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Let some air out of the trend-tired ‘cult of the bike’

Drivers, bikers, walkers, riders, businesses share same small streets

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bicycle, gay news, Washington Blade
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 [email protected].

 

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14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Roy

    July 18, 2014 at 1:15 pm

    “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.

  2. Kyle Jones-Northam

    July 18, 2014 at 6:00 pm

    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.

  3. JoeyDC

    July 18, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    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!

  4. Phil

    July 18, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    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!

  5. Greenbelt

    July 18, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    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.

  6. dynaryder

    July 18, 2014 at 6:23 pm

    “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?

  7. Anonymous

    July 19, 2014 at 4:03 am

    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.

  8. Wilson

    July 19, 2014 at 6:41 am

    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.

  9. Will

    July 19, 2014 at 11:48 am

    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.

  10. SJE

    July 19, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    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.

  11. elizqueenmama

    July 20, 2014 at 11:52 pm

    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/

  12. Anonymous

    July 21, 2014 at 1:12 pm

    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.

  13. Ken Schellenberg

    July 21, 2014 at 10:20 am

    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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Commentary

Sondheim’s art will be with us for the ages

Iconic work explored sadness, rage, irony, and love of humanity

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Stephen Sondheim (Screen capture via CBS)

“The only regret I have in life is giving you birth,” his mother wrote in a letter to Stephen Sondheim.

The only regret so many of us feel now is that Sondheim, the iconic composer and lyricist, died on Nov. 26 at his Roxbury, Conn. home at age 91.

He is survived by Jeffrey Romley, whom he married in 2017, and Walter Sondheim, a half-brother.

F. Richard Pappas, his lawyer and friend, told the New York Times that the cause of death was unknown, and that Sondheim had died suddenly. The day before he passed away, Sondheim celebrated Thanksgiving with friends, Pappas told the Times.

“Every day a little death,” Sondheim wrote in “A Little Night Music.”

This isn’t the case with the passing of Sondheim. Whether you’re a Broadway star or a tone-deaf aficionado like me, you’ll sorely miss Sondheim, who the Times aptly called “one of Broadway history’s songwriting titans.”

Like multitudes of his fans, I don’t remember a time in my life when a song from a Sondheim musical hasn’t been in my head.

When I was a child, my parents repeatedly played the cast album of “Gypsy,” the 1959 musical with music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Sondheim and book by Arthur Laurents. My folks loved the story of the show, which was loosely based on the life of the burlesque artist Gypsy Rose Lee. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Ethel Merman belt out “Everything’s Coming Up Roses!” When I need to jumpstart my creative juices, I remember that “You Gotta Get a Gimmick.”

In college, I felt that “Company,” the 1970 musical with music and lyrics by Sondheim and book by George Furth, spoke to my generation. 

As was the case with Sondheim’s musicals, “Company” didn’t have a conventional plot, happy ending, or tidy resolution. It takes place during Bobby’s 35th birthday party. Bobby, who is single, is celebrating with his friends (straight, married couples). Bobby likes having friends but doesn’t want to get married.

Sondheim didn’t come out as gay until he was 40. Yet, even in the 1970s, it was hard not to think that Bobby in “Company” wasn’t gay.

Once you’ve heard Elaine Stritch sing “The Ladies Who Lunch” from “Company,” it becomes indelibly etched in your brain.

Who else but Sondheim could have written, “And here’s to the girls who play/smart-/Aren’t they a gas/Rushing to their classes in optical art,/Wishing it would pass/Another long exhausting day/Another thousand dollars/A matinee, a Pinter play/Perhaps a piece of Mahler’s/I’ll drink to that/And one for Mahler!”

In September, I, along with legions of other theater lovers, were thrilled when Sondheim told Stephen Colbert on “The Late Show,” that he was working with David Ives on a new musical called “Square One.”

In his musicals from “Follies” to “Sweeney Todd” to “Sunday in the Park with George,” Sondheim, through his lyrics and music, revealed the internal depths of his characters and the sadness, tenderness, bitterness, rage, irony, wit, and love of humanity. Sondheim’s wordplay was so brilliant that he did crossword puzzles for New York magazine.

