Four Wheels Good, Two Wheels Bad

June 3, 2010

There is something profoundly wrong with a nation where more adults ride bicycles than children.

America might now be such a nation.

While kids sit at home texting their friends and slaying computer-generated monsters, a growing number of their parents and grandparents are clogging the roads atop a contraption that was once considered a child’s toy.

We will have accurate data when the 2010 census is complete, but there are already strong indications of bicycling’s rise in popularity. Fortunately for red-state America, the phenomenon is more common in urbanized regions along the coasts. The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia recently gushed that the “2009 American Community Survey found that the number of commuters [in Philadelphia] who rode a bicycle to work rose from 4,778 to 9,410 between 2005 and 2008: a 97 percent increase in 3 years.”

Two odious ideologies fuel the popularity of bicycling: anti-obesity extremism and eco-lunacy. Pedal power, we are told, will not only make you thinner, it will reduce your “carbon footprint.” (It’s a Nanny State twofer.)

Already slim, or pursuing other means to lose weight? Like your SUV, and don’t swallow the discredited theory that man is baking the planet? Then obviously you’re an idiot. In 2003, BusinessWeek asked Andy Clarke, director of state and local advocacy for the League of American Bicyclists, to respond to the fact that 500,000 Americans commute by bicycle. The figure was “pathetic,” he snorted, “for a nation that should be smarter and wiser.”

Feeling themselves superior to their countrymen in both health and environmental consciousness, many bicyclists flout road rules. Last year, The Boston Globe reported: “On any hour of any day … bicyclists routinely run red lights, ride the wrong way on one-way streets, zip along sidewalks, and cut off pedestrians crossing streets legally -- even though bike riders are supposed to obey the same traffic laws as motorists. Sometimes, a bicyclist will do all of these things in one two-wheeled swoop. The city seems unable to stop it.”

Writing in the Rocky Mountain News, Arvada, Colorado resident J.M. Schell admitted that there was “a very, very good reason so many view those of us who are cyclists as rude, arrogant jerks. Most of us are.”

Recklessness and lawbreaking notwithstanding, Big Bicycle has attained the status of a lobby that cannot be ignored. “Bikes Belong,” an agitprop shop “sponsored by the U.S. bicycle industry with the goal of putting more people on bicycles more often,” boasts of “12 professional staff, 18 volunteer directors, and a $2 million annual operating budget.”

“Maximizing Federal Support for Bicycling,” a page on the organization’s website, explains that it spent $1 million on lobbying between 2002 and 2005, which ultimately produced “$4.5 billion for bicycling and walking in SAFETEA-LU, the … transportation law passed in August 2005.” Where did that money come from? You guessed it: the federal gas tax. (Four out of every ten dollars raised by the levy are diverted to non-highway expenses.)

Where did the dough go? To state and local pols, who gleefully commit drivers’ forced contributions to dubious bike schemes. “There’s never been so much attention from cities collectively for cycling as a mode of transportation,” the executive editor of Bicycling magazine swooned to USA Today in 2007. “Bike to Work” days and weeks are commonplace. “Bicycle planning” is providing lucrative jobs for bureaucrats eager to wield the coercive power of government to change commuting habits.

Remarkably, Big Bicycle was able to get in on Wall Street’s bailout. The National Center for Bicycling and Walking notes that fedpols’ 2008 rescue of financial firms included a rather unrelated perk: “Starting January 1, 2009, employers who provide bike parking, bathing facilities, tune-ups, or other support for bicycle commuting, can deduct up to $20 a month per participating employee from their own taxable income.”

Is bicycle-commuting a credible traffic-fighting tool? No, says Cato Institute scholar -- and avid cyclist -- Randal O’Toole. “I don’t think encouraging cycling is going to reduce congestion or significantly change the transportation makeup of our cities,” he said. “There really is very little evidence that any of [these efforts] are reducing the amount of driving. They’re just making it more annoying to drivers.” (O’Toole observes that telecommuting is far more common, and growing faster, than getting to work on a bike.)

Bicycles are wonderful, of course. For children. Only misanthropes complain about stopping or yielding to safely accommodate a couple of twelve-year-olds pedaling their way to the fishin’ hole.

For adults, bicycling has become a finger-wagging, revenue-pilfering, and increasingly obnoxious crusade.

D. Dowd Muska ( is a writer, commentator and lecturer. He lives in Connecticut.

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