Why Are Threats Against Bike Riders Considered Acceptable?

Today on the Streetsblog Network, Sustainable Savannah asks the question,
"When is it socially acceptable to threaten the lives of innocent people?" The answer, apparently, is this: "When they are riding bicycles."

The post comes in response to a comment on the website of the city’s major newspaper, the Savannah Morning News. Sustainable Savannah’s John Bennett writes:

bikelanewithmoss.jpgPhoto: Sustainable Savannah

[I]t appears at least one person in this "wonderfully
hospitable and gracious city" feels comfortable boasting about his or
her willingness to murder innocent people. From the Vox Populi section of the Savannah Morning News on Dec. 2:

"Please tell all these wannabe Lance Armstrongs to get
on the streets with bike paths. One of these days they are going to
pull out in front of someone, mainly me, and, ‘adios.’"

Well, at least this person said, "please." It’s interesting that
threatening the lives of cyclists, at least anonymously, is socially
acceptable. Socially acceptable enough not only for a person to send
this to the Savannah Morning News, but also socially acceptable enough
to win the approval of the paper’s editors.

As a matter of fact, the comment in question seems to clearly violate the paper’s terms of service agreement, which requires users to agree not to post content "that is unlawful, harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing" — unless, apparently, the threat is made with a motor vehicle and the target is a person riding a bicycle.

Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

More good stuff from a very busy day around the network: Riding in Riverside wonders why we can’t build truly public infrastructure any longer. Dotage St. Louis muses on the city’s culture of destruction. And bikePHL provides a primer on the most common types of car-bicycle crashes — and how to avoid them.

  • This has been a long-standing pet-peeve of mine.

    If a motorist passes a cyclist in an intentionally threatening manner (i.e. passes very close, erratically, stops suddenly in front of them, etc.), nobody is going to notice or care. In other words, they are threatening a human life because they have been slightly inconvenienced on their commute.

    How is this any different than one person on foot going up to another person on the sidewalk who is in their path, pointing a gun in their face, and saying, “Move out of the way, or I will f***ing kill you.” In both cases, one person has used a tool with the power to kill (commonly referred to as a weapon) to threaten the life of another person due to them “being in the way.”

    I’ve said it before: Assault with a deadly weapon is perfectly legal as long as the weapon has four wheels. My next experiment will be to take a hand gun, superglue four little Lego wheels to it, and see if it is socially and legally acceptable to threaten human life with my four-wheeled gun.

  • Cyclist

    What makes the situation worse is that submissions to the Vox Populi section of the Savannah Morning News, as I understand it, are reviewed by editorial staff before they are published. So, this wasn’t just an unmoderated comment posted on the Web site. It was submitted by a reader and APPROVED by the newspaper for publication in their online and print editions.

  • cyclist/ped

    amen to all above posts. peds in nyc love to stand in the street inches from cars, they edge towards cyclists in a manner that is threatening if you are riding a bike (will they go/stop/or not?)
    the peds must cross the street the 1/2 second after you have passed. however if you ride towards them in the same way it’s terrorism. i will give you that a cyclist is a moving object but why push back on cyclists so hard? it’s okay to be passive aggressive w/ cyclists while taking their right of way but peds won’t give an inch when a cyclist is on the sidewalk.

  • m to the i

    Thanks for this post. I had an experience like that the other day when I was riding west on Union St in Brooklyn. A car behind me honked its horn and then passed so close that I veered to the right into some potholes. I thought that I was going to fall or run into a parked car.

    I was dazed for a second but then caught up to the driver at the next light of course. I recorded the license plate number but then realized that there was no recourse. Even if I was injured or killed the driver of the car wouldn’t get charged with anything. I did learn one lesson though, cyclists are permitted to take the lane and from now on thats what Im going to do.

  • The Savannah Morning News is owned by Morris Communications, a newspaper chain known in Georgia for keeping ultra-conservative and none-too-bright editorial boards. I tangled with their Athens daily for years. It’s not at all surprising to me that they would publish a blanket cyclist death threat.

  • Jim J

    Par for the course. Y’all ought to read the racist comments they let stand on the message boards.

  • drewo

    I’ll remove Savannah as a place I’d like to visit.

