“Bikers need to follow the law.”
I often think about the cultural acceptance of bike-rider-bashing. Then Melody wrote her piece here about how the media presents crash victims.
These thoughts have come and gone for me the years I’ve been a Cyclist Ambassador to Minneapolis, an informal appointment given to anyone who carries a bike helmet around.
I most recently got refocused on it when I had to spend a morning in the Social Security Administration offices. As I was leaving, I got permission to put my winter riding gear back on before heading out into the 2-degree weather. (No face masks allowed in federal offices, you know.) I was standing at the security guard’s desk (contractors, not federal employees), putting on my face mask, goggles, helmet and mittens.
Out of nowhere, one of the guards says, “Bikers need to follow the law.” … [pulling on mittens] … “I hate bikers, they should get off the road. Bikers always run stop signs and lights.”
I’m thinking, “And, what, cars never roll through stop signs? Blow red lights? Fail to yield to pedestrians when making a right on a green? And, it’s really dangerous to have a bike hit the side of your car — you might die or something. Yeah, right.” I try to keep my mouth shut, and mostly succeed, and head out to get back to work.
As I pedaled home, my blood was boiling. Why is it OK to vent your irrational stereotypes to a random stranger? In this case, to a stranger who quietly spent the last two hours in your waiting room. A stranger who asked permission to put on goggles before freezing her butt off. Is it actually OK, just because she travels by bike?
To test my anti-bike-bias-theory, I try a substituting example. Standing at a bus stop with a random person carrying a pile of text books would it be OK to start talking: “College students are drunk 24 hours a day. I hate college students. They should be kicked out of school if they drink.”
Try your own favorite disliked group.
“________s are always doing _____________. I hate ___________s. _____________s should be forced to _________.”
Were this a one-off, I’d let it slide as a crazy security dude. But, it happens all the time that people vent to ME about ill-behaved riders. Apparently, people riding bikes are so hated by the general public that it’s socially acceptable to state it out loud to any random bike-riding person, subtly threatening them. (Not so subtly when you’re a security guard.)
I’ve got plenty of examples. The most extreme is the time a colleague threatened to hit me with his SUV if he ever saw me riding my bike down Hennepin Avenue – while at dinner with a bunch of other colleagues. No one called him on it.
One of the most surprising “conversations” about my bike-riding behavior came a few Friday evenings ago. I was riding home from downtown, well after rush hour had ended, on a street that had a bike lane. But it was February, and the lane was filled with sporadic parked cars, ice slabs, and the detritus of winter. Traffic wasn’t heavy, and I didn’t want to be swerving between the driving lane and the bike lane, so I was riding in the right-hand lane. Suddenly, from close on my left, a police megaphone blared at me, “Ride in the bike lane!” and the marked car zoomed by.
I keep seeing more bike cops, more suit-wearing Nice Ride-ers, more parents riding kids to school. I also keep hoping that as more “normal people happen to ride bikes” there will be a shift to assuming that “people who ride bikes are normal people.”
This week, my most optimistic hope is that your comments will give me reason to hope. Where do you see attitudes shifting? How do you respond when you get these questions?
Cross-posted at mplsbike.org/blog