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How to Talk About Cycling to a Conservative

by Tom Bowden

Tom BowdenTom Bowden is a bike commuter from Richmond VA, a “suit” – a corporate lawyer with an MBA, and a conservative – You betcha! He is also a board member of BikeWalk Virginia, a pro cycling and pedestrian group in Virginia that raises raises money to promote cycling, walking and active lifestyles. Tom’s lawyerly blogging can be found at http://vabizlawyers.com/author/tbowden/


I’m a registered Republican and I consider myself pretty conservative—so what the heck am I doing, you may wonder, writing a column on a bike advocacy blog? I’m a bike commuter, and I chair the Advocacy Committee of BikeWalk Virginia. What I am going to share is essentially the same approach I will use to try to make sure the Old Dominiondoes right by its cyclists and pedestrians, and gives us our fair share of the transportation outlays that always seem so car-centric. Our General Assembly is about to go into session, and I will be doing what I can to advance a pro-cycling agenda.

So, speaking as a right wing cyclist, here are some thoughts on how to talk to Republicans, Conservatives, TeaParty types, and even libertarians.

Don’t assume they’re all hostile to our cause.

Ronald Reagan and Dorothy Lamour on a tandem bikeWhat makes you think cycling isn’t conservative? Of course it is! It conserves energy, it’s individualistic, and it’s anything but new-fangled. So they should be receptive. So don’t let campaign posturing turn you away—all elected representatives have cyclists in their districts, and all of them would probably like to claim they brought dollars to their district or state. Remember, “pork barrel” projects and “earmarks” are words to describe the money that goes to the other guy’s district instead of yours. When the dollars flow to your own district, it’s “I’m just doing my part to see that the good taxpayers of Cahoolawassee get their fair share of federal tax dollars!” (Translation: get back more than the taxes they paid). “This bike trail/bike lane/bike factory/whatever, will bring hundreds of jobs to our fine state/city/county!” You’d be amazed how fast a politician from either side of the aisle can smell a parade and immediately get out in front of it, and just how flexible their logic can be.

Key points to keep in mind, and use as needed:

  • Cycling is an exercise (literally) of a fundamental freedom – freedom of movement. Although not explicitly defined in the Constitution, it is derived from the “privileges and immunities clause” as interpreted by the Supreme Court in United States v. Wheeler, 254 U.S. 281 (1920). (You were warned: I am in fact a lawyer). This is why you don’t need a passport to enter New Jersey.
  • Cycling is efficient. True Conservatives love efficiency! It has been said that a cyclist is more efficient than a bird in flight.
  • Cycling has a glorious history of entrepreneurism! Think: Wright Brothers, Schwinn, and Trek. Lots of senators and representatives probably had paper routes. America invented the mountain bike, BMX and freestyle. Thomas Edison may have been the first freestyler!

Here is what turns off conservatives:

  • Over the top rhetoric. Don’t marginalize your arguments with statements, like: Everyone should ride a bike, give up their car, live green, etc.
  • Conservatives don’t like other people to tell them what they should do. And when you stop and think about it, you probably don’t either—that’s why you ride a bike, right? (To be fair, conservatives have done their fair share of telling other people how to live their lives, but pointing that out will not win you their support.)
  • Calling drivers “cagers.” Remember: their moms probably drive cars.
  • Ranting that oil companies are evil. Maybe so, or maybe they’re just incompetent. But what the heck does that have to do with it?
  • Anti-car arguments in general. Face it: cars exist and most Americans love them. You’ll get nowhere with a conservative if your explicit agenda (or suspected hidden agenda) is an attack on American “car culture.”
  • Global warming, Climate Change or Climate Disruption. If it’s as bad as Al Gore says it is, it will take more than a few bike lanes to fix it. But more importantly, you don’t need to win that fight (or even engage in it) to make your point. Cycling has plenty of merit without dragging in tangential and controversial issues like Global… whatever the heck they call it this week.
  • Refrain from gushing praise of European cycling culture, e.g. the Dutch, the Danes, or whoever. Conservatives are not inclined to emulate pre-colonial imperialist has-beens – at least not consciously.

Here are some positive things you can do and say:

  • If you must meet a conservative face-to-face, wear a suit! It won’t kill you. Think of it as camouflage – you may find them nodding their heads in agreement even before you open your mouth. Note: Some business suits actually contain trace amounts of Lycra and Spandex.
  • Remind them that cycling is cheaper than building more roads. The more cyclists, the MORE room for cars on existing roads. The more cyclists, the less concrete we need to pour. The less concrete, the more money for deficit reduction, tax cuts—or for bike projects in their home districts.
  • Use numbers. Here are some I find persuasive:
    • A study in one community showed that properties located near bike paths increased in value by 11% more than similar properties not near such facilities.
    • The Outdoor Industry Foundation estimates that the bicycling industry supports 1.1 million jobs and generates $17.7 billion in tax revenue each year.
    • A 3% reduction in traffic can result in a 30% reduction in traffic congestion.
    • Cycling reduces heart disease and other costly health problems – blunting the need for expensive health care – regardless of who pays for it.
    • The total maximum annual cost of bike commuter credit: less than $75 million even if every existing bicycle commuter got it – Total subsidies to drivers and transit users: $4.4 billion
    • Cycling generates $133 billion annually in economic activity
    • $76 billion a year on health care costs related to physical inactivity – Bike/Ped infrastructure can reduce this
    • $164 billion a year on health care costs associated with traffic injuries and deaths – caused by cars
    • $64 billion a year on health care costs of asthma and air pollution
  • Cycling is patriotic. Americans have won twice as many “Tour-day-Frances” in the last 30 years as the French themselves. The score is 10 to 5–and that’s not even counting Floyd Landis, or subtracting the late Laurent Fignon (who confessed to doping shortly before he died; take him out and it’s 10-3).
  • Cycling can make a serious dent in our dependence on foreign oil. A huge portion of all petroleum fuels go to automobile transportation, of which only 15% is related to getting to work, while 90% of all trips are less than two miles. Enabling even 10% of even those short trips to be on a bike or on foot can make a real reduction in demand for oil imports.
  • Make it clear that your are not suggesting that everyone can or will ditch their cars and ride bikes, but just that people who choose to ride should be able to do so safely, as taxpaying citizens worthy of full protection of their individual rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of that special kind of happiness one gets from riding a bike.
  • If you are bold enough, and can pull it off, you can say catchy things like:
    • “You can take away my bike when you pry my cold dead hands off of my handlebars.”
    • “Go ahead, make my day – let me ride my bike.”

