Bicycles, a proxy for the culture wars

Jonathan McLeod

Jonathan McLeod is a writer living in Ottawa, Ontario. (That means Canada.) He spends too much time following local politics and writing about zoning issues. Follow him on Twitter.

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102 Responses

  1. jeff says:

    I’m in Seattle, the bicycle brigade (led by our dork of a mayor riding his bike to work) does more than just get a harmless bike lane painted here or there, sticking a flower in the gun barrels of the car folks, there’s also plenty of active, aggressive sabotage of car commuting, usually around restrictive policies around parking development, including # of parking spots to include in new construction, etc.

    I went to look at some new townhouses last week, and out of seven only one had a garage, and everyone viewing the houses was like “huh?”, and the realtor’s answer was that the planning review boards set fire to most new development plans that include a garage – ostensibly to add more living space to the units (how kind of them!) but in really they want car-less people moving into them.

    Another couple I met at an open house was saying they were looking for new digs b/c a 64 unit apartment building was being built next to them with only 16 parking spaces, which the delusional bicycle mafia thinks will result in only carless people living there, but in reality will simply mean 48+ more cars looking for street parking.

    There’s even a plan being tossed about to build another bridge over the Ship Canal, only for bikes, pedestrians, and transit.

    So, who’s imposing preferences on whom.Report

    • Aaron in reply to jeff says:

      You’ve already demonstrated in your comment the answer to your own conundrum. If you don’t want to live in a community where people walk or bicycle, then….. don’t live in one? If there’s really such low demand for such communities, then the prices for those town homes will be really low because no one wants to live there. Based on what the real estate prices actually are for more walking/bicycling-oriented neighborhoods where the car isn’t the only way to get around, I don’t think the problem is lack of demand. Quite the opposite. There’s plenty of communities where you are effectively forced to drive everywhere. If that’s your preference, go live in one, not Seattle.Report

      • TruffautFan in reply to Aaron says:

        No place can be truly heterogeneous. Liberal haven San Francisco has a core of about 15-20 percent Republican voters. I don’t know who these people are but they exist. And there is something odious to me about telling people to move from their homes because they are in the minority.Report

        • meelar2 in reply to TruffautFan says:

          What about those of us who don’t want to be forced to purchase a parking space we’ll never use when we buy an apartment?Report

          • TruffautFan in reply to meelar2 says:

            I have no problem with changing the building codes to get rid of mandatory parking spaces.

            Can you rent it out? People rent out their parking spaces for a good amount in San Francisco. Also my landlord gave me the option of renting a parking space or not. Admittedly I live in a building with fewer parking spaces than apartments.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to meelar2 says:

            Where are you required to purchase a parking spot? Is this a legal requirement or a requirement of the land lord/property owner?Report

            • Jonathan McLeod in reply to Kazzy says:

              I can’t speak for all locales, but in Ottawa apartment/condo buildings have to have a certain residence:parking spot ratio. In those cases, a lot of people basically have to pay for a parking spot to build or to buy. In the past, developers could pay a sizable fee to the city to reduce the number of spots (a cost that will naturally be passed on to the condo owners), but even that program is suspended.

              I believe single family homes are also required to have a driveway. If you don’t drive and have a small lot, that’s a lot of your yard that is being taken away for an unused parking spot.Report

              • meelar2 in reply to Jonathan McLeod says:

                Most cities have minimum parking requirements–my hometown of DC just tried to remove theirs in transit zones only and was shot down by car-loving NIMBYs.Report

              • That would have been my assumption, thanks for confirming.Report

              • Alex in DC in reply to meelar2 says:

                As someone who works in DC working in the architectural field, I feel this need to jump in on this.
                What the Office of Planning had proposed (and was shot down by nimbys) was the removal of parking minimums for locations along ‘transit corridors.’ Unfortunately, and this was political, where those corridors would be was not defined.
                But the latest proposal by OP was not to impose parking minimums on developers. Originally they had planned this but it died quickly and in part because developers were learning that parking space demands in projects near metro are significantly lower. Since the cost of building parking is significant (typically underground and 3-4x the price of surface parking) and does not give the same return as living space, it’s in the interest of developers to not build parking spaces that are NOT in demand. It increases their costs with a lower guaranteed return.
                In DC currently, 38.5% of the population does not own a car and that number is growing every year. The required minimums for residential AND retail within 2 blocks of metro are much higher than the demand.
                Why force developers to spend money for parking that isn’t in demand? …. Obviously because nimbys insist on it.Report

              • Thanks for fleshing this out for us, Alex.Report

            • Matty in reply to Kazzy says:

              I’m assuming this means a parking spot is included in the property price, which raises it somewhat. If every home is like that you are effectively ‘forced’ to buy a parking space if you buy an apartment.Report

          • OG Jaybird in reply to meelar2 says:

            If you’re talking about garages, let me assure you that you can do a lot more with a garage than merely keep a car in it.
            For example: you can keep a bike in it.Report

        • Aaron in reply to TruffautFan says:

          I was merely suggesting that he consider moving to the suburbs instead if he really wanted to live a more car-centered lifestyle. I grew up in the ex-burbs, and I didn’t like living a completely car-centered lifestyle. So, I moved somewhere where I could walk and bicycle instead. The problem is that there are not very many places like the latter, but there’s quite a lot like the former. And the latter also tend to be quite expensive compared to the former. Supply > Demand = Low Prices. Demand > Supply = High Prices ?Report

      • jeff in reply to Aaron says:

        I don’t want to drive everywhere. I live in a walkable Seattle neighborhood. I walk to my coffee shop twice a day, I walk a block to my supermarket, I walk to the bakery, on and on. I go days at at time without driving. But I also have a car, and use that when I, you know, actually have to *go somewhere*. Clearly none of these bike folks are golfers.

