The Wealthy Would Rather Bikes Didn't Exist

I don't own a car. I haven't for almost two years. At first the decision was made for me. I couldn't afford it. There was no possibility of paying for a car on top of rent, groceries, and significant student loan payments. I have since changed to a better paying job. I could afford a car now, but the cost would cancel out my increased earnings and I've decided its not worth it.

Instead of a car, I primarily use a bicycle to get around. Every once in a great while, I'll take a bus, use Lyft, or borrow the car of my (unfailingly generous) girlfriend. I used to live within walking distance from my work. My new job is a four mile bicycle commute each way, not all that far. Luckily, I'm happy to do it. I'm an avid cyclist anyway; it's my thing. That's lots of fluctuation in my weekly mileage. But this year, between commuting, training, racing, etc. I'm averaging fifty miles per week. All in the rather car dense city of Austin, TX.

Austin is a fairly bike friendly place, certainly more than Boston or Providence, the only other cities I have experience riding in. But still, there always exists the few bad eggs trying their best to ruin my day. They lay on their horns, intentionally pass dangerously close, flip me off, all while invariably screaming at me. It's a curious thing, this specific kind of anger. A frothing and seething rage. Such a disdain for my very existence that, at the most, requires them to move over a few feet to the next lane or wait a couple seconds for the opportunity to do so.

I encounter one of these every thirty miles or so. It's such a peculiar experience for me, encountering such anger. I'm always struck with the desire to question the driver on what exactly sparked their rage. I'm a rigorous rule follower. If there's a bike lane, I'm in it; if there's not, I hug the side of the road; I do not run stop signs or red lights; I use lights and wear reflective clothing; I always use hand signals; and I always wear a helmet. I'm never actually committing an infraction that would warrant some frustration, certainly not that boiling anger that flows out of them.

Through my personal experience of riding thousands of miles in this city and experiencing this behavior dozens of times, I've found a pattern. The bicycle-enraged drive expensive cars. Always. BMWs (usually black), Lexuses, Escalades, etc. The people who hate bicycles and their riders so much that they scream at them for no reason are always rich.

In a great piece for The Outline on the state of e-bikes in New York City, Aaron Gordon writes:

The e-bike debate is starting to look a lot like a pattern bicycle activists have seen before . . . Just last year, a parade of Upper East Siders opposed bike lanes at a community board meeting, almost all of whom said something to the effect of I’m fine with bike lanes, just not here . . . According to a report released last year by the Biking Public Project, 92 percent of commercial cycling tickets, where a cyclist registered as a delivery worker for a business was given a ticket, issued between 2007 and 2015 were handed out in just four Manhattan precincts covering the Upper East Side, the Upper West Side, and parts of Midtown. The overall picture is one of rampant NIMBYism: wealthy, majority-white neighborhoods opposing the use of bikes in their neighborhoods because they’re not riding safely while also opposing basic safety measures to separate bikes from pedestrians.

The neighborhoods least able to co-exist with bikes on existing infrastructure and the ones most opposed to changing that infrastructure to be more accommodating are the same. And they're the wealthiest. This pattern in New York matches my experience here in Austin. I'm most likely to find angry drivers in Austin's wealthiest neighborhoods.

These rich people are upset that the secluded utopia of a neighborhood that they believe their wealth entitles them to is being infringed upon by a segment of society they'd rather not exist. Their solution is to use the legal system to limit the infringement by reporting bikes for tickets, and to prevent the safe and harmonious integration of those people into the neighborhood by introducing properly separated bike lanes. When your presence is an inconvenience to them and they do not want to change the system to make your presence more convenient, it means your existence is their real problem.

I no longer primarily use a bicycle because of my income limitations. But the majority of people commute via bike do so because they can't easily afford a car. Drivers' anger directed at bicycles and the lack of infrastructure improvements to accommodate them are a function of the wealthy's disdain for the poor. They'd rather we just go away.