Joan Vennochi’s recent column in the Boston Globe

Joan Vennochi, columnist for the Boston Globe recently wrote a column called “Don’t mix bikes and politics.” It’s intended as a response to a previous Globe opinion piece by Jordan Michael Smith called “Conservatives’ new enemy: Bikes.” Smith’s column was an analysis of how some conservative politicians and pundits are using bikes and bike lanes as a culture war wedge issue. Vennochi’s column seems to be saying “hold on, liberals can hate bikes too.”

I’ll address my comments to the author, Joan Vennochi.

You begin your column by setting the scene with a look at what I guess is your daily commute.

“As Boston traffic inched forward during a recent rush-hour snowstorm, a cyclist scooted in front of my car. His back wheel skidded on the icy street, but he righted the bike and cruised across two more lanes of oncoming automobiles.

First of all, why is traffic only inching forward? Maybe it’s all of those cars that are in your way, am I right? I’m sure the snow has something to do with it too.  People seem to freak out when there’s a little bit of snow on the ground. I’m a little confused about your description of the scene. You say the cyclist “cruised across two more lanes of oncoming automobiles.” Are these two lanes of autos inching along as well? Is it a gridlock situation, or did he force the drivers to stop while he crossed in front of them? If he forced other people to stop, that’s a real dick move, in my opinion (not to mention dangerous and illegal). Was he going the wrong way up a one-way street? If it’s a gridlock situation, how did this harm any of the motorists stuck in traffic? This is the opening scene of your column, yet I can’t tell what you are trying to say. And what do you mean by your follow up?

Naturally, he wore no helmet.

How is this relevant?  If he had been wearing a helmet would he have been able to get those other cars out of your way? What does wearing a helmet have to do with you being stuck in a traffic jam?

Why does your helmet observation make up its own one-sentence paragraph?

There’s hostility on both sides. A recent encounter between a driver and cyclist on Commonwealth Avenue that went viral after it was captured by camera on a cyclist’s helmet attests to that. The driver was straddling the bike line. The cyclist didn’t like it. Profanity flowed.

“The cyclist didn’t like it.” Do you want to guess why the cyclist didn’t like it? We often encounter drivers like this guy who edge into (or just outright drive in) the bike line. It’s not a matter of convenience, it’s a matter of being endangered by reckless people operating 4,000 lb machines that could kill someone. I’d say the cyclist showed great restraint with just a bit of profanity after dealing with this driver’s anti-social, malicious behavior. “There’s hostility on both sides.” No, there’s people trying to get somewhere using a variety of methods. Some of them are jerks. The jerks who drive cars are far more dangerous to other people than the jerks who ride bikes.

Unlike Rush Limbaugh, I would feel terrible if my car door knocked down a cyclist. But there’s something about a guy waving his middle finger as he hurtles against traffic on a one-way street that brings out the anti-bike in me.

Did you catch that? “I would feel terrible if my car door knocked down a cyclist.” Does your car door have agency? Does it randomly open on its own? If so, you might want to get that checked. If not, let me fix that sentence for you “Unlike Rush Limbaugh, I would feel terrible if I knocked down a cyclist with my car door.” Makes more sense, right? I’m sure this is what you meant, right? I would also feel terrible if I hit someone with a car door, or any other part of a car (I still drive every once in a while). But you know what, it’s pretty easy to avoid. Before opening a car door, I turn and look over my shoulder to see if anyone is coming. That way I can be sure I won’t hit anyone with the car door. You should try it too.

“But there’s something about a guy waving his middle finger as he hurtles against traffic on a one-way street that brings out the anti-bike in me.” I lived and biked (and drove a car) in Boston for 4 1/2 years and somehow I never saw the middle-finger waving wrong-way cyclist. I also never saw him in 2 years of living in Edmonton or 6 1/2 years living in Providence. Nor have I seen him in the many cities I’ve traveled to. Yet anti-bike columnists seem to always be running into him. Maybe Vennochi is right. Maybe it’s an encounter with this rare creature that turns someone against bikes. Mythical creatures are known to have magical powers. If you have actually encountered this beast, then let me apologize on behalf of all cyclists. We try to control the jerks as best we can, but guys like this just don’t show up to our meetings. I’ve encountered many jerks driving cars (including going the wrong way down a one way street, driving right at me) and yet I’m not anti-car.

I’m kind of confused by this comparison:

But envision the typical man tailgating you in a pickup truck because he thinks you’re not driving fast enough. Now imagine him on a bicycle, propelled by the same attitude.

Unlike your opening paragraph, I think I can picture what you’re talking about, but I don’t understand the point you’re trying to make. I can visualize driving a car with a jerk tailgating me in a pickup truck. This has happened to me many times.  If I have to stop quickly, he won’t have time to react and hit the brakes. This means he could rear-end my car causing significant damage, injury or death. Tailgating me also means he’s more likely to get rear-ended. Now I’m imagining someone on a bicycle tailgating me while I’m driving a car. Okay, that’s a bad idea on his part, but it’s not particularly intimidating to me. If I have to stop quickly, the cyclist could rear-end me causing at most a scratch to the car I’m driving. The cyclist could end up with a wheel that looks like a taco shell, or he could fall and hurt himself. In short, if this jerk is tailgating while driving a pickup truck, he’s potentially deadly, if he’s tailgating while riding a bike, you might get a scratch.

You wrapped up the column with this gem:

Traffic jams haunt the city. On narrow, clogged streets, jaywalking pedestrians add to the chaos — and so do bikers.

It’s not the pedestrians or the cyclists creating the traffic jams that “haunt” the city. It’s people driving cars.

And don’t get me started on jaywalking.

Thanks to twitter user @nicolegelinas for pointing out the Vennochi column in question (and thanks to @miller_stephen for retweeting).

2 responses to “Joan Vennochi’s recent column in the Boston Globe

  1. I have an idea forming. It was triggered by your mention of bike lane incursions and then agency. A device attached to a bike that when it detects a vehicle coming too close sprays out a pattern of caltrops. It would have it’s own agency, all you’d have to to is keep it supplied with caltrops.

  2. Oh and better – the Government is asking automakers to have cars communicate with each other. Now knowing corporate America like I know it, security won’t even be a second thought. It’ll be down somewhere in the 5,000th thought. So it would be fairly trivial to make your bicycle act like a car and communicate in such a fashion.

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