I’ve been discouraged lately by the sheer number of people who want to politicize cycling. I see it both online and in personal interactions with others. Some people on the political right have called me a socialist because I cycle for transportation. Their friends on the left are just as bad. They have a tendency to hang the “alt.right” label on me whenever we disagree on any issue, no matter how piddling. If I were to believe these folks, I’d be an alt.right socialist. Hmmm. Somebody’s wrong.
It would be funny if it wasn’t so destructive. I’m not laughing. The absolute best we can muster when it comes to bicycle load share is roughly 10% in places like Portland and Minneapolis. Our numbers are holding steady at best or shrinking. Meanwhile in, Copenhagen the number is 41% and growing. In Amsterdam, it’s 38%…also growing.
So what gives? Part of it is cultural. Cycling is embedded in European culture in a way that it simply isn’t here in the States. Even so, the most cycle-friendly cities in Europe abandoned their bicycles for automobiles after World War II. We’re not all that different in that regard.
But Europe reassessed. Part of it was practical. Countries like Holland were hit far harder by the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973 than we were here in the US. There was a recognition that fuel would be an ongoing problem. The road they were on was unsustainable. Prudence required a shift, and because of their history with bicycles the shift was relatively obvious to most Dutch.
But it was more than just oil. The Stop de Kindermoord (literally translated “stop the child murder”) movement galvanized the Dutch across political lines and gave the process a serious push. The Dutch, it seems, were willing to put ideological differences aside to save the lives of children. Stop de Kindermoord transcended political ideology.
Here in the States, the people who have seized the megaphone are mostly political ideologues. This is true on both sides. They assume. They scream. They vilify anyone who they perceive to be their enemy. They are consumed by an anger which, if you drill down, is really nothing more than fear made manifest. Meanwhile, most of us within two standard deviations of the statistical mean have learned to keep our mouths shut lest we become the target of all of this irrational anger. That’s fear of another flavor.
So I think we need to stop leading with fear. I think we need to talk to everyone about cycling, especially those with whom we might disagree. I think we must be respectful but I also think we must have some skin in the game, emotionally speaking. We need to be prepared to be called names and we need to keep at it anyway. This isn’t going to change overnight.
But it absolutely must change. Assigning political labels to cycling and cyclists shrinks the universe of people who might otherwise be inclined to bicycle by roughly 50%. It virtually assures that we will continue to be a fringe group, insignificant and easy to ignore politically. This isn’t rocket science. Either we believe cycling benefits society or we don’t. If we do, we simply have to set political ideology aside for the greater good. If we don’t, it’s on us and nobody else.