Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!
Hans writes: As always, I enjoyed your recent article (on bicycling as the last redoubt of road freedom; here).
There is one detail, however, which must be pointed out when comparing the bicycle to the automobile: The overwhelming majority of cyclists are simply exercising. These iron-crotched spandex creatures crowd the public roads, fling themselves with self-satisfied, suicidal insolence through traffic signals, clog country lanes with groups of 20 or more, and festoon the hoods of unwary motorists. Each is a self-righteous monk to the god of fitness on his $6,000 bicycle. He saves the planet, while you burn long-expired sea creatures. He extends his life span, while you shorten yours by sitting and snacking. He ignores the 2 ton metal boxes whizzing past his elbow; they are beneath his dignity.”Touch me, and I’ll sue you into poverty,” he glances smugly.
Yet it is he who does not belong.
The recreational cyclist who is using public roads for recreation and exercise, has no more right to be there than would a group of grandmothers to block a highway with chair calisthenics. The distinction is purpose: transportation versus recreation. Were I to establish a “hot asphalt” yoga studio and have students lay out their exercise mats on public streets, my claim to the roadways would be seen as absurd. My class would be removed in short order by the authorities. Yet the cyclist has an exemption. Is it because the cyclist has wheels? What about skateboarders? Are they given privileged status? Other wheeled conveyances such as motorcycles are required to be licensed, titled, tagged. Not the bicycle. It seems to occupy a special privileged place. Part of the reason the public is so annoyed by cyclists (aside from their effectiveness at blocking traffic flow) is that they at some level, understand this as special treatment and view it as unfair. Now for those poor brave souls who do cycle to work or to the store, hat’s off to them, and I personally always give them a respectful space on the roads, but these represent possibly one in a thousand.
My reply: This is an interesting argument and I used to agree with it myself. But a problem arose.
First, roads are public rights of way. Therefore, the public has the right to use them – especially in view of the fact that there isn’t a practical alternative in most cases. The government eliminated (for the most part) private roads, on which the owners could rightfully deny access/service for whatever reason. But we’re all effectively forced to use the public rights of way and forced to pay for them, too. Some more than others, granted – but there’s no getting around that pretty much everyone pays and so they have a legitimate claim to use.
Also, many people drive for pleasure – the obvious example being sight-seers and RV people. Most motorcycle riders also ride for recreational reasons primarily. If use of roads hinges on utilitarian considerations then we’d also have to ban them as well as “unnecessary” use of roads by cars and so on.
And how do you determine whether a cyclist is using the road for transportation or exercise? Maybe he is doing both at the same time – riding to work, for instance.
I do, however, take your point as regards skateboards. It seems they would be equally entitled to “share the road” . . . here’s to hoping they don’t!
I think, ultimately, the problem isn’t fundamentally with cyclists – or skateboarders – but with what the government and Safety Cult have done to driving and cars. That’s the point I was trying to get across in my article!