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I have read and heard many people take creative license in their objections to bike infrastructure projects but never before had I heard someone portray bike lanes as “urban rape.”
Sadly, that oppressively tone-deaf language is how nonagenarian Ken Schwartz, the former mayor of San Luis Obispo, expressed his opposition to a proposed bikeway on the north side of his hometown. In that lovely Central California community, which has a large student population and a thriving bike culture, the city council was considering a plan to remove 58 parking spaces and add a network of protected and buffered bike lanes, all to give cyclists safer passage through part of town.
It’s hardly news for old or conservative residents to express opposition to change, particularly if it involves the removal of parking for people in spandex, but the shocking manner in which Schwartz, who served as the city’s mayor from 1969 to 1979, tried to make his point immediately gained him induction into the anti-bike crank hall of fame.
In an editorial — which appeared in the local paper the day before the city council was scheduled to consider the project, and was accompanied by a photo of Schwartz posing next to a white grand piano with watercolors in the background — the community’s elder spokesman articulated his disdain for the bikeway in language that refuses to be paraphrased in any way.
“Tonight, you (San Luis Obispo City Council) have before you a request for permission to assault that tranquility in order to create a gigantic urban rape. Yes, rape! No other word would be proper. The rape will not be performed by a male penis, but by thousands of inanimate bicycles guided by individuals who will have absolutely no understanding of that precious tranquility they will be destroying in their mindless focus of getting from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ with the least possible inconvenience to themselves.”
Bike Twitter shook its proverbial fist, cringing and laughing in turn, but the reaction in San Luis Obispo was harder to read. Some locals posted positive comments to his editorial, seemingly oblivious to how it came across at a moment when sexual harassment and assault are at the center of the national conversation.
Current San Luis Obispo mayor Heidi Harmon had the presence and good sense to condemn Schwartz’s bizarrely hateful editorial and the anti-bike sentiments in her community that it underscored. “The tone and tenor of this discussion has been out of control,” she wrote in a statement. “It is especially shocking and disappointing to see a former mayor, who should know better, saying things like that… This is unacceptable in light of hearing more and more how real women and girls are actually being violently raped in this country every day.”
Still, it is worth noting that San Luis Obispo’s city council voted to delay action on the proposal to remove parking and build protected lanes. This unfortunate decision may, of course, have had little or nothing to do with Schwartz’s concerns about urban rape, but to me it underscores the need to respond to such idiotic rhetoric. We live in a time in which people with power express their hatred of cyclists and opposition to bike infrastructure intended to save lives using language and logic that is irresponsible, indefensible, and utterly stupid. Perhaps some people feel that the cycling community and mainstream media shouldn’t give these kooks an amplified platform, but my feeling is that these bozos need to be exposed and refuted as the close-minded, dangerously hateful morons that they are.
With that in mind, I’m prepared to share a preliminary roster of 10 entries, listed in no particular order, for induction into the Anti-Bike-Crank Hall of Fame. I’m sure I am missing some worthy candidates; please consider the comments section to this story as your chance to share other hall of famers.
1. Dorothy Rabinowitz: Death by Bicycle
It just feels tonally right to start with this snobby and delusional rant on New York City’s Citi Bike, vomited onto the Internet just days after that bike-share program was launched in May 2013. In this amazing video interview, the longtime Wall Street Journal board member and former Pulitzer Prize winner famously imagined out loud that “the bike lobby is an all-powerful force,” as she explained how bike share had appeared in her neighborhood.
In that interview, Rabinowitz, 77 at the time, alternated between moaning over the dangers posed to pedestrians by naughty cyclists (“Every citizen knows that the most important danger in the city is not the Yellow Cabs, it’s the cyclists who veer in and out of the sidewalks”) and the visual insult of bike-share racks (“We now look at a city whose best neighborhoods are absolutely begrimed by these blazing blue Citibank bikes.”)