        One of the reasons I live in Seattle and used to live in Manhattan is that I find Seattle (at least many parts of it) *just dense enough* – it’s not a deprecated, 19th century, over-dense layout like Manhattan.Report

        • Alex in DC in reply to jeff says:

          Oh no … while I do own a car, I can assure you, I typically take my bike to the golf course. My bag is small – what is called a practice or Saturday bag a- but it holds a full regulation set of clubs – and it’s completely doable with little extra effort. Of course, the courses I go to are within 5-6 miles of my apartment max – but I’m not certain why I would want to drive any farther than that.Report

    • greginak in reply to jeff says:

      Using the phrase “delusional bicycle mafia” doesn’t make you sound like the adult in the converation. In general it is really common for cities to have restrictions about parking spots and numbers of spots at new construction. That has nothing to do with bikes. In reference to the building you noted you haven’t actually presented how this is harming anybody or how mean ol cyclists are doing this. If people want to live there they will if not they won’t. Sounds like freedom and a market.Report

    • Barry_D in reply to jeff says:

      “I went to look at some new townhouses last week, and out of seven only
      one had a garage, and everyone viewing the houses was like “huh?”, and
      the realtor’s answer was that the planning review boards set fire to
      most new development plans that include a garage – ostensibly to add
      more living space to the units (how kind of them!) but in really they
      want car-less people moving into them.”

      That would be an incredible amount of power.Report

      • dragonfrog in reply to Barry_D says:

        We’re a cabal, don’t you know? We’re in it with the Masons, the Bavarian Illuminati, and the Municipal Waterworks Fluoridation Triad.Report

  2. TruffautFan says:

    My comment is in moderation because of multiple links.Report

  3. Michael Cain says:

    I live in the suburbs west of Denver. Interestingly, the places here where the bicycle v car frictions are greatest just now are the narrow paved roads up in the foothills. Plenty of the residents up there are ticked off at the increasing number of cyclists riding those roads. Cyclists don’t keep up with traffic going either up or down (up for the obvious reason, down mostly as a matter of caution). In many places there isn’t enough room for the cars to pass within a lane, and on busy days, it can be difficult to find a stretch where the drivers can see that there’s no oncoming traffic for far enough to pass safely.Report

    • Freeman in reply to Michael Cain says:

      That’s exactly the issue here in the exburban midwest. There’s a lake nearby surrounded in 4-lane divided roads plus bicycle lanes both directions. As one might imagine, it’s a very popular place for cyclists. That’s not the problem. The problem is almost all the other roads in the area are shoulderless, narrow, hilly country roads which are ALSO very popular with a lot of the same cyclists (the Lance Armstrong wanna-be’s). My most direct route to work is 9 miles right down one of those narrow roads, which usually only takes 15 minutes. Put a couple of bikes out there in the wrong place and that time has nearly tripled.

      Not out to bash cyclists here, but the other thing I’ve noticed is that the vast majority of them in this area seem to have very little regard for traffic law (even less than the drivers, which is also horrible). I can’t count the times I’ve seen them blast right through a moderately busy 4-way stop with little regard for other traffic, expecting everyone else to avoid them. At the one traffic light along the route, most of them slow, look both ways, and then ride right through the red light, in the process often passing two or three cars that had been following them for miles and finally had the opportunity to safely go around them at the rare flat 1/2 mile leading to the intersection. And this final gripe is merely an annoyance, but the public paid to add those bicycle lanes around the lake a few years ago, and about 10% or so of the cyclists still insist on riding in the right-hand car lane.

      I believe in share-the-road — after all, it’s a public asset we all pay for — but I’d be happier about it if those we are sharing with showed the same consideration and respect for drivers that they expect of us. Way back when I was a kid I often rode narrow country roads to get where I was going. I always pulled off in the nearest driveway when car traffic couldn’t get around me safely. I’ve never once seen any of these adults do that. They have the same right to the road that I do, and by God, they’re going to assert it!Report

  4. George Turner says:

    Well, you’re right that it is a white young professional thing, and part of that might be that blue collar people have to punch of time clock and older people have to haul things around, such as children. But there’s more to it.

    Consequently, a number of urban areas are building more accommodations – like segregated bike lanes – for cyclists.

