City Desk

Courtland Milloy Sticks by His Bike Column, Say It’s a “Public Service”

Courtland Milloy owns a bike. It currently has a flat tire, but he still owns it and says it's pretty nice—a multispeed Bianchi that he likes to ride around Hains Point or to Mount Vernon from his home in Fort Washington, Md.

But commuting on it? Milloy says not a chance.

"No, I'm not going to commute on my bike, that's a skill set that I don't have," he tells City Desk today. "You should be licensed to do that. You should have training." (Longtime readers of Milloy's column will remember, of course, that he biked on city streets in 1998 after his license was suspended for speeding.)

Milloy is indisputably the most hated man in D.C.'s bicycling world this week. He penned a column Tuesday calling cyclists "bullies" and "terrorists" who wreak violent havoc on D.C. streets. The column provoked anger from bicyclists and a number of reaction pieces, including more than a half dozen articles from the Post itself. Even Milloy's fellow local columnists Petula Dvorak and Colby King weighed in, offering stances that were more understanding toward Milloy than most.

Most notably, the column prompted a protest in which cyclists biked to Post's downtown headquarters in the hopes of talking to Milloy or his editors. The protest's organizer, Michael Forster, says he emailed Milloy twice with an invitation, but the columnist never responded. Milloy says he's still getting through his pages of emails in response to his column, but had heard about a potential protest, and didn't think it would be the right environment to have a productive dialogue. More than 40 cyclists showed up yesterday along with journalists from seemingly every local media outlet, but not Milloy himself.

"I had heard that there might be a protest," Milloy says. "A protest is not where you have a dialogue, it never has been."

But Milloy says he already has tentative plans to meet and speak with Greater Greater Washington's David Alpert. In his column, Milloy criticized Alpert for suggesting in a blog post, more theoretically than concretely, that it could be easier for cyclists to go up the 15th Street NW hill with a bike escalator, technology that is currently used in Norway. Milloy also wants to go on a bike ride with Veronica Davis, co-founder of the organizing and advocacy group Black Women Bike. He'll even fix his tire and grease his chain before the ride, he says.

"There are some really skilled riders on the road and Veronica's group is one of them. A lot of the really big bike commuters are really good, but there are a lot more that don't know what they are doing out there," Milloy says.

Milloy's column has been criticized as being sloppily argued and factually dubious, particularly the part of the piece in which he writes that bikers are often violent toward drivers and that, in turn, drivers might consider being violent toward cyclists:

Actually, bike ninjas are much worse. They don’t just ride without lights at night. Or ride on sidewalks and go the wrong way in a bike lane. If you demand that he show common courtesy and obey the rules of the road, a biker just might spit on your car. Kick the door. Hit the side mirrors. Bang on the hood. And dare you to do anything about it.

It’s a $500 fine for a motorist to hit a bicyclist in the District, but some behaviors are so egregious that some drivers might think it’s worth paying the fine.

Many people interpreted that last line as a suggestion that drivers were justified in simply hitting the most egregious riders.

Milloy stands by those paragraphs, but says he was in no way advocating that drivers hit cyclists. Instead, he says, these lines should be read as a "public service" warning cyclists that if they are violent on the road, drivers may react with violence.

"In any situation there is the possibility of violence. It is a public service, I think, to explain why it might happen so people might know what to do to prevent it," he says. "I'm saying that if a biker might commit violence or destruction of property then they should be aware that it may infuriate a driver to the point that they might consider violent action."

Milloy says his piece wasn't meant to troll bicyclists or be a work of click-bait. (He didn't know what trolling meant, but once I explained, he said the column was definitely not that.) He'd been thinking about the behavior of cyclists recently and decided to write the column the day before when his fellow Post columnist John Kelly wrote a column urging cyclists to stop riding their bikes on downtown sidewalks. He never expected the reaction this piece would receive, and while he's received some heavy backlash from previous columns, the reaction to this one was "rare" and he was "amazed" by the response.

