Response to “Cyclist Menace Growing”

Nancy Sreenan


Emily Haddad’s editorial “Cyclist Menace Growing” (11-13-12 Independent) can be summarized as follows: “I am a car driver. I say I obey traffic laws, so I belong. I say bicyclists do not obey traffic laws, so they do not belong. (Bicyclists are the Other.) Therefore, they deserve what they get, including death and injury, if they act like they belong without showing me the respect I deserve—I am the bigger, faster, and more powerful vehicle. Always remember that, always defer to me, and we’ll get along.”

First, in order to justify hating on cyclists, Ms. Haddad rehashes the myth of the scofflaw cyclist. (Talk about dusting off old chestnuts.) Cyclists are no more scofflaws than drivers or pedestrians. All road users—drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists alike—make benefit-reward calculations in their law-obeying behavior. Guaranteed, when I ‘blow’ that stop sign, the car next to me is “Hollywooding it” at the same speed. No group is any more “scofflaw” than any another and to suggest otherwise is to disregard the evidence:

What is really menacing, however, is Ms. Haddad’s ultimate endorsement of “might makes right,” which she acknowledges is the operating principle of Thai and Indian traffic. Despite paying lip service to the orderliness of U.S. traffic, “Drivers in the United States are lucky to have a fairly orderly traffic system supported judicially with laws enforced by the police,” she writes admiringly of the fear big vehicles engender in Thailand and India: “This lesson of size, while not an official part of U.S. rules of the road, should be taken to heart by cyclists in Chicago and all over the country” and “The bigger the vehicle, the more respect and attention it warrants to [sic] because of its potential to cause serious damage to a cyclist.” She even gloats over the Sept. 17th death of a cyclist killed by a CTA train, because he allegedly went around the gates, and: “learned the hard way” that “the bigger vehicle won. It always will.”

What is Ms. Haddad celebrating here—the ethic of bullies? Vehicles as weapons? This same logic would pit drivers of Smartcars against drivers of Hummers. A vehicular arms race is not desirable. Drivers—not cyclists or pedestrians–already kill 40,000+ people every year. No bicyclist, “rogue” or otherwise, deserves injury or death for their behavior. To call for yet more vehicular mayhem is menacing. To admire Delhi’s traffic instead of Amsterdam’s or Portland, Oregon’s ignores current trends in urban planning—her thinking is as passé as the car in the editorial’s graphic. For the sake of our own, our communities’ and our planet’s health, more of us, especially women, need to feel safe cycling. Misinformed editorials which menace cyclists do nothing to promote safety or even feeling safe