    Cycling organizations and cycle tour companies nationwide should send a similar message to the Savannah Chamber of Commerce. Maybe the Savannah Morning News will take note.

  • My next experiment will be to take a hand gun, superglue four little Lego wheels to it, and see if it is socially and legally acceptable to threaten human life with my four-wheeled gun.

    My guess is not, Jeff. Charles Diez beat you to it. It’s not the type of weapon, it’s your status as a motorist and the victim’s status as a non-motorist. You have to actually be within a few feet of a car to indicate that status.

    The next experiment would be to mount a machine gun on the hood of a car and, if you get stopped, tell the cop that it’s okay because it’s only for cyclists and pedestrians. The problem is that you have no way to prove that you’re not going to use it against other motorists.

  • drewo, don’t take Savannah off your list of places to visit because of this; in fact this is all the more reason to go there and be a happy, bike-riding visitor.

    Its historic district is a great place to get around on bike anyway: flat, with quite calm car traffic.

    (And biking aside, it’s a beautiful city that’s worth seeing.)

  • Also, it’s one stupid remark, approved by one or two people, at one newspaper. It’s not an official statement issued by the city’s population.

  • To amend my earlier comment, I second ddartley. Comments on the Morning News web site should not be considered representative of Savannah at large. The paper and the cops are giving it a bad rap lately, but Savannah is unique in the South for its celebration of diversity and all things weird (like full-grown adults riding bikes). And anyone who passes up seeing the city squares is missing out.

  • Yeah I’m all about the cause for safer streets, but I’m not about to go boycotting cities because of it. By that logic, I would have to boycott the entire continent of North America, and I would grow to miss my friends and family.

  • Ernie

    All of you may be interested in the actual context of the Savannah newspaper comment — made by a reader, not the newspaper. It was regarding the lack of decent bike lanes in the city. It’s often dangerous on many streets for cyclists, yet it’s a beautiful place to ride. There’s a lot going on to get more space for cyclists in the city, so don’t be so harsh unless you know what you’re talking about.

  • Automobiles are lions, tigers and bears… and sharks. It’s a deadly ecosystem.

    I have a some ideas on creative art projects revolving this theme – anyone want to sponsor me? 🙂

  • Ernie is correct. The Vox Populi comment was made by a reader. However, it had to be reviewed and approved by someone at the paper before it was published. Also, Ernie, I’m not sure how you divined the “actual context” of the comment, as it was published on the paper’s Web site without additional context. My reading of it makes it clear to me it was a threat warning cyclists to stay out of the way or, as the commenter put it, “adios.” How do you get from that to interpreting it as being about “the lack of decent bike lanes in the city?” Do you have inside information about who made the comment and who approved it for publication?

    Finally, Ernie, you are correct that there is a lot going on to make Savannah a friendlier and safer place for cyclists. These efforts are a product of a cooperative relationship between sympathetic local government officials and the Savannah Bicycle Campaign (http://bicyclecampaign.org). I’m proud of what SBC and its partners have accomplished.

  • Sorry about the bad url. It’s http://bicyclecampaign.org

  • I always say about violence perpetrated against cyclists for be cyclists; if it looks like a hate crime, smells like a hate crime, sounds like a hate crime, it is a hate crime!

    And actually I boycott bicycle-unfriendly places all the time when I go on vacation. Since I often go on bicycle vacations I naturally tend to avoid places that are no fun to bicycle. European countries and cities are always high on places I’d like to spend my vacation time.

    Closer to home riding from Philly to Gettysburg and back mostly through very bicycle friendly Lancaster County PA was one of the best bicycling vacations I’ve done in a while, that was until we nearly got hit 4 times in 20 minutes by homicidal drivers (towards us and themselves) as we entered the town of West Chester, PA.

  • ano

    real people don’t ride bicycles, duh.

  • @Andy B

    A friend and I rode from Richmond to Philly last summer. Our transition out of Lancaster Co. toward Philly was equally rude.

    I’ve been referring to abuse as hate crimes, as well. Some of the experiences I’ve had in Lake County, FL cannot be defined any other way. We are not truly free to choose our mode of transportation when our fellow citizens are allowed to reduce our quality of life through harassment, or threaten our lives with violence.

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