Why Do Americans Hate Bikes So Much?
How low will some of us go to keep our neighborhoods bike-free? And won’t somebody please think of the children?
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In the late 19th century, the bicycle captivated America. The machine became so popular that it quickly transformed the landscape—cycling literally paved the way for today’s roadways, and it was a demand for smooth bicycle passage that resulted in the proliferation of macadamized roads. The advent of the car may have screwed all of that up for awhile, but today we’re seeing a similar transformation of the transportation landscape as cities install cycling infrastructure and bike share systems. And as companies like Uber and Lift incorporate bike share into their offerings, we’re seeing the bicycle play an unprecedented role in the economy, too.
Still, there are bound to be growing pains, and as full mainstream adoption of the bicycle-as-transport becomes a fait accompli, the cries of the anti-bike set only become more plaintive and desperate. Here in New York City, the death rattle of the Automotive Industrial Complex has been both prolonged and convulsive. We’ve had old white guys in fedoras pretend to be woke by vilifying bicycles as toys for young white guys. We’ve had people sabotage bike lanes with tacks. We’ve had people sabotage… other bike lanes, but with glass this time.
And let’s not forget the lawsuits. Oh, the lawsuits.
Still, just when you think the bike-haters have hit bottom, the floor gives way and reveals a whole new chasm of despair, as Doug Gordon, a Brooklyn-based bike advocate and the co-host of the podcast “The War on Cars,” recently experienced:
Curious insight into the mind of a NIMBY. A woman approached me today and said that neighbors on the block still don't like our public school's bike corral… so they are trying to render it useless by parking old bikes there. The 4 bikes you see here have been left for months.
So is this true? Is there in fact an organized effort in the neighborhood to exact revenge on a single bike rack? For kids?
Before going further, it’s worth noting that this is Park Slope, a liberal bastion and/or bubble usually mentioned in the same breath as places like Berkeley. When the neighborhood makes national news, it’s usually for its impassioned hummus boycotts. And when it comes to how the residents of Park Slope treat kids, people usually think of extreme helicopter parenting, not stealth missions to take away their bike parking.
Of course, a mission to torpedo a public school bike corral would be as comically misguided as it is morally bankrupt. After all, as Gordon points out, keeping the bike rack full is only going to demonstrate to the DOT that the neighborhood needs more of them. This is sort of like trying to get the corner deli to stop selling cigarettes by buying six cartons of Marlboros a day.
It would also be a bold departure from previous attempts to undermine bike infrastructure. Traditionally, arguments against facilities for bikes have had at least a flimsy veneer of disingenuous pseudo-civic-mindedness. For example, if the city removes a few parking spaces in order to install a bike lane, opponents usually cite all the decent workaday people whose lives will be upended in order to coddle those privileged cyclists. (According to the NIMBY worldview, honest and hardworking people drive, the shiftless gentrifying hordes ride bikes, and all those bicycle delivery people either don’t count or are simply not worth protecting.) But Operation Stampede the Corral would mark a turning point in which the NIMBYs finally dispense with all that pretense in favor of a straight-foward “Fuck the kids, we want parking!” approach to hating bikes that is almost refreshing in its honesty.
Of course, a mission to torpedo a public school bike corral would be as comically misguided as it is morally bankrupt.
Nevertheless, it’s important to note that the sidewalk rantings of a single person do not necessarily a conspiracy make. Indeed, when I reached out to Gordon, he suggested it’s possible the woman may be politicizing the actions of an neighbor with a lot of bikes who’s selfishly trying to free up room in his basement by storing them in the bike corral. (I suppose that’s less shitty, but only slightly.) Still, Gordon confirmed that a group did attend a community board meeting to voice their opposition to the bike corral on the basis that the four (4) racks of which it consists has now made it “impossible” for them to find parking. He also says the woman stops him on roughly a quarterly basis to insist the neighborhood is against the bike corral. During one such exchange she suggested the corral only benefitted people “who don't even live in the neighborhood,” to which he replied, “Ma'am, how far away do you think kindergarteners are scooting from?”
But regardless of whether this is indeed an organized attempt to shut a bunch of schoolkids out of a bike rack, or merely one self-appointed spokesperson claiming to represent an otherwise loosely affiliated smattering of disgruntled motorists, what’s perhaps most absurd about all of this is how long it took the city to install the bike corral in the first place. From application to installation, the process took one year, not including “a few months of work” during which “we had to take photos of bikes locked to sign posts and trees to demonstrate demand for a bike corral.”
Parents driving kids to school creates a traffic nightmare; the city should be doing everything it can to create safe bike routes to schools and to give kids places to leave their bikes and scooters once they get there, and they should be doing it proactively. This would make life easier for everyone, even the cranky people in the neighborhood whose primary concern is how difficult it is to find parking.
Instead of dumping bikes on the corral, they should be leaving it thank you notes.