Bicyclists, pacificists, and reasonable people everywhere are up in arms today about Courtland Milloy’s outrageous column, published last night on Washington Post’s website, in which he suggests drivers should go ahead and intentionally hit cyclists if they feel like it. By somehow casting people on bicycles as “bullies” and “terrorists” — for reasons that never become clear — Milloy sees fit to justify bullying and terrorizing the cyclists themselves.
“It’s a $500 fine for a motorist to hit a bicyclist in the District,” Milloy wrote, “but some behaviors are so egregious that some drivers might think it’s worth paying the fine.”
As the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) wrote in its response, “The ‘egregious’ behavior Milloy cites is simply slowing his car’s progress between stoplights.”
Not only does Milloy cackle about an all-too-real epidemic of violence on our cities’ streets, he reveals a shockingly myopic (to use his word) view of the streets as places where only cars belong.
Wash Cycle did the dirty work of correcting each and every one of Milloy’s erroneous statements, like:
They fight to have bike lanes routed throughout the city, some in front of churches where elderly parishioners used to park their cars.
Just one. And in that case, elderly parishioners still park their cars there.
Now, some of them are pushing to have a “bicycle escalator” installed on 15th Street NW.
Actually no one is doing anything of the sort. One person on GGW wrote a post about how one place has such a thing and asked if it would be useful on 15th, and most of the comments on it were negative about the idea.
Actually, bike ninjas are much worse. … If you demand that he show common courtesy and obey the rules of the road, a biker just might spit on your car.
But that’s not what a bike ninja is. The word he’s looking for is an A-hole. But try asking a driver to put down their phone and I doubt you’d get a hug or a “Thank you”.
WABA focused on Milloy’s call to violence, calling it “both irresponsible and incorrect.”
We have, of course, grown accustomed to journalists and columnists who resort to bike-versus-car tropes to fill column space. However, this attempt to justify assault as a mere cost of doing business for motorists is well beyond the pale.
Those who might take Milloy’s counsel and share his sick calculation that bicyclists’ temporary slowing of motorists is worth attacking those bicyclists should know that his facts are wrong. Intentionally assaulting a bicyclist carries a much stiffer penalty than the $500 he cites. So even his readers who lack the moral judgment to recognize that assaulting a bicyclist with a motor vehicle is a barbaric, criminal act should know that his advice is flawed.
Over at the Washington City Paper, Aaron Weiner starts his response to Milloy’s vicious column with a lengthy description of his ride, that same day, with Black Women Bike DC founder Veronica Davis through the poorest and most predominantly black parts of DC — Wards 7 and 8 — where bicycle infrastructure is scarce, speeding is rampant, and incomes are low enough that biking is an economic necessity for many:
Davis isn’t even calling for bike lanes, so great is her entitlement; in speaking with the District Department of Transportation, her requests don’t get much more ambitious than straightening out sidewalks so the street crossings where she’s witnessed several bikers wipe out become less dangerous. But this, of course, is the trademark call of the biker terrorists out to rule the road.
Then Weiner slams Milloy for the greatest sin of his column: callous timing.
In 2008, a 22-year-old cyclist named Alice Swanson was riding down the bike lane on R Street NW, near Dupont Circle — the epicenter of the bike-lane zone, where pushy bikers have gotten their way and rule the road more than anywhere — when a truck driver turning right hit her and trapped her under the truck, killing her. Perhaps, to the driver, her annoying behavior or the existence of the spacious bike lane was enough to justify risking a $500 fine (though he never even got so much as a ticket for that crash, despite a horrific driving record before then).
Yesterday, the day Milloy chose to rant against the elevated status enjoyed by imperious cyclists, marked the sixth anniversary of her death.
Matt Yglesias at Vox counters Milloy’s race-baiting by reminding readers that the idea that everyone who bikes is a white hipster gentrifier is “one of the biggest myths about bicycle commuting and alternative transportation in general — in reality these are predominantly commuting modes of the less-privileged.”
Perhaps richest of all was the heartfelt comeuppance Milloy received from his own co-worker at the Post, Ashley Halsey III, who issued a plea to call off the whole “war on cars” madness.
Halsey starts with a recounting of his own bicycle crash, in which his neck was broken, his shoulder torn to pieces, and his hand fractured.
Am I biased? Sure. I ride thousands of miles every year. I also drive a car tens of thousands of miles. I will fly more than 50,000 miles this year. And I cover transportation for The Post. You could say I’m biased about every form of transportation, and you’d be right.
Here’s my bias: No matter how you go — bike, car, bus, train, boat or plane — I want you to get there safely.
I’m sick to death of people who take risks with other people’s lives.
And lately I’ve become disgusted with all the venom aimed at cyclists.
He doesn’t mention Milloy’s name except once, when he defends cyclists, saying, “we don’t bang on car hoods, Courtland Milloy, unless, perhaps, a driver has nearly killed us.”
Before he closes, Halsey has some sage advice for drivers frustrated with people on bikes trying to share “their” road:
Take a deep breath and get used to it.
Stop drinking and driving. That kills more than 10,000 people a year.
Stop speeding. It causes more than 9,000 deaths a year.
Stop talking and texting on your cellphone while driving. Distracted driving causes more than 3,000 deaths and more than 400,000 injuries a year.
Globally, traffic accidents kill about 1.2 million people each year, and 93 percent of them are caused by driver error.
Halsey wasn’t the only one of Milloy’s co-workers to use the Post’s pages (digital pages, anyway) to denounce his hateful words. Writer Matt McFarland gave Milloy “an A+ for being a provocative columnist” but clearly flunks him for reason and ethics. McFarland’s is unusual among the myriad responses in that it mentions the fact that riding bikes is actually a very socially and environmentally positive act that is good for the planet, our city, and everyone’s health:
I’ve written in the past about the merits of bicycles. They don’t pollute. They are affordable and help keep their riders in good shape. When you add in how efficiently they can move us from point A to B in comparison to other forms of transit, it’s obvious to me that cities should encourage cycling.
But that’s not even the point, McFarland says. “I’m just asking for a fair, civil dialogue from everyone who shares our roadways.”
That sure would be a good start. Now the only question is this one, posed on Twitter by Anthony LaMesa: “@ctmilloy When will you be issuing an apology for your grossly irresponsible call to hit cyclists with 2,000 pound machines?”