Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Classist Arguments Against Cycling

Perhaps classist is the wrong word, well its not even a word. I mean to say any prejudice people have against something, based on their socioeconomic status. When it comes to cycling, I think we are all familiar with the arguments against it--It costs too much money, no one will bike when its hot, people don't want to stink at work, cyclists break too many rules. What many people do not realize, and what is rarely brought up in the comments, is these arguments come from a certain worldview, specifically the middle-class, where it is hard to imagine people living any other way, and the assumption is most people want to live like them, but are too poor or unrefined to do it.

It is understandable. Many Americans come from and consider themselves middle-class, where cars are an integral part of our experience from birth. Mom's toting their kids around in spacious SUVs, a first kiss stolen in the backseat, the feeling of freedom when you finally get our own car--its hard to imagine living any other way.

But some of us do. Not all of us live in the suburbs. Some of us have made the decision, whether out of poverty or something else, to live in place where walking, biking, and transit are available and acceptable. When you are in our neighborhood, you should respect the streetscape we built. I don't go to the suburbs and make a snit about the lack of bike lanes, and complaining about the lack of parking in my neighborhood or downtown is real rich, especially if you live outside of ACL.

Many people argue spending money on bicycle infrastructure is a waste, because people won't want to show up to work stinky. Many cycle advocacy groups try to get around this with showering at work at packing clothes, as if making it more complicated will entice people. The false assumption is that everyone has a job where you must look business professional, smell like Axe, and have perfectly coiffed hair. The fact is, a lot of people go to work knowing they will leave dirtier than when the arrived. Construction workers, cooks, lifeguards and so on are just a few people who do not have to give a shit how they look at work. Not to mention, you can take your bike on the bus like I do and avoid getting overly sweaty. Work retail at Nordstroms? A pharm rep who must look like she walked out an Ann Taylor catalog? Fine, drive to work. Don't assume everyone else has to as well.

Others say it costs too much money. The amount of money spent on cycle tracks by the City of Austin is no where near the amount needed to keep a highway like I-35 operational, but sure, complain about the relative pennies given to help those who can't afford a 45 minute commute each way every day. I don't complain about the miles of road in Austin suburbs that serve a select few.

As for no one bikes when its hot, well my own experience says that is false. I see more people out and about now than in December. Being Texans, I think we are suited to the hot weather and are better at dealing with it than cold or rain. Really, it is pretty arrogant to think just because you don't like something, or can't do something, no one else can either. Not to mention there are people out there who bike in the summer not because they are some uber-environmentalist, but because they can't afford a car and it's their sole means of transportation.

As long as the majority of alternate transportation advocates are also middle-class, we probably won't see a rebuttal of these arguments from a class point of view. It is easy to dismiss the concerns of the poor, or not consider them at all. Your local bicycle peddler ice cream man isn't posting on the Statesman user forums or reading Streetsblog. (I'll take a picture of one of these guys some day-they pedal around on modified mountain bikes selling paletas or Mexican popsicles) So, when considering the merits of cycling, lets remember for some the benefits go beyond lost pounds and less gas money.

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