Thursday, March 27, 2008

Human Rights

After my last article when I expressed my faith in human decency, that faith was put to the test when I read of the aftermath of the Bay Area tragedy when two cyclists were killed by a sheriff’s deputy’s car.

The media reflecting public opinion take on a “Blame the Victim” attitude. Although not in this specific case, but in talking about cycling related accidents in general. Public opinion after a cyclist is killed or injured is often, “He or she asked for it by being on the road.”

This same attitude existed back in the 1940s and 1950s if a woman was sexually assaulted. Public attitude often was, “She asked for it by dressing provocatively.” Police would do little to pursue such a case; in other words blame the victim.

The press and public opinion go hand in hand. The media can influence public opinion, but at the same time, they pander to popular opinion. Newspaper columnists know if they write an anti-cyclist piece it will get the support of the anti-cyclist public, and sell newspapers.

When Matthew Parris wrote in the London Times, advocating decapitation of cyclists with piano wire, there was an outcry from the cycling community, but little support from the general public.

Mr. Parris is not the only one to have written such inflammatory anti-cyclist articles. If these journalists used the words, Black, Jew, or Moslem in the place of “Cyclist” they would have been hauled off to jail.

In the same way that the media panders to public opinion, so too does it influence police attitude. Sheriffs are elected and police chiefs are beholding to elected officials. If police took the same “Blame the victim” attitude towards rape victims as they did 50 or 60 years ago, there would be an outcry from the media and the public.

There would also be public outcry if there was a racially motivated attack on a black man and the police failed to pursue the matter. Yet in Tucson, Arizona police refuse to pursue a case after a cyclist was struck with a baseball bat. Even though the victim provided a license plate number, and the cyclist’s lawyer knows who the assailant is, and where he lives.

In America a person can no longer attack a black or Jewish person, or a gay guy without serious consequences, these are hate crimes. Why is it then a driver consumed with road rage can take a baseball bat to a cyclist and the police look the other way?

Just read any online rant by someone on a blog or forum concerning cyclists, and they inevitably start talking about the skin tight shorts, those ridiculous shoes, and of Lance Armstrong wanna-bes. Totally irrelevant to the original complaint, but showing that all too human trait, to hate those perceived a little different.

Viewed in this light, isn’t the whole issue of people riding bikes on public roads a human rights issue? Cyclists are human, and they have a definite right to be on the road. Yet I have never heard of a cycling advocate pursuing it in this light, or a lawyer arguing that a cyclist’s civil rights were violated.

In the US, it is against the law to discriminate against anyone on the grounds of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender, etc. etc. Maybe mode of transport should be added to that list. Discriminating against, or hating someone because they are riding a bicycle, is just as ludicrous as any other form of discrimination, and has no basis.

I still stand by the sentiments of my last post. Cyclists behaving badly serves no useful purpose, and only provides fuel for the hate mongers. It can increase the danger; if not to you then to other cyclists. People on the roads are already insane; you would hardly give the finger to someone coming at you with a baseball bat, so don’t do to the guy in a three ton SUV.

That doesn’t mean we keep taking this crap and do nothing. We keep making our presence known, and people will realize we are not going away; in fact our ranks will swell.

To draw a parallel with the human or civil rights movement of the 1960s, people achieved what they did by protesting in a peaceful manner, even though violence was used against them.

I will keep writing about the issue whenever it arises, and I am hoping others will pick it up and run with it. As I have said before, in time the message will reach the mainstream media.

Now, if I could only make the case that cycling is my religion……hmm.


Anonymous said...


You are right on with this! In addition to being a human rights issue (attacking those seen as different and more vulnerable), there is also a US constitutional issue -- the right to travel on the roads.

I am most concerned about the impact of all this on the next generation. Kids are not riding as much as in the past. Not only does this hurt our sport and hobby, but more importantly it takes away one of the great joys of being a kid. Remember that feeling of independence and freedom, riding away from home into some big adventure?

Kerry said...


Like you, I have often compared cyclists plight to civil or human rights, although not quite as eloquently as you have. Great post!

Anonymous said...

Too true, basic civil rights are sacrificed when the majority prefer to be auto-dependent and demand/receive special privileges. The rest of us must suffer the consequences of their irresponsible behaviour.

I too have reported to police the license number of a SUV being used as a weapon against my young sons and I while cycling. The "acceptable" excuse was the SUV felt threatened by us.

The bias is far beyond civilized boundaries.

dave said...

Great post, Dave! I've only been reading your blog for a few weeks, but I really enjoy it- thank you.

One thing that would help us (as cyclists, but also as decent human beings) is to understand what it is that we are threatening by being on the roads. Although we have a right to the roads too, the roads were designed for cars (especially out west), so our riding bikes is a kind of attack on car culture in general.

Not that this has anything to do with cycling, but I would like to point out that police *still* blame women for being victims of (all types) of assault. Again, that's for another blog, but as long as we're talking civil rights...

akahn said...

Actually, people (police, media, public) still pull that shit with rape victims.

Anonymous said...

The internet is a worldwide medium and there are bicyclists here from all over the world.

