David Smith, Bike-Safety Contrarian, Compares Bike Lobby to Ku Klux Klan (Then Regrets It)

David Smith rides his bike everywhere. But unlike most cyclists, he's not fond of bike lanes. And after reading a piece on the Seattle Bike Blog penned by Tom Fucoloro, who concluded that a piece I wrote earlier this week on the topic of bike lanes sucked, Smith called to say just how much he's come to disagree with the likes of Fucoloro as their influence has swelled.

Smith's bike-safety philosophy is that cyclists are better off considering themselves cars and abiding by the same rules which motorists abide by. "I remember having a few crashes on a bicycle," says Smith, who lives in South Seattle. "I was shamed into admitting that other people were doing better than me and maybe ought to take a look at what they were doing. One was my brother, who's traveled over 300,000 miles without having an accident. He prefers riding his bike on the street on major roads, and really doesn't like the bike facilities. I know a lot of people like this all over the country. When I cleaned up my way of thinking about this, I stopped having crashes."

Smith also believes that anti-car sentiments among cyclists are self-defeating--and potentially dangerous. As far as bike lanes are concerned, he says, "I look at it this way: When I'm driving a vehicle, I want to be following the same rules as anyone else. You stuff me in a bike lane, and guess what? I'm violating the rules of the road; I'm forcing the motorist to multitask."

While he may not agree with most cyclists on the topic of bike lanes, you'd think Smith would be thrilled at how much sway the bike lobby has earned in recent years, capped by the election of bike-commuting Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn. But that assumption would be erroneous; in fact, Smith is mortified at the direction in which the bike lobby is headed, comparing its mindset to that of segregationists.

"Basically, it's been a jaw-dropping experience to watch these guys in action--rearranging all their facts to fit their beliefs, and how stupifyingly successful they've been at it," says Smith. "When I was growing up, I believed that you follow the rules of the road, and you were a bad person if you did not. If I saw someone doing something really stupid and pointed it out to them, they apologized. Try doing that today."

"What we have now is, in my opinion, a full-blown, ripe, mature segregationist movement," he continues. "Instead of whites-only drinking fountains, we now have 'bikes are good, cars are bad.' We're getting bike lanes painted into the streets that are a systematic violation of the rules of the road. Bike advocates, which have taken control of the mayor's office and SDOT--it's a national movement, so I don't just want to pick on Seattle here--they use the same ways of thinking as the Ku Klux Klan used: 'We are the good people; you are the bad people; we deserve special treatment; and if anything goes wrong, it's all your fault.' Isn't that how we treated African-Americans at one time?"

UPDATE, 3:20 p.m.: Smith called back to say he regrets the KKK analogy. He feels, in retrospect, that it was over-the-top and obscures some of his more substantive points. "It's the thinking about special treatment and blaming others that's the issue. The violence is simply beyond comparison," he says.

Pointing to the danger of having bike lanes proceed through intersections where motorists are apt to turn right (the behavior Smith advises is for bikers to file in behind cars going directly through intersections rather than remaining in the bike lane), he adds, "What I think need to be asked about the city and the mayor is: Where is your study of the two different behaviors [of bikers at intersections]. What the bike advocates do is they'll study treatments like bike lanes, but they don't compare the new behavior to that of simply following the rules of the road to see which is healthier. A comparison would be smoking: We know its unhealthy because we have compared the behavior of smoking to not smoking. Remember, the tobacco companies tried to claim first that it was healthy and then that it did not cause cancer."

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