in the middle of the road, and that's a position I'm going to put myself in only as a last resort.

I have commuted for going on 15 years now, and this just doesn't make sense to me. Am I doing it wrong? 90% of the traffic lights I come to are timed, and traffic is almost always flowing both ways (taking turns of course.) That means that standing in the road is a given. If this is really dangerous then I'm in trouble. If the light is red and traffic is slow, by the time I've been able to make sure the way is clear, and look for creative escapes, I may as well have stopped and waited anyhow. Plus, slow traffic usually means not too many cars behind me either, so not as much worry about being rear-ended.

On top of that, I think the habit of rolling through creates an atmosphere of antagonism towards scoff-law [all] cyclists, which means many more drivers are going to feel justified in cutting it close, if not actually assaulting us. They will be wrong, but it still will hurt. I'd say that increasing visibility (reflectives, lights, waving your arms) is better than rolling through. Besides, as I pointed out above, stopping and restarting gives you a better workout.

Riki tiki: Agreed about the problem of having to cycle in the turn lane as an example of how the road is designed for cars. How about we write some letters asking for a sign "right turn only for cars, bikes can go straight."
posted by TreeRooster at 2:38 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


But probably the most effective would be to just have more cyclists around, to the point where drivers will expect their presence instead of being surprised by it. A sort of "critical mass" of cyclists, if you will.

In my city, there is literally one city block of downtown bike path. I'm not kidding - it begins on one corner, and ends at the next. Cyclists and drivers alike have called upon the city to build more bike paths. The boon to cyclists is obvious, but to drivers, more accessibility for cyclists means less car traffic, less pollution, less road damage, and fewer "traffic islands", i.e., neighborhoods effectively blocked off by multi-lane roads.

The city response? "This is a car town. Look at how many people drive cars! Clearly people have made the choice to drive cars. Therefore we should not spend money to accommodate non-car forms of transport."

It's a catch-22 that pits us against each other, while the people who could and should be helping us out sit back and watch us bicker over who's the most entitled and inconsiderate.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:39 PM on December 4, 2011


Baseless assertion: Nobody driving a car thinks they're doing something good for their fellow man, for which they should be respected and thanked.

Yeah, baseless - you forgot Prius drivers.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:41 PM on December 4, 2011


Indeed!
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:42 PM on December 4, 2011


Interface affordances

Brilliant idea #968: require cyclists to carry a cheap little radio transmitter. Make a solar-powered blinking yellow light that responds to the radio signal and can be installed on stop signs and traffic light poles along bike routes. You'd instantly know a cyclist is in the area by all the flashing lights.
posted by miyabo at 2:45 PM on December 4, 2011


You know, this argument reminds me of a piece about the cultural shifts among modern, middle-class American teenagers, where, lacking any obvious differentiators (religion, class, etc), the real differentiator in their identity is what consumer choices they make. You are what music you listen to, you are what you wear. Your tribe is Glee. Your tribe is Abercrombie.

You are what you drive.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:48 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anecdata: Never met a laid back bicycle commuter.

This reminds me of a silly little discussion like this on my neighborhood blog, a year or two ago. Someone started a thread that turned into a big bikers-vs-drivers thing, and at some point some self-identified driver said "You know what bugs me about cyclists? They're always grimacing! They look so mean!"

That comment, like the one I italicized above, struck me as interesting. It made me realize that you can't easily see the faces of most drivers you encounter. I'd wager there are a variety of emotions on those faces, from frustration to boredom to anger. But they're all behind glass, kind of hard to see.

Bicyclists are on display. Because we're on display, and because drivers are often curious about us, they analyze how we look and form impressions about us that have nothing to do with our riding style. Like how we must be mean because we're not wearing a big old' commuting grin, or how we must be cycling fanatics because we tend to wear odd clothing.

It makes perfect sense, but it does make me awfully self-conscious.
posted by gurple at 2:52 PM on December 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


The "cyclists are smug elitists, amirite?" meme was coincidentally discussed in the Sydney Morning Herald just last week:

Cyclists. They’re nothing but a bunch of Green-voting, latte-sipping, inner-city trendoids with an over-developed sense of entitlement.

That’s what you’d think if you believed much of the media coverage given to cycling in the past few years. From shock jocks to tabloid TV shows to newspaper columnists, there's always someone ready to have a go at cyclists.

Especially media organisations that favour the conservative side of politics.

posted by UbuRoivas at 2:53 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Good point , gurple. That's also why I try to smile and wave a lot. Look everybody, friendly cyclist here!! Especially when someone takes the time to let me through ahead of them. Thumbs up!! And when I get cut off or assaulted, I vary between a "what did I do to you?" and quiet seething. Flicking people off might feel great, but it would be tantamount to doing so from a podium. Some people in the crowd cheer you on, while others form opinions about how to vote when bike lanes come up on the ballot.
posted by TreeRooster at 2:58 PM on December 4, 2011


Bicyclists are on display. Because we're on display, and because drivers are often curious about us, they analyze how we look and form impressions about us that have nothing to do with our riding style.

The area where I live is famous for the number of local cyclists.

Almost all of them -- certainly, all of the more visible ones -- tend to be women in their 50's and over.

I've never heard anybody analyse them or form impressions about them. They're just old ladies on bikes.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:04 PM on December 4, 2011


When I bike, I don't yell and scream at the people in the cars that just nearly killed me. Why would I? They have shown a reckless disregard for life and are wielding a deadly weapon they clearly don't know how to use.

As a pedestrian, I hate drivers that stop short when I'm crossing the street. That's like swinging a baseball bat at my knees and then pulling back at the last minute.

That said, when I drive, I try my best to act as if I'm carrying a gun, or wielding some such tremendously dangerous piece of equipment. Because I am. Cars kill far more people than guns.

There is a serious self-policing reverence for gun safety in America. Why doesn't such a thing exist for car safety? When you understand this, then you may start to understand why cyclists have such strong feelings about cars and car safety.
posted by Freen at 3:08 PM on December 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


You know, this argument reminds me of a piece about the cultural shifts among modern, middle-class American teenagers, where, lacking any obvious differentiators (religion, class, etc), the real differentiator in their identity is what consumer choices they make. You are what music you listen to, you are what you wear. Your tribe is Glee. Your tribe is Abercrombie.

Teenagers, hell. I know plenty of adults still like this. A friend of mine can't find a guy because her criteria includes all the usual guy-hunting stuff but he also has to like all the music, TV shows, and video games she likes.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 3:09 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anecdata: Never met a laid back bicycle commuter.

Which is directly contradictory to my experience. Most of the cycling commuters I encounter on my commute are pretty laid back. To a person, they are in a much better mood when they walk into the office in the morning than the people who drove there in cars.
posted by crush-onastick at 3:10 PM on December 4, 2011


I have never had trouble checking to see if a cyclist is coming up when I am doing a right turn, as it turns out I have to look right and back to see if a pedestrain is coming, too, which I do automatically. I wish cyclists wouldn't bike wearing all black after sunset so it's impossible to see them in the middle of the road, and I wish they wouldn't bike down the middle of a one way street going the wrong way, but otherwise, honestly, they don't do that much that's unpredictable. It's not predictable in the sense that a car would never do what a bike does, but that's not a fair standard.

I do, however, wish that cyclists realised that just like cars are heavier and go faster on streeets, so they should be careful of cyclists, bikes do the same on sidewalks and they should be careful of pedestrians on sidewalks. And by "careful of pedestrians on sidewalks", I of course mean "not biking on the sidewalks". When I am walking, I am careful to inconvenience (adult) cyclists who are biking down the sidewalk as much as I safely can.
posted by jeather at 3:10 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have commuted for going on 15 years now, and this just doesn't make sense to me. Am I doing it wrong? 90% of the traffic lights I come to are timed, and traffic is almost always flowing both ways (taking turns of course.) That means that standing in the road is a given. If this is really dangerous then I'm in trouble.
When I lived in Chicago I paid attention to lights during commute times for the reasons you mention (they're timed and cross traffic precludes cruising anyways) but that's not the case most of the time in most cities. On Saturday nights when there isn't much cross traffic and there's usually a crazed taxi cab behind you, you better believe I'm going to keep moving through that red light if I can. You're not doing it wrong, but hermitosis isn't either, for very good reasons.

Besides, as I pointed out above, stopping and restarting gives you a better workout.

Yeah, we don't live in the same neighborhoods. Cruising a quarter mile down a hill to stop for five minutes only to suffer in low gears going only slightly above pedestrian speed for 200 yards only to repeat the cycle at the next intersection is NOT my idea of a good workout. Especially when I'm on a super cheap super heavy commuter bike that's all I can afford.

(Okay there are only a few streets in Columbus that are like that, but yeah, they suck and I will never pay attention to red lights on them)
posted by midmarch snowman at 3:11 PM on December 4, 2011


The cyclist/non-cyclist fight brings some of the worst human tendencies to the fore: our desire to feel as though we're on the side of the angels

You know what? Fuck the angels. Those assholes with their god-damned wings take up the whole freakin sidewalk!
posted by Hoopo at 3:11 PM on December 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


midmarch snowman: Right, I do understand some reasons for rolling through, such as a rough neighborhood late at night or being chased by said crazed taxi. Likewise all those inductance triggered lights on side streets (occasionally it seems that laying down the bike in the road can trigger them, but that just seems ridiculous to go through.)

Sorry about the bike. I've spent my share of time on used walmart bikes--at least they don't get stolen as much.
posted by TreeRooster at 3:21 PM on December 4, 2011


Here's a great article (by mefi's own soulbarn) about some the labor cyclists of Los Angeles. Maybe stop thinking only of spandexed roadies or whatever else cliche when you think of the average cyclist commuter.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 3:22 PM on December 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Pedestrians become irked because of isolated incidents they've experienced

Probably just more anecdata, but as a pedestrian that walks and takes public transportation for my commute, I'm irked because of the frequent incidents I've experienced. At least three times a week, and notably more during the summer, I'm nearly run down by someone riding their bike on the sidewalk or blowing through a red light.

