Cycling and Hateful Rhetoric - Opinion
People who cycle are entitled to the same protection against hateful rhetoric as anyone else, argues Kieran Ryan. †
The issue of cyclists’ safety has come into sharp public focus recently, with 2017 being the deadliest year for cycling in almost a decade. So far this year 15 people have been killed while cycling on Irish roads, which is a 50% increase on 2016.
However, as the rate of fatal collisions has increased, so too has the level of hostility faced by people who cycle. Acts of impatience and aggression have become everyday occurrences and contribute to a sense that our roads are becoming less safe.
One factor that adds to this animosity is the hateful rhetoric directed towards cyclists which is frequently published and broadcast by various media outlets, without the application of the usual checks and balances.
Many media organisations are wantonly publishing articles and opinion pieces about cycling that could be seen as inciting hatred towards, or dehumanising, people who cycle. Likewise the radio and TV stations whose “shock jock” hosts spout accusations of widespread law-breaking by people on bikes, and gleefully read out tweets and texts to back up their own biased views.
Every time a cycling advocate appears on TV or radio they are bombarded with accusations of misbehaviour and deviance.
At best, this type of discourse is a distraction from the real issues around road safety and transport funding. At worst, it could be considered an incitement to violence and a precursor to actual harm being committed against people on bicycles.
The reality is that most people who cycle are just ordinary men and women getting on with their daily lives. They are trying to do so in a built environment that, for the most part, has been designed to be hostile to their particular mode of transport.
People on bikes have enough problems negotiating deathtrap junctions and cycle lanes that resemble obstacle courses. They do not need the further challenge of dealing with otherwise sane drivers being wound up by what they see and hear in the media.
It is time for Irish media organisations to start taking their responsibility on this topic seriously. If they continue to foment antagonism towards vulnerable road users like cyclists, then it is inevitable that they will be at least partly responsible for someone dying or being seriously injured on our roads.
Hateful discourse around cycling is potent, dangerous and ultimately futile. It needs to stop.
† This article has been updated and edited by the original author. “The original article made comparisons to hate speech and attitudes towards minority groups. While there are some parallels and overlapping themes, especially around the use of language, these comparisons ultimately do not serve the best interests of minority groups or people who cycle.” - Kieran Ryan, July 2020.
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