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Are You an Entitled Cyclist?

January 7, 2013

I often think that as advocates we should steer clear of words that get in the way of our central message. It’s one reason I criticized DOT for its “Don’t Be a Jerk” campaign; my firm belief is that you should never introduce language into a discussion you don’t want your opponent to use.

However, there are times when it’s worth it to embrace the words critics use. And while I bristle at the notion that there’s any such thing as a “cyclist,” I do think it’s worth it to take on the idea that people who ride bikes are somehow “entitled.”

When someone insults cyclists as entitled, he typically means that people who ride bicycles believe they should receive something special or extra to which they have no real right, even if that right is as basic as they come. In the world of bikes versus cars, this person believes that only drivers, as licensed, tax-paying members of society, are entitled to the majority of road space. It’s one reason car-owning cycling advocates in Park Slope confound bike lane opponents and must be ignored or insulted; it’s easier to stereotype people who believe in safe streets as unemployed hipsters who don’t represent “real” New Yorkers than it is to dwell in the complexities of urban modal choices.

So what does it really mean to be an entitled cyclist?

I came up with this list and realized that the things people who ride bicycles feel entitled to are no different than what everyone expects, be they on foot or behind the wheel of a car. This list could even be transposed to be a bill of rights for train passengers or air travelers.

  • I am entitled to reach my destination alive and unharmed.
  • I am entitled to travel free from verbal insults, intimidation, and threats of physical assault.
  • I am entitled to safe infrastructure that is kept in a good state of repair.
  • I am entitled to have my personal property not be subject to theft, especially if I take reasonable precautions against such actions.
  • I am entitled to have my safety and rights under the law protected by the police.

Maybe it’s time to own the fact that cyclists are, yes, entitled. Whether you ride a bicycle to work or for recreation, to what else do you feel entitled?

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14 Comments
  1. January 7, 2013 7:56 pm

    I’m entitled to have my legal form of transportation considered in the design of streets and roadways.

  2. Eric McClure permalink
    January 7, 2013 8:24 pm

    I’m entitled to have my email correspondence with the NYC Department of Transportation subpoenaed by bike-lane opponents in their crazy, misguided attempt to sue Brooklyn’s best bike lane out of existence.

  3. PS Grouch permalink
    January 7, 2013 8:40 pm

    Some might say this:

    As a Brooklyn cyclist:
    I’m entitled to run red lights.
    I’m entitled to ride the wrong way down streets, especially if I’m delivering your moo-shu pork or artisan bean sprouts.
    I’m entitled to ride on the sidewalk even though I’m an adult.
    I’m entitled to ride 4 abreast and mow down joggers and strollers on city park roads.

    I don’t believe the above is true, but that’s the perception of many. Work toward eradicating the above perceptions [and many cyclists ARE, including myself] and maybe some of the misguided will deflect their anger elsewhere.

    • January 8, 2013 8:11 pm

      Living in Boston where everyone who cycles does so on the all too narrow sidewalks here, I’ve come to believe that it is a blatant indication to the city that better infrastructure for bikes is needed. If no one rides in the “bike lane” on Mass Ave for fear of being doored or hit by motorists, perhaps the bike “lane” needs a rethink. I used to hate cyclists on sidewalks, now I see it as a redflag not to even attempt biking that stretch of road.

      • January 8, 2013 8:30 pm

        Great point. Where the infrastructure is good, behavior catches up to match it.

    • January 9, 2013 5:47 pm

      This.

      Or, to be gratuitous, entitled to ride at night in dark clothing without lights or a helmet, on the sidewalk on the wrong side of the street relative to traffic flow, behind a row of parked cars, and then dart out into intersections at the bottom of a hill at full speed, and then get upset that you nearly hit them in your car (not that this has happened to me in New York, but it has happened).

      I use the term “maniac” more often, though. Urban bicycling has a serious maniac problem. I don’t like it. They make me look bad when I cycle.

  4. MistralMaiden permalink
    January 8, 2013 7:28 am

    you knew about http://rechtenvandefietser.nl/?

  5. January 8, 2013 8:47 am

    I’m entitled to be my own person before the law and society, and am not responsible for the alleged wrongdoing of other people on bicycles.

  6. Barbara permalink
    January 8, 2013 9:35 am

    I’m entitled to have injuries caused by vehicular traffic treated seriously under the law.

  7. January 8, 2013 1:12 pm

    I’m entitles to a reasonable return on my happy payment of property, sales, and other taxes and fees that pay for the roads that I use.

  8. tandemonium permalink
    January 8, 2013 5:27 pm

    Underlying the “entitled” label is an awareness of the class dynamics underlying cycling advocacy, which skew young, white, and comfortable. That’s not an essential part of the movement, but that’s what it looks like today, for better or worse.

    Bike lanes are great for tying dense neighborhoods together and making them more livable. But for people who have to car-commute from sparser neighborhoods, reducing their access to make our already-nice neighborhoods even better can look a lot like privilege.

    The strongest counter argument is one about how damaging and expensive those car-commutes are, and how we need to build more multi-modal transit for those long haul trips.

  9. January 9, 2013 2:51 am

    I am entitled to feel good about the way I choose travel to and fro.

    I am entitled to use the phrase, “to and fro.”

    Not sure about the second one.

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