Both of these actions may be taken by cyclists that are concerned for their safety if they follow the biking laws. I get that biking in traffic is scary, which is why I don't do it, but if it's so scary that you can't obey the laws then find a mode of transportation with which you're more comfortable.
posted by youngergirl44 at 3:24 PM on December 4, 2011 [7 favorites]


er, day laborer cyclists
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 3:25 PM on December 4, 2011


Part of it is that we're so used to car drivers being total law breaking dicks that we are pre-programmed to anticipate those things.

As a pedestrian, I know to watch it when stepping out into hte crosswalk. Just last night I nearly got a right hook from an SUV driver as I had the crosswalk light. And just now on my way home riding in a bike lane I had to veer out into traffic to avoid some pedestrians who crossed against the light.

Everyone does it.

But somehow cyclists are what people remember because, I guess, they are still such a novel thing. And while pedestrians have sidewalks/crosswalks/crosswalk signals and cars have roads, in the US cyclists have some cobbled together bullshit in between. I'll stop treating red lights as yield signs when red lights actually detect my presence on bike.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 3:31 PM on December 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


I decided I needed to step away from this topic for a bit before I posted here, and went for a run to clear my thoughts.

During that run, I got hit by a fucking car that was a red light, and then sped away.

So, yeah. It's dangerous to be a pedestrian or cyclist in a big city, and it's not because of other pedestrians or cyclists. Sure, there are occasional accidents between pedestrians and cyclists, but those accidents are few, far between, and usually very minor. It's a red herring.

Oh, and I'm fine, by the way. I ran 4 more miles after being "hit." More like "tapped." Still, the driver clearly didn't see me, and had a surprised and horrified look on her face before I stepped out of the way, and she panicked and fled the scene.
posted by schmod at 3:35 PM on December 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


And that's why you don't leave the internet.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 3:43 PM on December 4, 2011 [13 favorites]


Here's a great article (by mefi's own soulbarn) about some the labor cyclists of Los Angeles. Maybe stop thinking only of spandexed roadies or whatever else cliche when you think of the average cyclist commuter.

That's been my observation about L.A. too. At least half the bike commuters are virtually invisible. People who would often prefer to drive, but can't get a license and/or can't afford a car. The poor, the recent immigrants, the dui crowd. They're invisible because they don't do the spandex thing, don't try to compete with motor vehicle traffic, usually ride bikes that no serious cyclist would be caught dead riding, sometimes spotted riding on the sidewalks. Quite sanely, I might add.

This crowd is often invisible even to dedicated bicyclists. But they've been a fixture and a large segment of bike commuters since I was a kid.
posted by 2N2222 at 3:45 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


But somehow cyclists are what people remember because, I guess, they are still such a novel thing.

I don't actually think this is really what's going on.

I think the problem with cyclists doing these sorts of things that you're talking about is that it disrupts the rhythm of traffic in a way that's unpredictable, as I mentioned above. A cyclist blowing through a light in heavy traffic, for example, is out of sync with the speed of both driving traffic and walking traffic. In terms of traffic flow, this is a little like one driver constantly speeding up and slowing down, or a pedestrian randomly sprinting halfway across the street or darting out between cars.

During that run, I got hit by a fucking car that was a red light, and then sped away.

And last week, I saw an accident happen when a cyclist swerved in front of a driver in rush hour, causing Driver 1 to slam on his brakes to avoid hitting the bike, which resulted in getting rear-ended by Driver 2. The cyclist sped away after flipping the drivers the bird. Don't know if either of the drivers were hurt, but they both had damage to their cars; additionally, due to the way CA driving laws are written regarding rear-end accidents, Driver 2 almost certainly will be found guilty of causing the accident.

None of this is to say that there aren't dickish drivers out there -- god knows there are PLENTY. But biking dickishly doesn't actually create safer conditions -- not for cyclists, not for pedestrians, and not for drivers.
posted by scody at 3:48 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


scody: Most likely, the car behind didn't have sufficient following distance. If it had been a child chasing a ball, the same thing would have happened.
posted by Freen at 3:55 PM on December 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


And last week, I saw an accident happen when a cyclist swerved in front of a driver in rush hour, causing Driver 1 to slam on his brakes to avoid hitting the bike, which resulted in getting rear-ended by Driver 2.
Do you make a note of every time you see a driver double-parked in a bike lane? How about every time you see someone open a car door without looking behind them to see if there's a bike approaching? Because that's the kind of thing that happens all the time and that leaves me with a choice of swerving out into traffic, which could cause an accident, or definitely getting into an accident that could kill me. And I bet that like most non-bike-riders, you don't even notice that shit.
posted by craichead at 3:56 PM on December 4, 2011 [11 favorites]


Dear bicyclists in my area:

You're supposed to ride WITH traffic, not AGAINST it.
Get that fact straight and maybe I won't be so pissed off at you.

Dear car drivers in my area:

How about SEEING me when I cross at the crosswalk with a WALK light? Then I won't have to hit your car with my umbrella.
posted by Lucinda at 4:08 PM on December 4, 2011


My father was a professional cyclist as a young man and through most of his life. He didn't much care for cyclists himself. Like any marginal group it's probably more important to behave responsibly and perhaps conservatively when it comes to road rules and the like. A guy driving aggressively is just a jerk, but cyclists behaving badly tend to reflect on all cyclists. So my father was particularly irritated by cyclists who didnt obey the road rules.

I don't ride a bike myself (I'm a cripple) and I don't really drive, for much the same reason, but I can walk, usually with a couple of dogs, and that's where cyclists behave most badly…it's difficult for a cripple to get out of the way of cyclists illegally riding on the footpath and it's not appropriate to ride at speed around dogs. As a pedestrian, cyclists sometimes behave in a manner that is less than safe and that endangers other people. I just don't see cyclists getting a better rap until they change their own behaviour.
posted by chrisgregory at 4:15 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm irked because of the frequent incidents I've experienced. At least three times a week, and notably more during the summer, I'm nearly run down by someone riding their bike on the sidewalk or blowing through a red light.

There may be a problem about what's considered frequent. I'm not saying the above is good, but probably a minimum of 3 times a day while driving to work, I encounter something as egregious as this from another car. Probably 10 times on my way to work on a bike. I bike to work infrequently - it's mostly fine with some very dicey parts. I have no way to estimate it but I feel like I have about a 1% chance of dying every time I do it.
posted by RustyBrooks at 4:18 PM on December 4, 2011


I'm on the wrong side of town for the elitist bike commuters, but I do see a lot of average people riding along my route to work in jeans or sweatpants. Many of them have NO reflective clothing on whatsoever, so I'll frequently have an OH MY GOD moment as one of them darts out from a line of parked cars.

I would take some jackass in a Pearl Izumi reflective vest and Petzl headlamp any day.
posted by desjardins at 4:19 PM on December 4, 2011


And I bet that like most non-bike-riders, you don't even notice that shit.

You'd bet wrong. I notice it a lot. I notice the drivers who behave like dicks to cyclists (as well as other drivers and pedestrians), and I notice (and frequently admire) how it requires cyclists to make last-second, nerve-jangling adjustments that aren't their fault. I notice the pedestrians who behave like dicks (or at least oblivious idiots) by sauntering into the street with their earbuds in or while texting. And yeah, I also notice it when cyclists behave like dicks by behaving recklessly (which I define as behaving unpredictably without immediate cause to avoid being hurt, such as by a driver opening their door into traffic without looking to see if someone's on a bike behind them).

Most likely, the car behind didn't have sufficient following distance.

It was rush hour traffic; all cars were basically bumper to bumper. That's the nature of rush hour traffic. If the car behind had left more than a car's length another car would have cut into that space.

If it had been a child chasing a ball, the same thing would have happened.

Difference being, with a child chasing a ball, you can chalk it up to a child not understanding the risks of traffic and/or not having adequate impulse control. A cyclist who swerves in front of a driver because he decided to make a right turn from the left lane rather than stop for the light that had just turned red (which is what happened last week) presumably understands the dynamics of traffic and has adequate impulse control, which means he or she is responsible for having triggered an accident in a way that a 4-year-old chasing a ball is not.

Seriously, I support bicycling. I want there to be more bike lanes. I look out for cyclists as best as I humanly can when I'm behind the wheel. I think drivers who are dicks to cyclists are, well, dicks, and I think they ought to be pulled over and ticketed for most of the shit I see. But by the same token, I don't think that expecting cyclists to follow the same general rules of the road as the rest of us in order to do their part to minimize dangerous situations makes me a dick, too.
posted by scody at 4:23 PM on December 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


[I'm embarrassed to have to tell you to not call people dickheads. MetaTalk is your option. If you want to make these conversations go better here, be the change you want to see on MetaFilter. Thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 4:23 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a cyclist. I'm married to a cycling coach. I'm pro-cycling and pro-cyclist. I live in a bike friendly neighborhood and community. You hear me bike peeps? I'm on your side.

And even I have to say that about a 10% of the people I see on bikes ride like total idiots.
- Cyclists riding at night with no lights? See that every day.
- Blowing off stop signs. Every day.
- Weaving on and off the sidewalk? Every day.
- Can't figure out what lane they belong in when making a turn. Every f'in day.

Perhaps part of the problem is you need to pass a license test to drive a car, but with zero training you can zip around on a bike. Lots of people on bikes have no clue of how to ride safely. That doesn't excuse drivers who are deliberately jerks, but hot damn, there are some bad riders out there.
posted by 26.2 at 4:26 PM on December 4, 2011 [7 favorites]


This is a rather difficult subject to talk about objectively, because both sides have valid points. Drivers do give bicyclists short shrift when it comes to sharing the road. Drivers come this close to running down bicyclists all the time, usually unintentionally but occasionally with malice. Many drivers simply have no concept of sharing the road with bicyclists; they think that road = cars, not to mention the poor pedestrians. On the other hand, bicyclists do the same thing to cars when it comes to cutting someone off, and bicyclists do hurl themselves through intersections at speed, running red lights, so as not to kill their momentum.

