July 17, 2014 | by Mark Lee
Let some air out of the trend-tired ‘cult of the bike’
bicycle, gay news, Washington Blade, bicyclists

It’s time for bikers to make the transition from roadway rebel to responsibly sharing the same small streets. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

What is it about D.C. and bicyclists?

Maybe the nation’s capital really is a hometown for “third-rail” topics. Do we fight-to-the-death our nonsensical pitched battles and relentlessly defend external cultural signifiers because we live at the national ground zero for identity politics?

One can almost imagine the pre-arrival dialogue between two partners on the way to a dinner party: “Now, remember, don’t ask John about his job that he lost two weeks ago, Susan is no longer pregnant and, please, don’t tell that story about almost hitting that guy on the bike who swerved in front of you on the way home last week. You know how sensitive Robert is about bike lanes.”

Regardless of the cause or reason, Washingtonians have become entirely too agitated about bicycle anxiety — both those who ride them and those who don’t.

In recent years, and during local political campaigns, bikes have even become symbolic proxy for the many demographic upheavals and economic tidal waves crisscrossing the city. Well, along with dog parks, that is.

Last week the city had another one of its periodic explosions of hot tire air. Prompted by a provocative and partly tongue-in-cheek, over-the-top opinion piece by Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy, hatin’ was hurlin’ fast and furious. It followed a somewhat scolding transportation column by colleague John Kelly reminding bicyclists of the riding-on-sidewalks prohibition in the downtown commercial area and pedestrian angst over violations.

There were quick calls for the newspaper to fire longtime columnist Milloy. (Really? Yes, really.) The famously near-universality of biking aficionados among bloggers and alternative media reporters fueled some of that, but it was a road we’d all been down before. No one needed a street map to know where we were headed.

Soon a “protest ride” from Dupont Circle to the Post’s offices was announced, drawing approximately 40 bikers, to demand that Milloy engage in “dialogue” on the matter. Television crews interviewed smug bicyclists miming that oh-so-trendy and despicable retort to “disagreeable” opinions – referring to them as “unacceptable words” and “unacceptable thinking.” One imagined a lurking “hate speech” allegation.

We are talking about bicycles, people, only bikes. Those slender self-powered metal objects utilized for transport and that many worldwide, especially the poor and low-skill workers in many places, use to get to and from jobs and tasks. While D.C. has a relatively robust bike riding and sharing rate among U.S. cities, it’s possible to count on fingers and toes the number you’re likely to see pedaling to work and home each day on a commute by foot, bus, subway, taxi or car. A near-negligible percentage of residents use a bike as a commuting or transit method.

Yes, D.C. is a wonderfully “walkable, livable” and “bike-able” place with a full array of transportation options. I’ve lived in Washington for more than three decades and have never owned a car.

Bicyclists need to release some air out of their tires. I suspect they may be clueless how irksome many perceive the tiresome whining that biker desires are not being met, there aren’t enough dedicated bike lanes, they’re inadequately lauded as environmental angels, they shouldn’t be subject to common courtesies or city rules.

It’s time for bikers to make the transition from roadway rebel to responsibly sharing the same small streets. It won’t be easy, alongside all the cars, taxis, buses, someday-streetcars, pedestrians, business delivery trucks and other vehicles crammed on the city’s narrow thoroughfares. It is dangerous out there.

Let’s also try to remember that this is not one of D.C.’s most pressing problems. In a now only-pseudo-booming city teetering on the edge of a metropolitan area recession where housing costs are skyrocketing, job creation is halting, homeless people are languishing in a morass of misery despite wildly out-of-control service costs due to government mismanagement, hyper-sensitive two-wheel drama reads ridiculous.

Let’s keep that in mind while we finally start acting adult about accommodating mutual access and shared usage.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

 

13 Comments
  • “We are talking about bicycles, people, only bikes.”

    Nope. We are talking about PEOPLE on bicycles. People with friends and family, people that a Washington Post columnist suggested that it might be worth $500 to have the pleasure of crushing under the wheels of a car.

  • Kyle Jones-Northam

    Frankly, I'm for anything that gets more cars off the road. As for Courtland Milloy, he has a habit of provoking people, and the anti-bicycle column was not his first attack on city residents. The man doesn't even live in DC! That the Washington Post continues to employ him, Richard Cohen, and George Will is reason enough never to buy the rag.

  • Actually, maybe it is YOU who needs to de-escalate all the attacks and name-calling. What an awful, awful article attacking vulnerable people in this city. If this is a 2-sided battle needing de-escalations then why are you piling the attacks on the most-abused group?

    How dare “smug” cyclists demand they not be labeled “terrorists” and have people suggest they deserve to be intentionally attacked. The privilege!

    What is the point about attacking this already frequently attacked group? Article after article in paper after paper needs to be written to tell us we’re too SENSITIVE? Are you kidding me? Just to tell us to shut up and appreciate the attacks?

    And from the Washington blade too! One would think you’d understand what is is to be a pointlessly harassed minority!

    Is this how you feel about people who complain about GAY BASHING? They’re too SENSITIVE?

    What hypocrisy! For shame!

  • You ask the question about why there is tension between cyclists and those who attack them in the press.

    Then you go on to attack cyclists (in the press) for complaining about being attacked. You know, thus adding to the tension. What a stroke of genius!

    Anyone who has ever ridden a bike for transportation knows that the last thing cyclists want is tension with people who can kill them. (I know you’ll say this isn’t true–and that’s how I know you’re not a cyclist.)

    Thanks for adding nothing to the discussion while ratcheting up the tensions even more.

    Bravo!

