• A Fable

    by  • July 28, 2010 • Education • 0 Comments

    What is the origin of anti-bike hostility? Why do we get yelled at on the roads? There are two popular Theories on this question.

    Theory #1 is the Evil Driver Theory. Some people are just bastards. And some of these people drive cars. The usual solution proposed for the Evil Driver problem is driver Education. We just need to teach the Evil Drivers that bicyclists are people, too.

    Theory #2 is the Bad Bicyclist Theory. Some bicyclists don’t bicycle right and they give all the rest of the good bicyclists a bad name. They bicycle in the wrong spot. They don’t always stop at stop signs. They bike on sidewalks. The usual solution proposed for the Bad Bicyclist problem is bicyclist Education. We need to teach all Bad Bicyclists how to ride right. In fact, since bicycles are vehicles, perhaps bicycles should be registered and bicyclists should be licensed before they are even allowed to bicycle.

    You hardly ever hear any alternative to these Theories. Other than driver evilness or bicyclist incompetence/recklessness, what else could possibly explain anti-bike hostility?

    Well, instead of a Theory, consider a fable. Imagine the City of Wilmington opens a small park and puts up a sign saying “This park is for all the residents of Wilmington to enjoy.” People start picnicking there on the weekends. Then, a few years later, Wilmington park workers sketch out a rough baseball diamond that takes up most of the park. Later they add astroturf in the outfield and put in nice white padded bases and painted foul lines. A few years later, they add dugouts, bleachers and lights. Finally, they put up a state-of-the-art computerized scoreboard that shoots off fireworks when someone hits a home run. So awesome is this baseball field that baseball games start being played as soon as the sun comes up and continue without interruption even after the sun goes down and the field lights have to be turned on. On very rare occasions, however, while a game is being played, a family or two still strolls out near the left field foul line, spreads out some blankets and has a picnic. The left fielder yells “What’s wrong with you, do you want to get hit in the head?”, but the picnickers mention the sign (still in place) that says the park is for all Wilmington residents to enjoy.

    The picnicking families shake their heads at the inexplicable anti-picnicker hostility they see from some baseball players. What’s wrong with baseball players? Do they have some ideological problem with people who just want to have a nice picnic at the park? But some other picnickers, dressed in baseball uniforms and with gloves, remonstrate with them. “When you’re on a baseball field, you have to behave like a baseball player,” they say. “You need to wear a uniform and carry a baseball glove. Picnickers fare best when they act like and are treated as baseball players.”

    This situation, which satisfied wholly neither baseball players nor picnickers (of whom there were only a very few because the rest of the people who liked to picnic in the park no longer went picnicking there because they were too worried they’d get hit in the head by a foul ball), went on for a while until one day Wilmington got a new parks director who liked to both play baseball and to picnic. “You know,” he wondered, “we put in a baseball diamond, bases, astroturf, dugouts, bleachers and an exploding scoreboard for the baseball drivers, er, players. I like to picnic but I know I am always worrying I’m going to get hit in the head with a foul ball. I wonder. Maybe I could put up a net along the left field foul line? Could that help?”


    James Wilson is the executive director of Bike Delaware. He is a member of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals (by whom he was named the 2014 Professional of the Year, Nonprofit Sector), the Institute of Transportation Engineers and the Delaware Bicycle Council. He serves on the board of directors of Delaware Greenways and as the co-chair of the policy committee of the Advisory Council on Walkability and Pedestrian Awareness. He holds engineering degrees from Yale University and the University of Texas at Austin and is the only registered lobbyist for cycling and walking in Delaware. He helped create, and continues to lead Bike Delaware's participation in, the Walkable Bikeable Delaware campaign. During his tenure as Bike Delaware's executive director, Delaware advanced in the national Bicycle Friendly State rankings for five years in a row, farther and faster than any other state, ever. Delaware is now officially ranked as the #3 Bicycle Friendly State in America.

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