“Terrorists on Wheels”: Why Does Everyone Hate Cyclists?

c/o streetsblog.com

Last Thursday, Jill Tarlov was walking in Central Park, when she was struck by cyclist Jason Marshall. Tarlov, a 59-year-old Connecticut mother of two, died today after spending days in a coma. Eyewitness accounts suggest that Marshall struck Tarlov after swerving to avoid a group of pedestrians who were walking in the bike lane. Marshall reportedly yelled a warning at Tarlov, but it was too late and he hit Tarlov, causing the woman to fall, strike her head, and enter a coma from which she never recovered. Mitchell, a seasoned cyclist, sustained minor injuries, stayed at the scene of the accident, and has not been charged with any crimes.

And yet it hasn’t taken very long at all for an outcry to erupt with a variety of voices wondering if the city’s cycling culture needs to be completely recalibrated, if not dismantled entirely. Perhaps it’s because this horrifying accident took place just a couple months—and in virtually the same location—as another tragic and fatal cyclist/pedestrian encounter (that of Irving Schachter), but it seems like the tenor of the current debate is more frenzied than it has been in the past, with even the normally measured New York Times solely interviewing a number of anti-cyclist New Yorkers in an article about Tarlov’s death, thus seemingly planting itself pretty firmly on one side of the “debate” that the Times claims has risen in New York following Tarlov’s death.

But, of course, for a debate to be fair, there needs to be more than one side represented, and yet it seems that the media is overwhelmingly speaking out against cyclists, with some, like the New York Post‘s notoriously incendiary, perpetually hysterical Andrea Peyser resorting to infantile name-calling, and generalizing as melodramatically as possible:

Entitled, obnoxious and armed with two-wheeled deadly weapons and “don’t f–k with me’’ attitudes, the bike creeps speed through the streets and parks of this town, barreling through busy crosswalks, tormenting small children, pets, senior citizens and the rest of us sitting ducks with curses on their lips — and blood on their hands.

As absurd as it would be not to recognize that Peyser is blatantly trying to get people’s attention by calling cyclists “terrorists on wheels” and “assassins in Spandex,” it would be similarly absurd not to recognize that Peyser’s rhetoric is not hers alone, rather there are many people who seem to think that cyclists are the true enemies of New York pedestrians, and that ridding the road of bicycles will make for safer streets.

This, not to put too fine a point on it, is nonsensical. In 2013, 156 pedestrians were killed in New York by motorists. Zero were killed by cyclists. In fact, prior to Schachter’s death, there had been no cyclist/pedestrian fatalities since 2009. This doesn’t, of course, mean that there shouldn’t be a conversation about things like whether or not our city parks should be used as de facto velodromes (they shouldn’t), but it is ridiculous to pretend that more bikes on the street lead to some sort of inherent dangers for pedestrians. In fact, a city that makes it easier for its residents to use bicycles as a mode of transportation will be necessarily making that city safer for all road-users—providing that said road-users follow the rules of the roads. This means that pedestrians shouldn’t wander into bike lanes, that cars should yield to cyclists when appropriate, and that cyclists shouldn’t assume that yelling “Get out of the way!” is sufficient warning that they are coming.

The larger point is that we are all responsible for the safety of ourselves and of others. New York, more than any other city in this country, is a place of constant enforced interaction. It is a city where it takes smarts to survive. New Yorkers can not assume that anyone is looking out for them, yet must do their best to look out for others. There is no point in casting blame on a whole group of people (in this case, cyclists) when it is clear—based on the group’s safety record as a whole—that biking does not collectively endanger anyone as much as it does the cyclists themselves. Yes, cyclists have a responsibility to pedestrians to obey the rules of the road by not traveling at excessive speed and yielding to people in crosswalks, but demonizing the whole for the irresponsible actions of a few would be akin to banning all cars from the city because of all the pedestrian deaths. (Which doesn’t always sound like the worst idea, but still.) We could all stand to be a little more careful out there, whether on foot or on wheels, but heedlessly casting blame doesn’t make any of us safer, it only contributes to a culture of fear and antipathy. And that helps absolutely no one.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen


  1. “Cyclists” is a broad term. To suggest that “cyclists” are under attack is a bit specious. Andrea Peyser is unequivocally a predictable Nancy Grace blowhard – who cares what she or anyone who works at the New York Post thinks. I’m sure we’ll hear from that other idiot wind soon – “kept” Dorothy Rabinowitz.

    Nevertheless, for over 30 years, I have witnessed aggressive racing cyclists in Central Park – they are obnoxious, dangerous and threatening, and they should move to Texas where their kind belong. Racing cyclists belong in a velodrome, not a public park. Further, the obnoxious racing cyclists that I’ve witnessed for 30 years, are predominantly white males and likely affluent. Anyone who defends these creatures is not pro cycling. They are arrogant aggressive white males who can’t control their estrogen.

    Recreational and commuting cycling are here to stay – and only growing. And I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of New Yorkers will continue to support this type of rider – they better or else we’ll all burn to death – if we don’t overdose on Twinkies.

    But the racing cyclists that plague our parks are a menace to society. They should take that crap to a NASCAR track and admit who they really are – violent, aggressive, white males who get turned on by pedaling fast and furious in spandex.

