Bicycle & Livability Supporters Fear Coming Out in Hillcrest Amidst Death Threats

Growing up I never imagined being in a position where I’d get more flak for being someone who prefers to ride a bicycle than I would for a being a gay man.

I get more hate directed from my fellow LGBTQ community in San Diego for being a bicycle advocate than I receive from the straight community for being queer. It reveals an interesting dichotomy of social acceptance and surprises me that such contempt emanates from our LGBTQ community.

Recently while walking in Hillcrest, I happened across a member (let’s call this person “Jamie” for the purposes of this story and not outing someone’s orientation) who is a leader in the LGBTQ community. This is someone I hold great love and respect for. We cordially greeted each other as usual with a smile, hug, and kiss. Jamie felt the need to inform me how much he wished I wasn’t one of those “bike people”. This quickly soured our encounter. Jamie went on to say, “one of these days I’ll probably kill you or another of your friends. I don’t want to but it won’t matter which one of us would be right or wrong – you’d be dead. Bikes shouldn’t be in the city or on the streets. We don’t want these bike lanes here, we’ve even booed [Council President] Todd Gloria for suggesting such a thing. Can’t you go ride your bike some place else”?

Even before this encounter, BikeSD executive director Sam Ollinger faced similar backlash from another LGBTQ business leader and community figurehead. Ollinger was going around talking to local businesses about how they could support our advocacy efforts to improve and enhance bicycling in Hillcrest. At one establishment the co-owner wished death on people riding bicycles to “teach them a lesson” – all because he’s occasionally seen bicycle riders roll through stop signs.

I don’t know about you, but I would never wish harm or death against anyone driving a car just because I’ve witnessed drivers using their phone while driving, or violating the law while rolling through a stop sign, our own infamous “California stop”. This lack of scrutiny on driver behaviour was addressed here previously.

Tens of thousands of Americans are killed each year by speeding and inattentive driving. Surely this is a far greater problem than bad behaviour from people on bikes.

Back to the encounter with Jamie. Once I recovered from the shock of realizing someone for whom I thought had mutual respect was instead callous about the value of my life and others because of our choice of transportation; I tried to explain the need for dedicated infrastructure to provide safe transportation for everyone.

At BikeSD we work hard to educate our many communities about the need and importance for proper urban infrastructure. But it’s sometimes very slow going because it sometimes feels like our message falls on deaf ears. And it seems to lie in this false choice of choosing between the personal convenience of an automobile over safer streets.

Sustainability is not just a buzzword. It’s a real thing. We can’t build ever-larger streets with unlimited parking. We have to focus our design and smart growth on promoting and enhancing the mobility options for pedestrians, bicycles, wheelchair users, skateboards and everyone else in order make our communities places to get out and live. Our communities should be destinations, not convenient drive through thoroughfares like the interstate.

This piece shouldn’t be taken as an over-generalization of the LGBTQ community’s response. There are some outside the LGBTQ Hillcrest who also do not support bicycle infrastructure or more livable cities for one reason or another. There are many more in the LGBTQ community that do support our efforts – yet they do so in silence for fear of being outed as a bicycle supporter. Now that’s ironic. It saddens me to see this come from our community, my community – to hear comments wishing me death that I would more expect to hear from the likes of Westboro Baptist Church. It’s odd and surprises me that people with a history of marginalization would be so quick to target others who are marginalized in their own way.

Hillcrest and the Uptown area are on the precipice of a grand redesign to the heart of our LGBTQ community. We don’t need death threats. We need infrastructure that benefits everyone. Improved sidewalks, urban parklets, and dedicated, protected bike lanes so people of any age can use their bicycles more to make urban trips and lessen their dependence on cars – which in turn lessens the traffic and the parking burden on Hillcrest. And just think of all those great legs everyone will soon have!

Bruce Shank served on the BikeSD board from 2013-2014 and stepped down from the board to focus on his move to Los Angeles. Bruce is moving due a job placement that was unavoidable.