It is not so much a war between drivers and cyclists as a war on city dwellers by those in the suburbs. The car and bike are merely the emblems that each side has taken, as though we each had to have emblems for flags.
The car is the natural emblem for those in the suburbs, given their dependence on the filthy contraption for every litre of milk in their super-sized fridges. In the city we could as easily have chosen the pull-along shopping cart, were the bike not a more direct declaration.
So here we are. At war.
Where I live, in NSW in Australia, the state government minister for transport, Duncan Gay, and all the departments and public servants working beneath him, are positively hostile to cycling. The lengths they go to, in pure economic terms, are irrational… fishy… like a guilty man’s statement to cops. They would rather spend billions on road and rail infrastructure, then billions more treating chronic disease, when some simple best-practice design would steer people toward cycling and away from crowded transit and roads? It seems crazy until you realised that attacking the bike is a dog whistle sign to swinging voters out in the suburbs. You may have seen the interview below, or the list of 1970s style actions Duncan’s Gay’s office recently distributed to the state’s bicycle user groups, with a request that we rank them. He is attacking cycling, and urbanism more generally, to win votes in the suburbs.
How do we fight the politics of the burbs? Ultimately, by bringing more voters to our side, which means bringing more people into the city. We have to speak out against our anti-development neighbours who, under the pretence of caring for sunlight and birds, block all new developments simply because they want to keep homes like their own in short supply.
The very thing NIMBYs fear most—big blocks of tiny apartments with no parking on site—are what will make politicians listen to the concerns of the city, over the concerns of the suburbs.
Which leads to the question of demand for small flats, particularly ones without triple garages. The truly poor plebs in the burbs collect every old mattress in case, god knows, they accidentally give birth to novemdecuplets. They need garages for hoarding. The cashed up plebs need garages for their caravans, quad bikes, dirt bikes, jet skis, multiple cars and the stockpiles of petrol they want to take to the afterlife. Any shortage of affordable (and by that I mean small) housing in the city is of the suburbanites’ making.
It is nonetheless a demographic that is constantly losing children to university, where we (the academics) brainwash them with our own dogmas: town planning principles, histories of postwar development patterns, and the genius of the Moulton F-frame (if they ever had me as their teacher).
We can fill the city with student apartments and remind all the students to vote.
Meanwhile, the very kind of luxury apartment development the NIMBYs support, because it adds a small number of millionaire dwellings, are the very things we need to oppose. Investors in New York are, get this, lowering the night time population of Manhattan by buying huge new apartments and leaving them empty. In cities where rich people are buying to live, they have been shown to contribute more to the traffic than to the street life.
Repeat: oppose luxury apartment development.
I don’t see any other tactic working against these political animals who know how much the plebs like to drive in the city, like dogs spraying piss in other dogs’ yards. We have tried the kinds of tactics we used in the playground to keep the dumb bullies away from us nerds. Remember how we filled our corner of the playground with gay germs and how that kept them away? It doesn’t quite work at the scale of the city. Any time there is a yarn bombing gay mime festival that everyone rides their bike to in the centre of town, the hoons all share the location on their CB radio and walkie talkie shaped cell phones. Before we have even launched our Nana Mouskouri float they’re circling us in their cars hurling paper cups of ice from McDonalds at anyone cycling.
Do tell if there’s a tactic I’ve missed. I know about bricks on the road and lobbying cee u en tee politicians for years. But what I’m asking for are ways we might win. How do we shift political power to bike land from car land?