For Cyclists, It’s a PR War Out There

Consider this an open thread on Robert Sullivan’s piece in the Times’ City section this weekend, and his four suggestions for better cyclist PR.

The question of how cyclists should use the road is often framed as a classic chicken-or-egg situation: Which comes first, streets that accommodate cyclists’ needs or cyclists who use the streets courteously? I was glad to read a piece that takes the measure of how far New York City has progressed in each respect, but it’s too bad the Times ran it with a headline and above-the-fold photo that don’t match the intent of the story. Minimizing internecine conflict in any discussion about the ethics of cycling is already tough. The phrase "The Wild Bunch" doesn’t exactly move the conversation forward.

Sullivan’s four suggestions are posted after the jump.

NO. 1: How about we stop at major intersections? Especially where
there are school crossing guards, or disabled people crossing, or a lot
of people during the morning or evening rush. (I have the law with me
on this one.) At minor intersections, on far-from-traffic
intersections, let’s at least stop and go.

NO. 2: How about we
ride with traffic as opposed to the wrong way on a one-way street? I
know the idea of being told which way to go drives many bikers bonkers.
That stuff is for cars, they say. I consider one-way streets anathema —
they make for faster car traffic and more difficult crossings. But
whenever I see something bad happen to a biker, it’s when the biker is
riding the wrong way on a one-way street.

There will be
caveats. Perhaps your wife is about to go into labor and you take her
to the hospital on your bike; then, yes, sure, go the wrong way in the
one-way bike lane. We can handle caveats. We are bikers.

NO. 3:
How about we stay off the sidewalks? Why are bikers so incensed when
the police hand out tickets for this? I’m only guessing, but each
sidewalk biker must believe that he or she, out of all New York bikers,
is the exception, the one careful biker, which is a very car way of
thinking.

NO. 4: How about we signal? Again, I hear the
laughter, but the bike gods gave us hands to ring bells and to signal
turns. Think of the possible complications: Many of the bikers behind
you are wearing headphones, and the family in the minivan has a Disney
DVD playing so loudly that it’s rattling your 30-pound Kryptonite
chain. Let them know what you are thinking so that you can go on
breathing as well as thinking.

  • Yes, in fact all the photos – and headline – were bad, to an otherwise pretty interesting read. But the layout on the page when you first see it screamed to me “Late 1990s bike story”.

  • t

    I think the photo on this post and the bit in the story is a red herring. (I also thought the photo in the Time story didn’t fit the story: the story was written from the perspective of a bike commuter, but the story was of a somewhat stereotypical bike messenger, two very different animals.)

    Any cyclist who rides over the Brooklyn Bridge, especially on weekends, and expects or demands a fast ride is clueless, a jerk, or both. And I say that as someone who rides over the bridge all the time to commute and for exercise. The walkway/bikelane is narrow, crowded, and populated with tourists — hardly the place for the spandex crowd to start yelling at people to stay out of the bike lane. It’s what most cyclist would call “junk miles,” a stretch that no serious biker would count towards his overall time or distance.

    Nevertheless, it’s the classic “fighting over the scraps” idea that’s often talked about on this site. Hopefully one day we can have a dedicated cycling lane on the bridge and leave the wooden planks to the peds. But I do believe that it’s one place in the city where cyclists need to cede completely to walkers by either riding slowly or dimounting their bikes completely.

  • Larry Littlefield

    This “mean streets” bikers vs. everyone else is the saleable concept of the moment. Kind of like the manufactured hostility between yuppie Moms dominating the sidewalk with large strollers and everyone else in Park Slope that generated a bunch of Curbed posts not too long ago.

    The objections to cyclists comes down to two things: adolescent male behavior, and athletes cycling fast for exercise.

    The former problem has nothing to do with the bicycle, and is worse when they are in a larger, faster motor vehicle.

    As to the latter, I admit to being terrified by cyclists whizzing around Prospect Park back when I had toddlers. I would afraid one of the toddlers would run out in front of them and get run over. Seniors might have similar fears, and for good reason. And I saw a horrific crash between a pedestrian crossing the Central Park road and a fast cyclist last summmer. As I plodded up they were both lying on the pavement, and ambulances were coming.

    This is largely a matter of speed. The question is, where can cyclists who want to ride fast to so?

