Bikers against bullying

A few days ago I was biking north on Lyndale Avenue, between Lake Street and Franklin Avenue. That stretch of Lyndale is not very bike-friendly, but it was the most efficient route for me, so I donned my helmet and kept my eyes open.

A couple blocks north of Lake Street, a car whizzed past me at over 20 miles an hour, just inches from my left handlebar. If I'd happened to wobble even a bit, I wouldn't be typing this right now; I might not even be alive.

A block later, I stopped to wait for a red light, frustrating the woman in the car behind me who wanted to turn right. She alerted me to her impatience by revving her engine. I lifted my bike and carried it several feet to the left, permitting her to pass me and make her turn. She at least had the consideration to give me a wave of thanks.

Then, just a couple of blocks later, busy traffic in both lanes meant that cars behind me were unable to pass me on the left for maybe a block or so. As soon as the left lane cleared, the cars roared past me angrily. The passenger in one car made an obscene gesture out the window just so I would get the message: as a biker, I was not welcome to share the street with his car.

The Midtown Greenway is a much safer environment for bikers, but even there, bikers are vulnerable. My Twin Cities Daily Planet colleague Jeremy Iggers was attacked on the Greenway by a brazen group of muggers at 9 a.m. last Monday. Their m.o. was to hurl rocks at bikers, who are in no position to defend themselves and are at risk of falling over and being badly hurt before a punch is even thrown. (Also, punches were thrown.)

From flipping the bird to throwing rocks, this is bullying—plain and simple. As numerous as we are in Minneapolis, bicyclists are very vulnerable, and that vulnerability is taken advantage of every day by motorists and others who want us out of their way, who want to steal our iPods, or who just want to be cruel...because they can. Bullies.

What is to be done about this? Well, education is a good start. Programs like the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition's Open Streets help raise the visibility of bicyclists and educate the public about how to share the streets with bicyclists safely and respectfully. Another important step is to continue to build infrastructure to support bicyclists. Bike lanes make it explicit that bikers have a right to be on the streets, and can help bikes and cars negotiate potentially problematic intersections. The Greenway helps keep hundreds of cyclists a day on a path that's far safer and more efficient for bikers than, say, Lake Street. That makes life easier for everyone.

But obviously the Greenway doesn't protect bikers from those who would intentionally commit violence against us, and I don't think anyone's naïve enough to think that people like the guy who flipped me off are likely to be "educated" into having greater respect for bikers.

That's why we bikers need to stick together and stay strong on the streets. Abandoning the Greenway to hoodlums isn't going to make our city a better place to live, and nor is abandoning our streets to cars just because they're bigger than us. I live on Lyndale Avenue, and I will not be bullied off my own street. Even when they're not closed to cars, Minneapolis streets are open to all—and everybody should feel welcome and safe to use those streets, no matter how many wheels they're rolling on.

- Jay Gabler serves on the board of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition

Photo by Sung Sook (Creative Commons)

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