Although she was roundly savaged on social media and by bloggers, Rabinowitz doubled down on her position a few weeks later in an interview with New York Magazine. There, she called Citi Bike racks “instruments of aesthetic torture” and then prognosticated the epic failure of bike share in New York “I have a strong feeling that about a year from now many politicians are going to be spending a lot of time distancing themselves from the bike-share program,” she proclaimed. Now, five years later, Citi Bike users have taken an astounding 55 million rides and politicians in the outer boroughs are clamoring for the system to include their neighborhoods. The status of the all-powerful bike lobby is less clear.
2. The NIMBYs of Coronado: Paint stripe pollution
In September 2015, some older residents in the affluent SoCal community of Coronado — an idyll of seven-figure homes located across the bay from Downtown San Diego, a cycling Eden where an astounding 70 percent of area children walk or bike to school — staged a revolt against a plan to build 12 miles of additional bike lanes in the area.
Data from the state indicated that the community, which is flat and quiet and beachy, had seen 803 collisions between cars and bikes in an eight-year period, a surprisingly high number of incidents that had caused seven fatalities and 48 severe injuries. But at a now-legendary city council meeting, angry locals banded together to express their opposition to adding new bike lanes, claiming, in one bizarre assertion after another, that the safety infrastructure would be a visual eyesore.
A woman named Darby Monger used the power of analogy to express her objection to painting bike lanes on her local streets. “It’s very similar to personally taking all three of my daughters to a tattoo parlor and having them completely body tattooed,” she said, with no apparent irony.
Her neighbor, Gerry Lounsbury agreed. “You are covering Coronado with paint stripe pollution,” she said in a mournful tone.
Not one to be outdone, Carolyn Rogerson waved her hands theatrically at the podium as she explained how bike lanes “bring to mind a visual cacophony that if you look there long enough it will induce a dizzying type of vertigo.”
And Gerry MacCartee tried to explain the dizzying existential impact of bike lanes in emotional terms, begging her city council to imagine alternatives to “these black streets with these brilliant white lines everywhere because believe me, it takes away from your home, from your outlook on life.”
As strange as this aesthetic narrative was— and how it seemed likely to be a stand-in for the real issue, NIMBY concerns about hordes of regional visitors and tourists on beach cruisers who might “clog” their leafy streets every weekend — it actually worked. At the end of meeting, the Coronado city council voted to suspend all the proposed new bike lanes.
The only real positive to come out of this episode was a scathing monologue by James Corden on the Late Late Show that exposed the full glory of the farce and the “rich old white ladies” behind it. “It’s ridiculous,” Corden railed. “On the scale of problems, the problem of too many bike lanes ranks somewhere between ‘my new BMW’s air conditioning works a little too well’ and ‘the Starbucks near my house doesn’t take hundred dollar bills.’”
3. Amy Alkon: Muting you
This trainwreck took place almost entirely on Twitter last December. Alkon is a book author, pop psychologist, advice columnist, and high-triggered tweeter who unfortunately happens to live very close to a stretch of Venice Boulevard in the Los Angeles community of Mar Vista that was reconfigured last year in a road diet that added a protected bike lane to this busy thoroughfare. To say that Alkon opposes the road diet is like saying Donald Trump is curious about building a wall.
Any attempts to engage the writer with facts about how a protected bike lane on Venice Blvd would save lives and get more people riding through the community were met with hostility and claims that the point of the bike lane was to make drivers miserable. “Maybe cycling ideologues shouldn’t force their dangerous, grimy form of getting around Los Angeles on people who prefer modern motor vehicles. PS I’m 53 and I dress like a slutty Amish woman. I’m not riding a bike from Venice to Pasadena,” she tweeted.
Maybe cycling ideologues shouldn't force their dangerous, grimy form of getting around Los Angeles on people who prefer modern motor vehicles. PS I'm 53 and I dress like a slutty Amish woman. I'm not riding a bike from Venice to Pasadena. https://t.co/ufb3eepDsP
— Amy Alkon (@amyalkon) December 28, 2017
But while arguing with bike advocates and other sane people on Twitter, Alkon took her vitriol next level by repeatedly asserting that anyone who rides a bike in Los Angeles while pregnant (“assholes endangering their babies”) or with a child is stupid and irresponsible. “People should not unnecessarily expose children to risk. Giving kids independence is a good thing. Taking them out on a bike next to traffic [because] it suits your cycling fundamentalism is terrible parenting,” she wrote, adding “Muting you.”