    Liberal whites will stealth in segregation any way they can, and they’ll be insistent that neither side ever crosses the clearly marked white and black lines. That’s why we never see black adults in bike lanes, unless it’s Obama on a photo op during a campaign, and even that looked jarringly out of place. What many white liberals don’t acknowledge is the level of white privilege it takes to go fast on a bicycle. If a black man goes flying by on a bicycle like he’s trying to win the Tour-de-France, a bunch of people would whip out their iPhones and report a black guy stealing a bike. So blacks have to pedal slowly, which kind of takes the enjoyment out of it, leaving the bike lanes as rigidly segregated as a South Carolina country club..

    • krogerfoot in reply to George Turner says:

      In all honesty, I’m kind of in awe of how creatively you work the “liberals are the real racists” riff sometimes.Report

      • TruffautFan in reply to krogerfoot says:

        Me too but it is not a very good awe. It is more of the back quietly away awe.Report

      • Barry_D in reply to krogerfoot says:

        The right-wing world is amazing. He probably has nightmares of biking hordes (with blue UN bike helmets) sweeping across the American Heartland.Report

        • truffautfan in reply to Barry_D says:

          The certainly have a more active fantasy life than mine.

          And I dream about winning a MacArthur Grant and the Palm D’Or in the same year! Or about being a theatre director who “divides his time” between New York and London.Report

      • Matty in reply to krogerfoot says:

        Honestly I assumed this was a joke then I went back and read the name and realised it might not be. Unless the whole George Turner persona is a joke, that’s certainly possible.Report

        • George Turner in reply to Matty says:

          I think I lost a comment during the DISQUS dump.

          To first perceive that there’s a clear link between bicycling and liberal racism, you have to imagine a conservative version of Seinfeld and ask “What would George Costanza really say about this, and how would Kramer reply?” Then it just writes itself.

          “Bicycle lanes, Jerry.”Report

          • greginak in reply to George Turner says:

            I think you are trolling a bit to hard Georgie….trolling works best when subtle which most of yours, well isn’t, but every once in a while you hit that correct blend.Report

          • George Turner in reply to George Turner says:

            Well, occasionally liberals have to be shaken around because their world view shrinks to bicycle lanes and shade-grown coffee at Starbucks. You can bet Detroit’s staggering problems aren’t going to be fixed by championing more courses for frisbee golf or prettier EBT cards for the masses.

            Bicyclists generally oppose increases in oil production, yet pedal power isn’t going to plow and harvest the fields, make all those disposable bottles of water, or haul train loads of groceries to the cities. They’re using a form of transportation for people who don’t actually have to be anywhere important, nor do anything taxing when they get there. They’re the roadway equivalent of people who use the miracle of the Internet to play World of Warcraft all day.Report

            • greginak in reply to George Turner says:

              You have indeed crushed the mighty call for bikes to replace tractors. But when the UN takes over through the secret bike lane plot that even you won’t be able to stop then we’ll see who is ironically laughing while wearing berets and speaking french. After all someone has to ride bikes to stay healthy enough to hand BP, heart and diabetes medicine to those folks who get winded from shouting along with Rushbo.Report

  5. Aaron says:

    I’d just add that perhaps in San Francisco most of the bicyclists are white and college educated professionals. I live in the East Bay and bicycle to BART to get to work. Around the Oakland area, you see bicyclists of all different backgrounds other than just white people.

    As a bicyclist, running red lights or in general not following the rules of the road is really bothersome. Especially since it creates an even more unsafe environment for bicyclists and motorists alike since no one knows what to expect from you as a bicyclist. I wonder if lack of education is a part of it because I’ve met people who swear that bicycling in the opposite direction from traffic is safer! (I think physics has something to say about that one.) Anyone who claims that running a red light is safer is, quite frankly, full of it – if you’re going so fast down a hill that you can’t brake safely for a red light, you’re going too fast.

    Also, you’re right. Critical Mass makes things worse by creating even more of an unnecessary “us vs. them” environment.Report

  6. LeeEsq says:

    I think that the bike war is merely the latest front in the war for or against the cities. Many North American conservatives, and Canadian conservatives seem to be in line with their United States siblings on this, came to decide that the car and the suburb define the good-life according to them. Anything that goes against the good life; cities, density, mixed-use zoning, transit, bikes, and walkability have to be opposed.

    Social conservatism has any anti-urban bent everywhere in the world practically. The good people are always in the country or in the small towns while the cities are filled with degenerates, hedonists, and weird bohemians. The French Second Republic became the Third Empire in part because Louise Bonaparte was able to use the anti-urban feelings of French peasants to crown himself Emperor.Report

    • truffautfan in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I think this is largely it. You can probably trace back to Jefferson’s hatred of cities in many ways. There has always been a pastoralist streak to certain aspects of American politics and this is inhabited by both the Left and the Right.

      People also have this strange tendency that makes live and let live very hard. We tend to take it very personally when we meet someone who has a different definition of the “good life”.Report

  7. Kazzy says:

    First off, can we all agree that NO ONE should be taking Don Cherry seriously on anything? We can? Cool. Great.