    In Prospect Park, they have racing early in the morning on weekends with people posted to protect pedestrians, and that basically works. Racing later in the day is the problem.

  • Rhywun

    The four “suggestions” boil down to a simple, single suggestion: follow the existing traffic laws. All four of the described behaviors are unlawful. And the grossest offenders are those who bike for a living. Their employers could have a positive influence here.

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    It’s not even clear what’s going on in the photo. Does the cyclist have the green signal or not? There are pedestrians crossing in both directions. It’s blurry so you have to squint.

  • It’s funny, it is stories precisely like this (bad documentation, not representative visuals) that back in the late 90s got me motivated to do a better job documenting via video what conditions are really like for pedestrians and cyclists. I am not a top notch photographer, but I have some photos on my computer that might not be “arty” but would have greatly enhanced that story. And people are wondering why newspapers are biting the dust.

  • rex

    How about this for a rule?

    If you are driving a car and you hit something the size and shape of a human, and you did not do everything possible to avoid doing that, then you fucked up and you are going to jail.

    Adherence to that rule, will make the all other rules much easier to follow for all users of public space.

  • StreetsPariah

    I think all of those rules are very fair, level-headed, and should be followed by all. I think when drivers see cyclists as people who follow the same rules as they do, there will be less anger directed towards them. And less anger on the road is better for everyone, regardless of your mode!

  • I think it’s absurd to think that anything is going to change about the way cyclists follow traffic laws based on editorials in the Times. Most people who bike don’t even read the times. Robert Sullivan’s approach is to simply ask people to “be nice” –while at the same time trying to explain that things were some how “different” when he was younger. Though many more people bike today, II think the biggest difence might be Sullivan’s age. If we want a city where bikers stop at red-lights then we need to enforce the rules and ticket bikers when they don’t follow them. And it can’t be at just one spot or randomly during the critical mass. It needs to be consistent, fair, and aimed at improving pedestrian safety. But the truth is there are simply are not enough bikes on the street yet to warrant this level of enforcement. It’d be a waste of money. That’s because the “problem” of “dangerous” bikers isn’t a problem at a all. Few if any people are getting hurt– the problem is still cars breaking rules and cars running people over. The perceived problem is goes back to the perception that bikes don’t belong on the street– Sullivan writes as if that perception is gone– it’s not. And until it is gone bikes will be hated no matter how polite we ride.

    It is important to remember that bikers are not magically nicer people than drivers just because they are on bikes– A bike is a vehicle and anyone can use it. Bikers are not all activists and people concerned with the public image of bikes and it’s unfair to ask all riders to do that. When has anyone asked drivers to care more about how the public sees cars? Never, that’s when. Pedestrians, bikers and drivers can all be jerks and menaces to public safety. If it’s bad enough we need to better enforce the rules. If it’s not that bad it’s just part of life.

    As for the Brooklyn Bridge? The entire set up is stupid. That boardwalk should be for pedestrians only. Close a lane of traffic and put the bikes down on the motor-way.

  • bc

    Cyclists are in need of PR, so clearly the thing to do is write an article portraying them as outlaws. Hmmm. Last I checked, we (cyclists) were actually doing good, you know, for the environment, easing strain on public transportation, where are all these points? The times seems to publish one of these about once a month, I don’t know why I need to act as apologist for those breaking the rules, I’m busy trying to not get hit by one of many cars breaking the rules. Speaking of which, since when do NYC drivers care about rules? You’d think we were the most polite, genteel society in the world from this article and some of these comments. This all reminds me of the sad victim of domestic abuse, ‘maybe if i’m perfect, i won’t get hurt,’ ,,,, it’s not our fault. Why are cyclists the only group of which 100% compliance is expected? Lastly, the Brooklyn bridge…noone is using that as a ‘training ride’…if guys are in team kit, they are going to or from, as long as there is a bike lane, people should respect it. Perhaps they should look into a peak hours type plan, but until then, if I ask you to move over, I am merely asking you to obey the rules, which is supposedly what the author wants.

  • t

    Susan, if only the Times piece had been as sensible as your post!

  • BC, well said. Now I agree with being a polite person but Sullivan is setting up every biker to feel responsible for the actions of all other bikers and that’s just absurd. In fact by doing that he discourages biking. Do driver feel guilty when some drunken idiot kills people in a crash? No.

