Is Bicycling More Emotionally Fraught Than Other Transportation Modes?

Critical Mass in Baltimore, from the Baltimore Sun.

This is more directed at my fellow urbanists and multi-modal advocates (not that anyone else reads this, of course!), but do you ever get the impression that people just connect more easily to articles and news about bicycling?

In my case, I write about land use and transportation, and while I've written specifically about bicycling in the past it's a pretty small minority of what I've done. I'm pro-bike, but I'm no more a bike advocate than I am a transit, pedestrian, or density advocate. Despite that, when friends who are less involved in the multi-modal movement send me links about urban issues, it's usually things like inflatable helmets or electric bike wheels. Almost exclusively. And when someone wants to be snarky, they always ask me "how's the bike?" never "how's the bus?" or "how's the sidewalk?" (Admittedly, those just don't seem to have the same ring to them.) I've also noticed that many bicycle advocates really love bikes—not just getting around by bike but the bikes themselves. In comparison, I think transit's great but I couldn't name a train or bus model to save my life.

And while some of my posts over the last year and a half have been fairly popular, nothing was shared so immediately and widely on Twitter and elsewhere as my article asserting that bicyclists still don't have their fair share of road space in New York City. Something about bicycling just seems to grab people's attention, and sometimes polarize, in a way that other transportation modes rarely replicate. This probably helps explain the success of the bike movement over the past decade or so, and the rapid expansion of bike share programs across the country and throughout the world.

Assuming this is a real phenomenon, I wonder where it comes from. I think part of it may be that many people have absolutely no experience bicycling—at least not as a transportation mode in their adult life—whereas everyone walks and most people seem to recognize the value of transit even if they don't use or need it personally. This may make it easier to develop an us-versus-them dynamic that, while not always productive, does encourage more loyalty to your own in-group. 

Even more, it might be that the experience of bicycling is often so emotionally thrilling, both in terms of excitement and fear—anyone who's commuted by bike on a semi-regular basis is well-acquainted with each, the balance between them mostly dependent on the safety of bike infrastructure in your neighborhood. Transit and walking are both fairly mundane in this regard, and I'd argue that driving is the second-most emotionally-charged transportation mode, so that could be why the battle lines seem to usually be drawn between bikes and cars, not cars and buses, bikes and pedestrians, etc.

I'd be curious to know if any readers have also felt this way, and if so, what you think might be behind it. And if any of this came across as critical of bike advocates it wasn't my intent. If anything, I'd like to know more about why bikes seem so much more emotionally charged in order to bring that same passion to transit and walking.