    Second, the conservative response is the height of silliness. There are no doubt legitimate criticisms that can be levied at bikers, bike culture, and bike advocacy movements. As a former NYC pedestrian, the number of times I was almost mowed down by a cyclist who ignored both the rules of the road and the rules of the sidewalk are too numerous to count; to be fair, this was split fairly evenly between bike messengers/delivery people and cyclist, two fairly distinct groups. As a former DC/MoCo driver, the hoards of cyclists who’d ride along the roads in Rock Creek Park, during rush hour, eschewing the bike lanes so they could ride 3 or 4 wide and snarling traffic along a windy, two lane road drew my disdain like few others. And as someone who floats primarily in liberal circles, the pushiness that bike advocates levy upon me make me want to throw blows; I live in a hilly suburb with a 3-month-old and have always felt relatively uneasy on bikes. In DC, I would sometimes bike to work and it is just not my preferred form of transport or exercise.

    My point is, if you want to criticize the bike movement or cyclists themselves or biking culture, there are plenty of good ways to do it without invoking God or “pinko”. All the conservatives are doing here in ceding the argument to their opponents by being absolutely silly.Report

    • Chris in reply to Kazzy says:

      Even as a sometimes cyclist, I hate cyclists with a passion. My primary mode of transportation, which is to say, how I get just about everywhere I go but work or the bar/club districts, is walking, and cyclists are the bane of the pedestrian’s existence. It wouldn’t be so bad if they’d just obey basic traffic laws, but something about riding a bike seems to alter brain chemistry and turn people into entitled assholes for the duration of their ride.
      That said, the fact that this is turning into a culture war issue, rather than a simple recognition that cyclists are objectively evil, makes no sense to me.Report

      • Troublesome Frog in reply to Chris says:

        I lived in Davis (“The most bike friendly city in the US!”) for a couple of years. The trails and bike lanes were great. The problem is cyclists who think that traffic laws are for everybody else. When school starts and UC Davis adds 5,000+ new students, many of whom have never ridden in traffic, it gets exciting.

        The average American driver seems to be too dumb to understand the basic four way stop algorithm. Add in a bunch of cyclists who think that a STOP sign means “cars stop while I go” instead of, “stop and wait your turn so you don’t get killed in the intersection” and you end up with total chaos.

        You’d think that physics alone would deter cyclists from, say, running red lights. Not so much.Report

  8. Kazzy says:


    “I think there are a lot of people (and not just conservatives) who think the cyclists are the people with privilege.”

    Is it possible that they actually ARE the people with privilege? And not necessarily your traditional forms of privilege, but the sort of lifestyle advantages that allow them to ride bikes?

    I’ll use myself as an example, since I used to sometimes bike to work from Bethesda to DC (not downtown; up near the SS border).
    – I couldn’t bike on days that were too cold, at least not when I started, because I couldn’t afford all the fancy cold weather gear. I tried just layering up, but it is hard to peddle a bike wearing multiple layers. I had to spend a few hundred dollars on gear (which I still own and use, mind you), but this isn’t an option for everyone.
    – I couldn’t bike on days that I had to carry anything. Even just lugging my normal work stuff plus a change of clothes was difficult. Anyone who typically needs to carry a decent amount of stuff probably can’t bike regularly.
    – Biking took me at least 45 minutes. Driving was rarely longer than 20. I needed to take extra time. I recognize for some people the difference will be moot or biking might actually be faster, but if it does take longer and additional time in the morning is not a luxury that you have, biking probably won’t be an option.
    – Securing a bike ain’t easy. There are bike lock manufacturers that offer guarantees that are not valid in NYC because of the high rates of theft. And while the guarantees might be available in other cities, I’m sure certain people live and/or work in neighborhoods they can’t safely secure a bike. This means if they can’t keep it inside their house or place of work, their options for riding are greatly diminished.
    – Kids. KIDS! I know some bikes have accessories that allow you to tote younger kids, but these aren’t free. Plus they don’t work with older kids and rarely with multiples. They will also slow your ride. And if you have to make multiple stops that are not on the same route, we are back to the time issue.

    So, going down the list, we see that biking is something that takes time, money, living/working in good neighborhoods, and which typically isn’t available to people with kids. Which doesn’t change anything in the calculus of those who do ride; if you are afforded those luxuries (the kid issue may or may not be a luxury, depending on where people stand), go for it. But if you’re not, we should be mindful not to chastise people for opting not to ride or for viewing those who can as being privileged.Report

    • Jonathan McLeod in reply to Kazzy says:

      Kazzy, I’m not sure I can agree that biking requires money but owning and driving a car doesn’t.

      Further, whereas there are all sorts of privilege that may be held by individual cyclists, I don’t think you’ve demonstrated that they have, historically, been in a position of privilege in terms of city planning and development.

      That’s the shift that conservatives/drivers are fighting. A lot of cities are becoming more and more cycling and pedestrian friendly. That eats into the established privilege of the driver.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Jonathan McLeod says:


        Owning a car is likely far more expensive than owning a bike. But some people need a car for other purposes and a bike represents an additional cost. In that case, a bike is a luxury they may not be able to afford.

        Regarding privilege, I didn’t mean to imply that bikers/cyclists were privileged on account of being bikers and cyclist. I meant that the people who tend to become bikers and cyclists tend to be privileged in other ways that allow them to pursue such avenues.