"I never know what the result is going to be," he says. "I think it is likely that everyone is going to be riled up on the inside by something, you never know what that is going to be."

One criticism Milloy has received is that he doesn't live in the District and that he has no authority to comment on D.C. biking problems. His response: "It's craziness, we comment on Iraq, we don't live there. I lived in the city for a long time."

With D.C. undergoing profound demographic changes, Milloy's column touched on an area of tension, noting the disparate treatment of "mostly white millennials" who bike now and "black juveniles" who were harassed by police in the past, and otherwise channeling the frustration of some local drivers with the city's growing population of bike commuters.

Milloy says that, based on the cyclists' reaction, his article may have landed on some real fears among D.C. riders, particularly given how many people thought he was promoting violence.

"It might be latent fears that make people emotionally edit," he says. "People's [response] says a lot about a mindset."

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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  • TwoWheelsDC

    "It's craziness, we comment on Iraq, we don't live there. I lived in the city for a long time."

    Yes Courtland, we comment on "Iraq". Your columns, however, are like complaining the Iraqis didn't build enough McDonalds to accommodate all the US troops that decided to commute in from Kuwait.

  • Hmmm

    "In any situation there is the possibility of violence. It is a public service, I think, to explain why it might happen so people might know what to do to prevent it," he says. "I'm saying that if a biker might commit violence or destruction of property then they should be aware that it may infuriate a driver to the point that they might consider violent action."

    So, if someone were to say "I'm saying that if a black person might commit violence or destruction of property then they should be aware that it may infuriate a white person to the point that they might consider violent action." that would be an acceptable thing to say?

    Why didn't he say that about drivers who aggressive actives against cyclists, cyclists who just might be carrying a gun.

    "we comment on Iraq, we don't live there."

    Yeah, and that worked out really well, huh?

  • wreckfish

    Awwww, he's such a nice guy. This totally makes up for him tacitly advocating people assault me and equating me with mass murderers for riding a bike. I'm going to get a stuffed animal Courtland Milloy and make love to him tonight.

    Can I request that his next article be about fathers or gardeners? We're terrorists too and also deserve to be assaulted.

  • anin7

    40 people showed up to this "protest". Tempest in a teapot. Of all the pressing things happening in the city, this gets so much ink.

    Really shows how power flows in this city, and the catered to demographic.

    I can think of at least two events that gathered alot more than 40 people and also has citywide repercussions that received no press at all.

    That said, I hope bikers don't feel unsafe. Creating an us versus them, biker vs driving, atmosphere was inappropriate. To the extent rebuttal articles contributed to that atmosphere, they are guilty as well.

  • Steve

    "You should be licensed to do that. You should have training."

    Drivers are licensed and many take driver's ed classes. Yet motorists still kill 30,000 Americans per year and injure hundreds of thousands more. Many of the people they kill and injure are other motorists.

    So it's not about bikes versus cars. And it's not about training. It's about accepting responsibility for power, which one has whether one is behind the wheel of an automobile or on the platform one has as a Washington Post columnist. Milloy's statements were, in fact, a tacit approval of violence. That he can't bring himself to apologize says a lot about his character.

  • washcycle

    Really anin7? What are those two events? Name two events that were organized 24 hours before they happened, without involvement of a formal organization, during work hours, that got 40 people to show up.

  • drez

    The problem that I have with all of this is that courtland is setting himself up to be the spokesperson for the anti bike crowd.
    What qualifies him for that, other than his WP bullypulpit?
    And don't even get me started in David Alpert.
    I've no faith that locking the two of them in a room would advance any general public good.

  • Corky

    Milloy calls bikers bullies and bikers prove him right by showing up at his office and demanding an audience. What a bunch of entitled jerks!! Millow is right. Many of these bikers are spoiled brats, cry babies and bullies. They have no regard for others on the road, ridicule people who have to drive (as if that is a crime) and drive like jerks outside of the bike lanes that they had temper tantrums over until they were built for them. I have been almost run over too many times on the sidewalk by bikers to give a damn about some biker griping about rude drivers. Assholes!!

