The anti-bike backlash is a topic of concern for all cyclists. Casual cyclists remain in a state of ignorant bliss until an encounter with an anti-bicyclist awakens them from their slumber. Diehard riders, having spent hours on the road, sport battle scars from their run-ins with the anti-bicycle crowd, and often cry out in protest about the discrimination against them on American roads.
With this in mind, I was recently reading several articles whose theme was based upon an analogy between the anti-bike backlash and the rhetorical arguments of the Tea Party. As I read through the articles, I began to wonder whether the anti-bicyclists sounded like the Tea Partiers or if, in fact, their arguments represented something else.
Certainly, the two movements share common ideas: a sense of having their rights trampled upon; seeing the government as spending money recklessly, and on things they don’t benefit from; and believing that changes occurring in our country (whether involving big government and taxation or bicycle and pedestrian accommodations) are anti-American.
One New York Times blog post caught my attention, not only for its content, but for the comments which followed. The author, Adam Sternbergh, referred to John Cassidy’s blog post in The New Yorker, “Battle of the Bike Lanes,” as a template for creating an anti-bike argument. These arguments center around the much-contested bike lanes in New York.
He lists the arguments set forth by Cassidy, noting the number of bloggers who responded to Cassidy’s post — which reads much like a rant, given his penchant for driving a gas-guzzling vehicle and biased observations about how bike lanes inconvenience drivers. Notably absent is an acknowledgement of how bike lanes benefit those who would prefer not to deal with the hassle of driving in New York City traffic.
After listing and responding to Cassidy’s arguments, Sternbergh equates them to the rhetorical arguments of the Tea Party:
Although I see similarities between the two positions, I also see what amounts to a reversal of roles between the bicyclists and anti-bicyclists. The anti-bicyclists do share things in common with Tea Partiers. But these similarities stem from conservatism, not specific rhetoric. Conservative views tend to reject the ideas of inclusion and equality for all. This perspective rests on the premise of individual responsibility with a limited role for government. So, naturally, those who support such views would not care about the rights of a cycling minority any more than they would care about the rights of any other minority. In short, they represent the status quo.
Conservatives, whether drivers or Tea Partiers, don’t want government to determine what’s best for society as a whole. And, they surely don’t want government implementing programs they see as benefiting a small number of people — particularly when their tax dollars are involved in providing said benefits.
But the bottom line is that equating anti-bicyclists with Tea Partiers reverses the roles of the parties involved. The Tea Party is protesting the objectives and actions of those in power.
Cyclists, even with a lobby, have limited power. They do not represent big money. And, they do not control the government. As a small group, the best they can do is to petition the government and the public to consider how people travel and whether our cities and towns adequately provide for all means of travel.
A commenter expressed this view in part by mentioning “the denial of society for the entitlement of the propertied individual.” He then drew an analogy between this description and the anti-bicyclists (rabid drivers) who see themselves as entitled to certain conveniences, such as unlimited parking.
After reviewing this comment, it becomes more clear that cyclists fit better in the role of “Tea Partiers” or “protesters” because, like the Tea Party, they are protesting unfair treatment by those in the majority — who by their numbers possess a certain degree of power within society.
Another comment is quite strange. This commenter sees bicycle activists as “Recreational Protesters.” According to this person, bicycle advocates don’t understand what they’re fighting for, they’re just engaging in activism as a “social activity.”
Why this person, who describes him/herself by saying: “I am a lifetime, avid cyclist and I drive (and I have also been run over by a car while cycling as a matter of fact–currently on Disability and having surgeries for my injuries) espouses an opinion of bicycle advocacy as a “social activity” is hard to fathom.
No one fights for something as a social activity. Supporting a cause is based in a desire to effect change for the better. Yet the crux of this person’s argument is that bike lanes serve a valuable purpose, but activists are a problem. I wonder how, without the activists, this person believes bicycle lanes would be installed.
It’s important to keep in mind that this article was written before the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement began because if we’re going to compare the anti-bicyclists with the Tea Party, then maybe we should compare the bicycle activists to OWS. Cyclists are fighting against those in power, who control the building and maintenance of roads, and all aspects of transportation. And, the small number of people in power, cater to their own desires — those of a car-centric culture, which they benefit from personally and financially.
In the end, rather than equating anti-bicyclists with the Tea Party and bicyclists with OWS, we should recognize that certain arguments are tainted with conservatism and others with liberalism. And, with these two contradictory views will always come conflict and a struggle to find a compromise.