    So why should I feel bad that some other bikers don’t have manners–? Please.

  • Peter Flint

    These four rules basically describe my bicycling style for the past 10 years here in the city and I feel like I’ve been in the gross minority most of the time. I can probably count the number of times I’ve seen other bicyclists stop at red lights with me on two hands.

    But I feel like I’m doing my part to raise the level of civility between pedestrians and cyclists. If I want the cars and civilians to show me respect, I figure it starts with me. It was all worth it for the time I yield to an older lady in the crosswalk (as is required by law) and she actually said, “Thank you for being a polite cyclist!”

    And I have to cry BS to the comments on the NYTImes website from folks saying “I can’t stop at intersections. It’s too dangerous. I get doored every week! I can’t follow the rules..etc etc.”

    I’ve been cycling in the city for over 10 years and, knock on wood, have never seen an accident at an intersection while I was stopped for a light, have never been doored, have never hit a pedestrian (though when they pop out from behind trucks in the middle of a block they’re not doing themselves any favors). It’s a matter of riding slowly enough to be able to stop or avoid problems and of showing some common sense and basic courtesy towards our fellow citizens.

  • jonesy

    another disgusting nytimes “thinkpiece” by some dude who cleverly establishes his street cred (both literally and figuratively) before continuing to demolish any kind of solidarity he once had with the biking community. (bonus points though for including a completely irrelevant photo of a messenger to win scare-factor points). why should i care that he had a scar on his forehead, should i respect him more? perhaps his scar has scarred his little brain, but the article was absurd… how is it that people normalize the thousands of deaths by vehicular accident, the millions of tons of pollution we have to inhale everyday in NYC, the amount of space that they take up — how is it that there isn’t a monthly article about how cars are scary and mean and bad? fuck this guy and his david brooks-ian appeal to “sensibility”; but honestly its the times and nobody except for his fellow ricotta-cheese-eating friends will really care about it.

    since this is an open thread, i’ll add this: today in the pouring rain some car was honking at me to “watch out” before swerving around me… and proceeded to smash directly into an SUV pulling out of his parking spot. it was probably the best poetic justice i’d seen in the last few months on the streets, and made my ride to work soo happy.

  • Peter, do you think bikers need to follow more rules to make the streets safer or is it more just a matter of PR? Frankly I see a lot of cyclists who stop at lights and I don’t think I’m that special for doing it.

  • bc

    Thanks, Susan, and I agree wholeheartedly with your comments. It seems obvious to me, but noone else seems to see it that way. If I get a ticket, allow me to pay the fine, or contest it in court, but please do not tell me that that cabbie that made a right turn from the middle lane with no signal, almost killing me in the process, wouldn’t have done it had he not seen a cyclist run a red.

  • jonesy, LOL, you are so right about the writer laying out his “street creed” then complaining about “kids these days” like an old man. You know I respect people *without* scars a little more– it means you stay out of trouble. I’m proud to have been a commuter and sometimes messenger and never have been injured.

  • Rhywun

    If we want a city where bikers stop at red-lights then we need to enforce the rules and ticket bikers when they don’t follow them.

    That’s good in theory, but we’ve been ticketing motorists for decades and it has done seemingly nothing to improve their bad behavior. I believe there are cultural issues at play that no amount of policing can overcome. In America, it’s “cool” to be “bad” and to “break the rules”, especially among young males. That sort of thing is not as common in other countries.

  • We need vigorous enforcement of the real menace to the streets of NYC: criminal behavior from people driving cars and trucks. As for Sullivan’s proposed rules, I am fine with them, but I wish he would have proposed rules of conduct for pedestrians too, like watch out for cyclists when you jaywalk (especially frustrating is when a mass of people start to cross against a red light, in front of cyclists, just becasue they don’t see any cars coming).

  • In America, it’s “cool” to be “bad” and to “break the rules”, especially among young males. That sort of thing is not as common in other countries.

    I don’t know. I’d much rather these “young males” be cool and bad on bikes than in huge dangerous cars. We’d all be a lot safer that way no?

    That’s good in theory, but we’ve been ticketing motorists for decades and it has done seemingly nothing to improve their bad behavior.