I've done both driving and biking, and it's clear to me that we would all be better off in so many ways if most of us biked to work. That's not possible for many (most) of us, which calls into question a broad range of bigger topics, like living in the city vs. suburbs, living close to your place of work, etc. But a really positive thing that has happened in the past few decades is the re-invigoration of the inner city core. It's not exactly a monumental change, but it's a start.

And this drivers vs. bikers is very much an American phenomenon. Other countries that are more densely packed, even in the suburbs, have drivers with an ingrained sense of bicyclists...probably because most drivers also use their bikes on a regular basis. The traffic seems more chaotic (just google any Asian country + "traffic" and you'll get an idea), but it's actually a lot safer than in America. The movement is more organic and natural, and car drivers are constantly aware of bike riders and pedestrians in a way that Americans are not ingrained to learn. I hope this changes in the future.
posted by zardoz at 4:29 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm embarrassed to have to tell you to not call people dickheads.

Sorry, I was referring to the idea that had already been put out that Bad Drivers Out There are dicks/behave dickishly, but certainly didn't mean to make it sound like I was calling anyone here (whether cyclist/driver/pedestrian/jetpackist) any names.

posted by scody at 4:32 PM on December 4, 2011


I am honestly curious about the [American only?] notion of cars being "working class", and bikes being "elite". The multi-thousand-dollar piece of equipment that you continually need to refuel with increasingly expensive fuel is seen as the solution for the everyperson, while the couple-hundred-dollar thing you buy once and then occasionally have to pump with air is seen as for the wealthy only. That's weird, right?

Is it... a time thing? Like, "only people with money can afford to get places at less than top speed"?
posted by davidjmcgee at 4:33 PM on December 4, 2011 [8 favorites]


[scody, was not talking to you. hugs.]
posted by jessamyn at 4:36 PM on December 4, 2011


davidjmcgee - I believe it's because cyclists likely own both a bike and a car.
posted by 26.2 at 4:38 PM on December 4, 2011


I am honestly curious about the [American only?] notion of cars being "working class", and bikes being "elite".
Bike infrastructure is a real luxury in the US, and partly for that reason, people who bike by choice tend to be pretty privileged. They live in fairly cushy neighborhoods, can afford expensive equipment, and have health insurance which means that they can financially weather a non-catastrophic accident. The other big group of people who ride bikes are the truly disadvantaged. They usually don't have access to infrastructure, fancy equipment, or health insurance, but they also don't have other good options. And as people have said, they're invisible. They're not just invisible in this particular instance. Other Americans don't give a damn about them, except when they're constructing them as a problem. And bike advocates don't necessarily want to point to the other bike riders to combat the image of being elites, because it doesn't necessarily behoove them to tie their cause to illegal immigrants (who can't get licenses legally) or desperately poor people.
posted by craichead at 4:42 PM on December 4, 2011


Davidjmagee -- My take is that people riding bikes are perceived (rightly or wrongly) as doing so by choice, not necessity. You live within biking distance, you can store the bike in a safe location, you can change clothes and/or shower at work, and fatigue is not an issue for you at work or at home (i.e. you are not doing manual labor). This all points to bicycle commuters being well-paid and highly valued knowledge workers. That could be flat wrong, person to person, but that's the perception.

People with choices are the elite. Everyone else is just a schmuck that *has* to drive.

And, more anecdata, I've seen only three types of bicycle commuters -- well-paid execs, students and Latino cooks that have NO money.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:47 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


it doesn't necessarily behoove them to tie their cause to illegal immigrants (who can't get licenses legally) or desperately poor people.

That's probably true, and a fucking travesty for a whole host of different reasons. Heaven forbid something help the poor.

people who bike by choice tend to be pretty privileged.

For real? I realize I might live in the Manhattan Bubble, but the people I know with bikes are, while not destitute, not exactly rolling in it either. I'm not saying you're wrong, but I haven't seen any numbers on this; is there evidence to back this up?
posted by davidjmcgee at 4:48 PM on December 4, 2011


Other reasons cycling is considered an elite activity:

- a large fraction of cyclists are college students or recent grads, and college is elite/expensive

- having a commute short enough to bike often requires very expensive housing -- living in the suburbs costs less than half as much

- health is a major class marker in the US -- a much larger fraction of working-class people are simply not physically fit enough to ride a bicycle for more than a few minutes

Of course, a LOT of poor people ride bikes just to save money. But mostly in neighborhoods where middle-class people don't venture.
posted by miyabo at 4:49 PM on December 4, 2011


But biking is never going to be a "normal person" thing as long as "bike paths" are those stupid road paths. Sorry, normal people don't like to ride next to 20-ton-dump trucks. A girl got killed in Chicago thanks to one of those.

I think I know the incident you're talking about. I was heading to the Jewel near that corner and encountered the city dump truck parked in the middle of the street, along with cops measuring distances, plus lots of yellow tape. The next day, in the Trib's breaking news blog, there was an item about a cyclist who "blew through a stop sign," only to smash into a city truck. She was reported to be in critical condition.

For the record, there is no bike path on that street.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 4:53 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


People with choices are the elite. Everyone else is just a schmuck that *has* to drive.

Surely you mean "buy a mass transit pass" or "walk".
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:55 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Another reason: the seemingly sudden appearance of thousands of bikers riding $3000 bikes and wearing $500 dollars worth of fancy riding shorts and apparel.

Some of the attitudes against cyclists remind me of that '70s movie Breaking Away..."Whut, boy, ya think yer gonna go to Eye-tail-ya and win the Terr de Mans or somthin'? You think yer better than us?"

(paraphrasing)
posted by snsranch at 5:00 PM on December 4, 2011


There are many places in the country were mass transit isn't realistic. Once you're outside of urban areas, there isn't much mass transit available. There are also few things within walkable distances - especially if you're talking walkable for a family.
posted by 26.2 at 5:01 PM on December 4, 2011


Is it... a time thing? Like, "only people with money can afford to get places at less than top speed"?

It can't be that because it's always just as fast or faster to get around town by bike than by car, even obeying all the stop signs & traffic lights.

I've verified this for myself dozens of times, and I ride at a modest sort of pace on a bike that probably just scrapes in at the bottom end of the midrange market. Gimme lycra & a serious road bike & I'd halve my times.

If anything, I think it's more that you have to live reasonably close to your destination, as half an hour each way on a bike is easily doable, but anything beyond that becomes a bit of a chore. So, it's elitist because your home costs more - ignoring the fact that you save $$$ in petrol every week.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:02 PM on December 4, 2011


Surely you mean "buy a mass transit pass" or "walk".

Not in the suburbs or in the country, no. There are three types of people who cycle here in rural Vermont where I live.

1. healthy decently affluent people who do it usually for fitness or green living reasons
2. children
3. people who have lost their license due to DUI and still need to get to work

I have a neighbor in the really rural area where I used to live who lost his license due to DUI and he's cycling 15 miles each way back and forth to the grocery store, no public transit options. It's really a different scene outside of the city.

Around here there aren't a lot of "just heading out to the store to get a loaf of bread" cyclists so the people who are cycling are either clearly knowing what they are doing [category #1] or clearly not [category #3] or to be watched out for anyhow [category #2]. The article--by perpetual button-pushers and scab-pickers Salon--was talking about urban cyclists and some of the things he links to indicates that the racial makeup of cyclists is changing [less white] and evenly distributed among income groups. This guy broke it out in nice looking charts, here's more in-depth analysis and here's the actual study (pdf).
posted by jessamyn at 5:04 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


They recently redid the street between my home and work with a separated bike lane and bus-stops that are in-lane so the bikes don't have to cross paths with them ever. It's vastly improved bike safety. And yet, when I'm in the crosswalk trying to cross that street, I've literally never had a bicycle take the time to make a legal stop. Not even the people riding downhill who can't claim it's too much effort to get re-going. I realize not every cyclist is in it for the health, but it still seems silly to be so lazy at a physical activity.

By not enforcing the laws, the police have basically granted us permission to do what we need to do to survive

Or they've given you enough rope to hang yourself with. When you are inevitably in an accident, it will be easier to dismiss any valid concerns you have by pointing out some illegal action on your part that. When your accident is reported in the media, the one-liner is "criminal biker gets what's coming to him" not "innocent biker struck down".
posted by nomisxid at 5:05 PM on December 4, 2011


I keep seeing people point toward elitism with remarks like this:

Another reason: the seemingly sudden appearance of thousands of bikers riding $3000 bikes and wearing $500 dollars worth of fancy riding shorts and apparel.

But none of the cars in at or below $3500 in my area even remotely begin to suggest this purported "elitism" of a $3000 bike and $500 in rain gear.

Plus, anyone who can do the math can see the cost of the bike and attendant gear will amortize far better than a 1996 GMC Yukon.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 5:09 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Surely you mean "buy a mass transit pass" or "walk".
You can't assume that these are options for everyone. I live in a city with decent public transit, and even here the bus doesn't run at all overnight or on Sunday. It runs hourly at most other times. We have no sidewalks in my neighborhood, and the street lighting is very poor. It's not super-safe to walk during the day, and it's downright dangerous when it's dark. Many people here don't have 9-5 jobs, and many work on Sundays or at night sometimes. My neighborhood is poor enough that almost all the kids here qualify for free school lunches, and during the summer the lunch truck comes and gives free lunch to any kid who gets in line. Some people here can't afford a car. Many can't afford to hire a cab to get to work on Sundays or at night, although plenty of people do that. I know this is hard to wrap your head around, but some people ride bikes because their other options are non-existent or really crappy.
posted by craichead at 5:11 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


It can't be that because it's always just as fast or faster to get around town by bike than by car

Um, this is only true for some values of "town." In a downtown core, the sort of place with a street grid and multi-storey buildings, I believe it.