One of the more curious twists in this saga was how Alkon, after calling cyclists asshole ideologues who somehow were insisting that elderly handicapped people should get to doctor’s appointments on a bike, would theatrically insult and mute each person she interacted with on Twitter. Over the course of a month or so, she muted hundreds of people who were trying to express how riding a bike can be fun and practical and safe (especially with protected infrastructure). I’ve never come across someone so simultaneously prone to screaming and not listening, but it seems an appropriate extension of how social media is working in 2018.
Amy Alkon can be reached on Twitter at @amyalkon.
4. Elana Rabinowitz: An ode to “rule-breaking cyclists”
This opinion piece, published by AMNewYork last October, is a perfect example of a certain kind of anti-bike screed — one that without a single fact argues this premise that bikes are the real menace on streets of bike American cities. “It seems that bicyclists are the most dangerous group on NYC roads,” writes Elana Rabinowitz — no relation to Dorothy “Bike Lobby” Rabinowitz that I’m aware of — who admits in the piece that she drives her car two miles every day from her home in Brooklyn to her office in Brooklyn.
In the cloistered world that Elana Rabinowitz inhabits, cyclists don’t get fatally sideswiped by inattentive bus drivers on streets lacking safe places to ride. Instead, she describes a universe where drivers observe the posted speed limit while cyclists “constantly weave in and out of traffic without concern for pedestrians or other drivers.”
Rabinowitz does not know, nor care, how many cyclists in New York have been killed by drunk or speeding or distracted drivers, nor does she seem aware of the hostility riders face from people who drive and the apathy they face from the police. No, the problem from Rabinowitz’s point of view, is naughty cyclists. “What irks me most is the sense of entitlement many bicyclists exhibit,” she says, breezing through popular tropes about cyclists running stop signs and cutting cars off.
This piece is so infuriating because it is so stupid. It is one thing to see such poorly constructed and substantiated thoughts in the comments of anti-bike articles or on Facebook, but yet another thing to see seemingly credible outlets publish fact-free stories that spread a bogus narrative that tries to blame cyclists for the danger on our streets. As Rabinowitz says about cyclists who give drivers the finger: “It’s not only offensive, but it’s also dangerous.”
Elana Rabinowitz can be reached on Twitter at @
5. John and Ken: “The tyranny of the bike cult”
The Los Angeles-based talk show hosts John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou are up for a lifetime achievement award. The duo, who take alt-right positions on numerous issues on their popular radio show, have spent years imagining themselves and their angry white listeners as the victims of the bike lobby and other tyrannical forces of a progressive society. They have played a significant role in the past year to amplify and crystalize populist opposition to road diets in Los Angeles, but the truth is that they’ve been beating the drum for many years. Here is a sampling of things the bike-hating pair has said.
John Kobylt: “Look at these bicyclists, as if they belong to a bizarre cult that worships two-wheel transportation, not a traditional God — not Jesus or Allah, or Jehovah, not the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — they’re like a pagan group, but they don’t even worship trees. But they worship two-wheel transportation. And they have their vestments that they wear, their skin-tight brightly colored clothing that you don’t see anywhere else just like in church… They’re better than you are, because they have found the perfect way to live. And they expect us to respect their religion, their point of view.”
Ken Chiampou: “People are not going backwards. Give this up. A bike is something that people do for a little exercise and enjoyment. They’re not going to do this to get the groceries or go to work. It’s not going to happen.”
John Kobylt: “Cars have superseded bikes, and they will forever. You can’t bike in Los Angeles. It’s absurd, it’s stupid, and car drivers don’t have to put up with this. You just have to stop feeling intimidated by these people. People who act religious, who act holier than thou and moralistic… We’re bigger, there’s more of us, and we have to live this way, so your little bike fetish is going to hit a wall eventually.”
Ken Chiampou: “They’re powerful people, and they’re coming up with master bike-lane plans all over Los Angeles County, in fact, all over California. The bike people have joined with the people who want you out of your car, and now they’re working together.”