        Compare it to organic food (another weird culture battle). Eating organic doesn’t make what privileged, but it tends to be the domain of the privileged because of the cost and availability of it.Report

        • Chris in reply to Kazzy says:

          In the poorer neighborhoods in Austin, there are a lot of cyclists, probably more per capita than in the wealthier neighborhoods. One reason for this is that bikes at thrift stores and pawn shops can be really cheap (cheap enough that you can ride it until it’s unrideable, and then just buy another one for less than it would cost to get it professionally repaired). Another is that many of the people in those neighborhoods can’t afford cars, or gas for the cars that they have.

          Two years ago, I moved from a poor/working class neighborhood to a middle-middle class neighborhood, and one of the big differences is that there are fewer cyclists, but the bicycles are much nicer and have fancy add-ons like the mesh-covered trailer with a dog or a kid in it. One thing does remain the same, though: cyclists are assholes in any neighborhood.

          Common Chris saying, as he’s just been buzzed or actually struck by a cyclist zooming along on the sidewalk: “Dude, there’s a bike lane 3 feet away from you! This is a sidewalk, not a sideride!” Yes, I’m that cheesy when I’m angry.Report

          • truffautfan in reply to Chris says:

            How much is gentrification an issue in Austin?

            I am wondering how much these cyclists are new residents to the neighborhood vs. old timers?

            I’ve never been to Austin. I know it has the reputation of being the “cool” city in Texas though. But cycling is certainly representative of gentrification in San Francisco v. New York.

            Hopefully George and Art will not use this as a springboard for “liberals are the real racists”Report

            • Chris in reply to truffautfan says:

              It is a huge issue here. It’s basically altering the entire East side of Austin north of the river, and altering it rapidly.Report

              • truffautfan in reply to Chris says:

                Can you tell whether the cyclists are gentrifiers or old-timers to the neighborhood?

                I’m honestly amazed at how much gentrification is going on. I’ve been hearing people wax polemic about it as a policy problem for at least eleven years and some neighborhoods continue to gentrify and gentrify. Williamsburg in Brooklyn has been developing for at least ten years and seems to have much more to do. You would think that there are only X number of people that can afford condos in these areas. Of course some or many of these people could be those who opt for the cities instead of suburbs when it comes to buying their first homes.*

                *New York might always be a weird and special case. When I was back in June and early July, I overheard a guy talking about how he could buy a really nice row house in Philly for the price of a one-bedroom in Brooklyn. The guy and his partner seemingly just had their first child.Report

              • Chris in reply to truffautfan says:

                Yes, you can tell them apart pretty easily. For one, the new folks’ bikes are much nicer, and they have a habit of wearing cycling gear, whereas the old-timers just wear whatever the hell they were wearing before they hopped on their bike. If you see any cycling accessory other than perhaps a basket for carrying your groceries, then it’s one of the new folks.Report

            • Chris in reply to truffautfan says:

              Also, my suspicion is that the people who see cycling as a symptom of gentrification haven’t spent much time in poor neighborhoods.Report

          • Kim in reply to Chris says:

            Our bicyclists use trails. Including the aptly named jail trail.
            — and, dude, you’ve actually been hit by a bike?
            I thought I was gonna die, stepping off a bus into a bike lane (nearly found myself on the bike)Report

            • NewDealer in reply to Kim says:

              No. From what I’ve read, someone my age would be injured but live. The elderly are most likely to die from getting hit by bikes.Report

        • Sky in reply to Kazzy says:

          Here in New York, cycling is simultaneously the province of the well-off (as you have well described) and the very poor. Cycling requires no driver’s license, making it immeasurably appealing to undocumented immigrants. I t severely limits your contact with law enforcement, as well. I frequently advised my criminal and immigration clients to get a damn bike and ride it whenever practicable, because eventually those unlicensed operation tickets add up, and more than one DWI is just about crippling.Report

          • NewDealer in reply to Sky says:

            The issue in New York being that interborough cycling might still be a bit of a challenge. Even in San Francisco, cross Bay cycling can only be done at certain times. I don’t think BART allows bikes on during rush hour. Or they limit it to certain cars.

            I imagine commuting via cycling is easy within a place without boroughs like New York and relatviely small cities like SF, Portland, and Seattle.Report

        • dragonfrog in reply to Kazzy says:

          I was thinking about that last night, and thought of this framing:

          You can buy a safe, reliable bike for the cost of a couple tanks of gas. If you can replace even a smallish fraction of your regular drives with bike rides, it’s not going to take long before you’ve bought a couple fewer tanks of gas than you otherwise would, and the investment has paid off.

          If you truly are living by the skin of your teeth, an investment of a hundred dollars or more that will take months to pay out might actually be an expense you don’t take on. But barring cash flow constraints on making the investment, I think it’s still a sound one for more people than your statement lets on.Report

          • NewDealer in reply to dragonfrog says:

            This is true. This is also the reason people pay more under leases for things like smart phones and tires and other services.

            A lot of people simply don’t have the money to lay out 600 dollars outright even really good savers.Report

    • TruffautFan in reply to Kazzy says:


      The West Coast really doesn’t get as cold as the East Coast.

