The Washington Post

We need a cease fire in the war between drivers and cyclists

Cylists and drivers may never be best friends, but both sides could try being consistently cordial. (Gerald Martineau/The Washington Post)

My colleague Courtland Milloy published a column Tuesday night that puts D.C. cyclists in the worst light.

Cyclists are “nasty.” They have “nerve.” They ride on sidewalks and are “lucky that someone hasn’t put a broomstick through the spokes of their wheels.” Bikers “go the wrong way in a bike lane.” When asked to obey the rules, “a biker just might spit on your car. Kick the door. Hit the side mirrors. Bang on the hood.”

Just how bad are cyclists? “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.”


The column reads like a call to arms and car horns. It is a relentless effort to troll the biking community. Comments are pouring in, blogs are linking to him. He gets an A+ for being a provocative columnist.

But as someone who regularly bikes the city’s streets, and occasionally drives, it’s obvious we don’t need lighter fluid poured on this fire. How about discussing a way for drivers and cyclists to coexist?

The truth is this: No matter the mode of transportation, there are good citizens and bad citizens. Hopping on a bike or getting behind the wheel of a car doesn’t automatically make you a jerk. I’ve seen terrible behavior from motorists and cyclists alike. I’ve also seen great behavior from both sides.

Finding a way to have a civil dialogue would actually be a remarkable innovation. The angst, or “War of The Roses,” runs deep as Ashley Halsey pointed out:

When I write about drunk driving (cause of 10,322 road deaths in 2012), or speeding (9,320 deaths) or distracted driving (3,328 deaths) — a total of 23,070 fatalities caused by driver error — the stories get little or no reader response. Rarely a peep, if that, from anyone.

But virtually any story about people who ride bicycles gets an almost immediate flood of responses like this one last week: “I have NEVER seen a bicycle stop at a red light or obey any traffic law of any kind.”

I’ve written in the past about the merits of bicycles. They don’t pollute. They are affordable and help keep their riders in good shape. When you add in how efficiently they can move us from point A to B in comparison to other forms of transit, it’s obvious to me that cities should encourage cycling.

But today, I don’t really care about that. I’m just asking for a fair, civil dialogue from everyone who shares our roadways. Pedestrians, cyclists and motorists, we’re stuck with each other. So let’s make it work. Some excellent guidance came from commenter mikecapitolhill, “It all boils down to DONT BE A JERK. No matter what your form of transport is. Why is that so difficult in DC??”

Matt McFarland is the editor of Innovations. He's always looking for the next big thing. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments

Sign up for email updates from the "Confronting the Caliphate" series.

You have signed up for the "Confronting the Caliphate" series.

Thank you for signing up
You'll receive e-mail when new stories are published in this series.
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
Be a man and cry
Program turns prisoners into poets
Unconventional warfare with a side of ale
Play Videos
The signature dish of Charleston, S.C.
For good coffee, sniff, slurp and spit
The most interesting woman you've never heard of
Play Videos
How to prevent 'e-barrassment'
The art of tortilla-making
A man committed to journalism, caught in the crossfire
Play Videos
Tips for (relatively) stress-free dining out with kids
How to get organized for back to school
How the new credit card chip makes purchases more secure
Next Story
Matt McFarland · July 9, 2014

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.