  • Commuter

    This man's article is a joke and should be disregarded - he has clearly done no research about the benefits of promoting cycling as part of urban planning (both in the US and internationally) and the benefits to contribution to the reduction of traffic and carbon emissions from cars. His complaint about cyclists moving to the front is a point in case - we are not contributing to the number of cars on the road and he certainly has not sat behind a garage truck before. With this said, and as a commuter of nearly 6 years, cyclists need to: i) claim their lane when no bike lane exists, (ii) make themselves seen and heard on city streets, and (iii) recognize that if we are on the sidewalk (to avoid terrible traffic) that we should respect and give way to pedestrians.

    Go DC Cyclists.

  • drez

    Corky
    I can name a dozen people I've personally known who've been killed by some one else who was driving a car but not even one who has been killed by someone else riding a bicycle.
    How about you?

  • Kelly

    Milloy hit it on the nail. The cyclist don't obey the laws. They run red lights and go down streets the wrong way all the time. They even cut closely in front of moving cars knowing they can't keep up with the speed. You never know what they are going to do. They have no regard for safety and many are not responsible drivers. Lastly Milloy is right again, where are the bike lanes in ward 8? And what has changed that they use to harass our kids when there was no bike lanes so they rode on the sidewalks in order to feel safe. But now that the neighborhoods have changed and they are trying to wipe the little history we have left in the city ( like changing Malcolm X Park's name) people don't get harassed for breaking the sidewalk rules anymore. Well Milloy might not live in DC and I am not sure what difference that should make because a lot people don't live in DC but contribute to its workforce and economy; however, I do live here and I wish cyclist would get some humility and learn to share the darn road!

  • cminus

    I own neither a car nor a bicycle, so I'm pretty much a neutral observer here.

    I've been hit by a motorist who made a right turn on red while I was crossing with the walk signal. (The motorist then left the scene.) And I've come close to being hit on multiple occasions; in some cases it was my fault, but usually the cause was the motorist failing to check for pedestrians before making a right on red or left out of a parking lot, or failing to yield to pedestrians in an unsignalled crosswalk.

    On the other hand, I've never been hit by a bicyclist, although one came pretty close once.

    As a pedestrian, I'll take my chances with the bicyclists.

  • Rick

    Every morning I listen to the news and there are "accidents" all across the region messing up traffic. Where is his outrage?

    Every rush hour there are people who drive down a left or right turn only lane and stop and try to merge in the through lanes backing up traffic. Where is his outrage?

    Every day there are people on their phones at red lights who do not move when the light turns green. I've seen 5,6, 7 car gaps before they move. Where is his outrage?

    In city after city, in state after state, governments are using tax dollars to put cameras on school busses because of the number of people who are not stopping. Yes, school busses, with Stop signs and flashing red lights, discharging and picking up kids, and the number of people who can't be bothered to stop is so bad that cameras are being installed.
    Read that again.
    Where is his outrage?

    Every day people climb behind the wheel of their multi ton missile. They are the one and only guidance system to that missile. Yet every day they kill people. Every single day they disengage the guidance system while texting or speeding or weaving in and out of traffic and kill people. And there are countless more they maim and permanently disable.
    Where is his outrage?

  • susan ely

    It is hard to be shocked nowadays, but I was when I read Milloy's column and that bicyclists are " lucky that someone hasn’t put a broomstick through the spokes of their wheels", and "It’s a $500 fine for a motorist to hit a bicyclist in the District, but some behaviors are so egregious that some drivers might think it’s worth paying the fine", I was blown away.

    Now I have to add that to my list of things to watch out for! This 58 yo lifelong rider will keep on riding in DC, happy to finally be joined by so many other cyclists, most of whom are great ambassadors for a wonderful form of transportation. However I am seriously concerned that violence like this is being advocated.