Why don't I hear reports of assaults like these from countries other than the USA?

Hagus said...


I posted a long rant on this subject on my own blog, since I am a cyclist who frequents the road that Matt and Kristy were killed on in the Bay Area.

The San Jose Mercury News was one of the publications that defaulted to the "blame the victim" attitude in the hours after the incident. They pointed out that the Sheriff was negotiating a "blind turn". They dug out some guy who was willing to say that occasionally cyclists ride "dangerously" on that road. And they also pointed out it was unknown if the cyclists were riding "more than two abreast".

All this was complete bullshit of course. These guys were right off in the shoulder, probably riding single file because they were putting in a hard effort and had broken away from someone else they were riding with. And you tell me if this is a blind turn:

The turn in question, complete with where they were hit.

As the facts came to light, most of the news articles in the area cleared up. Over a thousand cyclists turned out the next weekend for a memorial ride to the site of the accident.

Thankfully, accidents like this are relatively rare, given the volume of both cyclists and vehicles on the road here in the Bay Area.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

I'm the lawyer representing the Tucson cyclist who was assaulted with the baseball bat. I agree with your sentiments completely.

I often tell my bicyclist clients that representing a cyclist in 2008 sometimes makes me feel like I am representing an African-American person in the Jim Crow era. Nothing they do is right, everything is always their own fault, and everything will always be used against them.

In the baseball bat case, we have filed internal affairs complaints with the police, we've seen city council representatives, we've addressed the Tucson Bike Advisory Council -- in short we have done every imaginable thing in our power that I can think of to do, and still the police refuse to act. It's astonishing to me that the police will not take this seriously.

By the way, this was not a "road rage" incident, it was a random targeting of a bicyclist at night by teens. Google "bicycle boxing" in quotes and you can learn about it.

It's sure riled up a whole lot of bicyclists down here.

--Erik Ryberg

Tim said...

I am a committed cyclist and have been for decades but rarely wear 'lycra' style clothing. It is not an excuse to pick on cyclists because of these special clothes but such clothes do distance cyclists from the general population. Joe/Jill Bloe simply cannot associated themselves with, in their minds such outrageous attire making cycling as they see it an activity for 'others'. Certainly not something that they can associate with. Of course style of dress is no excuse for such bias but I don't wear special clothes to drive my car so i don't see why I should wear special clothes (beyond wool and waterproofs to keep me warm and dry) when I ride my bike. I sincerely believe if more cyclists wore ordinary clothes cycling will be seem more a an ordinary activity which will help change attitudes AND get more people riding.

Anonymous said...

The sad part is that the article is correct--most bike/car accidents are the cyclist's fault. However, we (the sort of cyclists who actually read a blog on cycling) aren't the ones responsible for this disparity--just look at the breakdown of the statisitics. High on the list of cyclist's faults are "riding on the wrong side of the road" and "riding while impaired," things that even give a bike messenger pause.

While driving a car requires a license, any moron who can balance himself on two wheels can ride a bicycle. And as a stroll through the streets of any city can attest, they frequently do.

Anonymous said...


it is a little off topic, but it struck a chord with me so I felt it was relevant to mention it - the "she was asking for it" attitude still exists within the mainstream society of well developed coutries despite all the evidence to the contrary.

There was a survey conducted recently in Ireland and 25% of the people surveyed felt that the women raped were in some way responsible for the act.

"10% of people felt the victim was entirely at fault if she had a number of sexual partners."

I imagine that this is taking the analogy to the extreme, but I hope that the issue with cycling is not as intractable.

Anonymous said...

I agree that we all share the roads, etc. What I do not understand is cyclists who will steadfastly ride in the middle of a thoroughfare lane while cars back up for blocks behind them not being able to pass.

Sure, bikes have as much right as anyone else to be on the street, but what they do not have the right to do is block a lane or impede traffic.

Politeness and common sense dictate that they get out of the way and allow others to pass if they cannot keep up with the flow of traffic.

Simon Bird Building said...

so i just heard that a friend of mine will never be able to run again, i'm not talking marathon but just for the bus. and he may lose his foot due to a post operative bone infection after being knocked 30 feet from his bike, by a taxi, in central london in november. this guy is in his late thirties a father of two and not a daredevil maniac. the taxi pulled out from parked at the side of the road, just 'didn't see him'

i'm getting pretty bored of cyclists being the victims. but even more bored of cyclists seeing themselves as victims.
'my shorts provoked him'.
'the roads weren't designed for cycles'
'he was slowing me down'
'i'm not worthy'


its late and i'm drunk but c'mon people get a grip.

bikes don't kill people!

just cause mainstream society thinks you're a misfit cause you ride a bike it doesn't mean you have fewer rights. they'll still think you're a misfit even in your team kit and your 3k bike - for some it's not a sport or a hobby but ... what? a way of life..a part of life

we have MORE right to the road cause if i drive into a car the driver won't lose his f-ing foot

in any place that pre-dates the automobile - WE WERE HERE FIRST! they are our roads! and anywhere else, roads should have been laid out for all road users' use.
my bicycle *is* more worthwhile than your car.
i am sanctimonious and self righteous because I'M RIGHT!

now move your damn car out my way i'm coming through.

laters potatoes

Simon Bird Building said...

well, i just read that back and its mostly drunken rambling but i hope you'll get the jist.
it is 2 am here.