So. Bottom line (and that is what conservatives like to think they are all about): Cycling saves money, saves lives and makes us stronger as individuals and as a nation. Spending money to support cycling is like putting money in the bank–it pays big dividends at low risk. It’s as all American as Mom’s apple pie. How much more conservative can you get?

 
BOB Trailer Sale

100 Responses to “How to Talk About Cycling to a Conservative”

  1. JaimeRoberto says:

    As one who cycles and is a little to the right of Genghis Khan, I’ll agree with your comments about what turns off conservatives: the smug greeniness and preachy anti-car attitudes. However, I’d drop the statistics. 97% of them are made up anyway. I bike because I need exercise, which I don’t get on the job, and I want to save a little money. It’s hard to argue against that, whatever your political persuasion.

  2. Tim Sherman says:

    I was born too late. I’m sure that I was not put on this earth to drive. I wish that I could ride a horse to work but I have a bike that is all that I need. When gas hit $4.11 I started riding to work because my family was not going to get out of their cars. My kids are off to college now so we only use one vehicle instead of four. I am a father not a transportational specialist. I live on a hill and ride into a valley so I climb 450 feet up each day after work. I was 215 pounds and now am 174 pounds. I have asthma and sleep through the night peacefully. My doctor is jealous of my numbers. These are very good points to remember when people ask me about my bicycle commute. I am a registered Republican in a very blue state. Thank you for your consideration and support.

    Tim Sherman
    Seatac, WA

  3. Smudge says:

    Great post Tom.

  4. Jack says:

    Agreed.

    Nicely done. A good argument for anyone, red or blue.

  5. Lorne Daniel says:

    Great perspective and useful tips, Tom. What’s most important, I think, is that we look at more of these community issues with open minds, rather than from right-left, conservative-liberal perspectives.

  6. matt marx says:

    +100, this is great!

    it’s always fun to see my leftie colleagues and friends wince when I tell them that I’m not biking to save the planet.

  7. Kelly says:

    I enjoy the mild cognitive dissonance that my conservative principles and avid cycling lifestyle seems to cause in others. I just like riding my bike.

  8. Robbie says:

    Although I am one of those lefties, I also love telling people that, “It’s not that I’m trying to prove a point, but I’m cheap and have a million errands to run. Bike parking doesn’t cost anything, whereas parking a car does. And it’s just way easier to get around downtown by bike than by car.”

    Also, as a year-round bicyclist in a northern, snowy climate, it’s fun to say, “Yeah, I’m too lazy to shovel out the car.”

    OK, that last comment is sort of smug. Try to say with a wink and a grin.

  9. Matt says:

    Great post. Maybe we could generalize it to convincing republicans of other worthy causes as well (e.g., providing health care for 9/11 responders).

  10. John says:

    I’m a Massachusetts Democrat and I hate bikers. They’re dangerous, they disrespect traffic laws, and they expect pedestrians to wait for them to pass.

    This post is enlightening. I really appreciate the points here and I learned a lot from it.

    But on the other hand, I think its a shame that even biking is an issue that (apparently) has to be proven along party lines. I didn’t know that biking was a democrat/republican issue. What a disappointment. Sure, there are arguments for and against, but it never occurred to me that these arguments would have to be categorized by party.

  11. Awesome post, great techniques for explaining the benefits on cycling and a cycling friendly city. Reading through it, you could probably even drop most of the conservative talk – the points given are all valid reasons to support cycling in the community no matter who you are talking to.

    @JamieRoberto, I understand your view on statistics, however I, and many others, find them very helpful for putting things in perspective, and they are great talking points in a debate. Those stats are definitely going in my mental pocket book, thanks for posting. They are super helpful in a conversation – they make you an authority on the topic and show you know your stuff.

  12. Allen says:

    At least one quoted “fact” is erroneous: only 40%, not 90%, of U.S. motor vehicle trips are two miles or less.

  13. Matthew says:

    This is a really good article!

  14. Sergei X says:

    So what your argument boils down to is: public investment in infrastructure for an environmentally friendly mode of transportation can and will result in long-term benefits for both public welfare and the economy. Cool. I recommend phrasing it that way at the next Tea Party you attend and seeing what happens.

  15. Brilliant and funny. Thank you!
    Much of what cyclists need is simple: good roads, good laws, and a civil culture. That isn’t s’posed to be political.

  16. guez says:

    Cycling is patriotic. Americans have won twice as many “Tour-day-Frances” in the last 30 years as the French themselves. The score is 10 to 5–and that’s not even counting Floyd Landis, or subtracting the late Laurent Fignon (who confessed to doping shortly before he died; take him out and it’s 10-3).

    And take Lance Armstrong out and it’s 3-3.

  17. Matt says:

    So all cyclists are dangerous morons? While we are generalizing, I guess it’s true what I’ve heard… you are all Massholes.

  18. hippiebrian says:

    Good post, but you lost me with the whole global climate change denial. It’s hard to take anyone serious who can use political ideas to deny legitimate science…just sayin’.

  19. Ward 1 Guy says:

    Thanks for posting this.

    How about these:
    - Bike = urban horse
    - Gun racks for bikes
    - Always refer to highways as “government subsidized construction projects”
    - Contrast cycling conservatives with limousine liberals.
    - Don’t use the phrases like “bicycle infrastructure” or even “bike lanes”. They’re “freedom trails.”

  20. Dave says:

    I applaud the “sensible” approach as we need to move away from polemic arguments if we hope to make significant progress. Attacking your adversaries might be useful in a debate or when you preach to the choir, but it’s counter-productive when you need to gain consensus.

    Riding a bicycle safely in your community is not about your political bent, conservative or liberal, it’s about sensible, cost-effect transportation alternatives that improve everyone’s quality of life. The bicycle becomes political when it’s injected with hyperbole and partisan nonsense. The bicycle, stripped of our biases, is a simple engineering marvel that deserves a legitimate place in our communities.

  21. Fred says:

    Good information for those of us who are not conserative.

  22. Chrehn says:

    I agree with Jack. This is good information, red, blue or purple.

