erik lundegaard

Cyclists vs. Motorists: How The New York Times Ain't Helping

One thing you can say about Jan Hoffman’s nearly 2000-word piece in the Sunday New York Times on the growing battle between motorists and cyclists: It probably won’t lessen any tensions.

I’ve been biking to work for 15 years now and couldn’t find myself in it at all. Talk about reporting. Or as Hoffman might write: Talk about reporting!

This is the money quote for me. It comes about halfway through the article and lit me up:

There’s a whiff of class warfare in the simmering hostility, too. During morning rush, the teeth-gritting of drivers is almost audible, as superbly fit cyclists, wearing Sharpie-toned spandex and riding $3,000 bikes, cockily dart through the swampy, stolid traffic to offices with bike racks and showers.

So cyclists are the rich ones now? Where’s the stats to back that one up? But you gotta love the flowery language. We cockily dart? Through swampy stolid? In Sharpie-toned? On our $3,000? Pity the poor souls who can only afford SUVs.

The next graph, in true journalistic fashion, gives us “the opposite end of the class spectrum”: Migrant workers cycling in pre-dawn hours without headlights. So both extremes are represented. Another job well done.

I’m among the unrepresented between these two groups: commuting on my $350 bike, without the spandex and no waiting shower. But there is a bike rack in a nearby garage. I’m living large. No wonder I’m hated.

This hatred for cyclists is the big unanswered (possibly unaddressed) question of the article. Most of the anti-motorist anecdotes end with cyclists bloodied or dead, while most of the anti-cycling anecdotes end with pedestrians and motorists “startled” or with a “pounding heart.” Yet motorists are the ones who are white-hot with anger? What’s up with that? Maybe this discrepancy should’ve been pointed out. Maybe further investigation was needed instead of, you know, flowery language. But who am I to say? I’m not a professional journalist.

How about this graph on biking irresponsibility?:

A pandemic of obliviousness — earbuds, texting — further ramps up the tension. Recently, Scott Diamond, ride coordinator for the Morris Area Freewheelers, a New Jersey cycling club, saw what he called a trifecta of irresponsible cycling: “A guy riding his bike without a helmet, talking on his cellphone, with his kid in the bike attachment behind him.”

Oddly, for a he said/she said article, there’s no correlating graph on the distractions for motorists: radios, CDs, DVDs; coffee, make-up, kids. Those texting cyclists — what percentage are we talking about? As opposed to, say, cellphone-talking drivers? I don’t want to make excuses for an idiot who bikes without a helmet and with a cellphone, but that trifecta of irresponsible cycling? That’s a normal driver.

Listen, there are assholes everywhere, and I’m often one of them (both on a bike and in a car), but everyone knows the entire system is set up for cars. Bike paths are rare, and even when you get one it’s like the weakest kid’s lunch money: Yours until someone bigger wants it. And someone bigger always wants it.

I have my own anecdote to add to Hoffman’s bunch, and it’s not about the number of drivers who have yelled at me over the years — sometimes with reason, most of the time insanely out of nowhere — and it’s not about the overwhelming obtuseness of most drivers (the powerful can afford to be stupid), and I won’t even bring up the whole gas/oil thing.

Here it is: Over the last three years, about a dozen people have asked me, almost shyly, about cycling to work, and I tell them it’s fun and easy and I feel better afterwards. I tell them they should do it. And every one has backed off. They think it’s too dangerous. They’re too worried about being hit by a car.

Now does anyone know one person who has quit driving because they’re worried about being hit by a bicycle?

There is no he said/she said here. There is just “startled” vs. “dead.”


Posted at 10:04 AM on Tue. Aug 12, 2008 in category Biking  
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