The following is a generic "letter to the editor" written as a response to the typical anti-bicyclist letter or column demanding that bicyclists stay off of the roads. Feel free to use this letter when responding to such.
This letter is in response to the recent article/letter in your publication disparaging bicycle drivers' use of roadways.
Different vehicle types have different advantages and disadvantages, and different people have different needs and preferences. Fortunately, our roadways and traffic laws allow accommodation of a diversity of vehicle types for transportation. If this were not the case, many people would be limited to vehicles they don't need, don't want, canít afford, or can't use.
An unfortunate reality of our roadway system is that all forms of traffic affect all other forms of traffic. No road user is immune to traffic delays or innocent of creating them for others. Although the cause and nature of the delays generated by traffic may appear different from one vehicle type to the next, comparison of the total induced delays caused by different vehicle types fails to reveal any significant net difference long-term. Time and time again, our free society has found that the advantages of allowing transportation via a diversity of vehicle types outweighs convenience-oriented arguments for prohibition of certain vehicle types on the surface streets that provide essential access to our local destinations. This is especially true for those vehicles that are the most affordable, are the most environmentally friendly, occupy the least space, do the least damage to roadways, generate the least noise, and create the least danger for other innocent road users.
When issues of traffic-related inconvenience arise, the prudent response is to improve or supplement the transportation facility, not ban a segment of the population from travel. If some motorists feel that they are unreasonably delayed by slow traffic, they can lobby for construction of extra road space for passing or promote a redundant system of expressways that slower travelers won't need to use. Many communities have elected to incorporate improved passing facilities into their roadways via construction of wide (14' or wider) outside travel lanes. In other locations, delays caused by slower traffic may be too small to warrant the costs of roadway widening, and taxpayer money may be better spent in other ways.
Some motorists who wish to avoid the responsibilities and occasional inconveniences of motor vehicle travel have claimed that use of slow, open vehicles on roadways is unreasonably dangerous. However, analysis of safety data for bicycle transportation shows this to be untrue. Bicycle drivers who follow the vehicular rules of the road when traveling on roadways enjoy a safety record similar to automobile users, safer than sidewalk cyclists, and much safer than motorcycle users. Our society's respect for the travel rights of vulnerable but lawfully operating road users is what keeps these bicyclists safe. Those impatient road users who treat bicycle drivers with disrespect and make inflammatory statements intent on depriving other groups of their equal right to travel upon our public street system are the ones creating the real danger.
Often we hear claims from very vocal individuals that bicyclists are not taxed enough or regulated enough to deserve to use public streets. Advocates for bicyclists are willing to entertain these concerns when they are presented in a constructive manner, but once a realistic discussion of the costs and benefits of various revenue collection and regulation schemes begins, the vocal complainants usually lose interest. It appears that these individuals are not really interested in ensuring that the system is fair or effective; rather, they are only interested in changes that will discourage bicycling. If these bicycling critics are primarily interested in their own convenience as motorists, perhaps their efforts would be better spent lobbying for improved roadway facilities such as wide outside lanes. Bicycling critics may also point out that some bicycle operators create hazards for other road users by habitually violating the rules of the road. Lawfully operating bicycle drivers share this concern and advocate better education and enforcement of the traffic laws we already have as they apply to all drivers of vehicles.
Sometimes members of the motoring public will express empathy for utilitarian bicyclists who don't use cars, but exhibit anger toward recreational cyclists who use popular roads at popular times. Some of these motorists suggest that the government place prohibitions on recreational bicycle travel. This concept is fraught with problems. First, it is impossible to tell one's trip purpose simply from appearance, since many utilitarian cyclists use the same bicycles and clothing as recreational cyclists, and second, the government has never been granted an interest in the citizens' trip purpose for everyday travel on public streets. Do we wish to open a Pandora's box of civil liberty infringements where our government can stop citizens for their appearance, demand to know their trip purpose, and arrest them for traveling for unapproved reasons? If recreational travel is subject to prohibition does that mean that trips to sporting events and vacations may be prohibited to reduce traffic? May the government ban "sports cars", "sport utility vehicles" and "RVs" in order to spare the public from their impact on roads? It seems far better to allow everyone to use our roadways, and to design and regulate them to make them as safe and efficient as possible for mixed traffic. That way we can continue to enjoy living in a free country, with equal opportunity for all.
Your friendly neighborhood bicycle driver
This letter is hereby released into the public domain and may be copied and reproduced in whole or in part for any purpose without credit to the author.