But out in sub/ex-urbia? Which happens to be where a very large chunk of the middle class lives? No way. Hell, I've seen developments, these are just tracts of houses, where it's literally 3-5 miles of 25 or 35MPH road in order to get to a main street (i.e. anything that's not just part of the development), and then 5-10 miles on a 45 or 55MPH divided roadway to get to a commercial center. (Naturally, no sidewalks anywhere.) And the commercial center will be a series of linear strip malls running down several miles of aforementioned divided highway, with vast plains of parking lots in front of them.

Bottom line, you can easily be talking about a 20 mile trip, overall, to go to the grocery store, and be doing an average speed of 40 MPH. A bicycle isn't really a practical form of transportation in that environment.

Biking is fine for fitness there, though -- which is why lots of people living in areas like those have an old bike or two out in the shed, a remnant of some year's get-in-shape resolution. But they probably don't use it to get around, even if they're pouring money into some gas-guzzling clunker.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:12 PM on December 4, 2011


I always find it so funny that wide swaths of intelligent, open-minded MeFites have trouble imagining why someone could not reasonably bike to work every morning.

"What? You mean you *don't* live in an downtown apartment and work in an open-minded, progressive online media job where people applaud you for biking and don't mind that you stink?"

"No, actually. And you're the one in the minority here, not me."

I recall talking to a friend of mine that wondered why I couldn't go running at lunch.

"I don't have a way to clean up afterwards."
"Your office doesn't have a shower???"

It was like I was telling her we didn't have electricity or indoor plumbing.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:45 PM on December 4, 2011 [7 favorites]


The frustrating thing about bike threads on Metafilter (to me) is that everyone jumps in with their stories about:

- that asshole cyclist that blew through a red light, ran over an old lady, and flipped off a baby
- that idiot driver that doored/right-hooked me/my friend/some guy in the news
- those drunk/idiot/ipod-wearing pedestrians that jaywalk without even looking to see if a bike/car/bus is coming
- etc etc

And, everyone seems to generalize the transportation network in their neighborhood or city as if it is the same everywhere. How I ride my bike in Chicago is likely very different than how I would in Manhattan, or San Francisco, or Austin, or Houston, or Gainesville. The networks are different, the intersections are different, the risks and rewards are different, the number and types of vehicles and pedestrians and fellow cyclists are different.

So we end up with everyone (very eloquently, because this is Metafilter) telling stories about how a particular experience is an example of why Cyclists Are Bad or Drivers Are Deadly or whatever, and it all goes in circles as others chime in with *their* stories refuting that particular circumstance and it doesn't fucking matter because we're not even talking about the same situation. Sure, there is room for disagreement or different cycling styles even on the exact same streets, but for the most part these conversations on MeFi and elsewhere are just so frustrating because we're all talking past each other.

The people that really need to hear stories from cyclists about being doored, or right hooked, or being forced onto the shoulder filled with potholes and broken glass by an asshole in a minivan yelling "move over, idiot!" who couldn't wait one block for the cyclist to get past the bad part of the street* is the asshole in the minivan. And he ain't on Metafilter and he ain't care.

You could say the same thing about the asshole bike messenger, although most of the bike messengers I know that are over drinking age disapprove of the really reckless ones. Of course their ruler by which recklessness is judged is probably calibrated differently than mine, but still. Safety IS a concern to them. They make a living riding their bikes, and an accident that knocks them off the streets for days/weeks means they aren't making money.

*actually happened to me last week.
posted by misskaz at 5:52 PM on December 4, 2011 [17 favorites]


I always find it so funny that wide swaths of intelligent, open-minded MeFites have trouble imagining why someone could not reasonably bike to work every morning.
I don't think that has anything to do with anything that's going on in this conversation, to be honest. Nobody is saying that everyone should bike to work.
posted by craichead at 5:56 PM on December 4, 2011


I am a big proponent of biking in NYC. In moderate weather, it's hands down the best way to get almost anywhere. There is no reason more able-bodied people should not be heavily encouraged to start biking places. The infrastructure investment is a great start. I'd like to see big office buildings get incentives to install bike storage and showers.

That said, a lot of bikers are selfish, entitled, reckless assholes. It's just the fact of the matter. It ticks me off doubly. It's irritating enough to nearly get clipped by some guy running a red light going the wrong way, but I hate it even more that those people are such poor ambassadors for the cause of bike infrastructure investment.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 6:02 PM on December 4, 2011


it's because "elite" has become code for many on the right for "people of political sensibilities with which I disagree".. since urban bicyclists in north american cities skew young (no fear!), and urban (hence the 'urban' cyclists), this means they are more often on the liberal end of things, as a majority of young urbanites are. not all, of course, but an increased likelihood. hence, the lumping them in with the "elite".

of course urban cyclists aren't REALLY in the elite, in economic terms, but it's convenient tarring label. the elitist label used in this way never makes sense. like the occasional latte? elitist. work in the public sector earning an avg salary? elitist. believe in increasing taxes to pay for civic infrastructure? elitist. run a multi-billion $ company? why you're not an elitist, you're a self made man; a patriot!

as someone once said however, "if not being the dumbest motherfucker in the room means i'm an elitist, then yeah, i'm an elitist."
posted by modernnomad at 6:16 PM on December 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


Um, this is only true for some values of "town." In a downtown core, the sort of place with a street grid and multi-storey buildings, I believe it.

More than just the downtown core; I was thinking of the area shown of this kind of town.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:18 PM on December 4, 2011


I wish I could bike to the train to campus every day. I want to be able to. I feel guilty for not being able to.

But I physically can't.

Worst part? The first time I mentioned to a friend how much I wished I could, they gave me shit that I was just out of shape. That ANYONE could.

Then I explained to them about juvenile arthritis. About damage to my hips. About lower spine and back problems. About ankle surgery when I was 14. About how, at my 30th summer, I had just broken down and bought my first cane.

Cyclists. I love you. I miss being one.
posted by strixus at 6:19 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think I know the incident you're talking about. I was heading to the Jewel near that corner and encountered the city dump truck parked in the middle of the street, along with cops measuring distances, plus lots of yellow tape. The next day, in the Trib's breaking news blog, there was an item about a cyclist who "blew through a stop sign," only to smash into a city truck. She was reported to be in critical condition.

Here is the incident: she didn't blow through a stop sign. She was next to a truck and slipped. No, I guess she was not on a bike path, but painted on bike paths put people in similar positions. Last year my friend hit an ice patch on a painted-on bike path and slipped into the road, where she almost got her head crushed.

That would never happen in Uppsala. You don't bike next to things that would crush you and they also treat the paths so that you don't slip on the ice.
posted by melissam at 6:21 PM on December 4, 2011


Once again I can only favorite a comment I like A LOT one time, darn it.

All open cycling threads are the same everywhere. I'm bored with it. I don't feel I have to insert my usual rant in here. You've heard it.

However this time I did learn about the Driver Privilege Checklist, which is something new and I appreciate that very much. Thanks MeTa, for going (slightly) beyond the usual.
posted by zomg at 6:22 PM on December 4, 2011


You can't assume that these are options for everyone.

I don't, of course. The point of my mentioning mass transit and walking was to point out that people do live in varied environments and circumstances, with jobs of varying distances and operating hours. But in our self-centric lives it's easy to assume that everyone lives just like we do, and why can't people simply adapt to the very same set of circumstances I've adapted to? It's like asking "if all these people have gills like me, why aren't they swimming in the ocean instead of walking on land?"

This is why the Driver v. Rider arguments will never end so long as we're so focused on "no, YOU'RE the one who has to change" back and forth. Municipalities should - within reason - do what they can to provide their residents with the options of different forms of transportation. Once those options are there, I feel, discussions between drivers and riders will dial it down a bit.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:29 PM on December 4, 2011


One day of urban bike commuting and I went from man those bikers are crazy, to I see now why they do that. If you don't you will get killed.
posted by humanfont at 6:36 PM on December 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Folks, reality here to smack you upside the head. Gasoline in the US is subsidized heavily by your taxpayer dollars. Its real cost is somewhere in the neighborhood of $5.60 to 15.14 per gallon. The price of gasoline is climbing at a steady clip. At some point driving simply isn't going to be a middle class option. And when that day comes, bicycles will still be there, and they won't remember all the mean things you said about them.
posted by mullingitover at 6:36 PM on December 4, 2011 [11 favorites]


Folks, reality here to smack you upside the head. Gasoline in the US is subsidized heavily by your taxpayer dollars. Its real cost is somewhere in the neighborhood of $5.60 to 15.14 per gallon. The price of gasoline is climbing at a steady clip. At some point driving simply isn't going to be a middle class option. And when that day comes, bicycles will still be there, and they won't remember all the mean things you said about them.

This. Barring a gigantic petroleum meteorite, the cars "vs" bikes battle already has a foregone conclusion. The only question left is how we're going to make it work with the shit-tastic infrastructure we've built ourselves.
posted by threeants at 6:41 PM on December 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm a laid back bicycle commuter. Seriously, I'm freakin' slow, but I don't care.
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 6:44 PM on December 4, 2011


I always find it so funny that wide swaths of intelligent, open-minded MeFites have trouble imagining why someone could not reasonably bike to work every morning.

I always find it so funny the ridiculous lengths people go to imagine why biking is so much easier for me and could not possibly work for them.

If you can't reasonably bike to work, and you're not permanently crippled, then you're almost certainly just fooling yourself. And you have a lot of incentive to keep believing this, and no incentive to question your assumptions, but at the end of the day, the only person building walls for you is yourself.

Not having showers, for example, is a great example of a non-issue that seems insurmountable when you want it to be.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:46 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I bike to work sometimes, 20 miles, and not having a shower would pretty much be a non-starter. I arrive soaked in sweat, kinda often. There are good city-planning solutions to these kinds of things - rumor has it they're building something downtown soon that will have showers and bike parking, you'd ride your bike in to there and then walk to work or take a bus if it was too far. They'll have a bike-fixing shop in there and I think a store to sell basic bike stuff (tubes/tires/accessories/etc). Something like this could probably serve hundreds to thousands of individual cyclists.

