News & Politics

Washington Post Columnist Takes on DC’s “Biker Terrorists”

A response to Courtland Milloy’s latest.

Watch out for bike ninjas! Photograph by Flickr user BeyondDC.

Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy wants to remind everyone that he doesn’t like cyclists. In his most breathless anti-bike screed yet, running in Wednesday’s issue, Milloy goes off on “bike ninjas” and “biker terrorists” so severely, he even suggests the influx of two-wheeled pedalers is so insufferable, it might be worth a hefty chunk of change for the cathartic experience of running one of them off the road with a car.

“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,” Milloy writes.

Do the District’s cyclists need to start worrying that the drivers with whom they share the city’s roadways might be Post readers who take Milloy’s column as a call to rage? It’s tough to say, but probably not. That’s not to say Milloy’s column isn’t shocking, insulting, and a little dangerous. Beside the suggestion that drivers swerve to the right and send the nearest cyclist flying to the curb, Milloy also wonders why more pedestrians haven’t shoved broomsticks into oncoming cyclists’ spokes.

The Post’s Metro columnists are on a bit of a run of bike rants this week, though. On Tuesday, Milloy’s colleague John Kelly scolded cyclists who ride on the sidewalks, especially downtown, where it’s actually illegal, though rarely enforced. And riding on the sidewalk in downtown DC, clogged with workers and tourists, is legitimately obnoxious and worthy of public brow-furrowing. Kelly suggests the best response to a sidewalk rider who tries to weave through knots of pedestrians is a polite request to get on the road. Sometimes it works; sometimes cyclists respond, as Kelly recounts, with a “profanity-laced tirade.” In those latter cases, it’s uncontroversial to say the person on the bike is in the wrong.

But what set off Milloy a day after his fellow columnist shook his fedora at badly behaved bike riders? Not a run-in with an actual cyclist, but a post on the smart-growth blog Greater Greater Washington featuring a video of “bike escalator” in a Norwegian city that helps cyclists get up an extremely steep hill for a fee. In his post, Greater Greater Washington editor David Alpert wonders if the same technology could be installed along the portion of 15th Street, Northwest, that climbs up the side of Meridian Hill Park.

“That’s nerve,” Milloy writes in response.

In an e-mail, Alpert tells Washingtonian he was not making a concrete suggestion to the District Department of Transportation, which is extending the 15th Street cycle track up the hill. “I was just pointing out an interesting piece of technology in another city which relates to the issues our readers had discussed,” he writes.

Don’t count on the District installing bike escalators any time soon. But Milloy could probably brush up on his knowledge of the city’s existing bike infrastructure. Besides a passing reference to the fact that of DC’s 74 miles of bike lanes, none are in Ward 8, Milloy’s factual references are limited.

If Milloy wanted to successfully diagnose the District’s bike policies as something that hurts communities east of the Anacostia River, he’d channel his rage not toward the cyclists, but toward the city officials who have not invested any new bike infrastructure in Ward 8, where the obesity rate tops 44 percent, according to the DC Department of Health.

Milloy would rather grasp about with his strange, bloody thoughts when it comes to DC’s expanding legion of terrifying bicycle owners, but this column’s deepest problem is not an incitement to commit random acts of vehicular assault. Instead, it’s a scatterbrained jumble of half-cooked thoughts that play off the often execrable “bikes-versus-cars” trope without ever arriving at a salient conclusion. A rimshot against the Washington Area Bicyclist Association here, a dig at the fact that bikes are slower than cars there. Forget about traumatic brain injuries—Milloy’s column is going to cause more traumatic wastes of time. It’s a brazen example of concern-trolling that says nothing more than, “Hey, I don’t like a thing!” A suggestion that it’s societally acceptable to clip a cyclist with a 3,000-pound car is a great way to spice it up and drive up online reads.

But the line about bumping cyclists with cars, while ridiculous, is still insulting, and does actually happen in real life.

“If we’re talking about causing actual harm, we need to be protecting bicyclists and pedestrians from bullying motorists and not vice versa,” says Evan Wilder, a photogapher who was knocked to the ground on Rhode Island Avenue, Northeast, in August 2011 by a pickup-truck driver who barked at him before clipping him with the flatbed. Wilder’s encounter, which he captured on video, helped spur the legislation that led to the $500 penalty Milloy is so eager to pay now. Perhaps more jarring, and hopefully just a sick conincidence, is that Milloy’s column lands on the sixth anniversary of the death of Alice Swanson, a cyclist who was killed by a garbage truck at Connecticut Avenue and R Street, Northwest, in 2008. (The truck’s driver is currently behind bars on an immigration charge, but was never charged directly for his role in Swanson’s death.) 

But Milloy should take note: The driver who struck Wilder, former Metropolitan Police Department officer John Diehl, didn’t just pay a fine. He also pleaded guilty to property destruction and leaving the scene of a collision, and was sentenced to community service and anger management counseling.

That’s why Milloy’s clarion call today is so ridiculous. Does he want to risk being named as a co-conspirator in all these hit-and-runs he’s suggesting? What about potential personal-injury lawsuits? Is Milloy really prepared to spend all his spare time giving depositions in tort cases?

Of course not. Cyclists should be responsible, observant of traffic laws, and polite and visible toward the drivers with whom they share the road, but Milloy is just engaging in the worst kind of bitchy, rambling clickbait. Need final proof he’s not worth taking seriously? He even swipes at the Kermit the Frog. Milloy notes that WABA volunteers will be handing out treats to people who bike to NoMa for tonight’s outdoor screening of The Muppets.

“There’ll be kids and bikes and Muppets, as if Kermit is supposed to make us forget about the biker terrorists out to rule the road,” he writes.

When a columnist starts taking shots at the Muppets, it might be time to click on something else. Then again, perhaps Milloy has a point. This footage of renegade cyclists is absolutely mortifying:

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.