One of the skills engineers and planners strive to develop throughout their careers is the ability to lead a discussion in a public forum in a professional manner. This is especially true any time the discussion involves cycling, a topic that often results in heated debates. Any engineer or planner leading a discussion about bicycle infrastructure should be prepared to respond to what I refer to as the anarchist scofflaw argument.
The anarchist scofflaw argument includes any combination of the following:
- “Bikers never stop at stop signs.”
- “Bikers always ride down the wrong side of the street.”
- “When are bikers going to start following the same laws drivers do?”
- “I see bikers blowing through traffic signals all the time.”
- “Why do bikers think they own the road?”
- “Bikers just do whatever they want.”
If you’re not familiar with any of these arguments, just read the comments section from any article about cycling on a newspaper web site.
This afternoon, Mia Birk posted some helpful tips on her blog Joyride on how to respond in a situation like this. I was more drawn to her ideas about what not to do than her ideas about what to do. I nodded my head in agreement as she first offers some ideas of what not to say:
First: don’t bother trying to explain the laws of physics, meaning that on a bicycle, we use our body for propelling the vehicle and thus it is desirable, normal, and natural to want to keep moving. […]
Second: skip the lecture about how our traffic laws need to evolve in lockstep with the re-balancing and re-design of our transportation systems toward bicycling and walking. […]
Third: refrain from comparing cyclists and motorists’ relative level of misbehavior. […]
Without a doubt, none of these responses will be the slightest bit helpful. While Ms. Birk is collecting comments about what you should say in this situation over on her post, I’m more interested in hearing some horror stories about what not to say. I’ll admit that I’ve attempted these arguments on occasion in private discussions, always with poor results. Luckily, I’ve never used any of them in a public forum. What other responses should be avoided? Have you ever used one of these arguments in a public forum?