A gym membership could probably serve a similar purpose, but that's not cheap (cheaper than driving though probably)

I know how lucky I am to have a shower at work - we have great work facilities and a ton of cyclists (as in, probably 5-10 people biking to work daily out of a 100 people) and we didn't have showers until last year. Smaller companies, or companies with less cyclists, just aren't going to have showers that often I think.
posted by RustyBrooks at 6:51 PM on December 4, 2011


If you can't reasonably bike to work, and you're not permanently crippled, then you're almost certainly just fooling yourself. And you have a lot of incentive to keep believing this, and no incentive to question your assumptions, but at the end of the day, the only person building walls for you is yourself.

Have you completely missed the comments many people here have made about the large number of people who live in places where the distances just make commuting by bicycle a real challenge? Lots of people don't live in major urban areas and in small cities/towns and rural areas commutes of 20-30 miles are not uncommon and that's a pretty long way to ask someone who is not already an avid cyclist to travel. For someone with even minor health conditions, it might be out of the question.

I don't bike to work(I take the train), but I totally could; I do recognize that for a lot of people though, it is legitimately not a reasonable option.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:02 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


The point of my mentioning mass transit and walking was to point out that people do live in varied environments and circumstances, with jobs of varying distances and operating hours.
Huh. Really? I didn't get that from that comment.
This is why the Driver v. Rider arguments will never end so long as we're so focused on "no, YOU'RE the one who has to change" back and forth. Municipalities should - within reason - do what they can to provide their residents with the options of different forms of transportation. Once those options are there, I feel, discussions between drivers and riders will dial it down a bit.
The thing is, these debates aren't just, or even primarily, about people sniping at each other about who is ruder. They're primarily about how municipalities are going to allocate resources and space. The question is about what is "within reason" when it comes to provision for cyclists, transit users and pedestrians. People who harp on rude cyclists usually don't blame the infrastructure. They blame the cyclists, and they never seem to say "I hate it when cyclists ride on the sidewalk, so let's get some separated cycling tracks!" If we all agreed that there should be better cycling infrastructure, I don't think there would really be much to fight about.
posted by craichead at 7:02 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


It was rush hour traffic; all cars were basically bumper to bumper. That's the nature of rush hour traffic. If the car behind had left more than a car's length another car would have cut into that space.

You're trying to excuse unsafe driving? I drive in bumper to bumper, and I do so with enough attention and stopping distance to not cause an accident when the unexpected happens - as is required of me to have the privilege of operating that machinery. If people around me are driving less safely, I don't decide that it's ok for me to drive unsafely too.

Car 2 caused the accident. Not the cyclist. Not the child. Not the police (another thread). And the reason that the law makes this explicitly clear is because it's very important that people understand this. Finger-pointing to proximal causes is just trying to duck responsibility that rests firmly on Driver 2.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:03 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here's an idea: Cars are fucking crazy inventions. I mean, what the fuck?

Cars are awesome.

Weather-tight shelters full of comfy seats on wheels, man! Air-conditioning or heat as the need dictates, lights, music and the things that plug into it. Cellphone chargers, DVD players, little fridges. Plus you can go pretty much anywhere you have friends or relatives. Or you can get away from it all and go camping.

I just wish we could get low maintenance multi-fuel turbined jobbies with forever tires. How cool would that be?


Congratulations, you answered my rhetorical question perfectly. Cars *would* be amazing, if it wasn't for all those things we trade in for them: laziness for not walking/cycling to wherever, wars for oil, environmental health from car exhaust, debt from trying to pay for them, mind-numbing jobs to pay for however much we can for them (to have the privilege to commute to these same jobs) isolation from our surroundings while driving within them ("Weather-tight shelters full of comfy seats on wheels", as you call them), having them littered almost everywhere a building isn't, in a city, deaths due to motor vehicle accidents (not to mention drunk driving), having a culture obsessed with car-ownership and having that be some sort of status quo.

And that's why it's audacious to hear a motorist complain about a cyclist bending the Rules of the Road to get from point A to point B, without being mowed over by a car. As I said, What the Fuck?!
posted by alex_skazat at 7:05 PM on December 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Have you completely missed the comments many people here have made about the large number of people who live in places where the distances just make commuting by bicycle a real challenge?

Once again, an example of failure of imagination. Do you think these issues never applied to anyone who does cycle? Do you think that there is nobody who had to sacrifice a good job, or a good home, in order to keep their options open?

Yeah, it's quite easy to find yourself in a situation where it is not reasonably easy to cycle to work. If you're still in that situation 20 years later, it's because you've consistently chosen to not keep your options open.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:09 PM on December 4, 2011


Once again, an example of failure of imagination. Do you think these issues never applied to anyone who does cycle? Do you think that there is nobody who had to sacrifice a good job, or a good home, in order to keep their options open?

It's not reasonable to ask people to structure their entire lives around "keeping their options open" when it comes to transportation, in places where the infrastructure is not in place. Asking someone who say, owns a house, and would thus can't easily move, to give up a job because it's too far away to use a mode of transport that is often dangerous in rural areas is not reasonable.

I agree that we need to move away from our dependence on cars, but the solution to that problem is changing the infrastructure, not sneering at people who use cars.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:17 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Huh. Really? I didn't get that from that comment.

You'll notice it was in response to someone saying "everyone else" has to drive. So I facetiously added "surely you meant take mass transit or walk". Because not all of us can afford the car insurance, have access to parking, can afford a car and so on.

The question is about what is "within reason" when it comes to provision for cyclists, transit users and pedestrians. People who harp on rude cyclists usually don't blame the infrastructure. They blame the cyclists, and they never seem to say "I hate it when cyclists ride on the sidewalk, so let's get some separated cycling tracks!" If we all agreed that there should be better cycling infrastructure, I don't think there would really be much to fight about.

Yes, that's been my point. It should be about the infrastructure, and yet here we have a thread with a great deal of "well in MY experience drivers/riders have done A, B and C."
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 7:19 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


In other words, we all have circumstances and environments that dictate or at least influence how we travel. The question ought to begin with "what options are available to me in terms of transit?" rather than "why can't those people learn how to be more courteous of me?". Which is not to say that common courtesy isn't necessary; it's just a point secondary to what our environment makes available to us.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 7:24 PM on December 4, 2011


They’ve become stereotyped as pretentious, aloof jackasses...

I can find some pretentious, bikier-than-thou nonsense right here in this thread.
posted by 26.2 at 7:34 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


All open cycling threads are the same everywhere. I'm bored with it. I don't feel I have to insert my usual rant in here. You've heard it.

That's what I'd say too.
posted by ovvl at 7:44 PM on December 4, 2011


As a longtime bike commuter in New York City (since 1994), I am very appreciative that there are improvements such as the Hudson River Greenway, which has vastly improved my commuting experience from the days when I had to use 9th and 10th Avenues. But many times, the street is the only way to get to where you need to be. Striped lines are dandy, but do not act as a magical force field to protect you. And some separated bike lanes, such as the one on First Avenue, are just as terrifying as a freeway.

I might as well add my own anecdata about the danger of reckless bikes vs reckless car drivers vs reckless pedestrians: the most recent being a night last week when I saw a speeding SUV blow through a red on Morningside Avenue and almost mow over a pedestrian crossing the street (the driver swerved at the last minute). Never mind that, while bicycling home from work, I got hit by a car myself last year; the driver, of course, didn't see me in broad daylight.

Don't get me wrong, I see a lot of idiotic cyclist behavior, too. All of you think that you can bike safely while listening to Spotify or whatever new podcast you've downloaded need to put the earbuds down now. But any encounter I've had with an errant bike simply does not compare with the adrenaline rush that comes when a car misses you by a scant few inches.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:55 PM on December 4, 2011


My idea: let gas cost what it costs; increase property taxes outrageously for any parking spaces. Use the money for mass transit projects.

Lots of people don't live in major urban areas and in small cities/towns and rural areas commutes of 20-30 miles are not uncommon

I live 45 minutes from work by car, but my employer has a worker/driver program with the county transit system. The transit system provides the bus (with maintenance) and pays one of our employees to drive it on a designated route part time (once in in the morning, once out in the evening). My employer pays a flat rate for it per registered rider, and agrees to let the driver come in a bit late and leave a bit early (with pay, I believe, but I could be wrong about that.) It works really well.

Bicycling isn't always an option, but people will self-organize solutions if they have to. Problem is, driving a car is so cheap and easy in the U.S., they don't have to, so they don't.
posted by ctmf at 8:07 PM on December 4, 2011


But any encounter I've had with an errant bike simply does not compare with the adrenaline rush that comes when a car misses you by a scant few inches.

I appreciate that, it makes a lot of sense as a cyclist. When I'm a driver in the city, though, I tend to find the encounters with reckless cyclists to be worse, because the potential consequences for everyone (me and them) are so high. If I hit a car running a red light (in the city), we're both pretty protected and probably moving fairly slowly, so it's likely to be property damage only. If I hit a cyclist, though, even if it's there fault, I might kill them, and I'd really rather not. The side effect of this is that it makes me a lot madder when they blow through a red light, because I'm trying not to kill them, and they're not cooperating.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:08 PM on December 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


One time, while biking to work, I stopped at a light, and was passed by another cyclist running the light. Now, this was rare, as I NEVER see other cyclists along my route. As he passed me I yelled across traffic, "DON'T RUN LIGHTS!"

His response was "MIND YOU OWN FUCKING BUSINESS!"

And this is what I think is the biggest problem with this whole issue. I was was minding my business. My business was the road, and it was his business and the business of every other person out there on the road.

We're all in an agreement when we get on the road. We all paid for it, and we all agreed to follow some rules to make sure it works smoothly. What we do on it effects others, and what others do on it effect us.

I had a guy jump out of his car once and get all in my face after I yelled at him for passing me REALLY close. As he got in my face, I said to him, "We're all just trying to get home."

