Bicycles are an important tool for a struggling lower and middle class.
Pedestrians and drivers alike seem to reserve a special kind of hatred for cyclists. Drivers hate them because they are hard to see on roads designed for cars. Pedestrians are afraid cyclists will run them over. I understand these arguments, but I can't help thinking they're mired in classism.
"Cyclists are all wealthy hipsters," a hipster once told me.
She couldn't be more wrong. Bikes might be trendy nowadays, but most of the time, when you see cyclists on the road, they're commuting somewhere. People who ride bikes are often people who can't afford cars. Wealthy hobbyists might take their bikes out every now and again, but the people riding day in and day out, rain or shine, winter or summer, are doing it because they actually need to get somewhere.I had a friend who worked as a delivery boy. He'd ride all day, risking his life for a job that paid him little more than minimum wage. He got injured on the road frequently, usually running into car doors when people didn't look behind them, and his job didn't provide health insurance. Bike messengers, delivery people and commuters are a lot more common (and likely to brave city streets) than people going for the occasional joyride.
You can get a decent bike for a few hundred dollars, no insurance necessary, and parking is free. That makes bikes much cheaper than cars and often cheaper than public transportation, which takes forever to get between certain locations. So when people say "I hate cyclists," what they're really (unconsciously) saying is "Poor people shouldn't be allowed to get to work."
It's true that bikes are irritating for cars and pedestrians, but that's because there simply aren't enough bike lanes. Instead, cyclists are forced to share roads, where they run a huge risk of getting run over. Cars often don't respect bikes, frequently dangerously passing them or opening car doors in their faces.
Sidewalks are no better. It's illegal to ride bikes on sidewalks in some places because bikes are, understandably, a danger to pedestrians. The problem is, bikers often have no choice, given the serious danger cars pose to bikes on some busy streets. Driver and walker concerns are reasonable, but the problem isn't the existence of cyclists. The problem is that there are very few bike lanes. Instead of having their own safe paths, bikes are forced to borrow paths already populated by very different forms of transportation.
Bikes are an important tool for an economic class already stretched thin. They're also great for the environment. Instead of hating on cyclists, societies should encourage them. And that means building more bike lanes.