      Privilege is a problematic concept/word because it very subjective and malleable. There is also an unfortunate tendency for it to be used on Internet as a way of shutting down debate and not listening to the opposition.

      I think in this case Jonathan is using privilege to mean that the anti-bike crowd is merely representing the already established order of a car/suburban based commuter society.

      On the other hand, most bike commuters seem to ride very fancy bikes, work in cool/desirable jobs, and live in expensive cities so they have that privilege. But overall I think Jonathon is right, there are expensive bikes but the upkeep is much more affordable than upkeep on a car.

      Jonathan and LeeEsq are right that this is a culture war. Suburbs no longer represent the good life to many white, professionals who are or will be the upper-middle class. Many of them are deciding to stay in cities and I have seen articles that state suburbs are becoming poorer. More and more people are choosing to live in cities and buy those fancy bike extras that allow you to transport kids and groceries.

      Previous generations seem to be viewing this as a threat because there are still plenty of people who say the suburbs as “the good life” as LeeEsq says above. They are reacting with strong emotion against the rejection of suburbs by their children.Report

      • Kim in reply to TruffautFan says:

        They haven’t figured out exactly how much of a shafting they’re going to take when they go to sell their houses.Report

        • truffautfan in reply to Kim says:

          Or perhaps they have figured it out and this is causing their rage?

          I don’t think it is simple. The trend is still pretty early and it is easy to stay in a city when your kids are young but part of me suspects that when the kids hit school age, parents will move to the burbs. I knew people who held out until about the time that their first child hit kindergarten age and then fled to the suburbs.

          Personally speaking, I would say half the married with kids people I know live in cities and the other half live in the burbs. I know people who lived in the city for a year or so before fleeing back to the burbs.Report

      • Jonathan McLeod in reply to TruffautFan says:

        “I think in this case Jonathan is using privilege to mean that the anti-bike crowd is merely representing the already established order of a car/suburban based commuter society.”

        Yeah, that’s pretty much it. The “privilege” is in the existing/legacy plans/designs of cities. But certainly privilege, more generally, is more nuanced.Report

      • greginak in reply to TruffautFan says:

        Somewhat of a side note but i’m not really sure people know what a really fancy bike is. Most expensive bikes ( more than $1500 clams) are either road bike for going fast or mountain bikes. Those are not the kind of bikes people usually commute with. Typically commuting bikes are hybrids of some sort and often cost less than $1000.

        This version of culutre was seems more like a reaction against sharing and people being different.Report

        • dragonfrog in reply to greginak says:

          My perception of bike costs is distorted by the my volunteering at a community bike workshop – so, I’ll mentally price a repair that might cost $200 or $300 for parts and labour at a bike shop, at more like $30 or $40 – maybe $10 shop time, $5-10 for what you’d need from the used part bins, and $15 for new parts.

          When selling complete bikes we similarly price them with the goal that a safe and reliable bike should be within the means of as many people as possible.

          I realize not everyone has access to that, nor could we possibly supply more than a tiny fraction of the cyclists in the city.Report

          • greginak in reply to dragonfrog says:

            I think you can get a good new commuter bike for $500 at the low end that would do everything you need. Even less for a used bike. That is one or two or maybe three car payments for a new bike.

            Fixie are mostly stylish fad. Gears are a good thing and really darn useful. Having gears does not price price people out of buying a bike. People buy fixies because they are “in”. If they are paying 1500-2000 for a fixie they are a sucker. My good road bike and mountain bike were both less then 1500 and i’ll be able to beat them up for many years.

            Bike theft is a real problem. If you are planning to commute or use a bike for running errands you need to price in the cost of a serious lock.Report

        • NewDealer in reply to greginak says:

          I think there are people in SF with these very expensive bikes in the 1500-2000 dollar range. They tend to be imports and/or fixies.

          Another issue is that bike theft is more problematic because there is no registry. Chances are if your bike is stolen, the police can’t recover it. Even if they do recover a stolen bike, most end up getting donated because people can’t prove that they own their bikes.

          Vehicle registration makes it easier to return stolen cars (presuming it was not scrapped for metal and parts) but this would give up some of the freedom of cycling.

          IIRC, you need to register your bike in Japan. This was 10 years ago.Report

    • Barry_D in reply to Kazzy says:

      ” I had to spend a few hundred dollars on gear…”

      I don’t know about you, but that’s nothing compared to the bare minimum cost of operating a car for a year (which I place at $300/month).Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Barry_D says:


        I’m not talking about people who are in the market for some mode of transportation and are deciding between a bike and a car. I’m talking about people who already own a car and need a car, but who are being told to eschew their car in favor of a bike. Maybe they’re paying $300/month or more to maintain that car, but if getting rid of it isn’t an option, adding additional expenses in the form of a bike that would offset very little of the car expenses is just making it more expensive.

        A bike doesn’t work for everyone. Nor does a car. I don’t shame or blame people who opt to bike; the extent to which I criticize them is related to the actions of individuals once they are on those bikes. But sometimes it seems that the biking community wants to blame and shame car owners, or otherwise carry themselves with an air of superiority.

