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November 14, 2007

Richard Florida

Bicycling and Cities

« Who's Your Mom's City | Main | Globalization and Growth »

Wendy Waters asks if bike-friendly cities gain an edge in attracting talent. Dave Writes says Boston is rather unfriendly to cyclists.  I became a cyclist in Boston and loved riding out west of the city. On one of my very first rides on my first serious road bike, some clown in Boston drove by and heaved an orange at me - fortunately his aim was poor and he missed. I experienced similar kinds of things in Pittsburgh - a city I also loved to ride in. Much less of this in Washington DC where Beach Drive is well-trafficked by cyclists - and largely closed to cars on weekends - though navigating kids and dogs on a beautiful weekend afternoon could sometimes be challenging. Even though I haven't gotten out yet, Toronto seems very bike-friendly. It's the only place I've ever lived that people chastise me for driving and tell me to get back on the bike.

My own take on this is that it is a "class" thing. To some, cyclists on skinny tired road bikes decked out in lycra are "rich folks."  More than once people have by yelled nasty things at me, including questioning my sexual orientation.  All in all, I take it as class anger and frustration, especially in places where class divides are stark.

Your thoughts?

UPDATE: BikingToronto picks up my post. Their tag-line says it all:

I couldn't agree more!


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I don't think the "bike friendliness quotient" is driven purely by class. My husband and his friend are former professional cyclists, and they have offered their viewpoints for the sake of this discussion. My husband points out that (like you, Rich) people like the notion of having safe and easy bike transportation as an option, though most don't typically use it in day-to-day living. The presence of bikes and paths connotes a healthy place to live. He disagrees with your assertion that this is a class issue. He believes bicycling suffers from the same dynamic that motorcycles do: out of 10 cyclists, most are probably responsible. All it takes is for a couple of cyclists who are inexperienced and irresponsible to give all cyclists a bad name.

His friend, who was recently a bike courier in NYC, goes further. He says he honks, and sometimes stops his vehicle, to reprimand cyclists who are "screwing up and giving all of us bad names". While bike paths are great, bike transportation planning dollars are truly a scarce resource. Responsible riding is necessary, regardless of number of paths. As my husband says, "There is nothing worse than a weekend warrior on his brand new expensive bike, decked out in all the gear (complete with shaved legs), riding like an idiot to give cyclists a bad name."


There are certainly cyclists who give us all a bad name, but more often than not I've seen/heard of cars abusing the best cyclists I know. Some of it is basic education that drivers are lacking. Through a few incidents here I've encountered quite a few drivers who think that bicycles aren't legally allowed to ride on the roads and need to be on the sidewalks. How do we educate the public on things like that?


I'm not a cyclist, but from what I know the cycling community in Toronto is very active and fairly well organized (in terms of community groups etc.) Toronto does have an official Bike Plan, but implementation of its bike lanes is noticeably behind schedule.

lloyd alter

It is definitely not a class thing in Toronto; where I ride, (not far from U of T) you are far more likely to get abused (or killed) by a lady in a fur coat talking on the cellphone in her SUV or the young exec in his porsche.

Last night I attended a lecture on the U of T campus; I had a bike lane from my house almost the entire way. For the first time in memory nobody was blocking the lanes, nobody turned right in front of me, I wizzed by the cars stuck on Bloor and was there in no time. In this city now there is no better way to travel. Now if they will only plough the snow this winter....


Wow Lloyd, 6 stereotypes in one sentence, that's impressive. Not every jerk on the road is a lady or a young exec, wears a fur coat, talks on a cellphone, drives an SUV or a Porche. Some are sanctimonious college students riding between lanes, through red lights and onto the sidewalk weaving between pedestrians. You claimed that it is not a class issue and then you started right in on the classist stereotypes. This is more of the reason drivers hate us. Let's keep the discussion productive and skip the invectives.

The fundamental problem with bikes on the road is that roads were never built with bicycles in mind. They were first built for horse-drawn carriages and then horse-less carriages, which ironically were promoted as "cleaner" than horses for the obvious reason. Bicycles didn't really catch on as transportation until after the age of the automobile. So roads are designed for cars and sidewalks are designed for walking. Bikes are in limbo right now. In Minnesota, it is illegal for bikes to ride on sidewalks, but usually tolerated because our roads aren't safe for bikes in many places. Real solutions for sustainable transportation are going to require creativity, cooperation and taxpayer's money, three things which never come easily.

I taught driver's ed for several years (and I rode my bike to work.) I warned my students about the self-righteousness of the road. Drivers think every other driver is out to get them so they drive aggressively to keep up. Bicyclists want drivers to respect their right to the road, but don't want to be bothered with rules themselves (Yes, Critical Mass, I mean you.) Pedestrians assume everyone is watching them so they shouldn't have to look before crossing. No one is blameless. There are a lot of jerks on the road and the only thing you can do about it is not become one.