That's my mantra. Everyone's just trying to get somewhere. We can't possibly measure each travelers importance of destination, so lets just all travel with consideration towards each other and I think we'll do OK.
posted by toekneebullard at 8:08 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


When I drove (I don't any more - strictly a bus/walking person now), I had far less problems with bikes than I did/do as a pedestrian. That's because I think as the person in the large metal object that can kill if it hits you it is my job to be aware and be as respectful as possible of those in more vulnerable positions, even if they're not always obeying the rule of the road. If I have to wait or if I have to stop, no problem - nothing is that important that I have to prove a point or make someone's commute unpleasant. It's scary to bike in big cities - I rode a bicycle to work for a bit in LA, and it was no fun at all, and I respect people who can do that. The flip side is true also, though: pedestrians are the most vulnerable of the group driver, bikers and pedestrians, and cyclists as well as cars should be aware that they can really hurt you if they hit you. (I speak from experience; it bloody hurts a hell of a lot to be hit by a bike.) In a bike vs. pedestrian situation the cyclist has far more potential to injure than the reverse, so it's the decent thing to slow down and keep a good eye out. Yes, you might be inconvenienced, but that's part of sharing space with other people going at different paces than you.

Anecdata: I lost all respect for critical mass when a bunch of cyclists started shouting at an elderly lady who tried to cross the street when she had the light because it was impeding their right to run that light and she was sooooo very slow. Don't be that person, just don't. It makes me think that if you drove a car it would be a hummer and you'd think it your duty to never stop at a pedestrian crossing. And in a situation like critical mass where you are trying to prove a point about bikes having a right to the road, you might think about stopping once in a while to allow pedestrians also exercise their right to cross the road.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 8:34 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've driven for 15 years, in suburban, exurban, and urban areas (including Seattle, which has some bikes), and I've literally never had to stop, swerve, or do anything differently because a cyclist went through a red light or stop sign. If this is really anywhere near as common as people make it out to be, I would expect to be seeing this about six times a week. It'd be great to hear why people commonly state this as being a thing that cyclists totally do all the time, whereas my experience is cyclists in Seattle and elsewhere are not trying to get themselves killed.
posted by 0xFCAF at 8:56 PM on December 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


At some point driving simply isn't going to be a middle class option.

It's often overlooked in these debates that many of the arguments against cars are actually arguments against a particular fuel.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 8:57 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


All open cycling threads are the same everywhere

Maybe not. One thing I don't recall seeing in US-dominated threads (like this one) is the old canard that ALWAYS gets trotted out down under: "cyclists should be forced to pay rego [annual vehicle registration fees] otherwise they're subsidised by motorists & get to use the roads for free!"

I can only assume that Americans have a better idea of how the roads are actually funded.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:00 PM on December 4, 2011


Drivers pay for the roads through fuel taxes, so cyclists should pay for the roads through Clif Bar taxes.
posted by miyabo at 9:11 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm laid back biker, I hate the aggressiveness and confrontational nature of most critical mass rides, and I still get *really* stupid things yelled at me by drivers.

But then I think of all the stupid things I've yelled at other drives when *I* drive and how the only way they never hear it is because we're both in sound proof steel boxes, and I just chuckle.

Yeah, road rage, it's a thing.
posted by midmarch snowman at 9:30 PM on December 4, 2011


In Ontario, drivers pay for 400-series highways through fuel taxes, while city residents who pay property taxes (which includes renters, indirectly) maintain city roads. I need to remind my commuting suburban friends and relatives of this little fact from time to time: they're the ones free-loading off my tax dollars, and they cause a lot more damage to the roads than my fully-loaded mountain bike will ever cause.

Anyway, Clif Bars are just cake dipped into foul-tasting liquid vitamins. Feh!
posted by maudlin at 9:32 PM on December 4, 2011


Drivers pay for the roads through fuel taxes

Hamburger, I assume.
posted by anthill at 9:34 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


An upwardly-mobile young schemer
Who paid too much cash for his beemer
Made a dickish right hook
With nary a look
And caused me to fracture my femur
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:46 PM on December 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm laid back biker, I hate the aggressiveness and confrontational nature of most critical mass rides,

This is off topic, but I just have to ask: every cyclist I've ever met who is a regular commuter says roughly the same thing about critical mass. So I can't help wondering who these people are. Are they weekend cyclists or something? Or is it one of those things people don't like to admit they do, like running red lights in cars?
posted by lesbiassparrow at 9:49 PM on December 4, 2011


I have commuted for going on 15 years now, and this just doesn't make sense to me. Am I doing it wrong? 90% of the traffic lights I come to are timed, and traffic is almost always flowing both ways (taking turns of course.)

I'm late in replying to this, but we seem to live in different places. In NYC, cars are basically indifferent to lane markers, and pedestrians jaywalk freely. The cops tend to ignore all these scofflaws as well -- again, unless someone is doing something truly dangerous. Everything around you on the road and sidewalk is in constant flux, often there is no one spot to be that's any safer than anywhere else, in which case you simply go wherever you can.
posted by hermitosis at 9:50 PM on December 4, 2011


I always find it so funny the ridiculous lengths people go to imagine why biking is so much easier for me and could not possibly work for them.

Tell me how I'm going to drop my kids off at school on the way to work, and pick them up again on the way home. Are they riding on the handlebars? No, seriously, I'm really interested.

Oh no, wait. Your argument is invalid. Nevermind.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:57 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Tell me how I'm going to drop my kids off at school on the way to work, and pick them up again on the way home. Are they riding on the handlebars? No, seriously, I'm really interested.


Boom.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:01 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Look, I know it's Sunday, but you still have to get up for work tomorrow and you really OUGHT NOT BE THAT HIGH THIS LATE. Go to bed!
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:08 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not high. I'm drunk.

But seriously, do a google images search for "dutch bicycle kids." You'll find plenty of examples.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:14 PM on December 4, 2011


Funny, none of those happy little Dutch moppets seem to be riding in the rain...?

Gee, maybe I should move OUT OF SEATTLE. You know. So I can ride a bike.

Dude, put down the bong. I'm serious. You shouldn't ride a bike stoned out of your mind. It's dangerous.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:18 PM on December 4, 2011


Yes, if only there were some sort of waterproof garment one's children could wear in the rain, so they wouldn't dissolve because they are made of sugar.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:22 PM on December 4, 2011 [7 favorites]


jonmc writes "I walk and ride the subway. You wheeled motherfuckers can kiss my ass."

When did NYC Install the MagLev?
posted by Mitheral at 11:13 PM on December 4, 2011


They'll get on it just as soon as they finish the 2nd Avenue Line.
posted by davidjmcgee at 11:21 PM on December 4, 2011


Bicycle safety tip #42:

A cyclist has to establish space on the pavement. Predictable law abiding behaviour lulls drivers. They mentally assign you a little box in the lane, assume you will stay there, can't handle it when you leave that little box.
A safe cyclist is not fond of boxes. A safe cyclist establishes her space on the pavement by zagging mighting from lane to lane, establishing a precedent of scary randomness. Keeps people on their toes, makes them react to her, instead of the other way around.
- with thanks to Neil Stephenson.
posted by the thing about it at 11:23 PM on December 4, 2011


I'm pretty sure most regular cyclists would qualify as having PTSD.
posted by srboisvert at 1:55 AM on December 5, 2011


TheWhiteSkull, there are plenty of reasons why people may choose to not ride a bike -- and you know what, some of them are valid.

Your trying to argue them down is only serving to convince them that bikers are dicks - and speaking as a biker, I'd rather you not make them think I'm a dick. Knock it off.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:00 AM on December 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm pretty sure most regular cyclists would qualify as having PTSD.

I'm pretty laid back, I take my time, and if the weather is nice, cycle-commuting can be shockingly pleasant. (Cycling has never been about fun for me. It's just a tool, like the bus. I'm always surprised to find myself thinking "Wow, this is really nice!"). Having to suddenly evade a car that didn't see you, your life-or-death reflexes barely managing to save everyone from an accident, it necessarily floods you with fight/flight adrenaline, and the effects on your body of that means any laid-back happy zone is just biologically impossible for some time after. You are fucking wired.
(It's also won't help the mood interruption that there often isn't even the silver lining that this incident might improve their awareness and prevent something worse in future - many reckless drivers continue on their way oblivious that they caused an incident - not even trying to brake at the last minute because they simply never had any clue that they tried to share airspace with someone else.)

You get used to that and get over it pretty quickly, because it's not unusual in some areas, and I've been doing it a long time. But when a second incident happens on the same trip, and all that shit hits again when you're still flooded with adrenaline from the first one, the biological effects are getting really rotten.
If a third near miss occurs (three in the space of 30 minutes is as bad as I've had it, but that's happened a few times), I'm a paranoid wreck for the next 30 minutes.

I think it's likely that a lot of cyclists probably are really laid back when cycling (I usually am), but even laid-back cyclists are going to well out of that zone and halfway to crazyville after any situation that would then cause a personal interaction between driver and cyclist, so it wouldn't surprise me if people never experience the norm. There is a massive biological flight/flight response involved when you're nearly hit by a vehicle.

I'm not an expert, but I wouldn't think for a minute I have PTSD.

There was one incident where my cycling experience made me react inappropriately while driving. It was stop and go traffic, and we were stopped. The driver in front wasn't paying attention and his car started to roll backwards. Correct response: hit the horn immediately, wake him up. Instead I did the correct cyclist response, which was not so good in a car: don't ever stake your life on the chance that the driver will react in time, save thine own ass first, 'cos no one else is going to do it. So I threw the car into reverse and... the guy behind me parked right up my ass, there was nowhere else to go, nothing I could do, so I hit the horn. Then the car in front rolled into me.
If I had gone for the horn first instead of second, the extra split second might have been enough. Or not, who knows. But I do think there was time for me to have gone for the horn first and still had time to try to back up.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:27 AM on December 5, 2011


This is off topic, but I just have to ask: every cyclist I've ever met who is a regular commuter says roughly the same thing about critical mass. So I can't help wondering who these people are. Are they weekend cyclists or something?

My guess would be mostly students and hipsters. Young and passionate and rebellious and immortal and trying to change the world.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:32 AM on December 5, 2011


Young and passionate and rebellious and immortal and trying to change the world.

