Bike Ban: Culture War on the County Road
The "Citizens for Safety Coalition of Iowa" (sic) (CSCI) effort to ban bikes from Iowa's rural roads is about more than the accidents and the liability costs. It's an interesting bank shot in the culture war.
Sure, there are legitimate worries about bike vs. car safety. Though as a biker who's been hit (just a bruise), drivers need to worry more about liability while bikers have to worry about death.
But that's not why this is being pushed right now. Bikes are a cultural symbol with a lot of connotations. And it's the connotations that are unpopular with older rural voters--also not coincidentally one of the few remaining groups that leans Republican.
This culture war rhetoric goes unspoken in the "Safety Coalition" rhetoric. It doesn't need to be said. It's there between the lines. Bikers, mostly city folk riding out from the city then back, smell of the environmentalist, the do-gooders who gave us lower speed limits, smoke-free taverns and want to ban meat. (Tangent: my pet conspiracy theory is that PETA is secretly bankrolled by anti-environmentalists because their tactics and extremism give everyone green a bad name.)
Machismo plays its part too. Rural culture is a motor culture of trucks and tractors. A recreational vehicle is a camper or a four wheeler, and fresh air and the great outdoors is hunting. And bike clothes tend to be just a little bright and tight and, well, you know, flamboyant. Definitely not camouflage or even blaze orange.
One of the comments from the CSCI site Ed Fallon shares is telling: "I know I looked forward to turning 16 and being able to drive so I'd NEVER have to use a bike again!" To a lot of people, a bicycle is still seen as a child's toy, not a legitimate means of transportation or adult recreation.
Rural distances play a role. As a seven-year bike commuter I've found that, over short distances like a mile or two, the bike is actually the fastest door-to-door commute, once you take parking time into account. But once you leave the stop and go traffic and get out on the highway, you're at a disadvantage. Rural distances, even on the Lone Tree to Iowa City scale, are such that people assume every endeavor involves a car, and a mile behind a biker is a couple extra minutes.
And that's why there's nothing bikers can do to make rural motor culture happy. No safety training, licensing, or fees will help. No millions of dollars brought into the state by RAGBRAI will satisfy. To make the pickup truckers happy, bikers will need to go 60 MPH, and even Lance on the Tour de France is going about 25.
It seems CSCI literally wants bikes to go away, or at best back to the playground. And conservatives want this to be a rural-urban wedge. The petitions, ostensibly for a constitutional amendment, are in no way binding since Iowa does not have initiative. And nothing will get to the floor--Gronstal and Murphy will see to that for one thing, and anti-bike rage isn't a front-burner issue for most folks yet.
This is designed to throw at a handful of rural Democratic legislators, perhaps by setting up a procedural vote roll call that'll be featured in a mailing. "John Deeth" (hey, I ran in a rural district, and they didn't like bikes, as witnessed by that dead-end trail at Conesville)-- "John Deeth voted for big city bike riders (not bikers, that's reserved for Harley riders) over family farmers," it'll say, and they'll have my picture with infamous cyclists Joe Bolkcom and Ed Fallon.
Remember the periodic attempts to legalize dove hunting and portray a no vote as anti-gun? Watch for a day wasted on the bike ban about next March (silly season at the legislature) and the mailers in October. I'll bet my Trek on it.