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.