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February 13, 2016

Columnist’s Screed Against ‘Biker Terrorists Out to Rule the Road’ Sparks Angry Rebuttals

If generating controversy is the measure of a pundit, Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy scored a smashing success this week with his outburst against bicyclists.

Milloy delivered an indictment of alleged offenses committed by what he called “biker terrorists out to rule the road” in the nation’s capital – including riding their bikes on sidewalks, going the wrong way in a bike lane, and dawdling “at a snail’s pace, holding up traffic while motorists wait for a chance to pass.”

Bike lane

A cyclist makes his way northwest from the Capitol building on the new Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes in May of 2010. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Milloy also wrote in his column, published Tuesday evening, that “it’s a $500 fine for a motorist to hit a bicyclist in the District, but some behaviors are so egregious that some drivers might think it’s worth paying the fine.”

He also charged that D.C. police show a leniency to “newly arrived, mostly white millennials” who ride bikes that they never did to “black juveniles [on bikes] whom D.C. police frequently stopped… .”

The screed sparked a backlash from D.C. bicyclists and biking advocates.

Andy Clarke, president of the Washington-based League of American Bicyclists, wondered “how such a dreadful piece of writing could find its way onto the pages of such a respected source of news. As usual, the question is how does one respond to such mindless vitriol?”

He added that Milloy “comes dangerously close to inciting violence against cyclists.”

The Washington City Paper’s Housing Complex columnist Aaron Wiener accused Milloy of “callous timing” in running his essay on July 8. Wiener noted that it was on that day in 2008 that a truck driver hit and killed a 22-year-old cyclist named Alice Swanson near Dupont Circle. “Yesterday, the day Milloy chose to rant against the elevated status enjoyed by imperious cyclists, marked the sixth anniversary of her death,” Wiener wrote.

Shane Farthing of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association wrote, “At no point does Mr. Milloy engage with the human side of biking or speak to any people who actually bike. By engaging only with his conceptual cartoon bike-terrorist, Milloy can excuse and justify violence against real people on bikes.”

And Washingtonian columnist Benjamin Freed said, “If Milloy wanted to successfully diagnose the District’s bike policies as something that hurts [predominantly African-American] communities east of the Anacostia River, he’d channel his rage not toward the cyclists, but toward the city officials who have not invested any new bike infrastructure in Ward 8, where the obesity rate tops 44 percent….”

The city has become more bicycle friendly in recent years and as the city’s website notes the District government “has created 56 miles of marked bike lanes,” “installed 2,300 bicycle parking racks” and “launched the first public bike sharing program in the United States….”

But tensions persist between drivers and bicyclists. And between bicyclists and a least one columnist.

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