The Vicious Cycle of Anti-Cyclist Bias

From the National Bike Summit:

4516694_92b586a5eb_o.jpgAt a panel on cyclists’ rights, Bob Mionske, a Portland, Oregon attorney and founder of Bicycle Law, offered a cogent explanation of the obstacles cyclists face when it comes to public perception, police enforcement, and holding motorists accountable for injuring and killing cyclists. “Anti-cyclist bias is endemic in the police, the court system, and the media,” he said, then described how bias in each arena reinforces bias in the others.

Mionske talked about three examples from his practice:

  • A 19 year-old cyclist stops next to a cement truck. Truck turns right and crushes her. Headline the next day reads: “Bike slams into cement truck.” Police said the driver couldn’t see her, didn’t issue a ticket.
  • A rider going downhill in the bike lane gets crushed under the rear wheels of a right-turning garbage truck. Cops determined that the driver had violated the cyclist’s right-of-way, but he couldn’t perceive it. They didn’t issue a ticket, even though the sideview mirror was held together with duct tape and bungee cord. Media portrayed it as a “cars vs. bikes” story and ran file footage of a bicyclist on a roundabout, nothing from the scene of the crime. “It’s a feedback loop,” said Mionske. “The message to society is: Someone died on a bike, but it was probably his fault.”
  • A mother called, said her son was hit by an F150 truck. Son was issued two tickets for running a light and had $25,000 in medical bills. He had front lights, back lights, and a helmet at the time of the crash. On the scene, the officer asked the cyclist what happened, but the cyclist
    was in shock and couldn’t remember. News said, “Wrong way cyclist hits truck, driver has heart attack,” but it turned out that the driver was entering a diabetic coma at the time of the crash. Media wasn’t interested when the case against the cyclist was dismissed.

“This just poisons the mind of the public, and the public is who is empaneled in juries,” said Mionske. “What you see is, anti-cycling bias starts with cops, is reinforced by the media, and is perpetuated in the courts.”

“We need to keep the media accountable, and we need to talk to the police,” he said. “But it starts with enforcement.”

Photo: Steffe/Flickr 

  • Jack

    You ended with “its start with enforcement”. Exactly, it should also start your entry.

    “Three-foot” rules, STR, etc. have good intent but are meaningless without enforcement. The cops and politicians know that, do you?

  • The Tuscon Bike Lawyer reports that Tuscon PD even fails to investigate an instance where a cyclist was smacked with a baseball bat by a passing motorist. The cyclist even has a description of the truck and license plate info. That’s just morally sick.

  • i wouldn’t call safe bike rules meaningless if they aren’t currently enforced by the police.
    in this Internet age there is the possibility of viral video justice and other methods that can be used to bring attention to the police department not enforcing a law.
    the parking placard rules were not enforced and the abuse was rampant until a grassroots campaign was launched to document the violations, and general non-enforcement .
    result, the abuse is down and they are doing what they said they would never do ticket and tow their own.

  • I think that putting the moral outrage aside for a few moments would do cyclists a favor.

    Bicycling is not technically defined as “transportation” in local, state, and national transportation policy. Further, when “transportation engineers” take classes, their curriculum is designed to treat bicycle trips as non-trips.

    This allows every decision of a public body that hurts cyclists to appear as a positive thing for the general public. Removing or discouraging cyclists increases “transit times” and improves the Level of Service for a road.

    Along with asking for a change in our culture, cyclists should push for small language inserts in large omnibus budget bills (in local, state, and federal bills) that re-define a bicycle as a “trip generating device”, “transportation”, and “a vehicle for purposes of measuring roadways performance”.

    It wouldn’t take a huge summit. It would only take a little bit of spending to buy a congressman, state legislator, or city councilman with votes or campaign cash.

    Once that definition is inserted into law (not just agency policies, like we have now), then a cycling organization has grounds to sue when “transportation” funds are spent to the detriment of (bicycle) transportation.

    What do you think?

  • Paddy Mcguire

    A bicyclist traveling westbound in an eastbound lane encountered a car pulling out into the street heading eastbound towards the bicyclist. The bicyclist realizing his mistake took to the curb hit the front of my legally parked car breaking the grill along with scratches to the hood and front bumper. Picks himself up throws my front license plate into the middle of the street hops on his bike and peddles off. Patrol car rolls up when a kid ran into the street to retrieve my front license plate. He and several others excitedly told the officer what happened pointed to the bicyclist looking back at the scene and peddling as fast as he could. He smiled and said, “What do you want me to do? There is nothing legally I can do.” Estimate of repair $2469.00. They need to be tested, licensed, insured and held accountable in Portland Oregon. A city that has been taken over by criminals on two wheel bikes and the criminals advocating for them.