  • Ah, more cheap click trolling. Write a piece ridiculing, disparaging, threatening, or otherwise whining about an out-group, and then watch the clicks roll in.

    Hmmm. What other out-groups (or not-so-always-out-groups) have been subject to that treatment?

    “Roadway rebels” “hyper sensitive” “drama” — very nice.

    What other groups have occasionally gotten upset about being threatened, or having members hurt or killed with impunity by bullies wielding dangerous weapons?

    What an astonishing lack of perspective.

  • “A near-negligible percentage of residents use a bike as a commuting or transit method.”

    Bike to Work Day generally has about 14,000 participants. And that’s just the folks who both know about BtWD and can come to it;the real number of cyclists is much higher. 14+k people is a ‘negligible’ number?

  • I've been riding to work for a decade and in the last couple of years the number of bike commuters has exploded. Thousands commute by bike. And my 5 mile commute each day is beautiful I and most of my fellow cyclists respect others, and the autos by and large respect us. There's no war and no one whines. And my commute is an absolute joy.

    And then writers like this hear some imagined whining when in actuality no riders are "whining" at all except for drivers like this. What an idiotic piece of junk this commentary is, divorced from reality and battling imagined demons. I hear no riders "whining,," but I certainly can read it here.

  • I guess it’s not enough to feel inconvenienced by others’ choice to get out of their car and be healthy, and reduce pollution and congestion. Some have to whine about it in a column.

  • Not that it is equivalent, but as a straight man, the only time I’ve been physically attacked by strangers is while riding my bicycle. Luckily these instances are fewer and fewer, but I’ve had objects thrown at me from moving vehicles on numerous occasions, the worst of which were the half eaten chicken bones, several of which hit me, thrown from a van. I’ve also had drivers intentionally run me off the road, or block me with their cars and start to yell at me about my (totally legal) behavior. This is by no means rare, and we should count ourselves lucky that it is relatively minor in DC – my father was run into a ditch in Kansas, and another time cornered in a parking lot while the driver described how he would murder my father if he saw him bicycling again.

    In all these cases, the drivers who harmed or threatened me were never caught or called to account for their actions. It’s one of the rare cases where presumably functioning adults feel entitled to threaten or harm their fellow citizens with impunity.

    It is in this context that I am very surprised that the Blade is publishing a piece that piles onto the trope that cyclists are whiny and entitled. What we are asking for is the relatively slow transition to a physical environment that reasonably accommodates the safe movement of cyclists of all abilities. The projects we advocate for are nearly always in the context of the city repaving or redesigning a roadway anyways, we’re not bulldozing neighborhoods or condemning properties to make any of these projects work (which is what the highway-industrial complex did en masse for half a century).

    I’m truly at a loss to understand the depth and persistence of the vitriol directed against us, especially from intellectuals in the media, but I think it has something to do with defining us as “the other” and feeling like the majority defines cyclists as such too.

    What a shame to see this in The Blade.

  • This is all a bit rich coming from DC’s leading LGBT newspaper.

    It was not that long ago that LGBT people were denied legal rights, assaulted, tarnished with many false accusations, and generally pilloried just for being themselves. When the LGBT community asked for laws to protect them, or give them rights that others had, this was cast as “special rights for gays” and that the LGBT community had to stop its “histrionics.” How many times have LGBT Washingtonians heard the bigots criticizing them for their “non-traditional” “lifestyle choices.” And before bikes, it was black churches versus the gays.

    I suppose its a sign of being accepted into the mainstream that the LGBT leadership at the Blade can now join into attacking another “lifestyle choice,” riding a bike on DC’s streets. Still, its sad.

  • I am the woman who was quoted in the press stating that the language in Milloy’s column was ‘unacceptable’. The woman who carefully and legally rides a 70+ lb cargo bike around DC usually with at least one kid on board, if not two and even sometimes three.
    I don’t whine (I leave that to my kids). I just ask that the cycling infrastructure that the city has thoughtfully planned is built without a bunch of, ahem, *whining* from folks who are afraid that they’ll lose parking, not be able to drive quite so fast (over the speed limit) or some other baseless complaint about the impact of bike infrastructure. And yes, I react when a columnist in my city’s paper of record in this city makes absolutely unacceptable statements about cyclists. $500 to hit me might be worth it? If that isn’t unacceptable, what is?!
    Oh, and as a “long time entrepreneur and community business advocate” you should be aware of the positive impact that bike lanes have on local businesses:
    http://www.peoplepoweredmovement.org/site/images/uploads/Protected_Bike_Lanes_Mean_Business.pdf
    http://www.americabikes.org/nyc_study_finds_protected_bicycle_lanes_boost_local_business
    http://www.transportationissuesdaily.com/new-study-shows-adjacent-businesses-not-harmed-by-new-bike-lane-but/bikenomics-cover/

  • Silly column trying to generate some clicks just like Courtland. You suspect cyclists are oblivious to what drivers think? Ha, you're a fool then. Most cyclists are also drivers. I ride, drive, and even take Metro to work sometimes. At different points in my life, each one has been a primary transportation method. I'm very familiar with them all. I'm just not naive enough to claim cyclists are in any way an impediment to driving. If anything, they're making Metro less crowded by folks doing CABI rides on weekdays and the roads less crowded by taking a driver off. It's noticable on rainy days that the Metro buses are more packed and there are more cars on the road. So you keep whining.

  • Ken Schellenberg

    I too am a gay bike commuter (since the Carter Administration – OK, I’m old). Mark severely understates the number of bike commuters. In DC the stats put it at 4% of commuters – and since the latest Census Bureau study puts self-identified gays at 1.6%, I think he should be a little cautious in slamming a community because it’s “small”

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