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Biker on Congress Ave in Austin, Texas

There’s a pretty passionate animosity toward bicyclists across the country. Some of it is because of bicyclists who also happen to be assholes. It’s an unfortunate combination to be a bicyclist and an asshole because bicyclists are a minority that are also highly visible, which means they are extremely susceptible to generalization. In other words, when one bicyclist acts like a jerk, motorists who witness that behavior tend to equate it with all bicyclists.

Just think about all the motorists out there who behave badly.  They’re able to remain anonymous, but when someone crosses you, you want to see them—see what the person driving actually looks like—so you can what? Find out if you might know them personally? Commit their identity to memory so if you ever see them again you can give them a piece of your mind? No, not likely. More likely, you’re doing it so you can reinforce some stereotype you have. “Those goddamn teenagers texting on their cellphones again!”

Now you’ve got it all figured out. You know your enemy. And when it’s a bicyclist who’s the asshole, it’s so much easier to know your enemy. And the way they think they don’t have to obey the rules of the road.  It’s so unfair, right?

But here’s another thing:  what exactly constitutes bad behavior for a bicyclist?  And when you think about that, keep this in mind: our current transportation infrastructure and the rules that go along with it were designed for the rapid movement of cars not bikes. And yet it is assumed that bikes, busses, trucks, and cars can all operate under the same system. Does that seem right to you?

The argument is that we have to build an infrastructure for the majority. We can’t create customized infrastructures for each individual mode of transport. And it’s the motorists’ tax dollars that pay for those roads, so that should obviously dictate the kind of infrastructure that gets built.

Let’s start with the second thing first here. How exactly did this perception come about that only motorists pay taxes? Is it because people think that bicyclists are too poor and/or too young to pay taxes? Well, first of all, wrong.  And if you were thinking about gas tax, wrong again, because most bicyclists also own cars (except for cities where cars are not necessary like NYC, San Francisco, and Chicago), and gas tax goes toward highway and major bridge construction (ie. no bikes allowed).  Second of all, even if that is the case that the people riding bikes are too poor to pay taxes isn’t that a good thing that they’re biking? If they don’t have the money, isn’t it a good thing that they’re still getting around town on a bike rather than just throwing up their hands and saying, “I can’t afford a car, so I guess I’ll just have to sit around the house with my thumb up my ass.” And if you do agree that, yes, it would make sense for someone who can’t afford a car to ride a bike (I’ll get to the problem with public transportation in another post), then wouldn’t it also make sense if the transportation infrastructure was set up to accommodate bicyclists?

Which brings us to the first thing, which was that we have to build the infrastructure for the majority. Do we? Or was the current infrastructure built for the minority and now the majority has been forced to play this utterly shitty hand that they’ve been dealt? (See Friday’s post.) The majority of people didn’t used to drive hours and hours to get to work and go shopping and get to a park.  The majority of people had those things in their community, and then an infrastructure that was forced upon them changed everything—including the demise of an accommodating environment for walking and biking.

Shouldn’t the infrastructure have been built so that we don’t need to drive for everything we do in our lives? Shouldn’t we have a system where we can can just walk or bike to get the things we need? That’s how the majority used to do things until they were forced to do things in a much more costly, inefficient, and dangerous way.

So, try not to be too angry at bicyclists.  They’re doing it the right way in a wrong world.  If you really want them out of your way, demand from your city and town planners that an infrastructure be created to accommodate bicyclists.  After all, the more cars off the road, the better it will be for you, right?

What do I mean by an infrastructure for bicyclists?  That’s for the next post.