What's with all the bike hate?
Posted July 29, 2008
By now, you’ve probably seen the video (either on YouTube or the evening news) of an NYPD officer knocking a biker to the ground during a Critical Mass ride in Times Square. If not, here it is:
If you’re unfamiliar with Critical Mass, it’s a form of protest (organizers call them celebrations) held on the final Friday of every month in cities around the world. Essentially, a bunch of bikers meet up and ride together as a mass, sometimes snarling traffic. The rides are controversial even among bikers, with some viewing them as a way to promote safety and remind people that bikers belong on the streets, too, and others worrying that they give cyclists a bad name.
A melee erupted during a recent Critical Mass ride in Seattle, and many other hostile confrontations have taken place between motorists and Critical Mass cyclists over the years. In New York, as the Times’ City Room blog reports, tensions have been high between police and riders in the past.
Still, although I know that people have strong feelings about Critical Mass, what disturbs me as much as the officer’s action (which resulted in an investigation after the video became widely circulated) is the public reaction it has entailed. Although the majority of people viewing the video are outraged, there’s also a strong undercurrent of “blame the biker.” On Gothamist, which first reported that the biker was arrested and charged with assault, some commenters left reactions like this: “Headline should read ‘CM rider, looking for trouble, finds it’” and “The cop should get a medal.” Some similar comments poured out at Gawker. (Caution, strong language at both of those links.)
It seems that bikers are having a rough time lately, public opinion-wise. Just witness the outpouring of vitriol in the comments section of this recent New York magazine article. Part of that is obviously the conflict that comes from having so many people living and interacting together in a densely packed city like New York. But what worries me is that with gas prices in the stratosphere, more people are turning to biking and realizing that it’s good to live in communities where walking and riding provide alternatives to the car.
That’s good for our health, good for the environment, and good, I believe, for our sense of community and our relationships with one another. But it seems that right now, the relationship between cyclists and the rest of the community are rather strained.
Look, I know there are some jerk cyclists out there. I’m still bruised from my collision two weeks ago with one of them. But there are jerk drivers, jerk pedestrians, jerk scooter riders … you name it. We all have to use the same streets, so naturally, there will be conflicts. But why does it seem like bikers are attracting so much rage right now, just at the time when it seems that more people are starting to realize that riding is a good alternative to gas guzzlers?
Or did I just answer my own question? And if I did, what can be done about it? Is it just a matter of getting cities to build better sidewalks, bike lanes, transit options and other alternatives to the car, so that we’re not all competing for the same narrow strip of pavement? Or is there something more fundamental to the bike hate that I’m not getting?
Because I think we’re all going to have to find a way to share the road, whether we like it or not.
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