    It would be worse if we didn’t have the minimal enforcement of laws that we have now– in fact, many people speed and run red lights every day in cars and nothing is done… and you hardly ever see an article in the Times asking for people to drive “more politely” so I’d stop having such a negative perception of cars.

    This is more strange when you stop and think about how people are killed on the streets most often.

  • Many other bicycle commuters stop at reds (for at least some period of time). I can’t say that it is the majority. I do think that laziness is at the root of a lot of what is decried in the Times article. I see almost every day bicyclists riding counterflow in the bike lane on streets that have a bike lane in the opposite direction one block over, or even on the other side of the same street. Some ride on the sidewalk because using the roadways (and riding counterflow) would add a half mile or more to a trip (or force the bicyclsit to walk). And some unnecessarily scare pedestrians by riding crosswalks against the light at speed, in order to preserve momentum.

    I told myself a long time ago that I would get better exercise and be a more effective bicyclist (in addition to being more civil) if avoided shortcuts I forced myself to stop at reds and accept long-cuts. And as suggested in the article, it is not an all-or-nothing proposition. 99% of the pedestrians are OK with a bicyclist that rides at true pedestrian speed on the sidewalk, or that slows down at a red light, allows the pedestrians to pass (ideally, making eye contact or motioning the pedestrian that they are being yielded to) before entering the intersection “behind” the pedestrian (even if the light has not yet turned green).

    Using tehcniques like those, a cyclist can save 50% of the time that one might save by completely disregarding the traffic rules, without the and incivility and the danger (to everyone) of doing so. As for the other 50%, with all those stops and starts, in no time you’ll have thighs that can quickly accelerate to and maintain 20+ MPH, which on many avenues will allow you cover a mile or more a single green light.

  • NY bikers will continue to behave like cars until drivers become bikers. You ride to survive out there and you ride hard. Stake some territory in the lane or else cabs will smell fear and squeeze you off the road.

    The widest avenues should be two-way streets, all with bike lanes. Especially 5th and 6th, the heart of the city. The improvements have been great lately, but it’s bike apartheid to build on the perimeters and not the core midtown avenues.

    That said, riding smart and riding polite usually leaves everyone better off. But we certainly didn’t need Old Man Sullivan shaking his finger at us.

  • bc

    well said evan and jonesy….part of the problem is that there is very little community among cyclists…check this out from the NYCC message board (A cycling club of all things) re: this article

    Cyclists, to me, are those who ride suburban vistas for the express benefit of their own health and well being and safety.

    No offense — messengers (as well as racers and the critical mass crowd for that matter) are businesswomen and businessmen first and cyclists second, and any discussion on this matter should imho make this emphasis.

    The article does not.

    (um…i disagree with most of this article, but am not sure why in the world sullivan would make this distinction, as i have never heard such a narrow definition of cyclist in my life)

  • It would be great to see people following his suggestions. Even if 50% of bikers do follow those standards, it will be easier to make the case that bikers are more civil than drivers on the whole.

    The ultimate purpose, of course, isn’t just PR: the goal has to be improved street design and law enforcement that favors bicycles and peds, and leaves cars feeling the need to be extra-civil in order to maintain the small road-share they are afforded.

  • Rhywun

    I don’t know. I’d much rather these “young males” be cool and bad on bikes than in huge dangerous cars. We’d all be a lot safer that way no?

    Well yes, but it doesn’t address my question, which is how do you get them to behave civilly. I’ve lived in a country (Germany) where drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians were all vastly more civil to each other than you see in the US. I think that is a cultural thing rather than based on punishment–I didn’t see any traffic enforcement that was anything more vigorous than here in the US. Then there’s China, where people are shockingly uncivil to each other on the road, and especially towards pedestrians. The government certainly has the means (and the propensity) to take a “law and order” approach to change the situation but perhaps they feel it’s futile.

  • MisterBadExample

    I stopped at the headline of the Times article–sorry, but for all the transgressions of cyclists, they are as nought compared to motorists. And too often I find bicycling in traffic to be a deadly rock-paper-scissors game–if you do everything to keep from hitting pedestrians who don’t look before they cross against the light, you’re not paying enough attention to motorists who are speeding or texting or yammering on their cell.

    If you want to see rude cyclists, go to the Netherlands and start walking in their dedicated bike paths.

