While browsing Ye Olde Twitter Feed this morning, I saw this tweet from @outsidemagazine:
The link leads to an article that gives good, albeit unoriginal, practical advice to: 1) be predictable; 2) be visible; and, 3) be cautious. Brief content criticism: this would have been an excellent opportunity to talk about advocacy and efforts that one can undertake to be proactive in changing the culture in your area, rather than being reactive and wearing bright vests. So another quasi-lame, regurgitated article on “bike safety”.
That’s not why I’m upset.
I’m upset because Outside, undoubtedly trying to drum up clicks from their twitter feed, talks about “the war between bikes and cars.” Outside is a voice for many things relating to the great outdoors. They’re often in a position of advocacy for environmentalism and outdoor recreation, and cover outdoors related subjects in a positive light. For them to talk about a “war” between cars and bikes cheapens their editorial position.
First off, it’s not a war. Anyone who would call a conflict between cars and cyclists a war clearly doesn’t understand what a war is. A “car versus bike battle” isn’t a fight–it’s a slaughter. The force dynamics so overwhelmingly favor the car that it’s a ridiculous analogy. Car ends up scuffed, cyclist ends up dead. Does that sound like a war? More often than not, car versus cyclist “battles” sound more like murders. To play this off as a “war” cheapens the deaths of so many cyclists.
Second, the war analogy brings with it a ton of negative baggage. It implies that cyclists and motorists should be adversarial–should be violent–should be fighting. It implies that all is fair in a conflict between motorists and cyclists, just as “all is fair in love and war.” It implies that motorists have to watch out for warring cyclists, and have to defend themselves. Who goes “into battle” against a 6,000 pound SUV, armored with a thin layer of lycra? Do we have to start thinking about the road as a battlefield? Should we be talking less about responsible riding and more about tactics?
This one slip of the editorial tongue continues to allow the dialogue and the discussion of motorist/cyclist interaction to escalate in violence. It continues to nurture the seed of perception that this is a fight–and a fair fight at that.
If we are going to effect meaningful change, we have to change how we are perceived. Using terminology of war or conflict perpetuates negative connotations, at best, and worsens the way society perceives cyclists, at worst. It was a cheap shot for Outside, and one that I’m ashamed to see. What bothers me the most about this tweet is that it shows whomever is writing the social media feed for Outside totally doesn’t get it. They don’t see that they’re reinforcing harmful stereotypes that put cyclists’ (and Outside subscribers’) lives in danger.
Are the roads more or less safe than they were a year or two ago? I don’t know. I haven’t seen any legitimate studies talking about accurate statistics describing injuries or fatalities per vehicle miles travelled–something that would account for the increasing popularity of cycling in a truly representative fashion. I know that I’m more aware of car versus cyclist incidents because of the work I do with Axletree, but simply because I’m aware of more incidents doesn’t mean that, on the whole, more incidents are occurring. Even if there is a “war”, is it escalating, or is this just Outside’s hyperbole? Of course, this is a hypothetical question as Outside provides no basis in their article to conclude that the “war” is “escalating.”
It’s about getting clicks, not about being accurate or socially responsible.
can should do better.