  23. Sergei X

    I would (describe it that way at a Tea Party), but I do not consider myself a Tea Party member, and have no plans to attend any events. I think you are implying that your summary of my points is somehow antithetical to a conservative point of view. It is not. I think the difference between conservative and liberal points of view in this regard is a question of degree, and preference. Conservatives assume that liberals want to have the government make all consumption and investment decisions, and liberals assume conservatives want the opposite, but it’s really a question of where to draw the line. There is probably a broader area for agreement than either side might admit. There was an NPR segment just this part Friday on the subject of how to decide when it is appropriate and necessary for government to provide goods and services, or take action. Conservatives argue for limits and caution, in defense of individual freedoms – while liberals point to inequality and sometimes harsh results and argue for fairness and collectivism. Neither is wrong, inherently. Anyway, thanks for reading and keep on riding!

  24. oboe says:

    Great article. I’ve found that 99.999% of conservatives I’ve met are driven by a kind of petty resentment of folks they consider “different”. Particularly hippies, feminists, etc, etc… Almost everything they do is focused on tweaking one of those groups, rather than from some ethical or moral position.

    It can be summed up by, “If Jane Fonda’s fer it; I’m agin it!” or, as PP wrote, “[I refuse to ride a bike because I once heard a cyclist with] smug greeniness and preachy anti-car attitudes…” Not exactly a recipe for a happy life, but it’s what we’ve got to work with. So, as the author points out, the key is to downplay any involvement by The Other.

  25. MB says:

    Great, cycling isn’t a partisan issue. So why did 3 Feet to Pass fail along partisan lines in VA?

  26. I hope there are not too many people out there who would bike commute but are put off by the perception that it is “liberal.”

    Why is it that every aspect of American life nowadays is politicized to one degree or another. The process by which this happens would be the good subject of a book if one has not been written already.

  27. Great post AND comments.

    John (12:31pm), I’m sorry you hate bikers. I’m a biker and I not only respect traffic laws, but I depend on them with my life!

    I strongly advocate following the laws in my post on biking safe and how to survive while road cycling here: http//myworldfromabicycle.blogspot.com/2010/08/bike-safe-my-survival-tactics-for-road.html

  28. Stephen Baumann says:

    John, After living and riding a bike in the Boston area for 40 years and riding into South Boston for work for the last 8 years, I’d say your remarks more accurately describe Boston drivers than bike riders. When’s the last time you saw a Boston driver using a direction signal or actually stopping at a stop sign? Are you sure you’re not mistaking drivers for bike riders?

    Best Regards,
    steve

  29. Bob P. says:

    Thanks for a great blog, I love it when people make the false assumption that because I bike commute I must be a liberal.

  30. Chris says:

    Hey Tom:

    How about getting Republicans to end their ridiculous rhetoric and unfounded beliefs? It is pathetic that members of the Republican House has such views.

    http://www.vabike.org/three-feet-to-pass-resistance/

  31. Tom Cassera says:

    Useful post Tom. I like the reminder “…that cycling is cheaper than building more roads.” districts”

  32. river says:

    So, the stereotypes about conservatives are accurate then! Thanks for a most interesting article, though it is rather sad that ‘conservatives’ operate from such a narrow perspective.

  33. Jennifer says:

    I think these are great tips for advocating for biking to anyone – especially the one about not getting tangled up in side points that only complicate matters. Cycling stands on its own as a great means of transportation.

    I’d also add one more tip: Try to leave off the patronizing tone, like you’re talking down to the hicks. Just because someone has different political priorities than you doesn’t make them an inferior human being. Some of the commenters on this piece are exactly the kind of smug that turns people off, no matter how good their arguments might be. Conservatives can smell condescension from a mile away.

  34. Mike Lanza says:

    I’m a libertarian (not party – philosophy) who bikes everyday. I also *hate* suits – I haven’t worn one in over two decades.

    It’s important to note that there is an emerging movement among libertarians/conservatives toward community values. Check out Front Porch Republic.

    The idea, in brief, is that our immediate neighborhoods should be the foundation of our lives. Walking and riding bikes support our involvement in our neighborhoods, while driving in cars results in an ignorance of our own neighborhoods. Further, we/I believe that we citizens should take neighborhood issues into our own hands, rather than asking government to insert itself. The foundations of democracy start with real grassroots community action, not local zoning or planning commissions.

  35. Thomas Bowden says:

    HippieBrain

    Hippiebrain

    I didn’t say deny anything regarding climate change, I just said don’t put hurdles in your own path by linking cycling to climate change – like or not there are significant and even increasing numbers of people who question the “party line” on climate issues, why alienate them if it is not necessary to make your point? Do you only want votes from people with whom you agree on every issue? I just want safer cycling, and I don’t care whose vote makes that happen. I don’t even care if they believe in the tooth fairy, as long as they respect my right to be on the road. That’s the great thing about this country – your rights are not tied to your beliefs. Right or wrong, crazy, sane or anywhere in between, you have the rights guaranteed by the constitution. It may surprise you to hear me say it, but for that reason, I often find myself praising the ACLU no matter how wacko they seem on any given issue. It’s not that I agree with the substance of their arguments, but I applaud their willingness to take up the fight for civil liberties in general. If you don’t defend the edges, you won’t protect the center.

  36. Thomas Bowden says:

    River

    Please elaborate – I would like to know why you consider my (or any other self-styled conservative’s) perspective “narrow.” Not asking for your agreement on any issue, just define your terms. If “narrow” means I am not a credible bike advocate if I don’t support, for example, Nancy Pelosi’s interpretation of the commerce clause, or some other hot button issue, say so. Just don’t pigeon hole anyone based on their statements about any one issue. You need a big tent to get things done. If you’d like to share the tent with me, maybe we can accomplish something.

  37. Thomas Bowden says:

    Chris

    Rhetoric abounds on both sides. One side’s extreme rhetoric is another’s passioned defense of the position they care deeply about. And for that matter – if someone is talking nonsense in the most urbane and reserved tones, maybe even with a British accent for good measure, it’s still nonsense. If someone screams 2+2 = 4 at the top of their lungs with fire coming out their nostrils, it it any less true? I’m just saying turn down the rhetoric on both sides, approach each other in common purpose, and celebrate that on which we all can agree – bikes belong.