    • @Civic Media–Thanks so much for your comment because I was just about to make a comment when I read yours and saw that you had already said everything that was on my mind. I want to love all cyclists because they are not polluting the environment; however, they are so reckless because they have so few laws to obey that they have become a danger to people who are walking or even driving. But because I cannot make half the points that you make so well, I will sign off with a sincere thank you for saying all that I had felt.

  2. Dear Kristin,
    “Yes, cyclists have a responsibility to pedestrians to obey the rules of the road…” Yes – yes they do. Besides not traveling at excessive speeds and yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks it includes riding in designating bike lanes, traveling the right way on one-way streets and stopping at red lights. If you are a cyclist, how often do you actually follow the rules of the road – and civility? Cycling is wonderful but many cyclists are not.

  3. I’ve been hit by a cyclist on the BK Bridge.

    I think it was done on purpose. I don’t know why, but the situation didn’t make any sense, and ever since then, I’ve paid more attention to the attitudes of cyclists around me, and have always gotten a sense that they think they are superior to all.

    I was walking on the border of the bike lane and pedestrian lane, right on the line, very close to the bikes. The cyclist, looking straight at me the whole time, runs straight into me, flips over his handlebars, and lands on the ground next to his bike. I was fine.

    “LOOK WHERE YOU’RE F*CKING GOING”, he screamed.

    I asked if he was ok.

    “WHAT THE F*CK WERE YOU DOING?!” he continued to yell, standing up at the same time.

    Again, I asked if he was OK.


    Still very calmly, I said “I’m not a tourist, I’ve lived here for 5 years, but why does that matter? Are you ok?”

    He immediately changed his tone, and said “Yeah man, sorry, I’m alright. Have a good one.” And he rode off.

    Was he trying to prove some point the cities visitors? To play the mean New Yorker, to give someone a story to tell, to scare a tourist into not coming back? I don’t know, but his instant attitude reversal when finding out I wasn’t a tourist has left a bad taste in my mouth about all cyclists since.

    • Erik, your whole story is about what a jackass this cyclist is for having a certain feeling about all tourists, then you finish it by saying you now have a certain feeling about all cyclists? Seems like you missed the point of your own story.
      It’s completely fair to have a bad taste in your mouth about that one cyclist, but applying that to “all cyclists since” just contributes to the pervasive antipathy that this post cautions against.

  4. I quote your words of wisdom:
    ” This means that pedestrians shouldn’t wander into bike lanes,…”
    So how the hell do you expect us pedestrians to cross the street?
    You are amazing in your arrogance.
    How many pedestrians were killed or crippled by cyclists this week?
    Ban the bikes.

  5. Your article is asinine! Do you have any statistics on how many pedestrians were STRUCK by cyclists? When they, the pedestrians had the right of way when crossing the street? With the light? No. Most people will not sustain fatal injuries when being struck by a bike but definitely can sustain life long injuries. Many, many cyclists in Manhattan refuse to abide by the road rules and speed through red lights with no regard for anyone. Please don’t write until you yourself have other points of views. Reading this was super annoying.

  6. I’ve been riding in NY for years. I know that I used to ride my bike the way I used to drive a car when I was 17. I thought I was hot stuff and I liked tooling around the city. I think I used to walk down the streets the same way, darting in and out of slower pedestrians confident of my ability to dodge the traffic.

    Once we are in a public space, be it as a pedestrian, or a cyclist, or a motorist, etiquette and a set of rules come in to play. I look back at some of my former behavior and I’m horrified. What New Yorker over the age of 21 does not find themselves pinned against the a a building at 2:30 pm as schools let out? Seeing these kids, I feel my hostility rise and I feel myself thinking how rude and how loud they are. But then I must admit, I do recognize myself.

    Is age the only factor? I would say it is a factor, but not necessarily. An earlier comment made reference to middle age white guys in spandex. Could this be part of of the crisis of mid-life? Also yes, I would say perhaps.

    Ask yourself an honest question. Did you ever get behind the wheel of a car after you had a very small drink? Did you ever speed up to get through a light which probably did change from orange to red? Did you ever prevent the subway door from closing to let your slower friend onto the train, did you ever jay walk or even cross the street at a don’t walk sign. If your answer to all of these is “no,” well then bless you and please tell me how you’ve managed to do that. I am not excusing any of these things. Yes, mostly they are minor and insignificant transgressions, except they can all rarely end up with serious consequences if not a fatality.

    If we would like to see this city become “greener” and healthier, and I think walking and cycling are very important parts of that future, then we are going to have to become better at learning the rules of the road. Riding a bike was a childhood sport. Riding a bike on a city street or on the Central Park loop carries more responsibility and a different set of rules. New York has an opportunity to make that etiquette very clear to the cyclist and the motorist and the pedestrians

  7. If only it were a “few” cyclists causing this problem. The truth is that there are very many cyclists that have an outsized sense of entitlement, and demonstrate an irresponsible attitude toward people that are simply walking. The fact is that most New Yorkers have at least one, and usually more, story to tell about a cyclist that endangered or hit them while the cyclist was engaged in a personal time trial fantasy — coupled with a F*ch You attitude toward the person they harmed or endangered. Enough is enough, and NYers that are capable of it are starting to put these jerks on the ground when they pull these stunts.


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