Letter to the editor: Iowa’s “missing” cyclists

Jason Smith/Little Village

By Jessica Carney, Cedar Rapids

RAGBRAI is falling apart, but Iowans have always hated cyclists. If you’ve ever dared to wade into the comments section under local news stories about bike lanes in downtown Cedar Rapids, you’re familiar with this hatred. “I’ve been stuck going 15 under the speed limit just because there was a group of bike riders in the street,” one Facebook commenter said under a recent headline. Others chimed in angrily about bike lanes messing with parking options — something Iowans do not take lightly. “How about reverting bike lanes to parking spots?” someone suggested.

If these folks were city planners, downtown Cedar Rapids would be an eight-lane highway that dead-ends into a parking lot.

When I lived in Minneapolis for a stint, I rode my bike everywhere. I was proud of it—it was good for the environment and my health. The bigger motivation, though, was that as a fresh-out-of-college broke person, I would have had to work for an hour and a half just to earn enough to afford to park. Luckily, Minneapolis has been consistently listed as one of the best cities for biking in the country due to its biking infrastructure and because it has motorists who “get it.”

Polite, rule-following Iowan that I am, I looked on with wonderment at the Minneapolis natives who “rolled,” or yielded, at stop signs. It turns out, they were onto something. Several states have passed a law that allows cyclists to slow down instead of coming to a full stop at stop signs. A 2010 University of California Berkeley study, called Bicycle Safety and Choice, found this law improved safety, and author Jason N. Meggs theorized that part of the reason is that cyclists can perceive their surroundings better than motorists and are able to execute a safe yield.

We’re a long way from adopting that kind of law here.

“Good for nothing bikers,” read one comment under a recent RAGBRAI news story.

One of the main arguments against cyclists falls around the fact that people occasionally have to slow down a bit to get around someone, and that’s no good. “I once had to follow a middle-aged couple riding bikes with me laying on the horn for a good few minutes,” another Facebook commenter said, apparently unaware that blaring your horn is not part of sharing the road.

There are also a lot of questions about whether cyclists are paying sufficient taxes to use the 1.26 inches of the road their tires occupy. Given how spread out the Cedar Rapids area is, it would be a gigantic undertaking to decide to get everywhere on a bike, especially in the winter. The snowboarding helmet with ear flaps and goggles I donned while biking in Minnesota helped keep me feel a tad more comfortable, but it wasn’t exactly like heated seats, nor was it my best look. Shouldn’t we be OK with these dedicated few saving a little bit on taxes?

The most interesting point made against bike lanes is that no one uses them, anyway — they’re ghostly and empty. “You could pave the bike lane with gold and they wouldn’t use it,” a Facebook commenter said. Someone else responded in agreement, “I rarely see anyone using the bike lanes. Where is everybody?”

When I moved back to Iowa, I gave up riding my bike for transportation swiftly and completely. Sure, we have (had?) RAGBRAI, but Iowans show a lot of hate for cyclists. I don’t think even the scariest online commenters would hit me on purpose, but I also don’t think they’d mind much if I got hit, so long as the accident didn’t cause a slowdown.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 275.

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