  • someone

    let me put it this way: the day drivers are held completely accountable for their reckless behavior is they day i could tolerate holding cyclists fully responsible. drivers are the ones licensed to be given the privilege to drive automobiles, and, as such, they are mandated to follow the rules. now, i don’t care much for rules for sake of rules, but i do care about rules for the sake of safety. automobiles are far more destructive than bicycles, and the only way to minimize this destruction is to enforce responsible driving among motorists. i surely don’t see much of that out there. given that situation, it often is actually safer for cyclists to break a few rules in order to protect themselves. of course, in doing so, i wish more cyclist would take care to avoid threatening pedestrians.

  • J-Uptown

    I must say, better enforcement certainly encourages better behavior. When I stop at a red light next to a cop car, I look both ways and run it with no worry about getting a ticket. Bikers are largely ignored, probably due to the minimal safety threat we pose compared to automobiles. This logic explains why sidewalk cycling is ticketed, but running red lights isn’t. As cycling grows, you can expect that to change, particularly in crowded pedestrian areas.

    As for PR, I kind of take this article as a positive sign. There wouldn’t be this type of article if biking was flat or on the decline. Automobile traffic certainly is delining, and streets are constantly being redesigned to improve safety and reduce auto traffic. The change is slow, but it is steady. Widenend sidewalks, narrowed lane widths, retimed signals, pedestrian refuges, and new bike lanes all contribute to slower vehicle speeds. These, more than any news article, will truly change driver behavior. Since we spent 40 years making our streets move cars as fast as possible it’s going to take a fairly long time to tame them again.

    The lesson, though, is that we aren’t going to merely design our streets to move any one mode as fast as possbile. Speeding bikes, buses, and cars whizzing down the street are all terrifying, and a small mistake will probably send someone to the hospital or worse. Copenhagen really got it right when they timed their lights for a steady pace of around 12 mph.

  • A good idea came across in the blog at CommuteOrlando.com . Many drivers manuals mention very little about bicycles and their operation on the roads. One author on the blog will be having her son take both the state driving test AND Road 1 cycling course before he is allowed to get his drivers license.

    Sound like a good idea, especially for those rednecks and yahoos that don’t understand that bicycles belong on the road, NOT on the sidewalk.

    Bicycle trails, side paths, and bike lanes are nothing more than a successful means to get bikes out of the way of motorists and off the roads.

    Education is the key for both cyclists and motorists. State drivers courses and certified cycling courses can take care of a vast majority of the education part of the solution.

    Get out and ride is the other part! Happy Riding!

  • bc

    night train brings up a good point. i’ve been yelled out many times for doing things which were perfectly legal, and I bet if you polled drivers, an alarming percentage of them would think that we were doing something wrong merely by being on the road. makes it awfully difficult to do pr when people don’t know the rules.

  • dporpentine

    I’ve already given my response to the article on the Times’ site (http://tinyurl.com/ahaz8j), but I’ll just repeat something here that I’ve said before: stopping for lights does not cost you time.

    Every day on my commute bikers pass me at red lights and every day I catch up to almost every single one of them. Something like one out of every ten red light running nimnuls manages to get ahead of me over the length of my commute.

    Running red lights is illegal and gets you nothing. Nothing. If you do it, you’re part of the sick culture of the New York streets, not part of a healthy, civil culture that, without much effort, could make all of our lives much easier.

    And, yes: calling fellow bikers “nimnuls” is proof that I know everything there is to know about civility.

  • Kevin

    I would like to see a similar article critiquing NYC motorists, who I routinely observe speeding, running red lights, needlessly honking their horns, engaging in road rage, racing to beat traffic lights, and not yielding to pedestrians when turning.

  • Good point, Kevin. Underlying the whole article is the feeling that “bikers” don’t have the right to be on the road, and if “we” don’t behave they’ll just take it away. Funny how motorists aren’t held to those standards.

    Cyclists have a right to the road because they’re people using a relatively safe, efficient mode of transportation. They’re people, and you get them to behave in acceptably safe ways by facility design and enforcement, not by browbeating them and making them feel like they don’t belong – even as you pat yourself on the back about being “one of them.”

    Also, what Jonesy said.

