What’s With All The Hate?

I wasn’t really surprised by the recent screeds against bicyclists in the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald. These seem to come in flurries every once in a while, first one media outlet, then others not wanting to be left out of the resulting mayhem. Generating controversy is a common tactic for the media, and challenges to the status quo, like increasing interest in bicycling, are an irresistible target. But what does it really mean for bicyclists?

The greatest injustice the Herald and other haters are perpetrating is that they dehumanize us. We end up nameless, faceless “bicyclists” – not who we really are, like mothers on bikes, grandfathers on bikes, or neighbors on bikes. When motorists are driving next to that nameless bicyclist, it’s easier not to pay attention to or care about that bicyclist’s safety. Last year, we did a campaign called “And I Ride” to put a human face on people who ride bikes. It’s worth taking another look and sending to your non-bicycling friends.

There is also lack of perspective in all this reporting. Yes, there are bicyclists who don’t follow the law or who act like jerks, but you can say the same of many motorists and pedestrians. Motorists routinely speed, fail to stop, and make illegal turns, and many pedestrians cross mid-block and against the light. We’ve got a cultural problem on our streets, where some people have given up on being considerate to others. These recent stories on bicyclists ignore the fact that bicyclists make up a tiny percentage of road users, along with a tiny percentage of users breaking the law.

But the truth is, bicyclists are being noticed because our numbers are growing. More bicyclists are out on the streets than ever before and that is a great thing. More and more people are finding out that bicycling is good for the environment, good for their own health, good for their wallet, and it’s fun, too. It’s no wonder that bicyclists are getting more attention.

So what can we, the bicycling community, do to end the vitriol? We’re doing our best at MassBike to foster change in our transportation culture, to educate motorists how to share space with us, and to get more police enforcement against dangerous motorists. Bicyclists can do their part, too. That means speaking up at public meetings, being a good bicycling ambassador wherever you go, and yes, following bicycling laws, too. MassBike strongly advocates that bicyclists should follow the rules of the road (see Same Roads, Same Rules, also urging motorists to respect bicyclists). Whether you agree with us or not, please consider how your actions might affect public perception of bicyclists and the safety of others on roads, paths, and sidewalks.

As more stories about bicycling make headlines, the media needs to be reminded of its responsibility to report fairly on issues of public safety. Bicyclists can do their part, but unless the media reports more responsibly, the negative perception of bicyclists won’t change.

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4 Responses to What’s With All The Hate?

  1. matt August 31, 2011 at 3:28 pm #

    I’m in Munich at the moment, and the difference between here and Boston is startling. I think that bikes outnumber cars, at least downtown, but the biggest difference is the *courtesy* shown each other by drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. Everybody stops at red lights. No one crosses the street without a signal to do so. It was almost surreal.

    Over dinner I asked a native of the city why this is. She said, “Oh it’s very simple. If you run a red light, you can lose your license. Whether you are driving or biking. That’s why everybody stops. Always.”

    So maybe the problem is that the laws is Boston are so rarely enforced that no one takes them seriously. Sounds like a simple explanation.

  2. Benjamin September 2, 2011 at 11:41 am #

    As a bicyclist who has had to drive around Greater Boston I understand some of the frustration. I’ve had to break hard in a car to stop myself from hitting a group of bicyclists running a red near Brookline. It hadn’t just switched from yellow. When I was living in Cambridge I frequently saw bicyclists going in the wrong direction down one-way streets. I’ve had to break suddenly to protect a bicyclist who’d turned down a one-way without looking just as I was approaching a green light at the intersection. It seems to me that the only way the culture will change is if law enforcement pay more attention to traffic violations by bicyclists, as Matt’s experience suggests.

  3. BostonBikah September 4, 2011 at 9:27 pm #

    Maybe because some of the hate is actually deserved? If you’re the stereotypical M*ssh*le, it doesn’t matter if you are in a car or a bike. You still are.

  4. adev808 September 20, 2011 at 10:13 pm #

    It’s true that there are people who both ride bicycles and cars who refuse to stop at stop signs or at the end of the road, but remember that when you read any comments section in the Boston Herald, you are reading comments made by some of the biggest bottom feeders on the internet. You’ll find the same kinds of comments in the Globe when they publish anything having to do with cyclists. There is a war, at least so on the internet, between car drivers and cyclists.