Can I buy me some of that in a bottle somewhere?

posted by -harlequin- at 4:37 AM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure most regular cyclists would qualify as having PTSD.

Have you ever been to the Netherlands? I've been living here for about 3 months now and its really hard to explain how truely normal cycling here is. I was reminded of it so vividly the other night coming home from the cinema at about midnight.

Midnight Friday night and cold out (maybe 4~5C) and as i'm collecting my bike, nearby are a group of about 5-6 women of ages say 40 - 55, and one of their group is pumping up her front tyre as the others stand around cracking jokes. And I'm trying to imagine my mother or a group of similar aged women in Australia or the UK doing the same thing. And I can't.

Once you have spent a bit of time here or in say Copenhagen cycling everywhere just seems to make sense. The thought of not having access to a bike is like being stranded..

I"m mid 30s and I haven't ever owned a car, but i've always lived in cities. Its not out of some elitist mindset that I"ve never bought a car, its cause they are BLOODY EXPENSIVE! in the city a car is a luxury item.
posted by mary8nne at 4:44 AM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Funny, none of those happy little Dutch moppets seem to be riding in the rain...?

Here's a soothing little video of children in a 'bakfiets' or cargobike.
They come with rain covers, too, and yes they are practical - I see dozens pass every day.

Here in the Low Countries we have infrastructure and traffic laws that give bikes the advantage over cars. The thing is, it didn't use to be that way. It was a conscious decision, it took decennia to improve the infrastructure, and a long political battle. Right now the car lane on my street is being made narrower to allow for separated bike paths on each side of the street. Traffic islands are placed in the street to force cars to slow down. On some roads, parking spaces are turned into rental bike stations.

It IS possible to go from bike-unfriendly to Bicycle Valhalla, but it takes the political will to do so.
posted by LucVdB at 5:08 AM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is off topic, but I just have to ask: every cyclist I've ever met who is a regular commuter says roughly the same thing about critical mass. So I can't help wondering who these people are. Are they weekend cyclists or something?

I've noticed this with Chicago's CM, that surprisingly few of the people who I know (or think of) as regular commuters participate. From what I've seen it draws many infrequent/casual riders for whom CM is a rare chance to feel safe and protected while riding in the city. As regular commuter myself, riding in a tight pack of such cyclists is not my idea of a safe ride, but the few times I've ridden CM I've felt the exhilaration and appreciate the appeal.

Also, many seem drawn to CM for the social/party aspect, which probably isn't massively appealing to regular commuters - they have their regular social scene when they get home.
posted by kgander at 5:53 AM on December 5, 2011


The "they're so uppity," refain is an old one whenever a previously unquestioned entitled class of people is finally questioned.

I'm glad that this article pointed out that the demographic myth of the white, yuppie, hipster bicyclist is just that, a myth. Once you start paying attention, you notice there are lots and lots of people from all backgrounds on bikes. A lot of bicycle advocates seem to internalize this hogwash instead of embracing the idea that poorer neighborhoods need bike lanes too.
posted by Skwirl at 5:58 AM on December 5, 2011


Cool Papa Bell: Taking multiple children to school via bicycle is a solved problem as far as the mechanics of it are concerned. Be it via trailer, Bakfiet, childback tandem (that one even folds up!), there's endless variations.

I used to take mine across town to nursery daily in a 2-seat trailer come rain, snow, sleet, or sun: Happy memories :)
posted by pharm at 6:45 AM on December 5, 2011


I commute to work every day by bike, dropping off my daughter at daycare on the way. I use one of these (though I'd like to upgrade to a Chariot this year). This is a normal thing where I live (downtown Toronto). My neighbour does the same thing but he has a double carrier. There is no elitism or snobbery about it--I can't afford a car, and frankly, see no reason why I should have one when I have access to transit and a bicycle. I can personally vouch for the safety of a child carrier like this. I had a rather nasty accident a few weeks ago (construction site, mud, streetcar tracks, asshole driver) and while I ate it in spectacular fashion, the trailer (as it is designed to to) remained upright and essentially stationary.

My point is that having to drop off a kid or two on the way to work shouldn't stop you from biking, and that urban biking isn't a sign of elitism everywhere.
posted by Go Banana at 6:46 AM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd challenge that urban biking (in itself) is a sign of true elitism anywhere. I mean sure there are plenty of "hipsters" riding bikes, defining themselves by it, but subsitute bikes for skateboards, clothing, or anything else differentiable and the underlying dynamic is the same.

It's a cheap form of transportation that leaves you totally vulnerable to any motorized traffic and exposed to the elements. How can anyone with a straight face call that 'elite'?
posted by anthill at 6:56 AM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Have you ever been to the Netherlands? I've been living here for about 3 months now and its really hard to explain how truely normal cycling here is.

For the benefit of those who have never visited, here are twelve of my favorite facts and observations about Dutch bicycles:
  1. The Dutch bicycle fleet numbers 18 million, and accounts for 40% of all traffic movements. That's at least one bicycle for everyone: some people have two.
  2. The Netherlands is flat and bike traffic mostly sedate. Physical fitness is no barrier to entry, hence cyclists come in all shapes, sizes and ages.
  3. Dutch "omafietsen" (lit. granny-bikes) don't require you to dress in lycra. They are very easy to ride and carry shopping on.
  4. Dutch traffic law privileges the cyclist. Bicycles have priority over cars, although trams rule the road.
  5. Everyone has ridden a bicycle in traffic at some point, and motorists tend to be very sensible around cyclists.
  6. Parking in cities is prohibitively expensive, while parking a bike is no trouble at all.
  7. Bicycle theft is a national passtime. Crappy bikes are routinely secured with locks worth more that they are.
  8. Everyone bikes in the rain. How you manage this is entirely up to you, but strategies include nerdy cycle capes, waterproof over-trousers, or the suicidal but inexplicably popular cycling-in-high-wind-with-umbrella. Bicycling is also possible, although not recommended, in several inches of snow.
  9. It is quite usual for parents to ferry one or more child around on a regular two-wheeler with child seats, but it's more common to bundle them into a 'bakfiets', a bike with a sort of wheelbarrow on the front.
  10. In general, bike safety is taken very seriously, but people do take absurd risks that they would never consider in a car. Common risks include cycling under the influence, cycle-texting, speeding and disregarding traffic lights.
  11. While fatalities are very rare, injury is not uncommon. Many adults of my acquaintance have had cycling accidents requiring hospital treatment, including cuts and bruises, broken bones and teeth, and serious head injuries.
  12. Nobody over the age of 10 wears a helmet.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 7:32 AM on December 5, 2011 [9 favorites]


"Funny, none of those happy little Dutch moppets seem to be riding in the rain...?"

Here's a soothing little video of children in a 'bakfiets' or cargobike.
They come with rain covers, too, and yes they are practical - I see dozens pass every day.


For adults, living in Uppsala was the first time I'd ever thought to buy "rain pants." I also always kept a plastic poncho in my purse. Of course a bike with a fender is also a very good idea.
posted by melissam at 7:35 AM on December 5, 2011


I've noticed this with Chicago's CM, that surprisingly few of the people who I know (or think of) as regular commuters participate. From what I've seen it draws many infrequent/casual riders for whom CM is a rare chance to feel safe and protected while riding in the city. As regular commuter myself, riding in a tight pack of such cyclists is not my idea of a safe ride, but the few times I've ridden CM I've felt the exhilaration and appreciate the appeal.

I'm not really sure how you tell how many of the hundreds of cyclists that do Chicago CM every month are commuters or not. Certainly many of those hipster looking kids probably ride to work. And given the wide range of types of people I encounter on my commute, I'd bet a lot of CM'ers commute, even the ones that look like casual cyclists. (You'd probably think I'm a hipster -- I ride my fixed gear bike in CM because it's so much easier to regulate my speed for riding in a big group. Yet I'm also a 20+ miles/day bike commuter who rides a geared cyclocross bike to work most days, and outside of cross racing season, have it loaded down with a rack, panniers, etc.)

That said, I find CM to be pretty fun but it's best when the casual riders and commuters come out (so, the nice weather days or Halloween or whatever). There is a small group of super aggressive antagonistic people that are best ignored, and that's easiest when there are enough normal people to dilute their effect. Last month my friend and I had to bail once the group got small enough that only the assholes were left. Turns out they tried to go up Lake Shore Drive, so I'm super glad we bailed when we did.
posted by misskaz at 7:36 AM on December 5, 2011


Dutch "omafietsen" (lit. granny-bikes) don't require you to dress in lycra. They are very easy to ride and carry shopping on.

Ah, that's what I had in Sweden. The one I owned was really cheap too...around $150, though I had to put it together myself. One of my regrets is that I didn't take it back with me to the US. I've never seen anything like it here for that price. Most cheap bikes in the US seem to be mountain bikes, which are not practical for carrying stuff the way a granny-bike is.
posted by melissam at 7:37 AM on December 5, 2011


The entitlement of car drivers never ceases to amaze me. Roads existed for literally thousands of years before you came along, pally, they weren't made just for you. In fact, in America, the Good Road Movement was founded by cyclists.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:43 AM on December 5, 2011


My point is that having to drop off a kid or two on the way to work shouldn't stop you from biking

The earliest my kid can be at his school is 8:30. I have to be at work by 9.
I get out of work at 2:30, he's done with school at 3.

If I drive, it takes me twenty minutes to get from his school to work.
Biking (per Google maps) would take an hour and ten minutes.
posted by Lucinda at 8:18 AM on December 5, 2011


Wake me when someone figures out that owning a bicycle doesn't means you have joined some exclusive club, where one of the key features is that you never take any other form of transportation.

We have met the {cyclists|motorists|bus-pass holders}, and they are us.
posted by clvrmnky at 8:20 AM on December 5, 2011


In DC, the idea that only rich people can afford to bike commute doesn't really hold up. While it's true that we need much more bike infrastructure in Anacostia, you can design a reasonably safe biking route from many neighborhoods in the city -- rich, poor, and mixed. And there's no question that biking is cheaper than even the bus -- just two months of saved bus fare would pay off your Target clunker.
posted by yarly at 8:34 AM on December 5, 2011


I'd challenge that urban biking (in itself) is a sign of true elitism anywhere.