Over his decades-long career, Sondheim won every award imaginable from the Pulitzer Prize for “Sunday in the Park with George” to the Presidential Medal of Freedom (awarded to him by President Barack Obama in 2015). He received more than a dozen Tony Awards for his Broadway musicals and revivals as well as a Tony Award for lifetime achievement in 2008.

Thankfully, Sondheim’s art will be with us for the ages.

A remake of “West Side Story,” directed by Steven Spielberg with a screenplay by Tony Kushner, premieres this month.

Sondheim is a character in the Netflix film “tick, tick BOOM!,” directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda. The movie is based on an autobiographical posthumous Jonathan Larson (the composer of “Rent”) musical. Sondheim is supportive of Larson’s work.

Thank you Stephen, for your art! R.I.P.

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

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It doesn’t take a miracle

Hanukkah a time for LGBTQ Jews to celebrate full identity

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(Public domain photo)

For Jews around the world, Sunday night marked the beginning of Hanukkah. The story of Hanukkah celebrates the liberation of Jerusalem by the Maccabees, a small and poorly armed group of Jews who took on, and defeated, one of the world’s most powerful armies. 

Upon entering Jerusalem, the Maccabees saw that there was only enough oil to light the Temple’s eternal flame for one night. But the oil lasted eight nights — enough time for new oil to be prepared. The eternal flame remained lit, and light triumphed over darkness.

The story of Hanukkah was a miracle. While we celebrate and commemorate that miracle, we should also remember that it doesn’t take a miracle for one person to make a difference. 

The entire world is shaking beneath our feet. The climate is in crisis and our planet is in danger. A viral contagion has claimed the lives of millions, and there’s no clear end in sight. Creeping authoritarianism threatens the entire world, including here at home.

Sometimes it seems like it will take a miracle to solve even one of these problems. The reason these problems seem so overwhelming is because they are — no one person can fix it themselves.

Here in the LGBTQ community, we have made enormous strides, and we ought to be proud of them. But there is so much more work to be done.

Not everyone in our community is treated equally, and not everyone has the same access to opportunity. Black, brown and trans LGBTQ people face systemic and structural disadvantages and discrimination and are at increased risk of violence and suicide. It must stop.

These are big problems too, and the LGBTQ people as a collective can help make the changes we need so that light triumphs over darkness. But it doesn’t take a miracle for individuals to light the spark.

Our movement is being held back by the creeping and dangerous narrative that insists that we choose between our identities instead of embracing all of them. 

The presentation of this false choice has fallen especially hard on LGBTQ Jews, many of whom feel a genuine connection to and support for Israel. They feel marginalized when asked to sideline their identity by being told that the world’s only Jewish state shouldn’t even have a place on the map. And they feel attacked when asked about the Israeli government’s policies during a conflict, as if they have some obligation to condemn them and take a stand simply because of their faith.

One of the ways we can shine our light is to fight for an LGBTQ community that is truly inclusive.

This holiday season, pledge to celebrate all aspects of your identity and the rights of LGBTQ people to define their own identities and choose their own paths. If you feel the pressure to keep any part of your identity in the closet, stand up to it and refuse to choose. 

In the face of enormous challenges that require collective action, we must not give up on our power as individuals to do what’s right. It doesn’t take a miracle to do that.

The tradition of lighting the menorah each night represents ensuring the continuity of that eternal flame. One of the reasons the Hanukkah menorah is displayed prominently in the windows of homes and in public squares is because the light isn’t meant to be confined to the Jewish home. The light is for everyone — and a reminder that we can share it with the world every day to try to make it better.

As long as we keep fighting for justice, we don’t need to perform miracles. But we do need to do our part so that light triumphs over darkness.

It is up to each of us to map out what we can contribute to create a truly inclusive LGBTQ community. This holiday season, be the light. If you can, donate to a group that helps lift LGBTQ youth in crisis. Volunteer your time to fight for the rights and the lives of trans people. And be kind to one another.

Whether you are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or of no faith at all, take this opportunity to share your light with the world. It doesn’t take a miracle to do that.

