Common Misconceptions about Cyclists
Bicyclists and drivers – they’re like cats and dogs, pirates and ninjas, Democrats and Republicans, you get the point. Basically, they just don’t get along. You can see it on the internet: it seems like every time someone brings up the topic of cars and bicycles, a war horn goes off. Seriously, nothing brings out the ANGRY ALL CAPITALS and ad hominem attacks like transportation issues.
While both sides certainly have their points, those on the driver side of the debate tend to rely on a few tiresome arguments that just don’t hold up against the data (please don’t yell at us in the comments). Yes, there are some bicyclists out there who are completely inconsiderate and reckless, well, you know the word. But that doesn’t justify the existence of these generalizing and plain inaccurate myths about bicyclists – really, they need to be dropped if we want to make any real progress in the discussion.
Myth #1: Bicyclists are dangerous
The amount of injuries and deaths bicyclists cause absolutely pales in comparison to the destruction cars bring upon the general public. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), automobiles kill approximately 34,000 people a year, pedestrians and bicyclists included. That’s the equivalent of a full Boeing 747 crashing every single week, year after year.
Furthermore, out of everyone else on the road, drivers have the most power, and thus the most responsibility. They are the ones operating vehicles weighing multiple tons at high speeds. So rather than crack down on bicyclists, shouldn’t we be reducing speed limits in the name of safety?
Myth #2: Bicyclists don’t pay for the roads so they should get off
Wrong. Gas taxes do not cover the cost of roads and highways. In fact, they are generally financed through local, property, and sales taxes. To put it short, EVERYONE pays for roads and highways, including bicyclists.
Myth #3: Roads were made for cars, not bicyclists
For many thousands of years, roads have been used as the primary venue of mobilization for a wide variety of things: pedestrians, carts, horses, wagons, buses, bikes, you name it. Only in recent decades have we gradually auto-oriented our roads, in exclusion of others forms of transportation. Why? Because most state departments of transportation evaluate roads using one, virtually obsolete metric, called Level of Service (LOS).
LOS does not give us any valuable information about roads except one measurement: how many cars move through an intersection in a given period. If a road has bad LOS, we tend to rectify the situation by shrinking sidewalks, increasing lane widths, removing crosswalks, and doing other things that make the roads more convenient for cars and less so for everyone else. And this may not even be a solution. Making driving easier also encourages more driving, and thus, improving LOS achieves ever-diminishing returns. California is set to ditch the LOS system entirely.
Signs point to the fact that we may be going about it the wrong way. Instead of improving roads for cars only, why don’t we improve roads for all different types of transportation, including bicycles? Perhaps this would encourage people to drive less and consequently decrease traffic congestion.