News & Politics

Letter Comparing Bike Lanes to the Reichstag Fire Is the Craziest Anti-Bike Rant Yet

Please don't compare cyclists to Nazis. Nazi comparisons are bad.

Bike lane über alles? Photograph by Flickr user Elvert Barnes.

Cyclists in DC have to endure being called bullies and terrorists when they open up a newspaper, but that’s nothing compared to what their two-wheeled bretheren across the Potomac have to endure.

A recent issue of the Alexandria Times featured a letter bemoaning the proposed installation of bike lanes on two Old Town streets beginning as such: “Creating crises as an excuse to give government more power to solve the crisis is not a new trick. Remember the Reichstag fire in Germany when the Nazi regime was in its infancy in 1933?”

A Nazi comparison? Courtland Milloy’s got nothing on letter-writer and NIMBY extraordinare Dino Drudi, who suggests that a recent city ordinance allowing bike-riding on sidewalks is a power grab akin to, well, Hitler’s consolidation of power following a Communist activist’s attempt to burn down the German legislature. Besides making a completely over-the-top analogy, Drudi completely misses the point about why Alexandria permits cyclists to pedal on most sidewalks.

Just last year, city council legalized bicycle riding on nearly every city sidewalk, which theretofore had been prohibited. Why would they legalize riding bicycles on the sidewalk unless City Hall considered it safe and desirable?

And why would City Hall use discouraging cyclists from using sidewalks as a justification for more bicycle lanes so soon after they allowed said cyclists on sidewalks?

As the bike blog Wash Cycle pointed out Monday morning when it spotted Drudi’s letter, Alexandria legalized sidewalk riding last year to comply with a Virginia Department of Transporation regulation requiring cities to permit it in order to accomodate cyclists who might not feel safe pedaling in road traffic. But Alexandria’s sidewalks, especially in neighborhoods like Old Town and Del Ray, can be clogged with pedestrians, giving the city a big incentive to encourage novice cyclists to move back onto the roads with dedicated bike lanes. That’s why the city recently painted bike lanes on a stretch of King Street and why it’s planning to do the same on Cameron and Prince streets. The King Street lanes did not happen without a bit of kvetching from people worried about the removal of a few blocks of street parking, but in what may only be news to Drudi, it did not result in the rise of a Third Reich on two wheels.

“It hasn’t been the apocalypse,” says Greg Billing, the advocacy coordinator at the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. “There are comparisons you can make about how to use public space, and then there are comparisons that are just completely inappropriate.”

To cycling promoters like Billing, allowing people to ride on the sidewalks isn’t ideal, but it is a necessary step toward building bike infrastructure that makes even the most nervous pedalers feel comfortable in the roads.

“As we retrofit cities to make them safe for walking and biking, we’re going to have some intermediate steps,” he says. “There’s not an intended power grab there. Long-term, we want to build places where people can feel safe riding in the street because the sidewalk is for walking.”

And just like the sidewalk is ideally for walking, the conversation about cycling is ideally not for comparisons to global menaces. Bike owners have already been equated with terrorists and Nazis, so let’s just knock out the list of other things you shouldn’t compare them to:

  • ISIS
  • Ebola
  • Vladimir Putin
  • Fiscal austerity
  • Narcostates
  • Child labor traffickers
  • Climate change
  • Invasive fish species
  • Planet-killing asteroids
  • Obamacare
  • Ivory poachers
  • Kaijus
  • FIFA

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

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.