  38. Gonewest says:

    “Conservatives don’t like other people to tell them what to do.”

    Oh, the irony.

  39. Aryx says:

    It’s too bad that our culture overall is so politically charged. It makes it difficult to consider reason on face-value. Riding a bike is healthy, economical, practical, and fun. Politically I am very conservative – and to me it makes a great deal of sense! I am glad I am still free to choose to ride whenever I please. Great article. Thank you!

  40. d says:

    Wear a suit?

    In order to get a point across to a conservative it will be helpful to ‘trick’ their stereotypes of someone with a ‘good job’ and play dress up?

    Thanks, but no thanks.

  41. hippiebrian says:

    I totally agree with what you’re putting out, that a different tactic would be useful in the current political climate. It just hits me a bit wrong when a scientific issue like global warming somehow becomes a political issue. Science is science whether you are Libertarian, Democrat, Republican, Green or any other party. It’s a shame that one has to tiptoe over legitimate science in order to get things done is more my point I guess.

  42. Min says:

    Tom, great post. What kind of helmet are you wearing that you can fit your cap underneath?

  43. Amy says:

    What a fantastic, informative post. Refreshing to see in an increasingly bikes vs. cars and libs vs. conservatives atmosphere.

    Thank you for this.

  44. manmachine says:

    Hippiebrian,

    I think the point Tom is trying to make regarding global warming is that it isn’t a necessary component of bicycle advocacy. There are more immediate reasons for all people-regardless of their interpretation of scientific evidence (see this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vyuKOtIryis for a dispassionate, rational treatment of climate change evidence)-to support cycling, such as reduction in health care costs and better public health.

    Such benefits are less speculative and will have an immediate effect. Besides, even if every US citizen rose up and rode a bike instead of driving their car, the effect would be minimal. Cycling is not a panacea for our environmental problems, it is only part of an overall solution that will take significant societal and cultural change over decades to develop.

    In the arena of cycling advocacy we should focus on illuminating the common sense of riding a bike. Any environmental benefits will just be a happy side effect of this process.

  45. Nic Nelson says:

    Great post, great comment-thread. I guess I’m sort of a “crunchy conservatarian” when it comes to politics, and I hear Bowden’s advice in his post as tongue-in-cheek– and also excellent.

    This comment thread is probably not the place where we will resolve our political disagreements or debates about reality. But it is a great place to find common ground, here where the bicycle tire meets the road.

    Bowden’s metaphor about the “big tent” is, I believe, the real crux of this article and this discussion thread. I’ve never read this blog before today but judging from Bowden’s post title (and it’s his title that caught my eye as I skimmed the home page, today), many if not most of the contributors to this blog are writing from a more progressive/liberal viewpoint. The fact that the owner/editor of this blog allowed or perhaps invited this post is evidence enough that they also understand the importance of bike advocacy being a “big tent”, one that includes as wide a variety of opinion as possible.

    I won’t bring up my strong spiritual convictions or my strong opinions about adoption, racial reconciliation, appropriate technology, climate change, space development, and the preservation of the apostrophe, except to illustrate the great size of the Tent of Bike Advocacy, and encourage other fringe folks like me that they, too, are welcome here.

    And please note that you do NOT yet know any of my strong positions on those issues I listed! For the sake of practice, pretend I hold the most offensive position possible on each of those issues, and then imagine welcoming me with a smile and a warm handshake as you win me over to support bike advocacy… on this issue, and on as many others as we can, let’s all work together!

    • Ted Johnson says:

      Nic: Tom came to my attention after reading some of the comments he wrote on other posts. After a couple of clicks, I discovered an article he’d written for a Richmond business publication (Trading Four Wheels for Two). So I invited Tom to write something for Commute by Bike. We spoke by phone, brainstormed a bit, and agreed on this topic.

      The title of the post is a clumsy play on the title of Ann Coulter’s book, How to Talk to a Liberal (If you Must). (Note the absence of link love there.) A more thoroughly punctuated version of the title might have been How to Talk (About Cycling) to a Conservative (Because you Must). But I care too much about readability to allow that many parentheses in a title.

      From the 212th Congress on down to city hall, the truth will be that cycling advocates must talk to conservatives, and make a meaningful case. Who better to help than a cycling advocate who understands in his gut the sentiments, shibboleths, and dog whistles that motivate conservative politicians.

  46. Andy says:

    Great article. To those who lament the politicization of this issue, while you may be correct philosophically, the reality is there are knee-jerk reactionary types in every political camp out there – those who will follow the party-line and dismiss any idea/solution out of hand, just because it’s being pushed by those “other people”. So if you’re going to sell anything, whether it’s shoes or the inherent common-sense of bicycling, you’ve got to make it appeal to the widest possible group of people by showing how it benefits issues they are concerned with. Tom does just that and to his points, this conservative/libertarian cyclist would add: The Pentagon (what conservative doesn’t care about national defense?) has released a report that the poor fitness of our nation’s youth is negatively affecting our ability to recruit suitable candidates into the military. One solution? Make it easy for kids to ride bikes and walk to school.

  47. bob rogers says:

    We are much more alike than different.

  48. Jay says:

    You stated:

    Although not explicitly defined in the Constitution, it is derived from the “privileges and immunities clause” as interpreted by the Supreme Court in United States v. Wheeler, 254 U.S. 281 (1920). (You were warned: I am in fact a lawyer).

    Well, it may be amusing to cite Wheeler in a cycling context, but if you are a lawyer, you should know to Shepardize your case. Freedom of movement, more commonly known as the “right to travel,” is derived not just from the privileges and immunities clause of Article IV. In cases after Wheeler, the Supreme Court has relied on the Commerce Clause and, most recently, on the Fourteenth Amendment’s “privileges or immunities” clause. See Saenz v. Roe, 526 U.S. 489 (1999).

    – A liberal cycling sympathizer who has briefed the issue

  49. Tim says:

    I was just going to point out that he needs to check his bluebooking.

    But since you’ve demonstrated it so nicely with your “See … “, I guess my work is done here.

  50. Jay says:

    Thanks Tim.

    And Tom, I was just quibbling, you made som excellent points here.

    And to my fellow progressives, when cycling please refrain from following your usual instincts and stick to the right. Thank you!

