Bitter battle between motorists and bikers.

From Aamer Madhani, USA TODAY, via 9 News.

CHICAGO β€” The problem for cyclist Gillian Wu started when she yelled at a gaggle of pedestrians lingering in the bike lane to get out of the way. The group, which included a woman carrying a small child, responded with jeers. Wu, 21, a heavy user of this city's extensive bike lane system, said she decided to stop anyway, hoping she could engage the group constructively.

Instead, one man in the group told her he hoped she'd get splattered by a semi, called her entitled and concluded "the world would be a better place without me and people like me," according to Wu. "I think there are a lot of people who can relate to that aggression," said Wu, who first vented about the incident in an open letter on Craigslist this month. "I think there are also a lot of people who can relate to the way I felt. But there have got to be more productive ways to have this conversation."

Wu's letter went viral and spurred a spirited β€” and sometimes vitriolic β€” debate in which some motorists berated cyclists as thoughtless, spandex-clad elitists who pay no heed to traffic laws, while bikers noted that motorists are responsible for thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of injuries annually as a result of unsafe driving.

Over the past decade, "bike lane backlash" has been commonplace as communities big and small have established thousands of miles of dedicated cycling lanes throughout the country.

On social media, the debate is escalating as rhetoric and fervor match the passion shown on controversial issues such as gun rights and the Middle East peace process. The rage may have hit a peak last week after a prominent Washington Post columnist suggested some motorists might think it worth paying a fine to hit bicyclists.

That column came days after National Public Radio host Scott Simon faced public scorn from cyclists after he wrote on Twitter, "Any walk through downtown demonstrates cyclists think they are above the law. Does that explain Lance Armstrong?" Seemingly chastened, Simon later wrote on his feed that he learned many cyclists feel threatened by cars.

The issue has become an emotional one for Americans as drivers are increasingly told they'll have to share the road with bike riders, an adaptation that has been easier said than done for a car-obsessed country.

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Bikes and Cars

It is odd that soooo much attention goes towards cyclists as a nuisance. We're identified as being "above the law" or wreckless, but motor vehicles are responsible for nearly 40,000 deaths in this country each year. That doesn't seem to phase the general public. A cyclists rolls a stop sign and we are all spandex clad entitled law breakers. A drunk driver kills a family, a texting individual runs a stop sign killing a child, and the same people who criticize cyclists don't seem to have much to say. I think we are so use to the decades of living with vehicles that we see it as common place when their drivers break the law, drive wreckless, and worse of all kill individuals. Seeing cyclists on a regular basis is still new and shocking to some.