  • DCShadyBoots

    I have no problem with cyclist so long as they obey the rules of the road as motorists are expected to. Some riders take too many chances and operate their bikes as if they have some sort of chip on their shoulder. Almost as if they are out there to prove a point. It is difficult to navigate many District intersections. Particularly at two way stop signs at heavily traveled roads with bike lanes and heavy pedestrian traffic. Particularly right outside Lincoln Park. Motorists are checking for other cars, bikes and people while, at the same time, inching out to see around parked cars.

  • Really?

    Co-sign Corky! Don't get me started on the bikers in Hains Point. As a runner and driver they are rude and 99% of the time do not obey the sign that states bikers most come to compete stop.

  • FM

    I agree with what he said mostly.
    I would not myself harm someone riding a bike but you feel like it many times driving a car. This bike stuff has got out of hand in the last 5yrs.All you need to do is sit back & watch the majority of them ride around the city. They do not stop at red lights or stop signs. That happens to be law for vehicles. Some are racing pass other slower bikes veering into traffic. If they are hit the car will have better result from the outcome of the crash.
    The bikers that went riding to the post calling for this mans job should be ashamed. The real issue is not the motor vehicle drivers it's the bike rider that does not obey laws and there are many of them in this city.
    The motor vehicle driver could not get away with this stuff everyday before they are stopped & fined or permit suspended. I guess many of the same bike riders are the worst automobile drivers.
    This stuff has got to come to a head & laws are on the books and enforced for motor vehicles. Many bikers ride like they are crazy I can get to work or home on my bike ect. so quick. I would say 8yrs ago this was not a problem in DC. The automobile is not going to get rplaced by the bike in this city as some think. The fuel source may but not the automobile. We need more enforcement for the people that ride bike & do not obey laws.

  • Steve Kopperud

    I've never agreed with anything Mr. Milloy has written -- until now. No one will argue that for myriad reasons, drivers in the DC area are among the most erratic in the country. In any altercation between a car and a cyclist, the cyclist will inevitably and always come out the loser. These facts alone should argue for a far more reasoned approach to "encouraging" cycling in the city.

    A search of DC.gov will readily show the city has no cohesive set of rules regarding bicycling in the city. The overriding permission is that cyclist have the same rights AND responsibilities as a motor vehicle operator. There are requirements for helmets and the oft-violated rule about riding on downtown streets, but by and large, anyone at any time can grab a bike and go. A review of PotomacPedalers' website reveals there are expectations of common sense and good judgment when cycling in DC, but wouldn't those judgments be better informed with a registration/licensing program that, at the very least, requires some study and demonstrated mastery of rules of the road?

    Like all drivers in DC, I can list the number times I've been surprised to come upon dark-clad night riders with no lights or reflectors; rush-hour traffic back-ups caused by a single cyclist "puffing" up a Massachusetts or Connecticut Ave. hill at 10 mph, when the rider should be on the sidewalk; the bike share rider who believes if they simply ignore those honking horns, all is good; riders with earbuds firmly in place or -- I kid you not -- riding hands free because they're texting or otherwise using their phones; riders cutting across one or two lanes of traffic with no hand or arm signals; riding between cars;, or the quintessential frustration of the latex-clad Tour de France wannabe trying to move as fast as the surrounding cars while controlling the center of the traffic lane, failing to achieve speed, but ignoring all those rules by which drivers must operate in the attempt.

    Just as one's job title, profession, level of education or automobile brand give no special excuse for ignoring the rules and common courtesies of the road, neither does one's perceived environmentally friendly commuting choice even imply you should be out there in DC traffic without completely understanding the rules, risks and responsibilities involved.

    DC CityCouncil -- before spending any more money to try and logically install bike lanes around the city, how about a bike commuter requirement with detailed rules of the road and specific requirements so that our cycling brothers and sisters know the rules of the game?