  51. Jay and Tim

    Was not intending this to be a brief or to do a full blown constitutional analysis, but that might be an interesting project. Thanks for looking deeper – I am better informed as a result of your comments. The more we can tie our rights as cyclists to fundamental constitutional guarantees and protections the better. Not that it will necessarily win arguments with irate drivers – e.g.

    Driver says: “Get off the road you idiot – roads are for cars – you don’t even pay taxes you moron”

    Cyclist replies: “I beg to differ. Virginia Code Section 46.2-800 et seq. gives me the right to operate my human powered vehicle on this road, and furthermore, my right to travel in the manner I choose is guaranteed by the privileges and immunities clause of Article IV of the United States Constitution as well as the “privileges or immunities” clause of the 14th Amendment, See Saenz v. Roe, 526 U.S. 489 (1999). Furthermore….”

    Driver: “Like I said, a##hole, get off then freakin road or I’ll run you over and your pretty little bicycle too….”

    Cyclist: “Have a nice day….”

  52. Min

    It’s just a regular helmet without the foam pads. I think it’s a Giro – it’s old team issue helmet.

  53. Scott says:

    I personally don’t know why cycling would be considered liberal or conservative (left or right), it is just the “right” thing to do;-)

  54. BluesCat says:

    Thomas Bowden:

    Oooo, I wouldn’t let it out amongst all of yer buddies that yer consorting with all of us hippie, commie, pinko, leftie, radical … (have I left out any appropriate adjectives?) … bicyclists over here on Commute by Bike! They might just cancel yer Dubya Bush’s Base membership!

    All seriousness aside, I can’t find TOO much to disagree with you about, Thomas. I do have just one question for you, and two leetle bitty comments …

    Question: Why should we handle conservatives with kid gloves — and worry about what “turns them off” — when they typically view such a posture as a weakness and an opportunity to not compromise (or even LISTEN) at all?

    Comment 1: Your advice may work on a tiny fraction of conservatives, but for the vast majority of ‘em … they could care less about all the positive effects of bicycling, and are more interested in whether they have a newer Mercedes than you, so your only hope is that you do have enough lefties in the mix to have the votes that you need.

    Comment 2: The likelihood of success in gettin’ Ol’ BluesCat into a shirt and tie (let alone a SUIT) is LESS than the likelihood of Sarah Palin being able to NAME a single national newspaper, let alone QUOTE something from one!

  55. Jay says:

    As the author points out, just about anything popular or valued in Western Europe is dismissed or looked at with suspicion by a certain segment of America: not just cycling, but math & science proficiency, soccer — heck, even universal health care.

    For many of the same reasons conservatives hate spending on mass transit, they will hate spending on bicycle transportation.

  56. Tara McKee says:

    I very much appreciate this post re “talking to a conservative.” Convincing conservatives of the merits of protecting cyclists, approving matching funding for bike-friendly infrastructure, etc. is needed in states(like mine) where if you don’t have the GOP on your side, you won’t get anything accomplished. I live in Utah and am planning the Utah Bike Summit for 2011. The theme will be “Cycling Makes Sense,” because as you pointed out, Tom, there is a return on investment with bike/ped paths & less wear and tear on the roads. A bike friendly community scores high in livability, which can help attract companies to re-settle in your area–the type of companies who care about their employees’ lifestyle. Lastly, $$ from cycling tourism of one kind or another (mountain biking,races, rides or events, touring, etc.)is something that our legislature can understand as well. We are inviting our legislators and hope to win more of them over….

  57. Tom,

    Very nice post. While I understand that there’s no need for this particular issue to bring in climate change as an argument, for many other issues climate change indeed is an important rationale. (See my take on this here http://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com/2010/07/03/should-energy-policy-be-linked-to-climate-change/ )

    I would be curious to hear your take on how to talk about climate change with a conservative?

    [Editor's Note: Please limit the discussion in this thread to the relevant topic. If Tom or anyone would like to reply to Bart's question on climate change, go on over to Bart's blog.]

  58. John Galt says:

    ……”I’m a registered Republican and I consider myself pretty conservative”……

    Ok, you lost me right there. The two parties are going to the same place….just at different speeds.

    If you want to discuss polititics, this is the place:

    http://www.goooh.com

    As for the trail…Fundraising, sponsorships, and donations are the way to go. I don’t want to be the one that has to tell Grandma to her face that she has to give up living expense montey for taxes in order to give Jim, or Tom, Or Tim a recreational trail! We should not be telling taxpayers that we found a better way to spend the money and we are going to have to take it from them for a bike path.

    And yes, some of my VOLUNTARILY SURRENDERED money has found its way to the trail. My challenge to each of you is to do the same.

    “Don’t assume they’re all hostile to our cause.”

    Correct! The resulting achievement is a good one. But please don’t go begging the government to pay for it. It is unbecoming. Just do it.

  59. mattotoole says:

    MB: I think it’s been posted already to this thread but Bruce reported on why 3′ to pass failed last year:

    http://www.vabike.org/three-feet-to-pass-resistance/

    You can also see the progress of these bills in Bud’s daily reports from the legislature:

    http://www.vabike.org/category/legislation/

  60. Clay Nichols says:

    ..”90% of all trips are less than two miles. ”

    That is astounding. If it’s true I can see why folks thought the Segway would revolutionize things.

    But it certainly echos my experience (although I’m atypical b/c I work from home): Probably 90% of my trips are under 3 or 4 miles (so I bike if the the weather permits)

  61. Stop generalizing. Most “bikers” also own a car and they likely drive the same way as everyone else drives – by ignoring traffic laws and expecting pedestrians to wait for them to pass. Only there’s a lot more liability and risk in a 2 ton automobile. Think about that next time you roll a stop sign.

    I think this argument shows that in reality cycling *transcends* party lines, and that anyone who *hates* bikers is just a jerk who can’t look at people as individuals.

  62. Texan says:

    The incident you described plus ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser’s comments about bumping lycra clad cyclists has convinced me to use my second amendment rights. I now have a concealed handgun license and a small gun that fits in the middle pocket of my jersey.