        I’m on board with supporting efforts to make areas that would benefit from being more bike friendly more bike friendly. I’m not on board with villifying car owners or with members of the biking community who don’t realize that getting into the biking community isn’t as easy as they assume.Report

    • dragonfrog in reply to Kazzy says:

      …couldn’t afford all the fancy cold weather gear

      Not to deny your experience, but it certainly doesn’t mirror mine. I live in Edmonton, Alberta, and have been cycling through the Winter for about four years now – including a stretch of about 10 days when it didn’t go above -35 C (Google tells me that’s -31 F). I find I need the real cold weather gear when I walk – if I dress for cycling to work, I’m not warmly enough dressed to go for a walk at lunch. The only specialized gear I have is a pair of really good mittens, and a toque thin enough to fit under my helmet. Other than that it’s just loose combat pants over my dress pants, a thick wool sweater and an old rain jacket.

      Tangentially related to the general notion of privilege, you may already have read this – I think it’s worth considering. The first comment, by the author of the article, add a good additional point of motorist privilege.

      • Kazzy in reply to dragonfrog says:


        That was just my experience. I was on the road early, was still half asleep, and trying to move at a brisk pace, which just made everything colder. And it was only a 6 mile ride, meaning just as I was starting to warm up, I was there.

        And I should clarify my point on privilege.

        I won’t deny that drivers are privileged over cyclists. The facts bear that out.

        What I meant is that cycling tends to be the habitat of the privileged, for a variety of reasons, some of it correlative and some of it causative.

        When I lived on the UWS and worked in Chelsea (too rather privileged places), it was easy for me to ride to work. If I lived in Queens or the South Bronx, it would have been harder for me to do that, for numerous reasons.Report

        • dragonfrog in reply to Kazzy says:

          That is the dilemma, isn’t it – if you’re comfortable at the start of the ride, you’re too hot at the end; if you’re comfortable at the end, you’re too cold at the start. A layer you can remove or open as you warm up helps, but isn’t perfect.

          I quite like this comic on your point –

          • Chris in reply to dragonfrog says:

            In Austin, there are only two possible states while bike riding: sweating profusely and passed out from heat exhaustion. “Comfortable” is impossible.

            When I first came to grad school, I shared a tiny office (so tiny that we couldn’t both get up from our desks, which were on opposite walls, at the same time) with a guy who rode his bike to campus every day from about 5 miles away. The smell could be overwhelming in the summer.Report

          • Kim in reply to dragonfrog says:

            I tend to go for comfortable at the end when I’m exercising.
            Then again, I can always run if I am too cold.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to dragonfrog says:

            I run now and always opt for uncomfortable at the start, since running tends to lead to a quicker warmup. And now that I’m in my 30th summer, I’m realizing how much more poorly I’m cut out for the heat. I can run for hours in 30-degree temps but melt when it is in the 80s. Which is odd, because I don’t mind being in the heat… it just takes a much greater toll on my body than it ever did before.Report

      • greginak in reply to dragonfrog says:

        Same thing here in Anchorage. We have a fair number of people who bike throughout the year, many of them commute. They don’t all have fancy gear except for heavy mittens. In any case bike gear is a hell of lot less than snow machine gear, which is considered a “real american” kind of activity.Report

      • Kim in reply to dragonfrog says:

        Just how far were you going in that weather? (timewise as well as distance?)Report

        • dragonfrog in reply to Kim says:

          Not very far. It’s only about 5 or 6 km each way, about half an hour at winter-beater speeds.

          In warmer weather, but on equally icy roads, I might do trips twice that distance – but at most a couple times a week.Report

          • Kim in reply to dragonfrog says:

            At -30 degree windchill, you were seriously in danger of frostbite.
            Please, be careful!Report

            • dragonfrog in reply to Kim says:

              -30 was the temperature. Windchill might have been around -50, maybe -60 riding into a headwind.

              Funny thing, I sat in a meeting that week with about half colleagues with whom I worked closely enough that they knew I cycled all year, and half folks who didn’t know that. About half the folks in the room complained bitterly about the cold, and how the heaters in their cars just didn’t cut it.Report

            • dragonfrog in reply to Kim says:

              The frostbite times are based on bare skin. Riding in to work when it was -40 (C or F doesn’t matter – that’s where the scales cross), there was no way I was going to leave my face uncovered, no worry there!

              For real – at that kind of temperature and wind, if there’s an inch of exposed ear between the top of your scarf and the bottom of your hat, it will get frostbitten right quick.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to dragonfrog says:

            What’s a km?

            Slightly seriously, I have a friend and colleague who is American but went to middle and high school in Egypt due to her dad’s work. As a result, she often describes distances in the metric system. And while I recognize the objective superiority of it, the fact is, I still don’t think in such terms. So she’ll say things like, “Have you ever been to Burritoville? It’s just a half kilometer past Tacotown?” or “The grocery store is about 50 meters down the road.” And everyone just ends up baffled.Report

            • kim in reply to Kazzy says:

              The American military describes kilometers as klicks.
              I kinda vaguely understand them, but I also don’t generally have much of an understanding of the English system (which the english don’t use!) either.Report

              • George Turner in reply to kim says:

                “Klicks” never made much sense to me. Why didn’t they call kilometers “kims”? Seems like they’d have almost done that by accident.

