Last week, a local financial executive called me a “stooge.”
I was somewhat insulted, but mostly curious.
There was no question what I had done to inspire the vitriol. It was my reporting on research that projected the physical and environmental benefits to be gained if Midwesterners turned to biking or walking for 50% of their trips under five miles. (The report can be found here).
For that, I was deemed a “pawn of the left.”
The criticism mirrored that of other self-described conservatives and made me wonder again why advocating for bicycling is deemed a liberal pursuit.
In an email to the critic, I posed the question this way: “It would seem that cycling, as a cheaper alternative to driving, would be a transportation option embraced by conservatives. It's cheaper for the individual and the required public investment, compared to road-building. In most debates, though, it seems conservatives view cycling as a liberal enterprise. I realize you're probably busy, but your insights into that divide would be welcome.”
He did respond, at some length, but later asked that I not share his dissertation on the blog. He explained that it might cost him clients, who hold an opposing view.
Fortunately, conservative blogger James Wigderson posted a somewhat similar critique on the MacIver Institute web site. Another post, in the Manhattan Institute's City Journal, argues bike lanes add to traffic congestion.
Wigderson has previously ridiculed investments in cycling infrastructure, and he followed a similar path in critiquing the study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
For a number of reasons, Wigderson found absurd the idea that Midwestern residents would bike or walk upwards of five miles to run errands.
“If I took a bicycle everywhere I went, I wouldn’t be able to use my cell phone,” he wrote. “The gasping for air would get me arrested for making obscene phone calls.”
His larger point was more practical than physical:
“My wife’s trips today to the grocery store, Menards hardware store and for take-out pizza all should have been on her bicycle. But of course that wouldn’t work. It’s hard to carry the latest Christmas outdoor decorations from the hardware store on the back of a Schwinn, even with a basket. Two gallons of milk, cereal for a week, bacon, eggs, bread, and light bulbs weren’t going to fit on the back of the bike, either. As for the carry out pizza, that might have worked. Just leave the two-liter of soda and the breadsticks behind.”
Wigderson ably expressed his view that the study’s preposition – that 50% of trips under five miles could be managed in non-motorized fashion – was unattainable.
But his post, and my financial friend’s response, failed to answer my larger question about conservatives and their opposition to investments in cycling.
I think it’s worthy of discussion, preferably in a thoughtful, fact-based, non-insulting manner.