Why We Blame Bikes

A cyclist friend posted a link to a nice analysis of the ways people tend to blame bikes disproportionately for pedestrian problems (pun intended).

I did a lot of bike-commuting in college but moved afterwards to a city that, at the time, was far less amenable to such activities than either place is today. I fell completely out of the habit, and a large part of that was about feeling blamed—sometimes with dangerous backlash—for what we should see as reasonable and even desirable changes to the urban environment.

As I read the Alviani piece, what I really wanted to ask was, “But why?” Why, ultimately on psychological terms, do people heap all this blame on the humble cyclist?

I have two hypotheses, one for pedestrians and one for drivers. I’m sure the real situation has a multivalence that I’m not accounting for here, but:

I think what makes bikes disproportionately scary for pedestrians is that we can’t really hear them coming. We use sound to take in our surroundings broadly and alert ourselves of potential danger that our narrow field of vision might miss. We can’t do that reliably with bikes, so we worry and blame cyclists irrationally. (Not that their aren’t some crazy ones, but again, the backlash is out of proportion as compared to pedestrian fear of crazy drivers.)

And when we’re driving, I think bikes force us to confront the fact that we’re not the rational creatures we like to believe we are. We know that the law is the law, but we resent the minor hassle of having to share the road and so make up all kinds of rationalizations about why the biker is in the wrong. But those break down in a way our similar thoughts about other cars do not, because with bikes and their fragile, unprotected human riders, we are so much more directly confronted with the fact that our desire for convenience could so easily cost somebody else’s life if we’re not careful.

TL;DR: We’re only human! Pure rationality evades us always.

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