Thoughts on the bicyclist typology (the short version)

I posted this recently on the ABPB listserv in response to what I felt were some alarming* comments about how bike facilities aren’t needed in downtowns where auto traffic is *only* 30 mph, or that people should feel comfortable mixing with buses because bus drivers are professionals (true, but buses are still HUGE from the perspective of a bike). I thought I would share my short but impassioned plea here:

We need to stop talking about the bicyclist typology like it is aspirational. The “strong and fearless” category is not (nor do I think it was ever intended as) a more enlightened place to be on the spectrum. We need to stop talking to people about bicycling like things will be great in some future state: “it will be fun/easy/convenient/safe when you are fit/confident/experienced enough.” We need to design and build facilities that meet people where they are, and quit acting like they just need a nudge along the typology. When many people see the “strong and fearless” designation, what it means to them is “fit but reckless.” And that’s a pretty rational thought, in the US context. With our current facilities, no amount of education or encouragement is going to transform a sizable amount of the US population into people who want to mix with buses going 30 mph, nor should it. Traditional traffic engineering gets criticized (and often rightly so) for prioritizing efficiency over safety, but this strong and fearless mentality prioritizes machismo over progress. It only alienates many of the people who we say we are trying to reach. And if it continues to infect our approach to design and engineering, it won’t make them safer, more comfortable, or more likely to ride, either.

*alarming in that they were coming from bike planning/engineering professionals, and I felt perpetuated the same old vehicular cyclist mentality that keeps US bicycling as an unsafe, unattractive mode for many.

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