Letter decrying ‘cycling anarchy’ only served to promote harmful stereotypes

Letter decrying ‘cycling anarchy’ only served to promote harmful stereotypes

By Jonathan Krall, Alexandria
(File Photo)

To the editor:

I am writing in response to the letter, “We must stop the ‘cycling anarchy’” that appeared in the Alexandria Times on August 7. The author decries the “anarchy” of bicyclists, complaining about their “level of disregard” for the law while fretting over pedestrians that were almost hit by bicycles. While I agree that better behavior is needed on all sides, my immediate concern is that the Times is promoting an offensive stereotype by publishing this letter.

The idea that cyclists are somehow less law-abiding than others on our roads is a stereotype that has no basis in fact. Studies show that people who ride actually react to the “danger” of cycling (another myth) by being more cautious rather than reckless. For example, a years-long study of alcohol-related crashes showed that non-cyclists were twice as likely to be drunk as cyclists in car-bicycle or cyclist-pedestrian collisions.
Sadly, this stereotype is so pervasive that even many cyclists believe it. Nevertheless, when it is repeated by the media or by our elected leaders, this shameful stereotyping reflects badly on us all.

My second concern is that the author seems to have missed the point of the letter. Action is needed, but none is suggested.

Universal bicycling education is clearly required for both cyclists and drivers. Parents teaching bicycling to their children routinely use a vacant parking lot beneath the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in Jones Point Park. This lot should be re-painted as a small-scale streetscape to provide a fun outdoor traffic classroom for families and for our elementary schools.

Our roads clearly need to be redesigned to reduce car-bicycle conflicts. Design concepts for the Royal Street Greenway, for example, should be rendered as soon as possible to support an informed public discussion of the options. As it stands, too much bicycle traffic is routed onto Union Street, which is why the waterfront commission recommended the development of alternative routes.

Improved bicycle and pedestrian networks are being built in cities across the country because leaders in those communities know that such facilities attract workers, improve transit, increase property values, slow down cars and improve the quality of life. Bicycle and pedestrian improvements also are extremely cost-effective.

The time has come for more action and fewer words, especially when those words are offensive to us all.