Anonymous said...

"True words my friend!"
What can the bicycling community do?
1) INDUSTRY: Create new, low cost, high volume products for increased Rider SAFETY!
2) INDUSTRY: REQUIRE bicycle equipment education, 'Rules of the Road' and SAFETY instruction by product retailer at time of purchase.
3) LEGAL: SEVERE penalties for violators of a bicyclist's human rights, applicable State DOT or Municipal Laws.
4) MEDIA: Increased attention regarding appropriate 'shared' roadways across America.
5) POLITICAL: Bicyclists MUST unite as 'going it alone' will assuredly prompt folly at your premature demise.

"Ride LONG, SMART and SAFE!"

Dave Moulton said...

Anonymous 9:31

With reference to cyclists riding in the middle of the road blocking traffic. A cyclist has the right to “take the lane” (ride in the middle) if it is unsafe for cars to pass at that point. I may be planning to make a left turn ahead and need to get over to the next lane. I can’t do this from the extreme right edge of the lane.

Often if I ride “in the gutter” the extreme right, drivers just don’t see me, and will pull out or turn in front of me. This is a complex subject that needs to be answered in another blog, Please come back on Sunday, March 30th and I will do that.

It is a right I try not to over use, and abuse. I never block traffic just to piss drivers off.


mander said...

Regarding your last comment, although I am am atheist and a skeptic i have had a few mystical experiences while cycling---these brief wonderful moments of oneness and peace, for which I sincerely thanked God. Not kidding! :)

Rea Road Neighborhood Coalition said...


You're right!

But here's the other side of the much tarnished coin.

In this country bikes are to most drivers an unexpected surprise, about as welcomed as a deer darting across the roadway.

That brightly colored graphic jersey that some riders think makes them stand out only blends with the roadside clutter.

Riding at dawn or dusk is asking for 6000 pounds of sheet metal to mow you down and I don't care what kind of LED strobe you have night riding is suicide.

Riders who ply the roads of John's Island or James Island need to understand they may have a right but it doesn't make it smart.

Riding two abreast on Lockwood, like running stop lights and stop signs, are frequent and common violations of those who think the rules don't apply to them.

The Low Country is a great place to ride but there is no argument for stupid and sadly its a name that in my opinion often fits cyclists in Charleston.

More commentary at:

PsySal said...

Amen. There is also something to be said to this analogy that I once heard: being passed unsafe by a car or intimidated by an intentional "close pass" is really just the same as somebody casually "almost killing" you. Why do we treat this kind of threatening intimidation as if it's mere impoliteness?

One way that I think a cyclists can advocate for themselves is wear a big dorky hi-viz vest and, more often than not, take the lane. When you get old grouchy guys who roll down their windows and yell at you for "not paying taxes", you know you are doing something right.

And remember that everybody who honks at you and pulls into the other lane to pass is somebody who might otherwise have close-passed you, or not seen you at all otherwise.

Yokota Fritz said...

Dave wrote: "Yet I have never heard of a cycling advocate pursuing it in this light, or a lawyer arguing that a cyclist’s civil rights were violated.

Occasionally an advocate pursues this line of thought, but he usually is laughed out of the room by other advocates or (if it gets to that level) the judge or police authority.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave, I just discovered your blog. I'm Chuck from Pacific Coast Cycles.

This human rights angle of looking at the car/bike thing is useful.

I think about the roadway more than is normal apparantly, and have some ideas about our plight out there among the masses of cars.

One thing that cannot be ignored is that for a lot of drivers, the car is their only means of feeling in control. With TV adverts telling them they are worthless unless they "buy this product" and working more and more and running up the debt on the credit card, etc., when they fire up the jalopy, it is their chance to push somebody around. The cyclist makes an ideal target for their anger and power trips.

In a society that won't make the commitment to treat mobile phone use while driving, we won't be seeing improvements in public attitudes any time soon.

Our challenges are several:
1. beligerent/mean drivers
2. innattentive drivers, (incl. phones)
3. public does not respect cyclists (pedal or motor)(also, small cars are victims, don't ask how I know)
4. the law does not support our needs, we need drivers to be tested better!
5. read #3, but substitute "cops" for "public"

Having driven cars since 1967, I would consider myself experienced. In that whole time, I may have been held up (slowed down) as much as five minutes in waiting for cyclists. I have been stuck in traffic jams for HOURS. Not one of those traffic jams was caused by cyclists. Those jams are caused by tailgaters and those who don't signal properly. It would really be something to read where it was suggested to use piano wire to decapitate tailgaters and those who don't signal!

The reason people tell you and me about cyclists holding them up and don't mention that cars, busses, big trucks, tractors hold them up, is that cyclists are smaller. It is as simple as that. Does the lady in the SUV think "I ought to just run down that cement truck for holding me up!"? No, but they not only think it about cyclists, sometimes they say it.

Size matters.