Saturday, August 24th, 2019

Do conservatives hate bicycles?


Tom Held of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel asks if conservatives see “cycling as a liberal enterprise.”

“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.”

Held’s question was in part a response to a rather inarticulate response to Held’s article on a study pointing out the benefits if we all rode our bikes for 50% of trips less than five miles. Held was called a “stooge” by a reader. No word if Held is Moe, Larry or Curly.

Held’s question is also in part a response to my latest op-ed for the MacIver Institute criticizing the study. The op-ed had a little humor, some anecdotes, and a reminder that the city of Milwaukee’s goal is only 5%, and even that is unobtainable.

Held mentions some of the humorous bits in the op-ed before conceding, “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.” Held does not provide any counterpoints to my criticisms of the study.

So, given that the premise of the study is ridiculous, it would seem to me that a criticism of the study is no more conservative or liberal than a criticism of a study of whether solar panels on Mars could solve our immediate energy needs. Again, given the impracticability of the 50% goal, I guess my question to Held would be why anyone of any political persuasion, or any journalist, should take the study seriously. My other question to Held would be why he wrote an uncritical story about the study when the premise should have set off some alarms indicating that he should look for an opposing point of view.

I don’t see bicycling itself as a liberal enterprise, any more than Madison Mayor’s Paul Soglin’s criticizing winter bicyclists and canceling bicycling events would make bicycling a conservative enterprise. If someone wants to enjoy the health benefits of bicycling, that’s their business. There are rules to the road for bicyclists, too. I just won’t let them date my daughter.

But when bicycling advocacy becomes bicycling evangelization in pursuit of public dollars for additional bicycle infrastructure, the justifications for such expenditures are going to come under scrutiny. What amazes me is the reaction I usually get from bicycling zealots that think that any expenditure is justified, regardless of whether the premise for the expenditure makes any sense. It’s either insults, or that I hate bicycles, or both.

To the extent that American conservatism is a rejection of ideology, it’s not surprising that conservatives would be skeptical of extra infrastructure expenditures for bicycling when the underlying basis for them is more faith-based rather than based on real numbers or real experience.



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