By Peter Flax — This is a feebleminded pronouncement that I hear and read all the time. It’s typically deployed by folks who are complaining about bike riders—on social media and at dinner parties and in the comments section of news stories.
Here’s how it gets deployed. Someone sees a rider pedaling in the street and perhaps even gets delayed 15 seconds, and so cyclists are entitled. Or maybe 17 parking spaces were reapportioned to make room for a bike lane, and so cyclists are entitled. Or someone makes the quite novel observation that bike riders don’t pay registration fees or taxes on the gasoline they don’t use. Or somebody sees a rider roll through a stop sign or maybe filter past gridlocked traffic with a smile on their face. You all know the chorus: Cyclists are entitled.
Of course this is total rubbish. The people who do all this moaning about cyclists are drivers who are oblivious to all the obscene entitlements that they enjoy. We are talking about trillions of dollars and decades of subsidies. We are talking about hundreds of millions of free parking spaces. We are talking about the most lurid fantasies of the petroleum and automotive industries being transmogrified into policy. Motorists have been lavished with VIP privileges for so long that they don’t even perceive them.
It’s time for bike riders to reappropriate the truth when it comes to entitlement. To take this misinformed invective and flip it into an anthem. Let’s be blunt: Cyclists may be entitled—but not in the way these idiots suggest.
Conveniently, there are two popular definitions of entitlement. The first—the usage often hurled at riders for doing little more than existing in a legal fashion—is this idea that a group of people believe they’re inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment. The second—the one I’d urge everyone who rides to hijack—is simply the fact of having a right to do something.
The difference between these two definitions is pretty clear. There’s the kind of entitlement where people who benefit from tens of billions of dollars in fossil-fuel subsidies and eight parking spaces for every motor vehicle still complain about sharing 1 percent of the road with vulnerable people. And there’s the kind of entitlement where people who are doing something legal demand some action and accountability so they don’t get killed doing it.
With that in mind, I’d like to offer a brief declaration of our rights. These are the entitlements that are beyond reproach and quite simply statements of our right to exist. It’s a proclamation that hopefully can be used to deflect the moronic insults about entitled cyclists, as if we’re demanding tax-exempt status or discounted burritos at Chipotle rather than basic legal protection.
So let’s do this.
Cyclists are entitled to get home alive. We are not Hunger Games tributes or acceptable collateral damage or beta test fodder for Elon Musk. We are humans getting around legally and we have a right not be squashed.
Cyclists are entitled to safe places to ride. Just painting some sharrows or disconnected painted bike lanes in door zones is not nearly good enough. We have a right to an actual network of safe infrastructure. We are entitled to ride in protected lanes where they’re feasible, and otherwise painted lanes that aren’t deathtraps every time an inattentive motorist opens a car door. Also, given that cities are creating bike lanes to give riders safe places to get around, these communities should enforce rules that prohibit parking and driving in them. This is a super basic, fundamental entitlement — the right to have legal protections enforced.
It’s worth noting that cyclists are entitled to these things even if they don’t go to long community input meetings on a weekly basis. They are entitled to these things even if other people can recall seeing a random rider roll through a stop sign. They are not contingent upon other people’s complicated feelings about Lycra or the frustration of being late to work again.
Cyclists are entitled to travel to work, schools, and local businesses just like everyone else. Uniformed skeptics might presume incorrectly that all riders are recreational enthusiasts but there are millions of cyclists who use bicycles as everyday transit. It’s non-negotiable that cyclists need safe spaces to ride to these places.
Cyclists are entitled to legal protections. Riders have a right to safe passing laws — and as a nice change of pace for these laws to be vigorously enforced. The same goes for speed limits, which presently are flouted on every street in every city every day with practically no consequences. It’s awesome that smartphones exist—we like using Instagram and TikTok, too— but riders have a legal right to have existing laws banning their use while driving enforced.
Bike riders are presently sharing space with people who are driving multi-ton vehicles, and the indisputable truth is that millions of drivers are doing so while speeding, impaired, and futzing with devices or in-vehicle tech—and that this illegal behavior is killing and maiming innocent people. So to be clear, cyclists are entitled to the enforcement of existing laws intended to minimize death and destruction on our streets.
Cyclists are entitled to have lawmakers, police departments, and the judicial system acknowledge and protect people who ride bikes. Expecting that people who badly hurt or kill bike riders while driving negligently be held criminally responsible is not some fanciful request for special treatment. Another fact worth mentioning: Bikes are not cars and riders are not pedestrians. So it is an entirely reasonable right to have our movements governed by rules that reflect that.
Cyclists are entitled to ride on the road. This may seem like a frustrating inconvenience to people driving nearby but that does not change riders’ right to be there and drivers’ obligation to show duty of care. We have the right to be there and the right to do so without constant fear of death.
So let’s be clear. Cyclists are entitled. Deal with it.