  • JF

    Paddy, you have my sympathies, but this single incident does not represent a pattern worthy of the kind of measures you’re calling for, and it pales in comparison to the violence and property destruction that are committed by motorists every day.

  • john deere

    Paddy,
    A cyclist damages your car so all cyclists are criminals? And can you find any bike advocacy organization that defends such vandalism? Please show some evidence.

    While we’re waiting for you to do that (sound of clock ticking . . . music in the background . . . somewhere there’s a heater running . . .) let’s get to the “collective punishment” logic of your post. Or, let’s put the wheel on the other hub, shall we?

    A motorist backing into a parking spot misjudges and backs into the wheel of a locked bike on the sidewalk. The motorist knows this, but just drives off. Now the bike happens to be a Trek Madone racing bike, with a damaged rear wheel and cracked frame. The bill? $2469.00 So according to your logic, that makes motorists and the people who advocate for them (like AAA) criminals, right?

    Or better yet, a motorist at an intersection doesn’t think that cyclists have the rights to use the road, and that cyclists should always yield to motorists (in short, he doesn’t know his traffic law). So the motorist makes a left turn in front of a cyclist on a Trek Madone, causing a collision. Damage to Trek Madone: $2469. Damage to cyclist: $60,000. The motorist leaves the scene. So that makes all motorists and all who advocate for them criminals, right?

    While I might agree with your argument that cyclists ought to be tested and licensed, it certainly hasn’t done much for motorists. American motorists kill 43,000 of each other, passengers, pedestrians, cyclists, and bystanders every year.

    Nothing runs like a Deere!

  • ddartley

    Even this would be improved if speed limits came down.

  • ddartley

    Paddy, you encountered what’s known as “one asshole.” And because of your encounter, you’re participating in precisely what the story above is about: prejudice.

    The one cyclist you’ve had an incident with was an asshole, and so they are all “criminals.” I’m assuming you’ve never damaged anything or anyone with your car, because that’s the only way you could know that ALL motorists are innocent, good citizens.

    I’m curious how old you are, Paddy–cause I’m developing my own hypothesis that that 1970s PSA about prejudice with the Grandpa and kid in the fishing boat was REALLY effective.

    Feel free to vent your completley illogical anti-cyclist prejudices here, but do the world a favor and don’t share them anywhere else.

  • MB

    I think ol “Paddy McGuire” might be getting too much credit, here. Seriously, folks – can any of you really imagine a cop saying that? I can’t.

  • john deere

    MB–I think Paddy’s description of the cop’s reaction was entirely believable and probably true. I’ve had too many interactions with do-nothing NYPD cops who stand around while illegal stuff is going on all around them in plain sight, and then the NYPD cops who either don’t know the law or make it up to “enforce” imagined laws.

    Disclaimer: you weren’t being sarcastic were you?

  • rodney king

    i agree there is a huge bias against bikers but bikers dont exactly do a lot to reach out to the larger community and improve their image. they would be so much more successful if they did so. it always seems to be the biking community vs. everyone

  • the mouse

    you know, rodney, all i want is to ride my bike to work without being harassed regularly. why, exactly, do i have to “reach out” to the community to deserve this? it seems to me that most folks think that the only way for a cyclist to improve his image is to put the bike away and drive around in a car.

  • Paddy what happened to you is exactly what happens to cyclists all over the United States of Automobiles when someone uses their vehicle as a weapon of terror. Unless the cop was looking right at it when it happend, it didn’t happen, even when you have physical evidence of the crime (broken bones, missing skin, little bits of the car stuck to the cyclist). Unless and until cops take their jobs seriously then this will continue to happen.

    Have fun, ride your bike.

  • Lisa

    Opus the Poet

    You obviously post drunk do you ride drunk too?

  • MOHAWK21

    I have encountered the hard hearted motorist and cyclist. Granted, working on a bike as a messenger and commuter, this doesn’t change my ride in traffic. I just go and am confident that I can survive because of my skill level and patience riding through the NASCAR/NHRA wannabe’s that drive the roads I ride on. My best advice to riders:”BE 360 ON THE BIKE. That means pay attention to all around you. It will keep you out of harms way until you stop paying attention or you die under wheels

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