Pedalling myths: The anti-bike lobby is flat out of plausible arguments
Oliver Burkeman: With the ‘bikelash’ reduced to incoherent rants, pro-car common sense is losing traction. Allow me to ride to the rescue
If you hold the view that bikes, and bike lanes, are among the greatest evils threatening society today, you might at first have been pleased to see this week’s Toronto Sun column by Mike Strobel, which has circulated widely online. Initially, it appears to stand in the fine tradition of anti-bike screeds such as those by the New York Post’s Steve Cuozzo or Andrea Peyser, or the New Yorker’s John Cassidy. All are on the frontlines of what’s been called the “bikelash”, brave fighters willing to stand firm against the growing popularity of cycling across north America. (One of the most prominent developments, New York’s long-awaited bikeshare progam, is due to launch next month.)
Take a closer look, though, and you’ll notice that something’s amiss with Strobel’s piece. The average bikelash commentator, no matter how dyspeptic, considers him or herself obliged to come up with some sort of argument. That’s why, for example, you’ll see Peyser paying vastly disproportionate attention to the tiny number of truly awful accidents caused by cyclists. It’s why Cuozzo likes to conduct dubious amateur surveys to try to show thatnobody uses bike lanes. But Strobel’s rant against what he calls the “bicycult” is almost entirely devoid of argument. This is as close as he gets:
“The nitty-gritty: Streets are designed for cars, not bikes. Especially in winter, which is most of the time … Cars are common sense. They are our era’s horses. They’re also vastly greener and safer than your dad’s Buick. They will never go dinosaur, despite the bike cult’s best efforts.”
Still, you’ve got to sympathise with Strobel’s predicament. All the major cycling-related arguments have been won: bike lanes are popular; they don’t hurt local businesses; more biking doesn’t lead to more accidents; bike lanes make pedestrians safer and don’t impede the flow of car traffic.
To anyone who agrees that cycling, much like genocide, is a phenomenon that all decent people should condemn, the implication is clear: the anti-bike lobby urgently needs some new arguments. It’s my honour, therefore, to suggest a few they might like to use:
1. In some contexts, bikes are much more dangerous than cars. Consider a heavy bike, dropped from a height of 20ft onto a playground where numerous small children are playing, innocently unaware of the tragedy about to befall them. Now compare this to a car parked on a quiet street. Only the most biased, Brooklyn-dwelling NPR listener could deny the obvious: the bike, in this example, is much, much more dangerous.
2. If you support gun control, you should support bike control. Milquetoast liberals are always objecting to the argument that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”, because the widespread availability of guns makes it more likely they’ll be used for nefarious purposes. Well, just follow the logic. Bikes can be used for nefarious purposes, too: consider scenario 1 above, or the popularity of bikes among drug-dealers. It’s a no-brainer, therefore, that bicycles should be subject to the same kind of ban currently proposed, in the US, for semi-automatic weapons.
4. The popularity of bikes leads to newspaper “trend stories” like this one, about how some women who ride bikes also wear fashionable clothes. This is actually a pretty good argument.
5. Cyclists are bad people. Let’s give Strobel some credit here: he points to Lance Armstrong, whose case proves that all cyclists are liars. It also seems likely that, in the near future, neuroscientific research will confirm that the same part of the brain lights up when cycling as when committing serial murder. The evidence isn’t in yet, but are we really going to wait to dot every “i” and cross every “t” before taking action to counter the horrendous possibilities?
OK, that should do for now. Take heart, bikelash commentators! Now is not the time to backpedal. Steel yourselves and keep fighting, until that glorious day when bikes are gone forever.
[Bike riders via Shutterstock]