John Kobylt: “They’re the super control freaks. You have to live the way they want you to live. I can’t stand the whole ideology… They’re considering that I’m second class because I drive a car. Or I have to commute to work. Or live in a suburban neighborhood. And they have to change my life. And they’re going to make my life more and more difficult until I finally surrender.”
I once interviewed Kobylt and he uttered the term “self-righteous” at least ten times in a 30-minute conversation. He simply will not allow that he is part of a cohort that benefits from a highly subsidized multibillion-dollar freeway system, or that cyclists who are battling for 1% of the pavement might deserve a safer place to get around. In my interview, when I asked Kobylt about hostile drivers, he deflected my inquiry with his trademark rhetoric. “Cyclists like to portray themselves as safety conscious, but they’re crazy,” he said, with one final flourish. “They’re so self-righteous.”
John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou can be reached on Twitter at @.
6. Steven Cuozzo: “The bike lane cancer”
Up for another lifetime achievement award is this veteran columnist for the New York Post, who has spent years expressing and re-expressing the same six ideas about cyclists. In his painfully iconic 2012 column titled “The bike lane cancer,” he asserts that well-substantiated data indicating millions of New Yorkers are riding is “baloney,” that bike lanes “uglify neighborhoods all over town,” and that “longer bike lanes are just what shop owners need to ruin their businesses for good.”
In Cuozzo’s mind, no one should ride a bicycle in New York. “I rarely use one on city streets for the obvious reason: It’s dangerous and impractical on the streets, with or without bike lanes.”
No one-hit wonder, in May 2017 Cuozzo also attempted a Dorothy Rabinowitz video tribute with a clip entitled, “If you ride a bike, you suck!”
I suppose that Cuozzo intended for it to seem tongue-in-cheek clever, but it is neither fun nor smart nor even lacerating. “If I were mayor, without warning I’d have all the bike lanes torn up in the middle of the night,” he brags. Later in the video he tells New York cyclists, “You have no idea how you are despised, hated, and loathed by everyone who is not on the same path as you.”
He has repeatedly written poorly sourced columns arguing that no one is really using the city’s crowded bike lanes. “You don’t need a degree in statistics to grasp what’s obvious to any New Yorker out for a stroll,” he wrote with typical cultural insensitivity in 2011. “The DOT’s bike lanes are usually devoid of bikes except for food-delivery personnel. The lanes are the superhighway for General Tso’s chicken, but lonesome highways for everyone else.”
He has claimed that legions of innocent people on the city’s Upper West Side have been injured “by careless, sociopathic cyclists.”
Not one to sense that his cancer analogy is in bad taste, Cuozzo wrote a recent column complaining about “metastasizing” bike lanes in New York, and then repeated the chestnut that city hall keeps installing more infrastructure because of its “fear of the fanatical biking lobby.”
I’m not sure if anyone in America has said the same stupid things about cyclists for as long as Stephen Cuozzo. He is a New York fixture but also a national treasure of uninventive and hateful journalism.
Steven Cuozzo can be reached on Twitter at @
7. Rob Ford: “Cyclists are a pain in the ass”
Reading this list, one might presume that most of the stupidest things being said or written about cyclists is from people in New York or California, but the lovely city of Toronto has made a significant contribution to the literature, too. And no one has been more hatefully eloquent than the late Rob Ford, the city’s former mayor, who became globally famous for smoking crack cocaine. Prior to his death from cancer in 2016, the Toronto mayor used his platform to express deep thoughts about an imaginary “war on cars” in his home city.
He expressed his feelings concisely in 2010 city council speech, a viral tutorial in victim blaming that travelled pretty widely on social media. “I can’t support bike lanes,” Ford said, with his chest puffed out. ”How many people are riding outside today? We don’t live in Florida. We don’t have 12 months a year to ride on the bikes. And what I compare bike lanes to is swimming with the sharks —sooner or later you’re going to get bitten. Every year we have dozens of people who are hit by cars or trucks. Well, no wonder. Roads are built for buses, cars, and trucks — not for people on bikes. And my heart bleeds for them when someone gets killed, but it’s their own fault at the end of the day.”
