Life on Two Wheels: Bicycle Lanes, Rider Safety, and "Biker Terrorists"
The rebirth of bicycle ridership has been a triumph for some, a curse for others. While bicycle infrastructure has been found to save cities money, not all urban dwellers appreciate what it means for the state of civic transit.
What's the Latest?
Bicycle riders and infrastructure designed for them has been a hot topic in recent years. For example, I live in Washington DC (often rated as one of the country's top cities for bicycling) and many recent street construction projects have included the installation of some really safe and lovely bike lanes. Al-Jazeera America reported this week on a new study by the NIH that shows bike infrastructure is worth every penny of civic investment. The rewards come in many different forms: decreased traffic congestion, lower health costs related to traffic injuries, and reduced pollution, to name just a few. Plus, a workforce that commutes on the power of its legs will be healthier than one made up of sedentary drivers.
What's the Big Idea?
Not everyone is thrilled about the bicycle boom. Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy recently penned an article lambasting the "bullies" and "terrorists" who ride in DC. I won't pretend that Milloy's arguments warrant much thought or attention -- he's ridiculously hyperbolic and advocates at one point for drivers to clip misbehaving cyclists. His article is essentially another example of the "angry, out-of-touch, middle-aged man tossing bombs" trope. The Post, which also publishes George Will, are masters of it.
Simply put: thousands of bicyclists have been killed in recent years by unruly drivers; no driver has ever been killed by a bicycle. Milloy's article completely misses the point and Post readers (as well as the rest of the internet) rightly let him have it this week.
With that out of the way, I'll say that some elements of his article -- when viewed rationally -- do embody rightful indignation. Some bicycle riders are lousy (just as some drivers are lousy) and the massive shift toward accommodating them sometimes comes at the expense of those for whom cycling isn't feasible, like those with lengthy commutes or large families. Ideally, cyclists and drivers should be allotted separate lanes on city streets. When that's not the case, it's important that both do their part to be respectful of the other and share the road. This means not being reckless on two wheels. It also means not being a jerk on four.
But to actively oppose making city streets safer for bicyclists is to resist change that is both health-conscience and cost-effective. That's not just short-sighted, it's unreasonable.
Photo credit: thebezz / Shutterstock
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