The Times Applauds Cycling… The Times of London, That Is.

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Here’s an editorial one wouldn’t expect to see in The Times: An unabashedly pro-bicycle manifesto anointing cycling as "the cheap, green answer to so many contemporary troubles" and urging city authorities to use congestion-charging revenues to create a first-class cycling infrastructure.

Alas, this remarkable editorial was published not in the New York Times, but in the Times of London. Here in New York City our leading editorial board is busy pushing the police to hand out more traffic tickets to bike riders while debating State Senator Carl Kruger’s absurd proposal to fine pedestrians who cross the street while listening to an iPod.

Cycling, the London Times editorial argues, "is a way to reduce stress and demonstrate an environmental conscience at the same time." The modern urban cyclist "is making an elegant and intelligent response to pollution and traffic congestion." The editorial even alludes to Peter Jacobsen’s revelatory "safety in numbers" finding, something I’ve never seen in a mainstream, general-audience publication:

Cycle lanes need to be better protected from motorists. There would also be safety in numbers. At 2 per cent ridership, London lags far behind cities such as Berlin (10 per cent), Copenhagen (20 per cent) and Amsterdam (28 per cent), where the cyclist numbers influence driver behaviour.

Even the obligatory mention of bad biking behavior feels half-hearted and concludes on a rising note:

Those who ride on [sidewalks], who head in the wrong direction down one-way streets, and who smugly jump traffic lights with no care for others, are certainly stoking contempt for this bespoke form of transport. But the majority should not be tarred with that brush. British cyclists are to be admired for their courage, if not always for their manners.

The contrast between London and New York City’s civic elite is stark. "Far too many traffic officers fail to hand out tickets to bicyclists who don’t follow the rules," the Gray Lady scolded earlier this month, in that ridiculous iPod editorial that, actually, had nothing to do with cycling. The Times’ most recent editorial on bicycle policy, Cyclists, the Police and the Rest of Us, seemed to imply that people who ride bikes in New York City are not, well, "the rest of us."

The London Times editorial steers way clear of casting cyclists as The Other. Here’s how it wraps:

London has a unified transport authority. It must join up the dots. It is unacceptable for the world’s foremost capital city to have a patchwork of cycle routes which peter out timidly on the road to nowhere. It may seem paradoxical that an intermediate technology is now the future. But it would be churlish not to encourage cycling as the cheap, green answer to so many contemporary troubles. May those who cycle be blessed with clean consciences, stronger arteries and safer journeys.

Just so. And may some of us live to see the day when our paper of record dons its glasses, clears its throat and delivers a ringing endorsement of cycling in our city. It’s just a matter of time.

Photo: Dave Gorman / Flickr

  • JK

    Great post Charlie. The NYT editorial writers could probably be inspired to change their tune by a mayor who made regular positive statements about cycling. Do NY Times readers know that Deputy Mayor Doctoroff is a regular commuter cyclist? Does City Hall make any effort to publicize this?
    No and no. Maybe cycling Senator Schumer and Doctoroff could take a ride together with some reporters and get the papers to stop equating cycling with Critical Mass.

  • Jim

    Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater here. The city should support access and safety for cyclists…

    AND

    cyclists should obey the law…

    AND

    police should ticket them when they break it.

    As with so many other things, our rights and responsibilities go hand in hand. I ride, recreationally, and I obey the law as if I were in a car.

  • Franky

    What baby and bathwater?

    When I’m riding my bike I don’t obey all of the traffic laws because the vast majority of those laws were written for motor vehicles by people who have no understanding of riding a bike in the city. Likewise, our streets are designed almost entirely for motor vehicles and there are many instances where obeying these laws inconveniences me, makes me waste time and energy and, worst of all, puts me at risk.

    So, yeah, I’ll go ahead and zip through a red light, when it’s safe, to get ahead of the dangerous vehicular traffic. I’ll ride on a sidewalk in the Gowanus area because there aren’t many peds and the motorists drive like entitled maniacs. I’ll go the wrong way down a one-way street rather than riding entirely around the block to find the street going in my direction. We don’t expect peds to go one-way. Bikes don’t take up a lot of space. It should b be possible for them to go two-ways too. One way streets are made for cars and trucks.

    So, I disagree. When the law and our city’s urban design respects and accomodates and accounts for cycling, I’ll obey it and stay within the lines. Til then, I’m doing what I need to do to get home in one piece.

  • Steve

    I’m a sort of in between Franky and Jim. When peds are nearby, I try to observe the law at least as well as most motorists do. Bicyclists have to avoid frightening and angering pedestrians. When I’m dealing only with motorists, it’s a different story–they have their advantages, I’ll use those available to bicyclists.

  • moocow

    I think we have an image problem as cyclists, and I am not sure how to deal with “angering motorists” (I DON”T care) and my firm belief that running red lights in NYC is much smarter than trying to accelerate with traffic. Every block I travel without a drag racing moron next to me, is infinitely safer. I know the cops aren’t protecting me, so I have to do it.

  • It is a true sad fact that you have to do whatever you can to stay alive on the streets of NYC. Let face it Ped’s and motorists hate eachother here. In my neighborhood families have been replaced with clusters of tourists clustered around every street corner 20 and 30 deep making it hard to walk on the sidewalk, let along ride a bike. I think it is time for fencing to seperate sidewalk from street. Maybe think about no traffic on sidestreets only on major ones like 8th st – 14th st 23rd – and so on. And go back to no parking on those streets, all cars must be put in a lot.
    great work Charlie…

  • WendyB

    Add your Bikes Belong related comments to NYC’s Planyc 2030 website in February for maximum effect.

    Click on the Vision link on the left at nyc.gov/2030

    The plan will be made public in late March. Help move bikes from the margins to the mainstream by voicing your opinion now.

    Thanks!

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