The bias against cyclists

Bike column
By: Tom Frady
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Remember the cycling boom of 1970?  No, me either, but apparently (I read about it in a book) way back then, cyclists were seen as healthy and environmentally conscious good guys. 

Jeez, what happened?

According to social-identity theory (see, dad, I really do use my degree in psychology), drivers see cyclists as belonging to a different group than they do. The in-group prejudices lead to stereotypes, which can lead to forms of discrimination. 

In the case of cyclists, the bias has been institutionalized in the very infrastructure both groups use roads, media coverage, police practices and court decisions. 

When a motorist yells, “Get off the road,” he is saying, “The road is for cars.” Space does not permit me to tell you all that roads were originally paved for bikes but the current car-centric design leads to conflict between bikes and cars, which leads to bad behavior on both sides, which leads to more conflict, which leads to . . . Well, you see where I’m going with this.  Bike-friendly changes (bike lanes, bike-sensing traffic lights, etc.) reduces the conflict and bad behavior.

Police bias appears in slanted or incomplete accident reports (failure to interview all witnesses - I’ve seen this), pointing out the rider wasn’t wearing a helmet when at the same time failing to point out the driver drifted on to the shoulder, only cursory investigations of harassment (I’ve seen this) or an attitude that it was the cyclist’s very presence of the road that caused the accident (I might have seen this). 

Unfortunately, the media gets most of its information from police accident reports.  Not long ago, I read an article about a rider who was hit head on by a motorist and killed.  The article pointed out that the rider was “near the double yellow center line (which was probably legal, if ill-advised) but failed to report the driver had illegally crossed the double yellow line to pass another vehicle, which shifted blame to the cyclist.

The public bias is the most visible (and audible).  It is unlikely the average motorist (that’s you and me) understands that the very design of most roads adds to the negative impression of cyclists and further to the impression that roads are just for cars or at least for cars first.

Now, after these 384 words, it must be pointed out that cyclists are not blameless in the battle between drivers and riders.  Talk to any non-cyclist and you will hear the same complaints: riding as if the laws don’t apply to them, little regard to other users of the road and cyclist aggression toward drivers who complain about misbehavior.  

Drivers don’t want to hurt cyclists but the lawless and boorish behavior of some cyclists increases the fear they just might and that morphs into a general loathing of bike riders. 

Responsible and experienced riders know that along with the rights afforded to cyclists come many responsibilities.

Tom Frady is a Lincoln resident and avid cyclist and driver.