If I could write policy, I would start with a massive public advertising campaign explaining rights and responsibilities for cars, bikes and pedestrians and then three months later start handing out tickets by the bucket until people figured it out. The money from the tickets would go to the transportation fund with no intra-agency dipping. And I'd have a pony too.


Richard, you may really like BikeWeek (which takes place in late May) - it may be good in getting you "back on your bike" in Toronto.

Eryc, you make great points about the recklessness of some cyclists, but it's only "some". Similar to how a few overly-aggressive drivers make some cyclists hate all cars, a few irresponsible cyclists breaking rules ruin it for the vast majority of cyclists who stop at stop signs, red lights, open streetcar doors, etc.

While Critical Mass breaks laws, it is only usually about 100 cyclists out of an estimated 900,000 recreational and utility cyclists in Toronto.

I have to point out an inaccuracy in your statement about roads not being made for bikes. While it may be true that roads were initially designed for horses and carriages, bicycles first rose in popularity in the 1890s, and organizations such as the "League of American Wheelmen" in the U.S. were instrumental in getting the roads paved smoothly.

Automobile popularity didn't really take off until the 1920s. Therefore, while roads built since the rise of the automobile were built for cars, roads before this (which includes the inner cores of most North American cities) were built for horses and carriages and paved for bicycles. The automobile has since taken over.

Michael Wells

Boston has long been known for the craziest drivers in America, as well as being much more class conscious than at least the West Coast, so it may not be a fair sample.

However, all the lists of bicycling towns (Bicycling Mag, Virgin Vacations, US Census) look like the Creative Class Cities list, so there's definitely some overlap. (By the way, Portland tops all of the lists.) Cities with lots of college students score high. Having a good bike reputation is probably an advantage in attracting some talent, although maybe not the major amenity for most folks.

Interestingly, several of the cities -- San Francisco, Seattle and even Portland are very hilly. Does this make for hardier cyclists or more careful drivers?


In a strange way cycling saved my life.
I started riding about two years ago, as a new form of adding some exercise to my daily routine, being in my 30's and a smoker I thought that the 12k ride every morning might help with the weight loss, well it did more than that. Since then I've quit smoking (7 months and counting) I've given up my car, and the weights going slowly. I'm Addicted. so much so that it must be really cold out there with snow to keep me off my bike.
Before I started riding I had no idea of how dangerous it's out there. For us that use this as our means of transportation to and from work, we have no idea what Messengers go through day in day out with all those idiot drivers out there. I don't think that we can blame those more aggressive out there for giving cyclist a bad name, which by the way I really don't think that we do.
The only advice I have to give is ride like your invisible, Drivers don't understand cycling, bike lanes, hand signals, and for that matter, most of the bad drivers out there don't understand cars.

Dave Atkins

I hope folks who read my post about Boston don't think I'm overwhelmed by the difficulty of cycling here or that I'm always running red lights, etc. Over the course of my years cycling in and out of the city, I've learned to ride safe and set a good example for other cyclists. But on that particular day, riding into the heart of the financial district at lunch, I was re-awakened to the unique difficulties such congestion presents. Boston is making a serious effort to become bike friendly--our mayor gets up in the early morning and rides his bike in town and the Bike Summit held several weeks ago brought together dozens of planners and agencies to tackle this issue. So I would advise folks to watch Boston and see what good comes out of all this as we work to improve cycling here.


I bike all year in Toronto, have for a couple of decades. My experience is not so much class war, but just war--to be safe as a cyclist you need to be aggressive, constantly challenging cars for territory, sometimes relenting to save your life. After awhile the Hobbesian mentality becomes second nature, but a lot of folks will never commute downtown because of they hyper-competitiveness that's out there on the road.


Hi Richard, thanks for the link to BikingToronto!

I also enjoyed your suburban sprawl / diabetes post, and have it in our list of things to blog about. :)

Take care,



I had to nod in recognition when I read Richard Florida's anecdote. One big difference between cycling in Toronto and in US cities where I've lived is that nobody harasses you for being on a bike here. Cycling in many cities is a risky proposition just because cyclists are targets for random bullying. When I used to cycle in a southern U.S. city, on virtually every trip I was shouted or honked at for no apparent reason at least once. Thankfully nobody ever threw an orange, or something worse, at me! While the drivers in Toronto are some of the most irresponsible and aggressive I've seen (and I say this as a cyclist and a driver), I haven't seen any of them shout, honk or throw things at cyclists just for a laugh.

Oh, and I disagree with Eryc to a certain degree when he assigns equal weight to malfeasance by cars, bikes and peds. Yes, many cyclists and pedestrians break laws, but the fact is that cars are a menace to society in ways that cyclists and pedestrians will never be--from the pollution they cause, to the social isolation they create, to the incredible carnage that results from their misuse. How it is that a society that has such strict controls on guns can allow--in fact, encourage, even require in many places--the widespread use of cars with minimal control and oversight, is worth contemplating.

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