Cyclist Inferiority [from BA 42-100]
John Forester is an unrelenting and prolific cycling advocate. In addition to several books he has written about safe and effective bicycling, he maintains a dense website of strategic information about and arguments for bicycle transportation reform. Forester strongly believes that “cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles.”
It is this “guiding principle,” he contends, “that cyclists should recognize and government and society should obey.” The problem, however, is that the government “does its best to prevent cyclists from recognizing this principle.” The following is Forester’s overview of the ways the “cyclist-inferiority” myth is perpetuated. It is drawn, in part, from conclusions he reaches in another, lengthier piece entitled “The Existence of the CyclistInferiority Phobia.”
I have used the term “cyclist-inferiority” in several applications, but these applications all serve to describe aspects of the false concept that cyclists are inferior to motorists.
The political application is that it serves the motoring organizations, and therefore the highway organizations that they control, and in addition many politicians, to consider cyclists as inferior to motorists. By considering cyclists inferior to motorists, the government can deny to cyclists some of the important rights that apply, in legal terms, to drivers of vehicles, but which are commonly supposed to apply to motorists, because cyclists and motorists are the only significant users of the nation’s roadways. The rights denied are denied purely for the convenience of motorists.
The most important of these are the right to use most of the width of the roadway, and the right to use roadways at all when bike lanes or bike paths have been produced, or those roadways which cannot be reached by driveways. The only reason for these restrictions that stands up to scientific analysis is the belief, on the part of motorists, that cyclists delay motorists.
The social application is the extension of the above political excuse to characterize cyclists. The official view is that 95% of cyclists are unable to learn how to obey the traffic laws. Of course, they conceal this behind propagandistic jargon, terming the ability to obey the traffic laws “expert skill” and those with it the “elite.”
Since cyclists are very little different from the population at large, that means that, supposedly, 95% of motorists must be incapable of driving properly. However, the meanness of that attitude is demonstrated immediately by the obvious reluctance of the same motoring organizations and motorists to restrict motor vehicle driving privilege to those who demonstrate an expert, elite, level of skill. No, as long as you drive a car, only considerably below average skill is required to receive a driving license.
It is absurd to consider that most adult cyclists are incapable of knowing how to obey the traffic laws when most adult cyclists, in the USA at least, have been certified by the government as having that knowledge and skill. The only excuse for this absurdity has to be the false idea that riding a bicycle makes you temporarily incompetent, an incompetence from which you recover the moment you get behind the steering wheel of a motor vehicle.
The superstitious application of the phrase “cyclist-inferiority” refers to the feelings induced in people by the propaganda which has been used to promote motorists’ interests. These feelings include the ones that cars own the roads, that cars don’t look out for me, that I, when on a bicycle, am an intruder onto their range, from which they will eject me by either threats or death.
One pervasive and effective form of that propaganda has been the traditional bike-safety propaganda program (it never was safe cycling instruction and cannot be called that), which taught cyclist-inferiority superstition, no matter how dangerous that was for cyclists. 30% of car-bike collisions in the Cross Study (conducted in the mid-1970s) were caused by the cyclist obeying the precepts of bike-safety education.
The psychological application of the phrase “cyclist-inferiority” refers to the cyclist-inferiority phobia, complex, or superstition, depending on severity of the case. This is the sense that: “I, the cyclist, don’t really belong on the road, which is owned by the cars, and that I am unable to follow the traffic laws for drivers of vehicles, or that if I did I would quickly be smashed.”
And also: “The roads are very dangerous places where everybody is against me, and where I have no place that I can call my own to which I could retreat as a place of safety. Since the greatest danger is from cars, which operate to my danger, obviously the greatest danger to me is the same-direction traffic that comes from behind. To protect myself from this great danger, I must do all that I can to avoid same-direction motor traffic, to defer to it when it is present, to always give it the right of way, etc., including promoting bike lanes and bike paths to protect myself from this danger.”
It suits motorists, which means most people in the USA, and therefore the various governments of the USA, to have cyclists considered inferior to motorists. That provides the excuse for doing things that clear the roads of cyclists for motorists’ convenience. And it assists them a whole lot if cyclists cooperate by considering themselves to be inferior to motorists. For all of these reasons (and there are probably more), it is accurate to apply the name “cyclist-inferiority” to the type of cycling and the associated feelings, superstitions, and political urges that carry out this program of motorist superiority.