Cyclists gain an unlikely defender against the backlash


After yesterday's media pile-on – with the Examiner's cover story and the Chronicle leading both its front page and Bay Area section with stories bashing bicyclists in the wake of a pedestrian death – it was refreshing to read today's level-headed Examiner editorial “Rare pedestrian death exploited by bike foes.”

When I posted last week on the fatal cyclist-vs.-pedestrian collision (one of the first to report disturbing new details of the incident), I noted that the cycling community was braced for a backlash. And it came in the form of calls for police crackdowns, angry anti-cyclist diatribes, proposals for elaborate bike regulatory and re-education programs, and other opportunistic jabs.

The Examiner – which, under new ownership, has abandoned its nutty old right-wing stances – not only called out those critics as predictably lacking in perspective, but the editorial even took that next step of tying them to the pro-car reactionaries who get so lathered up about paying for street parking or losing any street turf they now control.

“There is an audience out there — mostly older, mostly cranky — that loves to marinate in the notion that drivers in The City are victimized by political correctness run amok,” the Examiner wrote. “This idea of two-wheeled liberalism is an attitude that is pandered to by the likes of curmudgeonly columnists at San Francisco newspapers.”

Yeah, git 'em, Ex 2.0! It's amazing how the most privileged and entitled members of our society – such as rich white motorists – are so quick to play the victim card these days, a tactic popularized by Rush Limbaugh that has become the standard reaction to any perceived imposition on their comfort and convenience.

“Transportation policy and budget priorities are complex, especially in tough times. It is easy to sit back and paint in broad strokes about issues, but that does nothing to truly advance the conversations that need to be happening,” the Ex wrote (in sharp contrast to Chron's reactionary, ridiculous editorial stance).

Mayor Ed Lee and SFMTA chief Ed Reiskin deserve credit for supporting the controversial proposal to put in new parking meters and begin charging on Sundays – an issue on which former Mayor Gavin Newsom pandered to the mob and showed a real lack of leadership – but that's just the beginning of doing what needs to be done to create a 21st century transportation system.

The death of this pedestrian is a horrible accident that has reminded the cycling community of our responsibility to other road users, and it has prompted discussions and realizations that are probably overdue. We get it. But we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that cars create more pressing and widespread problems – in terms of being deadly, costly, bad for the environment, and dominating public space – than do bikes. That's not judgment, just perspective.

Or as the Examiner says, “Bicyclists can be rude — they certainly ride through red lights or on the sidewalk and are rarely punished, in part because on the scale of criminality, this is fairly minor. But the one thing they almost never do is kill someone. We shouldn’t let this incident distort our approach to traffic laws or add fuel to the apparently endless battle of the bike and the car.”