Regardless of advising the president of the US on all issues of coverage regarding how folks and items get round this nice land of ours, the comings and goings of the secretary of transportation usually don’t appeal to a lot consideration. We simply assume this individual (whose title we frequently put out of your mind) will get pushed to work in an enormous black automobile like each different authorities official. And in the case of infrastructure, except a bridge falls down or one thing, most of us are content material to complain about potholes and fuel costs and depart it at that.
All this modified, nonetheless, when Joe Biden appointed Pete Buttigieg because the nineteenth U.S. secretary of transportation. A bona fide pop-culture determine due to his presidential run, “Mayor Pete” Buttigieg is sort of definitely the primary transportation secretary in any hazard of being acknowledged in a shopping center. Not solely that, however his appointment got here within the wake of one of the crucial fussed-over presidential elections in current historical past, and to high all of it off, he says crazy stuff like “We will positively be extra of a bicycle nation.” So it was solely a matter of time earlier than somebody hid in a tree and caught him on video “faking” a bike trip—the caption tells us that “Pete Buttigieg used an armored Suburban to carry a motorcycle inside a brief distance of the vacation spot,” then rode it in for present.
In fact, you possibly can’t actually faux a motorcycle trip; if you happen to rode a motorcycle, you rode a motorcycle, and the video clearly reveals Buttigieg (ultimately) mounting a motorcycle and pedaling away. Granted, the trip does seem to contain each an SUV and a safety element, but when driving to a ride didn’t rely then we’d must give you one other time period for mountain biking. However, critics seized on the footage in an try to model the pro-bike Buttigieg as a hypocrite, whereas numerous media fact-checkers debunked their accusations as false, stating that he did certainly trip to the White Home for President Biden’s first Cupboard assembly.
It’s too dangerous that bikes nonetheless get caught up on this type of media-driven partisan bickering, as a result of there’s actually nothing divisive about them.
Even when Buttigieg had, in reality, enlisted illusionist Criss Angel in an try to Mindfreak People into considering he’d ridden to a gathering when he actually had not, that might not invalidate the concept using bikes is an effective factor, and that each one of us (drivers included) can profit from infrastructure that makes it safer and simpler to take action. On the identical time, it’s not shocking that some folks pounced on Buttigieg’s trip, given the tendency of politicians to speak the discuss with out strolling the stroll (or using the trip). Whether or not it’s New York Metropolis mayor Invoice de Blasio filing lawsuits against the oil industry and telling people not to buy cars whereas he’s sitting back of his SUV, or local weather czar John Kerry claiming he has to fly private planes in order to save the world, we’ve develop into conditioned to anticipate that our leaders will do the precise reverse of no matter it’s they ask of us, particularly in the case of burning gasoline.
Whereas Buttigieg’s endorsement of bicycling appears to be sincere, and loads of People clearly want to ride, there’s additionally no scarcity of people that stay determined to debunk the thought of the bicycle as a legitimate type of transportation. Moreover, Buttigieg kerfuffle apart, political bicycle theater may be very actual and at instances a bit irritating, even if you happen to’re pro-bike. In the summertime of 2019, I rode from my house to a press convention on the Bronx County Courthouse, the place numerous muckety-mucks had been scheduled to announce the Citi Bike bike-sharing program’s a lot anticipated enlargement into the borough. As I approached my vacation spot, I encountered a number of giant autos blocking the bike lane—the staging space, it turned out, from which mentioned muckety-mucks would “trip” a number of yards to the announcement in order that the media may seize them arriving by bicycles.
Now, I’m not naive sufficient to anticipate my metropolis officers to trip bicycles to each press convention, nor am I averse to slightly spectacle. Nonetheless, phony rides like this do exude a barely “bikes are OK for you schmucks, however vital folks like us must journey by automobile” vibe that appears designed to elicit each disappointment and contempt, relying on the place you fall on the Bike Affinity Spectrum.
Is it an excessive amount of to anticipate our legislators and coverage makers to trip locations, particularly after they espouse the virtues of bikes? One may definitely argue that after you attain a sure degree of energy and affect, safety issues outweigh issues of effectivity and practicality—and but British prime minister Boris Johnson commuted by bike for years whereas he was mayor of London, and the worst he acquired was the finger. (Presumably, he doesn’t must commute by bike now that he lives and works at 10 Downing Road, however even at the moment, stay-at-home orders don’t keep him out of the saddle.)
Maybe it’s not a lot a safety concern as it’s the worry of political fallout or outright ridicule. There are American politicians who’ve loved leisure biking (former president George W. Bush’s fat-tire proclivities are well-documented), however when famous Serotta fanatic John Kerry broke his femur during a ride in France as secretary of state in 2015, he was mocked by Donald Trump. And who may neglect the explosive scandal that was former president Obama’s Helmetgate? (But Twitter freaked out after Beto O’Rourke rode a bike without wearing a helmet. Go determine.)
In fact the elephant within the room right here is that criticism of politicians for using (or, in Buttigieg’s case, not using) bikes tends to circulation from proper to left. (Then there’s the criticism from Bike Twitter, which is one thing else totally.) So if you happen to’re a left-leaning politician who throws a leg over a rig, you’re setting your self up as a weakling, or a hypocrite, or a reckless idiot. Because the media devotes rising consideration to local weather issues, little question we’ll see the left retaliate with the equally disingenuous tactic of flight shaming and driver shaming. Within the meantime, if you happen to’re within the public eye, it’s nonetheless best to do one thing “regular” like journey by automobile.
It’s too dangerous that bikes nonetheless get caught up on this type of media-driven partisan bickering, as a result of there’s actually nothing divisive about them. Like water conforms to the form of a container, using a motorcycle is appropriate with any ideology or way of life. As a mode of transportation, it’s the final word in self-sufficiency—no bloated paperwork essential to administer it, no crippling dependency on vitality sources and utilities and producers and monetary establishments—and but, on the identical time it’s each equitable and environmentally pleasant. It thrives in wide-open areas however can be extraordinarily effectively suited to city life. You should utilize a motorcycle to go to an elk hunt or to a protest. And although we frequently consider automobiles and bikes as mortal enemies, they’ve managed to coexist for effectively over a century and can little question proceed to take action for so long as folks must get round.
The secretary of transportation’s awkward relationship with the bike is a mirrored image of our personal tradition’s discomfort with biking, however hopefully his willingness to maintain using additionally portends a future by which public officers of all stripes can trip bikes with out pretense, and by which their selection to take action isn’t mocked, and even celebrated, however is just completely and totally unremarkable.
Lead Photograph: Stephen Chernin/Getty