Ethan Felson is the executive director of A Wider Bridge.

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Fighting for equality for decades, trans elders still face endless hardships

Lisa Oakley rejected by 60 long-term care facilities in Colo.

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

November 20 will mark the 22nd International Transgender Day of Remembrance, an international event honoring and commemorating the many transgender people murdered in transphobic hate crimes every year.

Since 2013, at least 200 transgender people have been murdered in the United States alone, 80 percent being Black and Latinx women. This number is undoubtedly an underestimate, as many murders go unreported and trans victims often are misgendered by law enforcement.

These murders are not isolated crime statistics. They grow out of a culture of violence against transgender and non-binary (TGNB) people that encompasses stigma, exclusion, discrimination, poverty, and lack of access to essential resources, including health care, employment and housing. 

These challenges result in early death. In Latin America, for example, it has been reported that the average life expectancy of a transgender person is only 35 years.

This climate of stigma and transphobia is particularly challenging for TGNB older people, who face extraordinary hardships due both to the cumulative impact of lifetimes of discrimination and regular mistreatment in their elder years. Due to isolation from family and greater medical and financial needs, trans older people are more likely to require professionalized elder services and care. 

Unfortunately, these services and the facilities that provide them are often either unavailable to TGNB elders, or hostile to them. A national survey of LGBTQ+ older people by AARP found that more than 60 percent of those surveyed were concerned about how they would be treated in a long-term care setting. This includes the fear of being refused or receiving limited care, in danger of neglect or abuse, facing verbal or physical harassment, or being forced to hide or deny their identity once again. 

This is a sobering reality. In October, GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders filed a claim against Sunrise Assisted Living in Maine, which openly denied admission to an older transgender woman because of her gender identity. 

In Colorado, Lisa Oakley was, astonishingly, rejected by 60 long-term care facilities, which her caseworker ascribes to Lisa’s gender identity. One facility that agreed to admit Lisa would only house her with a male roommate. 

After waiting far too long for welcoming care, Lisa eventually got help from SAGE and other community supporters and found a home in Eagle Ridge of Grand Valley. Fortunately, Eagle Ridge has participated in specialized training to be LGBTQ+-welcoming. While Lisa feels welcomed at Eagle Ridge and has made friends, she has been forced to live far from a community she loves. 

These cases in Maine and Colorado are just the tip of the iceberg regarding the discrimination faced by TGNB elders. That’s why it’s so important that Congress pass the Equality Act, which would once and for all prohibit discrimination based on gender identity in key areas like employment, housing, and care and services.

And while legal progress is important, it’s not enough. TGNB elders need more equity in their day to day lives. Older transgender people are more likely to experience financial barriers than non-transgender elders, regardless of age, income and education.

They’re also at a higher risk of disability, general poor mental and physical health, and loneliness, compared to their cisgender counterparts.

These experiences have been part of everyday life for trans elders for far too long. We continue to see them struggle with the long-term effects of transphobia and violence every day. That’s why organizations like SAGE are stepping up our support for TGNB elders by investing $1 million to support TGNB-focused services and advocacy both in New York and nationwide.

And we are continually amazed by the resilience of TGNB elders, creating communities built on their strength and courage. 

Their resilience is nothing new. It dates back generations and was evident during the Stonewall Uprising. Over the years, trans luminaries like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Victoria Cruz—leaders of the modern LGBTQ+ civil rights movement—and countless others have repeatedly proved that they will not be invisible.  

We see this determination in so many programs and activities led by trans elders at SAGE. 

For example, the TransGenerational Theater Project brings together transgender people of all ages to create theater from their experiences and perspectives. These types of elder-driven programs serve as powerful reminders that transgender older people are leading their lives with resilience, creativity, and perseverance, despite the dangers they face. 

Transgender and non-binary elders have survived and fought for equality for decades. They are brave. They are strong. They are leaders. Here at SAGE, we will continue to walk side-by-side with them as we continue the fight to ensure TGNB elders get the respect, change, and acceptance they deserve.

Michael Adams is the CEO of SAGE, the world’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBTQ+ elders.

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