  63. Joanna says:

    I used to live in Mass. and now live in Nor. Cal. I am also a Democrat. I am a bicyclist. The bicyclists in Mass are often very very aggressive. I believe this to be a response to the following: old and narrow roads, few bike lanes, and very very aggressive drivers. It took me about a year in California to become a civilized bicyclist. What changed me: unfailingly respectful nice drivers and wide bike lanes that gave me a safe area of my own. Bicyclists help you by not polluting and by not taking parking places. If you can find it in your heart to be patient with Mass bicyclists and Mass drivers they may gradually both become more civilized. Good bike lanes would help a lot.

  64. Khal Spencer says:

    Excellent post. Thanks.

  65. Khal Spencer says:

    Mr. Bowden

    If everyone on the right and on the left was as thoughtful as you are, we would be generating a lot more light and a lot less heat in many, if not most political arguments. Thanks for the post and the comments. I linked to this post on my own site.

  66. Khal – thanks for the appreciative note and for the link!

  67. Ron Hacker says:

    I think you blew it when I read the title. You slammed conservatives right there. What in your mind thinks you need to write an article like this at a certain huge group of people? Being conservative has nothing to do with one’s emotions while in their car trying to pass a bicyclist on the road. How do you connect people against cycling and conservatism? I dare say you are not a conservative because you actually wrote the article. You did the exact thing liberals accuse others of, profiling and discriminating against a certain group, what a biggot you are. I have actually asked the motorists who stopped to argue what they’re political affiliation and it’s pretty much 50-50. Conservatives only believe one thing about bicycling, don’t spend taxpayer money on projects that only benifit a few people over the entire community while your trying to soak them for all the other social programs …… I’m waiting for the artical on HOW TO TALK TO A LIBERAL ABOUT BICYCLING. The first line should be give up some other frivolous tax expenditure for your seldome used bike lane or trail if it so important to you!

    P.S. I rode 6000 miles last year, I’m a registered republican and I vote that way too. I don’t need bike lanes or bike friendly cities. I need harsh punishment for people who run over cyclists. At least give them a ticket for crist sakes!

  68. Jamey says:

    Seems like an awful lot of prevarication and effort just to try to open minds that are by inclination closed. The benefits of progressive transportation policies that encourage the use of bicycles are pretty obvious. But I find the Conservative opposition to them to be mostly emotional–the “Hippie Punching” effect. After all, I’ve yet to hear a Conservative argue that roads and airports need to be revenue neutral; The ones I’ve heard are all for public spending as long as it’s not their ox that’s being “Gored.”

    I sincerely appreciate your effort to explain how cycling advocacy and Conservatism are not exclusive quantities–especially how you present the arguments that cycling is more cost- and energy-efficient at moving more people over short distances. However, I’m afraid that when and where pro-alternative [to car] transportation public policy is concerned, Tom Coburn (R-OK) and his ilk have succeeded in making animus toward cycling-related issues monolithic on the Right.

  69. Jamey says:

    Tom:

    The principled Conservatives you cite are vastly the exception, and not the rule They seem more the result of what I like to call the Andrew Sullivan/Burkean mis-construct; the conceit that Conservatism cannot fail, only those imperfect agents who act in the name of Conservatism. The family members, friends, neighbors, and colleagues I know who self-identify as Conservative are, largely, authoritarian. They’re amenable to some forms of public control and expenditure, but by no means consistent. This is not to say that Liberals aren’t inconsistent or even at times hypocritical. However, a lot of Conservatives seem drawn to Conservatism because it offers a haven for reactionary beliefs and behavior (e.g., The Southern Strategy; Teapartyism). Liberals are more the idealistic/myopic “true believer” types, which is why Liberals have such a difficult time forming viable political coalitions with any consistency.

    I think Sergei X has Tea Partiers dead-to-rights: They oppose public investment . . . but only when it’s for the things they don’t like.

  70. MarkB says:

    I don’t ride my bike as a political statement. I ride my bike as a source of exercise, transport, enjoyment, economy, and lifestyle.

    I’m healthier and more fit because I ride. How you accomplish that is up to you.

    I get from A to B, for whatever purpose, by my preferred mode of travel. Not yours or anyone else’s.

    I’m a better, nicer person because I ride — and the people that know me will tell you, THEY’RE A LOT BETTER OFF THAT WAY.

    Riding a bike saves me from spending money on a 3000-lb machine, when I’d rather spend it on my kids.

    I am a cyclist who does not own a car; it works for me. How you live is your choice. We can share society — I’ll stay off your toes, and you stay off mine. I don’t care if you drive a Nissan Leaf or a Hummer, just let me ride in my little space without trying to clear me off the pavement.

    Simple — don’t clutter the issue…..

  71. Lorin Olsen says:

    Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. And he rides a bike these days – because reindeer have been banned (by the departing Congress) due to their excessive carbon footprint! ;-)

    Srsly, I am so thankful for this post. You can be conservative and ride a bike. In fact, conservatives do it with more style – and less bleating!

  72. Dougw says:

    As a diabetic I just quote my numbers
    A1C:6.5
    BP:120/70
    weight 205
    age:52

    Cycling has kept me off the needle.
    meds diet and exercise.

    In St Louis, we have a decent bike system with shared and dedicated lanes.It allows to me to commute work.

    Getting exercise,saving some cash and reducing my carbon footprint just by riding my bike,

    I don’t know why anybody be against that.

  73. Jeff says:

    Really, my world view has about 1% to do with why I ride my 29er. I ride because I like freedom, liberty, the scenery, nature, lack of government shackles and restriction of choices. I downhill ski for the same reason. I also like the exercise and how it makes me feel. I like the quiet of Lapham Peak. Hmm, sounds like a conservative lifestyle and world view.

  74. Dave says:

    Right on. This is exactly the even-handed, cool-headed way that bicycling advocacy should be carried out, and pretty much sums up why I bike.

  75. Sandy says:

    Not all cyclists are dangerous or disrespect traffic laws, those are just the ones we notice. Most cyclists dislike them too!

  76. My father is is a conservative/republican. He ranted against cyclists when they were in the minority and consisted mostly of disrespectful “outlaw” types that did not observe traffic regulations and would weave between cars. As cycling grew more popular and more “regular people” (who observed traffic laws) began cycling, he changed his mind entirely and now thinks cycling is great. His perception of how “dangerous” it is has also changed as a result.

