Courtland Milloy—-twit-tweaking Washington Post metro columnist, knives-out antagonist of local pedalers—-went for a bike ride last Friday. And the experience, he writes in a column today, left him with “a tad more sympathy for bikers in general.”
How much more sympathy? “…in this bike-friendly city,” Milloy writes, “the driver is always wrong.”
Too many local riders, Milloy says, “bike like me. They are clueless. Wouldn’t know a ‘cycle track’ from an Amtrak.”
And when they’re not hopelessly unskilled, they’re plain hypocrites, scoffing at motorists for blocking bike lanes yet seeing no issue riding in the middle of the road. They denounce shoaling by fellow bicyclists, yet “when a biker worms his way to the front of a line of cars waiting at a light, then meanders along without letting anybody pass, it’s a right.”
So don’t pump those fists too triumphantly, local bicyclists. Milloy’s latest column may have a lower temperature than the deck-stacking, cherry-picking, practically blood-hungry argument against cyclist entitlement he wrote last month, but it channels the same feverish paranoia over what growing bicycle infrastructure means for motorists not accustomed to sharing the road.
Milloy’s issue with D.C. bicyclists, as articulated in that earlier column, is that they’ve “got more nerve than an L.A. biker gang. And some can be just as nasty.” If a driver demands that a bicylist “show common courtesy and obey the rules of the road, a biker just might spit on your car. Kick the door. Hit the side mirrors. Bang on the hood. And dare you to do anything about it.” And then, in a sentence that launched an actual protest in front of the Washington Post building, numerous responses from Milloy’s fellow local Post columnists, and finally even more Washington Post coverage of the Washington Post–generated dust-up (leading, naturally, to snarks that the whole thing felt like an elaborate act of trolling), Milloy wrote, “It’s a $500 fine for a motorist to hit a bicyclist in the District, but some behaviors are so egregious that some drivers might think it’s worth paying the fine.”
For his latest piece, Milloy went on a morning rush-hour ride around downtown with Veronica O. Davis and members of the advocacy group she founded, Black Women Bike DC. And even though Davis witnessed a driver failing to yield before making a sharp left, Milloy was quick to point out the injustice that, although he had been “too busy fidgeting with the gear shifts on my handlebars to notice,” if he “had collided with the car, the driver would have been at fault.” In Milloy’s view, D.C.’s streets are overrun with inexperienced bicyclists who are endangering other users of the road, yet are not held accountable.
But that’s not an argument for—-well, what is Milloy arguing? That bicyclists should just go away so he can luxuriate in extra-wide lanes? Even in his latest column, readers won’t walk away thinking he’s especially eager to share the street.
Milloy’s right, of course, that some bicyclists are underexperienced to the point of endangering others—-although, anecdotally, I’d say it’s a pretty small number. And in a city where bicyclists sometimes are struck by vehicles and then ticketed anyway, I’d question his notion that in the District “the driver is always wrong.” But Milloy’s experience on a bicycle shouldn’t be an argument for, um, less biking (or more public shaming of bicyclists); it ought to be an argument for better infrastructure, meaning more dedicated (and protected) lanes, more Bikeshare stations, and better signage. Milloy’s willing to give some ground on that last point, apparently saying as much during his rush-hour ride and writing in his column of one “tiny red stop sign followed by the word ‘to,’ then a biker icon and the silhouette of pedestrian”—-a sign whose audience (motorists, or bicyclists and pedestrians?) is ambiguous, he writes, and sure to cause confusion on the road.
(As for the dangers posed by shaky bicyclists: If you take a look at one of the city’s least experienced groups of cyclists—-Capital Bikeshare users—-they’re not doing so bad. Out of more than 7 million trips since the service launched in 2010, there have been just 95 reported accidents on Bikeshare bikes, and no fatalities.)
So what form does Milloy’s sympathy take?
I noticed that in some places their bike lanes are being overrun with Segway riders, rollerskaters, skateboarders and joggers. Even people using motorized wheelchairs have taken a liking to the lanes. Near the Treasury Department, the bike lanes contained manure from a U.S. Park Police horse.
Who knows? A biker just might decide that enough is enough and buy a car.
Oh. If you were looking for evidence that Milloy isn’t taking seriously the safety of bicyclists—-even after his own bike ride!—-there you have it.
No—-bicyclists don’t give wide berth to parked cars, they don’t zig-zag to the front of a crowded intersection, they don’t sometimes lose their shit and bang on a hood because they’re fed up with all the Segways and horse crap in their bike lanes. They do it because cars can kill them, and despite the District government’s mostly impressive commitment to bike infrastructure, its laws still aren’t written for bicyclists. As a bicyclist and a driver (I commute on two wheels, yet have a fairly suburban love of automobiles), I fear far more for my own life when on a bike than I do the damage a bike can do to me in my car. Overall, I don’t think D.C. bicyclists or motorists behave especially more irresponsibly than the other; the difference is the damage their vehicles can do.
From his Acura, Milloy apparently sees a different landscape, which is why his first column—-yes, that one—-was valuable (other than the part about $500 fines): The growth in bicycling in D.C. coincides with (and is certainly related to) the city’s profound demographic changes, which is why bicycles and bike lanes have taken on such totemic power. And the perception that bike lanes only benefit D.C.’s mostly white, mostly young, mostly affluent arrivistes isn’t helped by the fact that the city’s poorest, blackest wards hardly have lanes at all. But the way to ensure better behavior by everyone toward people using other modes of transportation isn’t finger-wagging columns, and it certainly isn’t making life harder for one mode or another. It’s having roads for everyone, with clearer signs and better rules.
It’s too bad Milloy didn’t quite grasp that. At least he had some fun on the road:
That thing around my neck is a Go Pro "breast cam" but guys can wear it too if they have man boobshttp://t.co/MWAaCRmtsS— Courtland Milloy (@ctmilloy) August 11, 2014
Photo by Darrow Montgomery