NY Times Mostly Nails Cycling Changes


In a bout of fitting timing, I came home from a ride today from Manhattan’s lower east side (up the bike path and across the GWB) to read an article in the New York Times City Section about the current state of cycling in the Big Apple. As is typical for the Times, the article mostly groks the up-and-coming dominance of bikes in the transportation mix of the city and implores people to get along while straying a bit off course to take some digs at “Lance Armstrong types…” on the city streets who don’t obey the laws.

As the president of the Rockland Bicycling Club, located in a county that’s popular suburban destination spot for riders who come north of NYC, I’m sensitive to the feeling of frustration when so many cyclists break the law. It’s not a stretch to say that fewer than one percent of riders who pass through our area obey the traffic laws completely, a PR nightmare for our club, which makes a point of obeying regulations on all of our rides. We catch a lot of flack from local officials who feel that cyclists are scofflaws who sprint through lights and weave through traffic.

But I bristle a bit when I read an article by a cyclists casting aspersions on a particular class of rider because they are “Lance Armstrong types,” when what they mean is not that the riders are trying to conquer cancer nor that they have won the Tour de France, but that they are obnoxious.

This particular paragraph, in the midst of the article’s plea for the city and for motorists to pay more attention to cyclists caught my eye.

The Brooklyn Bridge is an important front in the bike publicity war; it is a place where bikes are losing. The essential conflict can be grossly caricatured like this: Guys dressed as if they are in the Pyrenees stage of the Tour de France try to set speed records as Italian tourists linger in the middle of the bridge to get a photo of their cousin, Paolo, backed by the Empire State Building.>

Awesome, a single paragraph defames both me, and the tourists that I passed today while riding in Manhattan.

The larger point that the city, and indeed all cities, need to integrate cyclists is a solid one, as is the message that bikes need to obey the laws of the road in order to be granted the rights those laws afford, and makes the article worth reading.

Just please, don’t use the fact that I’m wearing a jersey as a reason to belittle me. If you’re on a bike, you’re one of us. It doesn’t matter if you’re a “Really Cool Biker” (another derided class in the article) or a guy on an expensive bike. We’re all trying to get somewhere without a car, and that’s the important part.


I hear a lot of people saying cars complain about cyclists “blowing through” red lights, but do they really care if we make a full stop, look both ways, and continue on without impeding traffic? It’s against the law, sure, but it’s not getting in anyone’s way.

what about people who drive to their ride?  i have no qualms deriding those folks, no matter what bike tribe they belong to.  even though it is mean-spirited.

also, the only cycling that is “green” is commuting, shopping trips, and other car replacement trips.  if you are just out for fun, you’re not really “trying to get somewhere without a car”  you’re just riding a bike for fun.  which, of course, is something we should all be doing all the time.

>>It’s against the law, sure, but it’s not getting in anyone’s way.<<

Until you blow a light and get t-boned by a car.

In a city it’s less of a safety risk than up here in the ‘burbs where traffic coming perpendicular at a traffic light is coming at a much higher rate of speed, sure. But a big issue is that drivers don’t like when people do things that are illegal that they aren’t allowed to do. It’s really convenient to drive up to a stop sign and just sort of coast through it, but that’s illegal too.

I can tell you from direct conversations with mayors and police chiefs, residents alongside the routes and the media that people do not like it when cyclists make a full stop, look both ways and continue on. Really pisses people off.

“do they really care if we make a full stop, look both ways, and continue on without impeding traffic? It’s against the law, sure, but it’s not getting in anyone’s way.”

Please. I live, work and bike in NYC and rarely if ever do I see this happen. I do see many cyclists race through red lights, scaring the bejesus out of pedestrians and endangering themselves. I see this practically every day and when I do I understand why cyclists are hated. A friend was rather significantly injured while crossing an intersection by a cyclist who didn’t think that traffic regs (red lights, one-way streets) were for them.

The legal/social status of bikes is rather vague in most peoples’ minds. We’ll get respect and legal protection (and probably live longer) when we understand that we are driving vehicles subject to laws of the road.

Over at the Seattle PI Bike Hater’s club, these arguments come out anytime they publish a story about commuting and cycling. I find them exhausting and I don’t know soci-psychologically what it is. Our culture here in the US, we tend to think we should tell other people want to do and pass judgement on the validity of their transportation method cause they broke a rule. Cyclists run through stops signs, “they suck.” Cars buzz cyclists that totally sucks and so on.

Maybe it’s cause we have an modern society that’s car centric; whereas Europe while certainly congested with cars, could care less what a cyclists does anywhere. Is it because Europeans are used to seeing bikes or just not from a Purantical, uptight, self-righteous background? I also don’t think our own establishment of cliques by the style of gear helps the bigger goal of growing cycling. Every bike racer I know, commutes as well, on a commuter bike and every plain-clothes cyclist I know enjoys talking about racing.

Actually, and I’ll probably write this up as an article, the book Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do (And What That Says About Us) really has some great insight into the mind of drivers, and why many of these conditions exist.

In fact, after reading the book, I’ve rather completely given up on hoping that drivers will learn to see bikes—that’s based completely on the number of cyclists on the road and not at all on advocacy. It also explains why drivers always say “I didn’t see you!” when explaining why they ran a cyclist over. They’re not lying or oblivious, the brain just can’t handle seeing things it’s not expecting. Literally the brain does not process the information.

It’s a fascinating read, one of the best books I’ve picked up in the last few decades.

Tiny url to the book on Amazon

Right so bikes don’t belong here on this road. Get the off. What I do know, from my own non scientific studies is that bike lanes and sharrows make all the difference. There’s a psychological switch, that if a cyclist is in a “bike lane” then that’s ok.

+1 for Traffic.  A fascinating book.  I wrote a review of the book here:


Byron, I agree. I’m generalizing here which I realize is a big part of the issue but,  “Cars” don’t like cyclists because they get in “their” way so they use whatever ammo they can think of to support the opinion; cyclists break laws, wear flashy clothing, spend too much money on their bikes/clothes, etc… “Cyclists” don’t like “cars”, they are aggressive towards cyclists, they pollute, and so on. These beliefs send each faction out into the world with a preconceived notion that “the other side” is against me. Thus we are already on the defensive before we turn a key or a pedal. I think what we really need to do as a whole is realize that we are all human beings and we each deserve the same consideration. Wouldn’t it be great if we all defended each other rights rather than stand so strongly and firmly for our individual rights?

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