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If anyone expected a bike ride through downtown D.C. to change Courtland Milloy‘s mind about the dangerous “biker terrorists out to rule the road,” he’s got news for you.
“If people thought that I was going to write a column where it was a kind of kumbaya moment, no, no, no,” says Milloy, the Washington Post columnist who followed up his controversial July 8 column with one today, whose headline “A spin with the D.C. bicycle crowd leads to a tad more sympathy” stretches the definition of the word “tad.” “This problem is going to get worse before it gets better.”
After Milloy’s rant last month against D.C.’s allegedly entitled bikers, I encouraged him to go for a ride with Veronica O. Davis, who co-founded the organizing and advocacy group Black Women Bike and makes a difficult and hilly bike commute to and from her home in Ward 7’s Fairfax Village, with nary a bike lane or even hazard-free sidewalk to engender any sense of entitlement. On Friday, he did just that—-although it took some preparation.
“He’s apparently been practicing,” says Davis.
“I got my bike tuned up, and got a new chain, got lights, air in the tire, brakes adjusted, and took it out for a spin,” says Milloy. His 24-speed Bianchi Advantage—-purchased at Capitol Hill Bikes, although Milloy laments, “They’ll say they don’t want to be associated with my name”—-had lain dormant with a flat tire before the tune-up. Milloy brought it back to life with a ride along Montgomery County’s Matthew Henson Trail, far from his Fort Washington, Md., home and, more importantly, from motorists.
“That’s my idea of a bike ride,” he says.
To Milloy, bikes and cars don’t mix, at least not in a busy city like D.C. “When you’re mixing bikes with cars, I don’t think that there is a feel for how much danger lurks down the road in a place like this,” he says. “You’re putting bikers on a street designed for cars, trucks, at a time when you have boom cranes swinging around.”
Yet the greatest danger to Milloy on his ride along downtown’s bike lanes and cycletracks appears not to have been cars, trucks, and cranes, but rather himself. In his column, he writes that Davis warned him when a driver failed to yield and cut in front of them.
“But I’d been too busy fidgeting with the gear shifts on my handlebars to notice,” he writes. “I had been inattentive and, truth be told, did not possess the requisite biking skills to be out in rush-hour traffic in the first place — not even with expert supervision. And that’s my biggest problem with bikers on D.C. streets. Too many of them bike like me.”
Still, Milloy thinks the greater danger is not the rare cyclist who has his eyes glued to his gear-shifter, but rather the most experienced bikers.
“Some of the best bikers, the guys who look like they’re part of some racing team, they’re more dangerous than the ones who don’t look like they know what they’re doing,” he says. Because motorists “won’t run over a crow,” he argues, they get “spooked” when they see bikers coming toward them at high speeds in their side-view mirrors. “Bikers, they get away with some good stuff, man,” he says. “People don’t know how many fender benders are caused by that thing.”
To Davis, the ride had mixed results. “I think he’s very dogmatic in his view of cycling,” she says. “However, I think he did have the opportunity to see the value of the infrastructure that’s been implemented.”
Sort of. You’d think that with Milloy’s opposition to bikes and cars sharing lanes, he’d be a fan of bike lanes. But he argues that in the absence of a comprehensive plan for bike lanes, the incomplete grid of bike lanes places both bikers and drivers in danger. He seems, at times, to conflate putting bike lanes on the roads and putting cyclists on the road, making the case that the city has done the latter without adequate planning. Of course, in areas without bike lanes, there are still bikers—-they’re just not separated from car traffic.
“It was interesting that he was very keen on what cyclists do wrong, but did not notice what motorists did wrong,” Davis says. “I had to remind him, ‘Courtland, in our entire ride, we saw two cyclists do anything wrong.'”
Any frustration Davis has with Milloy appears not to be shared. “I haven’t heard from Veronica, and it’s going to break my heart if she doesn’t call me, ’cause I love that girl,” he says.
Milloy gathered some video footage of his ride, which can be viewed at the top of today’s column, using a small camera strapped to his chest. “That thing around my neck is a Go Pro ‘breast cam’ but guys can wear it too if they have man boobs,” he tweeted this morning. The video is full of his exclamations like “This is crazy,” “Oh, the notorious Pennsylvania Avenue,” and “I’m out of breath already!” (According to Davis, he struggled to make it up the hill on 15th Street NW—-not the steep incline by Meridian Hill Park, but the very slight grade near the White House.)
“That was great,” Milloy says at the end of the video, “except for the other cyclists.” The other cyclists, of course, would probably point the finger right back at Milloy.