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Reader comment: Opposition to urban cycling is class based

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“Wealthy people often tend to see cyclists as losers and indigents; after all, if cyclists could afford cars, they would drive them.”
— Al from PA, BikePortland commenter

Last week we shared the news that several entities have spoken up in opposition to various motor vehicle restrictions being proposed as part of an effort to improve bike access in the Lloyd District.

In the wide-ranging discussion that followed in the comments, one reader, who goes by “Al from PA,” brought up the issue of class and how it might factor into that opposition.

I wanted to share Al’s comment with a wider audience:

Opposition of these sort to bike facilities seems at first completely irrational. We as urban cyclists know that bicycles provide a viable, even necessary alternative to personal motorized transport. Others resist this: why?

Of course some opposition is “financial.” Developers see increased bike traffic as somehow devaluing their real estate investment. This too is, from our perspective, largely irrational: generally property values *increase* when neighborhoods and commercial areas become more bike friendly. So what’s going on?

I would suggest that much opposition to urban cycling is class based.

(Photo © J. Maus)

It’s no coincidence that the most developed systems of urban bicycle infrastructure are in areas where class distinctions are the least pronounced: Denmark, Holland, northern Germany, some areas in northern Italy. It’s even true in the US: many college towns, as well as Portland, have less radical income and class disparity, and are relatively favorable to cycling; areas in the South, however, where race and class lines may be more starkly drawn, can be quite hostile to practical cycling.

Wealthy people often tend to see cyclists as losers and indigents; after all, if cyclists could afford cars, they would drive them (hence the positions, perhaps, of some developers and shop keepers). Poorer car-dependent people dislike cyclists either because they feel mistrust for people even lower on the class hierarchy, or they are frightened by people who disrespect class rules which hold that cyclists are a priori inferior: hence the constant rants about “elitist” cyclists. After all, if you’re less wealthy and have to maintain a car, it’s a huge financial drain: if these know-it-alls are right, your enormous sacrifice for your car(s) has been for nothing. That’s irritating, to say the least.

Long story short (and sorry for the length of this post): it’s not just about making cyclists feel more comfortable on the road. If we want more people to ride, and to make the city more bike friendly, perhaps we should start to think more directly about issues of class, and how to address them.

Do you think this is an issue that needs to be addressed? If so, how?

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