Who speaks for cyclists? Not the media. Not the government. Not even the bicycling advocacy groups. No one speaks for cyclists and, to date, cyclists have found no way to speak for themselves.
As cities and towns slowly move in the direction of accommodating bicycles on the road, the backlash grows stronger. Recently, I wrote a post about how journalists use inflammatory journalism to incite people against minority groups such as cyclists. I called for cyclists to speak out because simply obeying traffic laws and being considerate of drivers isn’t going to stop the momentum of the anti-bicycling movement.
While this movement has broad support among drivers, it has been spearheaded by the mainstream media. Not long ago, a demeaning article appeared in The Boston Globe calling for bicycles to be banned from Boston. This article created quite an uproar in the bicycling community. But the outrage was confined to their own community. Drivers remained blissfully ignorant of their opposition.
Not long after, the Boston Herald (not to be outdone) published yet another article in its unending string of anti-bicycle articles. As usual, drivers filled the comment section with hatred towards cyclists, threats to do them harm and wishes to see them injured.
Some have suggested ignoring these inflammatory articles; others have called for a proactive response. Yet, virtually everything written from the cyclist’s standpoint has appeared on cycling blogs or websites. Drivers don’t visit those sites, which leaves cyclists shouting into an echo chamber.
The other side of the story doesn’t resonate with drivers because they believe what the mainstream media tells them. They are influenced by its voice of authority. From cyclists, they hear little more than rash comments borne of frustration and fear.
“I actually talked to the guy who wrote this article, we had a 45 minute conversation…which is why its so sad to see what he ended up writing. We talked at length about how the same critical mass story has been written (seemingly every summer) a million times. And how no journalist has really bothered to do anything interesting with it in years. Luckily this guy is not a journalist so the failure to do so again wasn’t much of a sting. He couldn’t even get the name of my website correct. Critical Mass represents such a tiny party of an already tiny group (cyclists) that its almost silly to talk about it as if its hugely representative of the greater cyclist community.”
It’s difficult to understand why Boston Biker spoke to the journalist for 45 minutes about how the same Critical Mass story has been written a million times. What did this journalist want to know that could have warranted a 45 minute conversation? Was there anything Boston Biker could have said to change his mind about Critical Mass and how it relates to the greater cyclist community? Maybe not. But, with no unified message coming from the greater cyclist community, individuals like Boston Biker have to fend for themselves and express the cycling majority’s views to the best of their ability.
Another BostonBiker.org blogger, Steve Miller, also wrote about the Boston Herald‘s articles. His post provided a lot of detail about the political side of cycling as transportation:
“My concern is not with the Herald itself – it’s been spewing garbage for years. And I’m not even deeply concerned that its regressive views will significantly impact our state’s transportation agenda. Unlike New York City, where anti-Bloomberg factions of the power elite are using opposition to bike lanes as a way to attack Mayor Mike, no important sectors of the local establishment see demonizing cyclists as a way to gain votes. In fact, the importance of the health care industry in this area means that there is huge institutional support for the public health benefits of “active transportation” — which may be one reason by most area politicians and businesses are big bike supporters. So far, only Congressman Capuano has publically opposed road designs that divert unneeded road capacity into bike or pedestrian space.”
I agree with this blog post. However, it speaks in the language of bicycling advocacy politics. As interesting as it may be to read about, most cyclists would never equate the health care industry with bicycle lanes or contemplate the existence of a local elite’s opposition to active transportation.
What’s more, most cyclists have probably never even heard of “active transportation.” No one other than those involved in the politics of bicycling as transportation knows about it. And, there’s the rub. The only people on the cyclists’ side, with any public platform, are those involved with the political aspects of bicycling infrastructure.
They have their own lingo. They know the back stories about everyone’s politics. Still, do they know the cyclists, the people who get onto their bikes every day — not for active transportation — but to go somewhere, to do something, or to enjoy the scenery? Actual cycling is a far cry from the political realm where elites, politicians and cycling activists do battle in their own world of who matters and what’s important.
Everyday cyclists can rant, vent, and commiserate, but until they have access to the mainstream media, their voices will go unheard.
One of the Boston Herald’s recent anti-bicycling articles begins as follows:
“There’s a war of wheels being waged on Boston’s streets — and ticketing data indicate the city has taken sides with the pedal-pushing two-wheelers, to the chagrin of carbon-belching car drivers and city councilors who say it just isn’t fair.”
The authors refer to a “war of wheels being waged on Boston’s streets.” They accurately observe discord, while wrongly attributing it to something occurring in the streets. The strife between drivers and cyclists is a war of words. And cyclists are getting slaughtered in silence.
Cyclists have no armor like the automotive marvels of modern times, thus they must wear an impenetrable cloak of verbiage to shield themselves from unmitigated animosity. In order to avoid being drowned out, and to gain some ground, cyclists must out think anti-bicyclists, out speak them, out write them and rise above the crass articulations of the lowest common denominator.
Cyclists need a media insider, someone with clout, to be their champion. The question is, how to find such a person — and more importantly — how to encourage this person to stick his/her neck out to oppose the pro-driver mindset so prevalent in the media.
If an insider can’t be found, then cyclists must infiltrate the mainstream media. No other way exists to reach the masses. Americans have been conditioned to let the media dictate what their opinions should be. This phenomenon could be used to dissuade the public from the negative stereotypes with which it has been bombarded.
Cyclists must invoke the power of words to combat images of cyclists as Lance wannabes, yuppies, hipsters or scofflaws. Invisible cyclists must be displayed, the ones who are merely the boy or girl next door, the law abiding riders of bicycles who ride quietly and attract no attention to themselves.
There’s no time to waste. Cyclists can’t hesitate while their lives are endangered by incendiary words. As the Davids of the road, faced with vengeful Goliaths, cyclists must remember that the pen is mightier than the sword — and learn how to wield one.