Recently, I’ve found myself getting into numerous debates online about the behavior of bicyclists on the streets of San Francisco. There seems to be a prevailing view, held by a wide variety of people – drivers, pedestrians and even cyclists – that the majority of people on bicycles act in a way that is totally inappropriate and are a general menace on the road. This view is espoused on message boards, at public meetings, and in our private conversations. “I have never once seen a cyclist stop for a pedestrian on 15th St” “60% of cyclists ride disrespectfully” “The majority of cyclists in the Mission don’t yield when they should” and on and on. This view always struck me as peculiar, considering that I am a cyclist and I try to be respectful on the road and most of my bike riding friends are really good people. It just didn’t seem to add up.
Then, the other day I was riding on the Wiggle when I saw a cop pulling over two cyclists for not stopping at a stop sign as they took a right turn off Waller onto Steiner. These riders were obviously not bad riders… just in the wrong place at the wrong time. This was the final straw. I decided to spend my afternoon at four different intersections on the Wiggle to simply observe how cyclists were riding and to see if people were right when they say the majority of cyclists ride like assholes. While I do not pretend that the data I gathered in one day can definitively rest the case, what I observed is that the idea that the majority of cyclists are disrespectful and bad riders is a complete and total myth, and, moreover, that the people who take the actions of a very small minority of cyclists (and this minority does indeed exist) and let it stand for their view of all cyclists are displaying a new, disturbing form of bigotry in our society – what I call transportationism. This bigotry is not to be taken lightly – it wrongly pits citizen against citizen and actually contributes to cyclists being denied the basic right to safety that any class of people should expect. My hope is that this humble essay will help shed light on this insidious element in today’s society and help to empower people to stand up and call out this prejudice wherever it arises.