Eric Berg is an NMA director and life member since the Citizens Coalition for Rational Traffic Law days. Eric is an avid sport bicyclist as well as staunch defender of motorists’ rights. He is well positioned to provide observations from both vantage points.
This thinkpiece first appeared in January 2019 as NMA E-Newsletter #524.
One of the challenges for NMA advocacy is distinguishing allies from foes. We tend to paint others with a broad brush.
Bicyclists generally fall into two camps: Those who ride for sport and those who are leisure/commuter cyclists. The former often belong to USA Cycling, the premier organization in the United States for serious cyclists. The only social issues it addresses have to do with bullying, student-athlete protection, and sexual misconduct. The organization is silent when it comes to urban bicycle route planning and street usage. These cyclists pedal drop-handlebar speed machines. They are the fast riders you see on country roads. One barometer I use to assess the political climate of a group is the bumper stickers seen on cars at an event. A look around the parking lot at 100 mile (century) rides and criterium races usually shows only bumper stickers admonishing drivers to share the road and yield three feet of space when passing.
That’s a reasonable expectation, and a far cry from the Vision Zero manifesto of achieving zero road fatalities by restricting─if not virtually eliminating─vehicular traffic. This movement is championed among bicyclists by “sustainable transportation advocates” pushing for changes that penalize drivers. They form into political action nonprofits that favor names such as “Walk Bike Xxxx” (insert your city name). Some of the individuals happen to ride bicycles. When they sponsor organized rides, the urban routes are selected so they are as dangerous as possible in order to emphasize a point. They ride comfort and hybrid bikes and festoon their bikes with political stickers. The NMA highlighted one such faction, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, in E-Newsletter #516, Problem Solved: Ban Cars.
Another is the Washington Area Bicyclist Association which recently called for, “. . . congestion-tolling and other steps to limit the number of vehicles that enter the city, raising residential parking fees, banning right turns on red and requiring residents to take a driver’s test again when renewing licenses.”
The spectrum of bicyclists is nearly as broad as the spectrum between Ferrari (or Porsche) drivers and Subaru or Smart Car drivers. It’s important for NMA to recognize the difference between sport cyclists and urban commuting cyclists so that we don’t alienate potential allies and polarize them into becoming foes.
Editor’s Note: Eric added an interesting postscript that further illustrates that most issues (and most supporters or opponents of various issues) are not nearly as black and white as we sometimes make them out to be. Writes Eric, ”There are a lot of issues that I favor that might sound like they don’t align with NMA thought, but I don’t see a conflict. For example, I’m a huge fan of rails-to-trails conversions. Rail-trails get bike traffic off of motorways without the use of “road diets,” which is a win-win for everybody.”