National Bike Month is rolling along unimpeded. Thanks to the League of American Bicyclists, the month of May has been set aside as a time for celebrating all things bicycle.
As if that weren’t enough, here in Massachusetts, we designated the week of May 11-19 as Bay State Bike Week. So, we’re celebrating doubly.
Declarations of celebration like these always draw the media into action. They feel obligated to acknowledge and even promote such events.
In keeping with that sentiment, a suburban online newspaper decided to write a few articles providing news and information about the status of cycling in Massachusetts. Ordinarily this news source publishes stories about things going on in the town.
However, due to Bike Month and Bike Week, they devoted several multi-page stories to bicycling. The most comprehensive story entitled “Cycling is on the rise, but is Mass. serious about sharing the road?” was rather odd.
It started out by discussing an increase in the number of people commuting by bike. “By just one measure, the number of Bay State commuters who mainly biked to work spiked 80 percent from 2000 to 2011, from roughly 12,300 people to 22,200, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.”
The author alluded to cyclists’ explanations for this trend ranging from rising gas prices to environmental and health concerns without ever specifying who these cyclists were or when they made such comments. The writing style made the cyclists seem like a nebulous group of non-entities.
From this the author jumped to an increase in the number of local officials who want to capitalize on this trend by increasing the amount of bicycle infrastructure. Goals set by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) to triple travel by biking, walking and public transit by 2030 were mentioned.
This made it seem as if a trend towards favoring bicycles as a form of transportation was imminent. And the point was reinforced by one sentence — again attributed to nameless cyclists — which asserted a change in public attitudes towards cycling: “Cyclists also credit bike-friendly shifts in public attitudes and values.”
Now even though the article did mention the younger generation’s desire to find greener, simpler ways to get around, it provided no evidence of a change in public attitude towards cycling. Anyone who has ever attended a town meeting where the installation of bike lanes or other bicycle accommodations is discussed knows that such proposals always face opposition from members of the community.
Given the rosy nature of the picture this article painted , the title made no sense. It seemed as if motorists and pedestrians were welcoming cyclists with open arms.
But then, towards the middle of the article, came statistics about bicycle accidents and deaths, as well as mention of the death of a local cyclist where the driver of the vehicle that struck him was not indicted. This must be what the title is referring to when it questions whether Massachusetts is ready to share the road. But it was snuck in so adeptly that without reading the article very closely, it would be easy to miss.
The article goes on to talk about pending legislation “aimed at safety, including a bill to stiffen fines and require traffic safety training for drivers who harm, threaten or assault cyclists.” This gives the impression that advocates and local leaders intend to make the roads safer for cyclists to encourage the trend towards more bicycle use.
All in all, the article had a positive outlook on the future of cycling in the Bay State. That, unfortunately, was contrasted sharply by what followed.
Normally, I don’t scroll down the page on this particular site because 90 percent of the articles don’t have any comments. Anyone who has anything to say about what’s written in this newspaper usually does so on the site’s blog.
As the title of another article caught my eye, I noticed what appeared to be a large number next to the word “comments.” Sure enough, it said 74 comments.
In all the years that I’ve been reading this newspaper, I’ve never seen more than three or four comments on an article. I didn’t even know that this many people read the website of a small local newspaper.
Nothing in the comments would surprise anyone who has been cyclist for more than a few months. It was the usual anti-cyclist ranting, with a few comments defending cyclists scattered in.
A common theme in these comments was to equate encouraging bicycle use with an evil liberal agenda. The commenters who held this position thought that only liberals would want to ride bikes and build bicycle infrastructure. One commenter in particular referred to the parties behind this trend as greens and then made a strange statement: “Remember going green is going red!”
Such a comment could be interpreted more than one way. Given his attack on loss of American freedoms as a consequence of letting cyclists use the roads, he was probably referring to communists (reds).
Comparing bicycling advocacy to communism is a bit much. Yet it is consistent with the tone of the comments on this article.
One comment was extremely well received by the anti-green crowd. It sounded as if it came from a Tea Party representative in that it railed against government intrusion into the lives of citizens. This is how the commenter sees building bicycle infrastructure and sharing the road with bicycles.
By now we should know to expect bitter opposition to the promotion of bicycle use in Massachusetts. No amount of celebrations or advocacy will change the minds of people who see bicycle infrastructure as a government plot against individual freedoms.
While it’s encouraging to see favorable press about cycling, it’s depressing to see a slew of negative, politically charged comments on a site which rarely gets comments. It’s almost as if these commenters were recruited to make derogatory remarks. Hopefully, this won’t turn into a trend of its own, with conservative anti-bicycle fanatics showing up on sites they normally don’t read or comment on to attack cycling and cyclists in a effort to arrest their progress.