Slate Examines the Irrational Biases That Underlie Cyclist Hatred

Not surprisingly, everybody’s talking about the Slate article that attempts to explain “Why You [presumably a motorist] Hate Cyclists.”

Writer Jim Saksa basically concludes that motorist haterade is based mostly on logical fallacies that stem from the marginalization of cyclists, and our predilection to use anecdotes to confirm our own deeply held biases.

If this sight makes you angry, it might have more to do with you than the person on the bike. Photo: Bike Portland

Here’s a sampling from Slate, if you haven’t had a chance to read it yet:

The “otherness” of cyclists makes them stand out, and that helps drivers cement their negative conclusions. This is also why sentiments like “taxi drivers are awful” and “Jersey drivers are terrible” are common, but you don’t often hear someone say “all drivers suck.” People don’t like lumping themselves into whatever group they are making negative conclusions about, so we subconsciously seek out a distinguishing characteristic first.

Network blogger Jonathan Maus at Bike Portland calls the article “important” and a “must-read.”

Saksa correctly (in my opinion) states that much of the hate we hear about on talk radio shows, in OregonLive.com and local TV station blog comments, has more to do with emotion than reality. This is something I’ve tried to explain to people (in a much less eloquent way) for a long time, and it’s why we can’t let people’s personal anecdotes become the basis for policy.

I’ve found that much of the divisiveness and anger present in our discussions about transportation projects and policies has to do with a simple lack of perspective. Most of the people I debate issues with simply haven’t spent time riding a bicycle in an urban environment. On the flip side, I have driven around this city in a car plenty of times

One thing Saksa doesn’t mention, but that I feel plays a large role in peoples’ tendency to “hate cyclists” is that people on bikes are not anonymous. Because bike riders are out in the open, they are very easy to judge and attach anger to. People in cars, on the other hand, can barely be seen inside their vehicles and they are, in effect, shielded from hateful and emotional psychological scapegoating.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Cyclelicio.us offers a handy map for determining whether your state is above or below average on bike commuting. Some of the results are pretty surprising. Market Urbanism wonders why more governors don’t seize on zoning reform as a way to jump start their states’ economies. And Transit in Utah celebrates the opening of Portland’s newest streetcar line.