I'm not so sure the accusations of "elitism" are coming simply from the fact that people are biking -- it's coming from the fact that people are biking and are scolding OTHER people for NOT biking.

Exhibit A: the way people have been treating CoolPapaBell in this thread. Yeah, there may be ways for him to take his kids to school on a bike and wet-weather gear they can wear, but honestly, what's wrong with him just saying "Taking my kids to school and myself to work is easier with a car" and then everyone just taking him at his word rather than falling all over themselves with tandem bike links and links to wet-weather gear and everything else?

I mean, sheesh. It looks really snobby to me, and I AM a biker.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:41 AM on December 5, 2011 [6 favorites]


Totally, clvermnky, especially for US urban centers. Actually, I have not used a personal auto (as either driver or rider) as my primary mode of transportation for over ten years now (for a lot of reasons, but the two major ones being how unpleasant traffic is and how nasty I am as a person when driving) but I did not even own a bike until about five years ago. This is the first year I have biked to work or for errands regularly and I really love it, but for the last dozen years, I've walked or taken a lot of damn buses and trains. I am really disturbed by the dominance of the private automobile in US travel infrastructure and I'd love to see it cured. (It's one of three issues I used to decide which politicians to vote for and it's actually hard to find decent information on)

Transportation doesn't get sufficient critical analysis in public discourse and I think the important points of this article ("by perpetual button-pushers and scab-pickers Salon"--thanks, jessamyn for putting that so succinctly!) are too buried in button-pushing framing. Requiring a private automobile to get to work, to get to the grocery, to get your children to school, to visit the doctor, to get to your court date (Cook County, I am looking hard at you!) seriously disadvantages a much larger portion of society than people want to believe. It is as significant a disadvantage as having to use a public transportation system which takes over an hour to move you under 10 miles. Cycling infrastructure seems like an excellent component of a solution to this problem but for the fact that cycling as ordinary transportation is going to require such a painful culture shift in the U.S. Goddamn are we bad at accepting those sorts of shifts.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:43 AM on December 5, 2011


EmpressCallipygos,

I may have been a bit snarky to CPB, but he did ask what I took to be a valid question, and I provided him with an illustration in response.

He then proceeded to raise objections to that response (which his prerogative), but also to address me in a denigrating manner (for the record, I have not been high since 2007, in part because it interferes with my cycling. And my drinking.).

I found it amusing that in his objections, he started to become an example of the point that he was originally trying to refute- that many people will go to extreme lengths to argue that they simply cannot commute by bike, when in fact, it is something that many people do in many different places and different conditions.

There is a difference between saying "I can't" do something, and "I won't" do something. Both are equally valid positions, but one should not be confused for the other.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:57 AM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


I may have been a bit snarky to CPB, but he did ask what I took to be a valid question, and I provided him with an illustration in response. He then proceeded to raise objections to that response (which his prerogative), but also to address me in a denigrating manner (for the record, I have not been high since 2007, in part because it interferes with my cycling. And my drinking.).

I agree that the accuastions of drug use were out of line. However, I'm wondering if perhaps they came about becuase he was actually not asking a valid question, but rather a rhetorical one -- and then therefore interpreted your response as nagging. I also note that you responded to his objections by continuing to counter-argue.

While I suspect that there was a communications breakdown, and that you may have initially repsonded in good faith, I have a hunch your continuing to counter-argue his objections may have just made things worse; I'd have dropped it. Your mileage may vary.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:49 AM on December 5, 2011


EmpressCallipygos has identified the issue.

Any time you tell people that you know their life better than they do, you come off as overbearing. It doesn't matter whether you're harping that people need to go to church every Sunday, vote for Cain or ride their bike exactly how you tell them to do so.

I want more people to ride bikes. Bikes are awesome. That doesn't give me permission to nag people about their choice.
posted by 26.2 at 10:02 AM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


people are biking and are scolding OTHER people for NOT biking.

Exhibit A: the way people have been treating CoolPapaBell


As I see it, no-one is being scolded for NOT biking, people are being scolded for insisting - with no honest informed investigation on their part but complete conviction nonetheless - that biking cannot possibly ever be possible due to very special circumstances which invariably turn out to be nothing of the sort.

There may well be better and/or more convenient options, but the rhetoric and the beliefs go way beyond saying that and are just not grounded in reality or experience.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:07 AM on December 5, 2011


"I can't cycle-commute because it's a really big change that would take a lot of effort to get to the point where it works well, and frankly that's not even close to being worth it to me right now" is a legitimate, respectable reason for not being interested in cycle commuting.

"I can't cycle commute because I don't have all the perks that I assume you have, and I don't have it easy like I assume you have it." is a reason that invites abrasive reply.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:17 AM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


As I see it, no-one is being scolded for NOT biking, people are being scolded for insisting - with no honest informed investigation on their part but complete conviction nonetheless - that biking cannot possibly ever be possible due to very special circumstances which invariably turn out to be nothing of the sort.

....With all due respect: so what? It is only your opinion that those circumstanes are "not very special" ones.

We honestly do not know what it is like to live one another's lives, and what looks like an insignificant obstacle to YOU may not seem insignificant to THEM. There's a difference between "I don't bike to work because I have to take my kids to school and that'd be difficult" and "I want to commute by bike but I have to take my kids to school, can you suggest a way to resolve this?" then you can't assume they haven't already looked into the situation themselves and found other means unworkable for any one of a number of reasons.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:21 AM on December 5, 2011


you can't assume they haven't already looked into the situation themselves

If I was to bet $1 that they hadn't looked into it, then yes, I might lose that dollar, but I know from offline experience that I'm going to win the dollar more often than I'm going to lose it. A lot more often. It's a very safe bet in aggregate.

Sure, there are exceptions, but it's an assumption that I can make, because it's usually correct.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:30 AM on December 5, 2011


It is only your opinion that those circumstanes are "not very special" ones.

This is also wrong - it is often not an opinion. Objections often involve basic misconceptions about cycling that are demonstrably and fundamentally incorrect.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:38 AM on December 5, 2011


Objections often involve basic misconceptions about cycling that are demonstrably and fundamentally incorrect.

And they also often involve circumstances about the objectors life which they maybe haven't shared with you because it's not your damn business in the first place.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:42 AM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think you might be surprised how often it's nothing that complex. Humans gotta human. We all do it.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:45 AM on December 5, 2011


[Folks - this is very quickly becoming a referendum on one person's opinions. Take that to email, or MetaTalk, r preferably just step away for a little bit and give the thread time to not become all about you? Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 10:46 AM on December 5, 2011


I stand in awe of the parents I see huffing their way up the hills with kid trailers in tow, but it is completely unrealistic to expect everyone to do it.

I ride my bike to work pretty often, though not usually when the weather's bad, but I recognize that I am damn lucky to live only 6 miles away and in an area that's not hostile to bicyclists, and am in good enough health to do it. I also don't have to make it to my second job by 30 minutes after this one's done. I don't have to carry 100 pounds of groceries to feed my family. When I'm going surfing after work or something else that's far away, requires bulky equipment, or is time sensitive, a bike isn't going to do it.

harlequin's type of strident proselytizing is the sort of thing that turns people off of anything- religion, vegetarianism, biking... I mean, I rode my bike TODAY and I wish I could go drive my car around awhile just to prove I'm not one of THOSE bicyclists.

And, yes, I run stop signs and red lights but only when there aren't any cars to be seen at them, or if they wave me through. Over the last few years the only time I've injured my self is getting on and off my bike. It turns out that THAT'S the tricky part about riding.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:05 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


here are twelve of my favorite facts and observations about Dutch bicycles

13. Dutch taxation law allows you to write off the cost of your bike over 3 years worth of depreciation, meaning you get your bike on the cheap (or free?) and it makes financial sense to get a replacement every 3 years, meaning the market is flooded with "trickle-down" second hand bikes.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:49 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


A tax break that doesn't only benefit the wealthy? They must be mad.
posted by entropicamericana at 2:55 PM on December 5, 2011


From what I have seen, the urban asshole cyclist tends to value self-assertion over personal responsibility, or their own or others' safety. I don't think that's a trait that's associated with being a cyclist. I think it's a trait associated with belonging to the American subspecies of asshole.
My pet theory is that there is a fixed percentage of the American population who are just assholes, and as any subset of the population grows, the percentage of assholes in the subset, in this case, urban cyclists, gets closer to the percentage of the assholes in the population as a whole. (My guess is about 30-35%.)
As an aside: I've only come close to being run down on my bicycle not by cars but by other cyclists. I am a plodding, polite cyclists who is generally treated with courtesy by car drivers, and I stick to bike routes, but when I cross a major arterial, there are the urban asshole cyclists, happily running red lights and heading straight for me.
posted by Montgomery Roebuck at 3:56 PM on December 5, 2011


I commute eleven miles round trip four or five days a week and I support and enjoy Critical Mass. I am in my thirties.
posted by GregorWill at 11:52 PM on December 5, 2011


I commute on a bicycle eleven miles round trip....
posted by GregorWill at 11:53 PM on December 5, 2011


I bike commute to work in a (smaller) urban environment - Sevilla, Spain. The bike trails aren't as great as the Netherlands but damn it really does make commuting one of the best parts of the day. The only downside are pedestrians who don't realize they're standing in a bike lane - but that's okay. But that annoyance is on me because they have the right away.
posted by melt away at 1:29 AM on December 6, 2011


"Funny, none of those happy little Dutch moppets seem to be riding in the rain...?"

What the hell is that supposed to mean? It rains in the Netherlands all the time. ALL the time. there is literally water everywhere. (well the country is mostly below sea level).

And people here do ride in the rain all the time. most people don't have an alternative.

The issue we are having with CoolPapaBell is not that he doesn't want to ride a bike - its all the false arguments for why its impossible for him to ride a bike.
posted by mary8nne at 1:46 PM on December 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


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