    • Ted Johnson says:

      I just finished reading Bike Snob (the book). You confirm his point that, the best thing that cyclists can do for cycling is get on their bikes, get out, and be seen. To paraphrase: There was a time when it was unacceptable to wear a t-shirt in public. After enough people did it for long enough, it became normal and acceptable to wear t-shirts in public. The more people who are out on their bikes, the less resistance they will eventually face.

  77. George says:

    Thanks for the great ideas. I had never thought of the relation between being a conservative and one who enjoys cycling. I see how as we move forward creating more friendly biking communities that political stances are important to consider. Thanks for the insights. As gas prices have begun to go up again, it would be nice if cities, counties, states, etc. could work to make it easier for people to depend less on gasoline.

  78. dr2chase says:

    I’ve noticed several mentions of “dangerous” and “disrespectful” cyclists.

    May I humbly suggest that cyclists as a group, are not very dangerous; if they were, when we looked at mortality statistics, we would see more a larger number of pedestrians killed by cyclists than we do (I see ONE, in whatever year it was in my sample). This is completely separate from whether the cyclists are dangerous to themselves, break laws, or have terrible attitudes — if, given all the cyclists out there, only one pedestrian is killed, then cyclists aren’t that dangerous. (Note, too, that pedestrians are willing to share space with cyclists on unlit, icy, paths — I just rode home in these conditions. The exposure to collision is far higher. Can you imagine the risk of doing this with cars?)

    For comparison, cars kill about 3000 pedestrians per year. Adjusting for ride share, that makes cars about 30 times more dangerous than bicycles, to other people. (These are round numbers, I am sure the data is noisy, especially on the bicycle end.)

    The “disrespect” is a corollary of this. If you are repeatedly told that you are dangerous, when the status quo (cars) is clearly, obviously, more dangerous, you are not going to respect the person who tells you this. Put yourself in the shoes of the cyclist — cars are far more dangerous, and break plenty of rules, and we see the rule-breaking all the time. To then be told that WE, on our bicycles, are the danger worthy of attention, is both untrue and insulting. This is not how you generate respect. The cyclist, quite rationally, can point to the numbers and ask why he (or she) should not be regarded as the safety expert? Surely, results matter, and that is what the results tell us.

    And I realize that this presents a dilemma to conservatives, because on the one hand, I know very well that they value rules, and they value respect for the status quo. On the other hand, results matter. That is surely a conservative value, too.

  79. John Lieswyn says:

    Oh my God! Bicyclists expect pedestrians to wait for them? What, just like other vehicle drivers do? What a revelation!

  80. John Lieswyn says:

    it isn’t about Grandma giving up tax money for a recreational pursuit. Bicycling can be about recreation AND business AND transport, just like driving. Keep in mind that the huge subsidy given to driving by parking requirements is what has made the car king, and nothing else. Look up Donald Shoup and the High Cost of Free Parking for more.

  81. James Brown says:

    This is a nice article, but ultimately it’s a waste of time because it comes the issue from a completely irrelevant point of view. You may be conservative in your policy positions but your are 180-degree opposed to the entire gestalt of the conservative political movement. Nowhere is this better evidenced than in your first bit of advice in how to speak to conservatives where you counsel us to avoid “over the top rhetoric.”

    Uh…I believe over the top rhetoric is the biggest plank in the Republicant Party’s platform these days. Virtually half of the Republicant elected officials feel free to call Obama a socialist. And they refer to Obamacare as Naziism. Fox news is nothing but over the top rhetoric.

    You, like the Log Cabin Republicants (ps: that’s a term I coined for the party that can’t govern effectively) are kind of pathetic in the fact that you are so far outside the mainstream of your own party but still cling to some hope that, with reason, you can convince them you’re not the enemy.

    The long and short of it is if you really want to support cycling, become a Democrat. Your ride will be a lot longer and more fun.

    Sincerely,

    JB

  82. Damien Mac says:

    Boston is the most dangerous place I have ever ridden a bike, probably because they have the most dangerous drivers, not aggressive but just plain dangerous. I have ridden my bike as a bike messenger in NY and Boston, I have trained many miles and raced on the road at elite level in NY, California Belgium, Holland, Ireland, Germany and Italy and it’s stunning how Mass drivers operate when near a cyclist! It’s as if they dont see you or refuse to see you. It’s the only place I truly fear getting clipped by a vehicle passing too close from behind. It’s frighting how many people cant judge space or again refuse to give it. It’s understandable why there is such a conflict between rider and driver, imagine how many people have come close to or were knocked down by careless Massachusetts drivers.

  83. oldguy says:

    Tom, In looking at how the comments have accumulated, it is interesting and somewhat sad to see the eventual divergence into opposing camps. Not the intention of the post, but it is what it is. Of all the comments, the two that resonate with me are the Mass drivers and your comment about “where to draw the line”.

    I grew up and have family in Massachusetts. I moved to California as a teen, but I return regularly to see family. To some extent the east coast retains vestiges of the old-line proper society–dishes match, shirts button, and there is a social tension among families and acquaintances in small social groups that demands a certain level of behavior. But put these folks in an anonymous setting and they become rude–cut in line at the store, and absolute monsters behind the wheel. Out west we are more inclined to be slobs drinking from jelly jars but to be more considerate of others in the anonymous context. Generalizations to be sure, but an element of truth.

    “Where to draw the line” is the essence of our political disfunction. Those who deny that there is a continuous spectrum of political, social, and economic opinion and who cling to their poles do us all a disservice. Folks deride spending on non-motorized modes and mass transit but are blind to how deeply subsidized the other modes are. In California one current issue is the proposed high-speed rail. There are many valid points on which to debate, but many can’t get started because it requires government subsidy. The inevitable argument is comparison to flying. The unexplored lie is that the airlines are private sector so the cost of flying is defined by the efficiency of the markets. But take away the subsidized airports and what have we got? It’s all a matter of where we draw the line–we have to drop the dogma to understand the reality and make informed decisions.

    To those that don’t see the value in the original post, I hope the point becomes clear. Strip away the social engineering point of view in your arguments and focus on communicating the cost of existing support of motorized modes and the potential for savings by promoting non-motorized modes. That is the language that most conservatives will understand.