In a second video from 2009, that surfaced after he was elected, Ford articulated his feelings about multimodal transportation with great clarity. “I drive downtown every day… and there’s no secret, the cyclists are a pain in the ass to the motorists,” he proclaimed to the city council, going to detail how he didn’t believe that bikes should be restricted to pathways, not on the road with motor vehicles.
Sadly for the people of Toronto, Ford was not all talk. Between 2010, when he took office, and 2014, a span in which most North American cities experienced a boom in cycling infrastructure, the city of Toronto actually experienced a net 3km loss in bike lanes. In 2012, Ford spent nearly $300,000 to rip out the bike lane on Jarvis Street, saving drivers an estimated two minutes of commute time. When asked to justify that expense, Ford’s response was that the bike lane “should never have been built in the first place.”
8. Lawrence Solomon: “Bike commuters are the new one percent”
Another lifetime achievement award is on the way for a man who has railed against bike lanes for years. Canadian Lawrence Solomon, a writer and true ideological kook, has long advocated on behalf of the energy industry and argued that the concept of man-made climate change is a hoax. Writing with the manner and authority of a real expert, which he is not, Solomon has authored many stupid opinion pieces criticizing the logic of bike lanes, which are then widely circulated as important treatises on social media by other people who dislike cyclists and bike lanes.
Solomon went on a particularly fruitful tear last December, writing no fewer than four long stories that found slightly different ways to express his disturbing hate for anything involving bicycles. In an essay pretentiously entitled “Ban the Bike! How cities made a huge mistake in promoting cycling” Solomon states his case with a preponderance of dubious sounding facts. “In many cities,” he writes “bike lanes now consume more road space than they free up, they add to pollution as well as reducing it, they hurt neighbourhoods and business districts alike, and they have become a drain on the public purse.”
Solomon seems to believe that if he repeats a kooky hypothesis often enough — like the idea that bike lanes cause an increase of idling cars which leads to rising pollution levels — that it will become true.
In similar fashion, Solomon, ignoring the billions in subsidies that fund road construction for people who drive automobiles, claims that the minimal expense to build and maintain bike infrastructure is the problem. “If roads were tolled to recover the cost of asphalt and maintenance, no cyclist could bear the burden he foists on society,” he spouts. “The cyclist has been put on the dole, made a taker rather than a giver to society.”
In another, painfully ridiculous essay titled “Bicycles kill. How urban cycling policies made city streets more lethal,” Solomon asserts that cyclists — and not, say, a rise in smartphone use and distracted driving, or data substantiating increasing vehicle speeds on the road — have caused a spike in deaths for motorists. And he also blames cyclists for causing their own deaths in collisions with cars, ignoring reams of research to the contrary. “The great majority of cycling accidents are either caused by poor road conditions or negligence on the part of the cyclist — checking smartphones, cycling intoxicated, racing, using the handlebars for baggage, or having poor brakes or tires,” Solomon imagines. “When a bicycle collides, it’s likelier to be with another bicycle than a car. Even when a motor vehicle is involved in a crash, the fault is often the cyclist’s for having run a red light, swerved into the motorist’s path, or being intoxicated.”
In other posts, he calls bike commuters “the new one percent” and makes the harebrained assertion that “bike lanes make cycling safer in seven percent of car-bike situations but more dangerous in 89 percent.”
Even on this list, Solomon has some crazy ideas, anti-bike rhetoric that straddles the borders between the comical and the insulting. Then again, what would you expect from a man who is paid to argue the societal benefits of decreasing regulation on the petroleum industry and who believes that conventional wisdom about climate change is surrounded by “clouds of conspiracy”?
Lawrence Solomon can be reached on Twitter at @.
9. Marcia Kramer: “Radical bike lane lobbyists”
So many ugly and strange battles have been fought over bike lanes in New York City — especially the controversial project on Prospect Park West, but elsewhere, too — and no television journalist in Gotham has repeatedly fanned the flames of hate and misinformation as indiscriminately as Marcia Kramer of CBS2.