  • guest2

    @DCShadyBoots: People on bikes and motorists are both equally expected to obey the rules of the road. The god-awful, aggressive, oblivious DC drivers are just now catching on to the fact that other modalities also disobey traffic regulations, and they're having a tough time grasping the concept.

  • MegDC

    "'It might be latent fears that make people emotionally edit,' he says. 'People's [response] says a lot about a mindset.'"

    One of the many things Milloy does not seem to get is that cyclists' fears of getting run down are not latent, they are overt. The only times I've ever yelled at a driver from my bike have been when the driver seriously endangered my life with an illegal maneuver. Often this happens because the driver is distracted (smartphone anyone?) and fails to see a "no turns" sign. The few drivers I've yelled at may well have felt they'd had an encounter with a "bicycle terrorist." What they really had was an encounter with a human being whom they had terrified.

    Yes, a tiny minority of city bikers are rude, entitled jerks. A vast majority are just normal people trying to get to work. If you can't tell the difference, maybe you're the one who is doing some "emotional editing."

  • Bob

    I think that Milloy needs to tone down the racial rhetoric in his columns. Chocolate City is melting and he needs to get over it. Cities constantly change: just ask the Germans, Italians, Irish, Eastern Europeans, Jews and other groups that were dominant culturally and politically in American cities.

    That said, Milloy is right about the self-centered, entitled attitude of many bikers, who are always on the lookout for perceived slights from motorists yet ignore the safety of pedestrians around then and basic traffic laws as well. And Milloy nailed it a while back with "Myopic Little Twits."

  • SOCHill

    In my case, at least, "chip on shoulder" = desire to stay alive.

    "Obey all laws" is a canard.

    a. Drivers don't, and with much more serious potential and actual consequences.

    b. Often, obeying the laws puts a biker in more danger and is more likely to anger drivers.

    If you're approaching a four-way stop and I'm getting there first, do you really want to do the do-si-do -- I stop, I wait, you stop, you wait, I go -- all the while with the chance that one or the other of us will make an incorrect assumption and someone gets hurt?

    Or might it just be better if I ignored the stop sign and perfectly safely rode through promptly and got the heck out of your way?

  • Self-righteous bicyclists & drivers

    @Drez

    A dozen people?! That is so so sad! Where did these accidents happen? They weren't all be in DC, right? What other cities?

  • Mister Goat

    Yes, there are "real fears among DC riders." That's because while there may be "a $500 fine to hit a bicyclist in the District," such a "hit" can injure or kill a cyclist. Writing cavalierly about harming someone will indeed touch on some fears, Mr. Milloy.

  • ceefer66

    Ironic that the one accused of "bullying" has been bullied himself for daring to criticize cyclists and warn them of the possible consequences of their sense of entitlement.

    Glad to see Mr. Milloy isn't backing down.

  • http://nonesuch paul krupa

    I think any DC police officer could write tickets endlessly, every day for the cavalier driving habits of DC drivers (the same can be said for virtually every place in my opinion). I bet most drivers would rationalize their regular practice of not coming to a full stop at stop signs. Or speeding along at 35, 40 even fifty miles an hour in town (posted 25 mph). And busses, accelerating like dragsters are impossible to stop in less than multiple bus lengths when rocketing over DC streets way above the posted speed limits. Lots of "judgement calls" going on here, and since the drivers are mostly in cars, it's mostly the car drivers doing the violating.
    Malloy has been found to be a chronic speeder even suspended for that habit. Great to see his libertarian politics at work.

  • Richard A. Gollhofer

    Courtland Milloy must be an idiot if he thinks the line "It’s a $500 fine for a motorist to hit a bicyclist in the District, but some behaviors are so egregious that some drivers might think it’s worth paying the fine" is not advocating violence toward bicyclists that is likely to result in murder. I have given him until the end of the month to apologize or be fired by the Post and then I'm canceling my subscription that I have had since I started bicycle commuting in DC in 1983. I encourage all other subscribers who find the quoted statement offensive, whether a bicyclist or not, to do the same.

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