Must Cycling Give Up its Outlaw Image to Become a Mainstream Mode?

In cities across America, cycling is fast becoming "just another way to get around," causing friction with its outsider reputation. Sarah Goodyear argues that for cycling to become safer for everyone, riders need to renounce their special status.
May 14, 2013, 5am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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"Riding a bike in the United States has long been perceived as a statement," Goodyear says. "Being a bicyclist has been an identity, burdened with its own identity politics. The cyclist as renegade, outsider, maverick, or outlaw – that has been the image, or self-image, depending on where you stand on the 'issue' of cycling."

"But in the last couple of years, we have been moving at an almost imperceptible pace toward a different kind of reality – one in which American cities, from Chicago to Miami to Los Angeles to Boston and back around again — have been building bike infrastructure, implementing bike-share systems, passing laws protecting bicyclists, and the like."

"And biking is slowly, slowly becoming just another way to get around," she observes.

"There is a price to be paid for trying to move beyond the life-threatening rodeo days of cycling in major American cities," argues Goodyear. "It’s called civic responsibility. Playing by the rules. Making nice. Whatever you want to call it, it may mean that you’re going to have to give up your identity as a special person who does some special activity known as cycling."

UPDATE: Goodyear's piece has elicited quite the reaction, even among her own colleagues. For a counterargument on the greater enforcement of cycling laws, see Henry Grabar's response: "Why should people riding 20-pound bicycles obey laws designed to regulate the conduct of 4,000-pound cars, to say nothing of accepting the same penalties?" 

"On balance, cyclists' illegal behavior—like that of pedestrians—adds much, much more convenience to life than danger," he argues. "Aggressive enforcement of traffic laws could upend the fragile system of incentives that leads thousands of people to undertake a long and sweaty commute each day."

Also see David C.'s rejoinder in Greater Greater Washington

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Published on Monday, May 13, 2013 in The Atlantic Cities
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