In one of her more bizarre stories on what she likes to call “bike bedlam,” Kramer, while reporting on a proposed extension of a bike lane on Manhattan’s First and Second Avenues (long since completed), expressed her trademark opinion that bike lanes are unsafe and unfair to the driving majority, and then voiced concerns about the threat of terrorism since the bike lane would pass the Israeli consulate. Because, you know, the terrorists will ride bikes.
Kramer did her most distinctively strident work with a prolific catalog of poorly fact-checked, pseudo-investigative news segments about Prospect Park, arguing that the bike lanes there, which were widely supported by area residents, were designed by “radical bike lane lobbyists” who “distorted bike lane data” and then “forced them down residents’ throats.” The segments don’t mention Kramer’s friendship with New York Senator Chuck Schumer and his wife Iris Weinshall, a former DOT commissioner who did not support bike lane projects. Schumer and Weisenhall shared an expensive home on the impacted roadway and were vocal opponents to the bike lane.
In the end, Kramer may best be remembered for a segment in which she proclaimed that bike lanes cause traffic — while standing on a wide city street completely devoid of traffic. That really sums up her legacy.
Marcia Kramer can be reached on Twitter at @.
10. Michael Robertson: “Cars are liberty machines”
A simple conversation about congestion pricing turned into a spectacular explosion of stupid rhetoric last December by San Diego-based Michael Robertson. Some Googling indicates that Robertson is a failed tech guy who started a music-sharing company called MP3.com and would eventually lose a bunch of lawsuits. And as 2017 came to a close, Robertson demonstrated once again just how skilled he is in starting and then losing public conflicts.
After seeming surprised that people on Twitter didn’t agree with his position that the government should stop subsidizing bike lanes and public transit and instead reduce taxes on cars, Robertson unleashed a few day’s worth of quotable lunacy about bikes and cars. And unlike Alkon, who blocked everyone who disagreed with her, Robertson just kept doubling down with everyone who engaged with him. Here are just a handful of his greatest hits, all tweeted within a week or so.
He had plenty to say about the practicality of bike commuting: “It’s wholly unrealistic to expect majority of more than 1% to ride bikes. It’s completely impractical and a waste of money in this social engineering.” And also: “Bikes are toys wholly impractical for SD’s vast, hilly region. Please stop with the phony estimates of bike commuters.”
If you don’t see that cars are liberty machines allowing people to habitate, socialize, work, and recreate where they like, i don’t think I have the skills in 280 chars to convince you otherwise.
— Michael Robertson (@mp3michael) December 24, 2017
Speaking of phony arguments, here’s how Robertson parried with people who asked tough questions about car culture: “Yes cars kill more than bikes. So we should go back to horses?” And then he offered an eternal gem, equating automobiles with the quintessentially American obsession with personal freedoms. “If you don’t see that cars are liberty machines allowing people to habitate, socialize, work, and recreate where they like, I don’t think I have the skills in 280 chars to convince you otherwise.”
Robertson, who repeatedly wanted to remind everyone that he used to race bikes back in the day, searched for new and inventive ways to highlight the absurdity of utility riding. “It seems like there’s a pack of cyclists on Twitter who dream of a world where everyone is on a bike,” he tweeted. “To join the pack you need to be oblivious to physics and human nature.”
And finally, a tweet with an ending that captures his entire output on the subject of cycling: “I raced bikes so I’ve done many miles in the saddle,” he wrote. “I enjoyed it, yet cycling is physically demanding & impractical for many trips due to weather, hills, distance, luggage, children, light, cold, heat, rain, snow, time, gear, fuel, etc. This really is a silly argument to have.”
Michael Robertson can be reached on Twitter at @.
Dishonorable mentions: Alan Ripp’s illogical take on the hazards of cyclists in New York, in which he admits the facts demonstrate that cars pose far greater risk to riders than the dangers bikes pose to everyone else but then goes on to dedicate thousands of words to his anecdotal observations about lawlessness in the cycling community. And Samuel G. Friedman’s widely read 2014 story in The New Yorker that exploited the very rare death of a pedestrian at the hands of cyclist to over-dramatize the dangers posed by cyclists and offer an influential if snooty platform for anecdotal, anti-bike tropes. Oh, and Stu Bykofsky, for his many boringly predictable anti-bike rants in Philadelphia, like this and this and this.