                In another etymological quirk, “The ______ Daily Journal” is a very common name for newspapers throughout the country. “Journal” originally meant “every day” or “daily”, from the Anglo-French “jurnal” (daily) from Old French “jornel” (daily) from the Latin “diurnalis” (daily). “Diurnallis” gives us “diurnal” (daily) and comes from “dies” (day) and “urnas” denoting a measure of time.

                At some point we began thinking “journal” meant “newspaper”, not the publication frequency, much like we often refer to a newspaper as a “daily”. Then we stuck “daily” back in front to make it clear that it was a newspaper published every day.

                I point this out because The League is trying to rename itself, and I’m hoping they avoid the path that ends in “The ordinary common and quotidian per diem day’s diurnal circadian daily journal, updated every day.”Report

              • Kim in reply to George Turner says:

                Since when should we expect an organization that pays thousands of dollars for a paperweight to make sense?
                (discl: I do know a few people in contracting for the Navy. Have heard “reasonableish” reasons for oddball numbers).Report

              • George Turner in reply to George Turner says:

                My favorite incident was decades ago when a base purchased some replacement broom or mop handles, got billed hundreds of dollars each for them, and sued. The judge reportedly said something like “Well, the bill is accurate. You did get precision shafting.”Report

  9. Barry_D says:

    “Cycling, this new (very old, traditional) form of transportation poses no actual threat to conservatism…”

    The right is not conservative; the right is reactionary radical revolutionaries, with a strong nihilistic streak.Report

  10. Tod Kelly says:

    This is fascinating.

    Our local/national conservative talk radio guy, Lars Larson, has been going on about bikes and cyclists for years. It seems very important for him that his listeners think that people who drive cars and people who ride bikes are enemies, and that each thinks the other must be destroyed. It’s a really odd thing to hear in Portland, where most people ride bikes *and* drive cars.

    I’ve always thought he had some kind of weird hangup about bicycles, like maybe an old girlfriend dumped him for a bike enthusiast or he never learned how to ride one and was embarrassed about it or something like that. It’s interesting to see it’s an actual conservative thing.Report

    • truffautfan in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      What is it with conservatives having redundant names? Lars Larson? Erik Erikson? Does it sound more Viking?Report

    • truffautfan in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      More seriously, this is a conservative thing.

      The U.N. plot thing was one of the lesser but still noted examples of crazy from the 2010 elections. He went down like O’Donnell and Angle.Report

  11. Glyph says:

    Jonathan, between the featured image for this, and the “Great White North” one, you are killing in the “best picture” category.Report

  12. Shazbot11 says:

    But the defense of a car-centric road system is merely status quo bias. It’s the way it’s always been (okay, maybe not always, but surely long enough!) so it’s the way it must remain. No sensible person would design a transit system in such a fashion in 2013, but since it’s the one we’re stuck with, it must and forever be the one we’re stuck with.

    Almost by definition, conservativism is a mere “status quo bias.” So, it shouldn’t be surprising that they favor the non-bike status quo.

    To appeal to conservatives, we’ll need to start making bikes associated with macho things and holding a manual labor job and being sexually powerful. My plan:

    1. Make a bunch of giant bikes that are shaped like penises and give them animal, sports-team-like names, like the Bruin or the Diamond Back. Sell these bikes the same way pickups are sold, maybe even under car brand names like Chevy.

    2. Have popular everyman TV characters ride those bikes on TV shows to and from work. Show those men working on their bikes and have characters who are from the big city who can’t even fix a bike.

    3. Have television characters imply that driving an expensive pickup truck is feminine and/or gay, and/or popular in NY and San Francisco. Go back and edit pickup trucks in to episodes of Will and Grace.

    4. Make a bike riding sport that is violent and combative. (My friends and I used to get broom sticks or sawed-off hockey sticks and put small pillows on the end of them and ride at each other on bicycles as if we were jousting. It was violent to the point of madness, though misses were very common. Maybe we could make that a high school sport.)

    5. Old people could get pulled around by subsidized (old people love subsidies for old people) bike-drawn rickshaws. We’ll tell them this is what they used to do when they were younger, and they’ll believe it, because they make so much up about the past. It will become old-timey and not at all hippy.Report

  13. aaron david says:

    Hey, my comment has been deleted? Is there issues with Disqus?Report

    • Glyph in reply to aaron david says:

      DISQUS got DLTD, this is the old commenting system, but something seems screwy. I see a dhex comment in GoG, but it’s not showing on the post (clicking it doesn’t take me to it and a page search on the post doesn’t find it, even after page refreshing).Report

  14. Peyton says:

    Google “bicycle images beijing”

    I think you might find one of the reasons for
    all the animosity from the right.Report

    • greginak in reply to Peyton says:

      Google air quality in bejing and you might find reasons for the EPA and reasons for cutting emissions. But i’m willing to reconsider my goal of turning the US into China one bike lane at a time.Report