Thursday, April 15, 2010

Bicycle! Bicycle!

As someone who's forgotten how to ride a bike (you say it ain't true, proverbially ain't true, but it is), I am ambivalent about them. Y'all will know how I hate cars, and on the (tarred, be-traffic-lighted) surface of things, bicycles seem a good solution candidate. I know several people who extoll their virtues, including a couple of my bosses, one of whom has used public transportation, in his own estimation, only once in the past ten years or so. I am sure the health, enjoyment, and logistical benefits (he lives in Red Hook, where subways fear to tread) are impressive for him and other people like him.

However! Put bikes on the streets and much mayhem ensues. I am all for bicycle lanes in theory, but in practice not so much. Bikers put this poor walker in less-deadly but more-frequent danger spots than cars do. Many bikers do not seem to believe in obeying traffic rules. Depending on what suits them, they act like cars or like pedestrians, swapping tactics at light speed. They tear through streets heading the wrong way, and do not necessarily stop for traffic lights. I have nearly been run down several times (and unfortunately, still-feeling-guilty-at-the-memory-of-it, ten years or so ago opened a car door into the path of one unfortunate cyclist). Given these conditions, biking is not particularly safe for pedestrians or for the bikers themselves. One of my friends was in an accident a few months ago where a car just didn't stop for him at a busy intersection; a cyclist was even recently killed in my neighborhood (not on my corner of doom, but not so far away). I hope you will not think that my flippancy in griping about bicycles in any way means that I don't view that as a tragedy. I do, and it makes the whole issue of bike safety more urgent than my usual cantankerous griping would suggest.

I wonder what can be done to make the streets safer. The city's policy of closing off some streets to traffic on a few summer weekends is admirable in theory, but in practice left the crossing to Union Square hazardous to at least your humble narrator. A constant, unbroken stream of cyclists is not more conducive to safety, enjoyment, or anything good than intermittently-stoplighted car traffic. And even places where bicycles proliferate all the time are no safer--tourists stand in or weave through the bike lane of the Brooklyn Bridge, and I have witnessed narrowly-avoided collisions more than once. That can't end well for anyone.

An interesting unresolved question about bicycles (and the source of inspiration for this post) comes from the Bedford Avenue bike lane in Williamsburg. Several months ago, I wrote about my pilgrimage up Bedford, and in fact have recently found myself bizarrely drawn to that Williamsburg/Bed-Stuy stretch of streets every couple weeks or so. It's an unparalled experience in a sort of ethnographical perspective, sipping my hipstercoffee and watching as skinny jeans are slowly leached from the landscape in favor of Hasidic hats. The bike lane dispute provides a slice of what is doubtless a much larger animosity between the Hasids and the hipsters. (I am largely uninformed about such things, but neither side looks great to me.) I'd recommend reading New York Magazine's (pretty extensive) article on the matter, if you have ten minutes to kill. In the meantime, I'll be dodging bicycles, laned or no.

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