  84. Tom Bowden says:

    Oldguy – You make excellent points. It’s ironic that when most people complain about subsidies (and I am generalizing, but not on the basis of left or right)they are usually in the dark about the true amount of subsidization they receive, whether direct or indirect, via outlay or tax loophole. You mention the airports, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Although it’s probably not so much the case anymore, the airlines reaped huge benefits from military programs, because the cost of R&D for jet aviation was heavily “subsidized” by DOD expenditures on military aircraft. You could say it’s a spin-off benefit, but there is little doubt in my mind that air travel would be much more expensive but for all of that development, plus the public expenditures on airports, air traffic control, etc. In another vein, when motorists (probably liberal and conservative) gripe about cyclists who want some infrastructure, they just assume that they are paying their fair share of highway maintenance through gasoline tax, but as has been shown in many other articles, that’s not even close to true, even for the federal highway system, and of course, local roads are mostly supported by local taxes generally, not vehicle user or registration fees. So it comes down to people who live in glass houses should not throw stones, and they should remind themselves how much they save in taxes by paying a mortgage instead of renting, before they cry foul on subsidization of other consumption choices, whether they relate to transportation, housing, or any other area. As an aside, I recently read a book entitled “The High Cost of Free Parking” by Prof. Donald Shoup, with the intention of interviewing him for a post here on Commute by Bike. We haven’t done the interview yet, but in case the title doesn’t give it away, I’ll give you a hint – free parking is anything but. I wonder how many motorists have any sense that they are imposing high costs on society, and in particular, non-motorists, by demanding and utilizing this “free” amenity that is so ingrained that it is built into building codes all over the country.

    Thanks for your thoughtful follow-up comment one year down the line. Maybe it’s time to revisit the issue.

  85. Jeff Gardner says:

    Tom, I believe there are more recent cases than Wheeler but perhaps I am mistaken. I’ll Shepardize at first opportunity.

    Yes, where to draw the line? How about the Constitution….which, in line with so much else cyclists stand for, means intellectually and ethically canning the total bastardization of the commerce clause since the 1880s. Because if, indeed, travel is a right and is without Art. I, Sec 8 Congressional control, then the Feds have no business funding it as privileged spending that Sec.’s Cl 17.

    Sadly, for all the good work Commute by Bike does, in the end it is just another privilege group looking for federal dollars and saying their cause is better than others. That this is true (!) does not change the nature of the objection.

    R/ Jeff Gardner
    on the road in N CA

    • Ted Johnson says:

      Commute by Bike is not a group, or an organization. It’s a Web site and blog about bike commuting. The opinions of the writers are their own.

      I’ll point Tom to your comment for his response to the Constitutional question.

  86. Jeff Gardner says:

    Thanks, Ted. Actually I did not know that. There is so much good, thoughtful active information here that it seems like more than an electron existence. That says alot for the work you’ve done here.

  87. Tom Bowden says:

    Jeff – I agree the commerce clause has been abused in the extreme, and now threatens to swallow the entire constitution like a black hole, but I don’t follow your logic. If travel is a right or even a fundamental freedom, then it is a government obligation to protect that right. I don’t mean that all rights should be subsidized, but I don’t agree that calling something a fundamental right implies that the government should not expend any funds in support of that right. Government is justified in spending money protecting our lives and our property by exercise of the police power and, when necessary the exercise of military power.

  88. Jeff Gardner says:

    Tom, thx for your reply.

    Fed obligation to protect rights and fundamental freedoms cannot possibly extend past pretty clearly limited enumerated spending powers. If it did, then, in the instant example, Feds would be required to provide bike trails for everyone, everywhere. 14A, 5A. ‘Protecting’ does not and cannot encompass ‘providing’. Free speech protections, for instance, do not obligate federal govt to provide an audience to hear that speech. Or, in the other example of fundamental freedoms you cite, ‘protecting’ life and property (or liberty, privacy and travel) does not burden or authorized govt to ‘provide’ for it.

    Don’t mean to get off on Constitutional treatises. But it is important. And, in a cycling community that boldly steps out to do so many right things right, exchanging this fundamental for parochial gain seems…unseemly.

    R/ Jeff Gardner, Redding

  89. Ann Siegle says:

    Tom, I ride my bike wherever possible – I also take two small children to day care/school that’s quite a distance (without busing) from home and work so I can’t ride to work that much. We have a decent network of dedicated paths (Lansing’s River Trail is one of our highlights of our community) and some painted bike lanes. But the reason we got those is federal money was allocated to those projects so when the road was repaved, part of the money to fund that was provided in a federal transportation bill. From what I understand, bike programs like that were all but axed out in the latest round of budget items. I’m a fiscal conservative small business owner and I want to begin commuting by bicycle again at least part of the time. I need safe places ride with small children in tow. But I also need to move fast, so I want these safe places on the road, not just on a protected dedicated path. I’m not alone. I live in a midwestern University and state capitol community that is not Madison WI, but we have similar weather, and it’s pretty much all flat here, so I know bike commuting could be a huge thing here in our city. So if bicycling is so bipartisan, why do we still axe the paint and trails stuff out of transportation bills? And why do my conservative friends gripe about me ‘not paying my fair share of gas taxes’. Until recently I drove a 15 year old Ford Explorer, so I more than paid my fair share of those taxes? Is that the perception? that everyone who bike commutes is a hippie who doesn’t own a car??

  90. Joe says:

    Funny thing Modern “Liberal” like being told what to do. The irony..

  91. Weesy says:

    I understand why you find this a beettr option. And that reinforces what I mentioned briefly in the post: Whenever you see lots of different cyclists finding their own various and creative ways through a particular area that may indicate an underlying problem.Does anybody else remember: It’s been only 10 years or so, since they completely tore up this part of Coburg Road and re-did it. They did build some new stretches of path and those underpasses, which are nice. But I wonder if there were other ideas and options for bike lanes/paths through this area that got left out of the final plan due to budget or something??

  92. Jonathan says:

    I’m a conservative and I am a cyclists because its fun and its about getting places on your own two feet. In other words, bicycle commuting is about personal accountability and effort, two things I highly value.

  93. Frank Norman says:

    One of the most annoying complaints that some Conservatives, and, perhaps to a lesser extent, other people make about cyclists is that they are not helping to pay for the roads so should have no right to use them.

    My response to this is to say that most cyclists also drive cars, so are in fact paying vehicle and fuel fees and taxes, plus cyclists paying the same property taxes and income taxes as anyone else. The argument that cyclists are not helping to pay is invalid.

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