  • Komanoff

    I’m surprised and dismayed by the criticism, some of it almost vitriolic, directed at Sullivan’s well-written, carefully considered piece.

    The piece makes a pragmatic argument, not a moral one, for cyclists to adhere to a set of sensible, non-onerous rules. One of which was to stop for red lights at major intersections (at least one commenter ignored the fact that Sullivan was okay with “Stop and Go” at other intersections.)

    It is true that the Times has never run a feature article, in the City Section or elsewhere, on driver misbehavior, pedestrian car-nage, the fecklessness of the NYPD’s crash “investigations,” etc. That is shameful. But it’s not Sullivan’s fault. Ditto the photos and the headline, neither of which any newspaper writer ever has anything to do with.

    Once upon a time I too would have fulminated against “accommodation” (such as Sullivan’s four rules) unless drivers too were faced down. While I yearn to see dangerous drivers brought to heel — BTW, I was at the Chinatown community’s stirring demonstration today demanding that D.A. Morgenthau impanel a grand jury in the case of the killing of Diego Martinez and Hayley Ng; if any of our commenters were there, I didn’t see ’em — I am now willing to countenance appeals such as Sullivan’s, especially when they are rendered as thoughtfully as his.

    Why? Maybe it’s ’cause on a recent ride home from work I was nearly hit by three wrong-way cyclists, one of whom swooped around a corner (wrong-way into wrong-way), the other two also going really fast. Maybe it’s ’cause I believe in reciprocity and, for the first time in my cycling life the City is indeed starting to put itself on the line for cycling. Maybe it’s ’cause Sullivan’s article brought the bad old ’70s and ’80s back to life for me and reminded me how much safer I feel riding now.

    To Sullivan’s modest proposal I’ll add mine: don’t trash his piece for “ignoring the real killers” until you’ve written to Morgenthau and demanded that he stop coddling killer-drivers, of whom Hayley and Diego’s killer is just the latest in a terribly long line.

  • bc

    K – what?? While what you say appears thoughtful and I appreciate the spirit of it…no. Of course I will trash a piece that says we suffer from a PR problem and has as it’s title “the wild bunch”…and I hate salmon (bikers going the wrong way) but bringing up anecdotal evidence is the wrong way to go. Shall I recount one of the 20 near misses due to drivers driving poorly on my commute today? Yes, writing Morgenthau is a great idea, however, has zero to do with this article and thread, and Sullivan’s misguided article is not his fault.

  • Lola

    I’m with Komrade K.

    The ability to imagine how the other guy feels seems to be difficult for
    many of us to do (people in general). Yet if we’re going to “share the
    road,” that is exactly what we all have to do.

    I have been stunned by how some Sullivan’s critics overlook statements like:
    “To be clear, cars are more likely to kill nonbikers; we still live in a
    world ruled by the ruthless car.” I guess what riles them is that Sullivan is not only critical of drivers, but (sacre bleu!) of cyclists.

    The circling-the-wagons, we’re-above-criticism argument invariably comes
    down to a relativistic parsing of wrongs: Killing someone while speeding
    in a car is much, much worse than buzzing an old lady in a crosswalk even
    when she doesn’t fall over. Well, yes. But buzzing peds is still wrong,
    dangerous, frightening, inconsiderate, and completely unnecessary. The
    argument is sanctimonious, and its arrogance angers the public further.

    Furthermore, that rep for sanctimony gets thrown back onto activists
    trying to improve street conditions for cyclists (and just ordinary
    nonhazardous cyclists, as Sullivan observes). Remember Ben McGrath’s
    “Holy Rollers” in the Nov. 2006 New Yorker?

    The nonthinking public may be wrong to tar all cyclists with the same
    brush. But it happens, and it takes a lot of effort to undo
    it–effort that at this point should be spent organizing for positive,
    practical accomplishments.

    Which is another thing I like about Sullivan’s article. He basically
    concludes that for all the chaos and anger, bicycling is on the rise and
    seems to be almost unstoppable. Let’s keep it moving.

  • I’m sorry, Charlie and Lola (!) but Sullivan has walked into a trap set by the Glenn Becks of the transportation world – and apparently, so have you. On the surface Sullivan may be making a pragmatic argument, but the whole frame he invokes is loaded with moral condemnation.

    Just as there is no way for “good Muslims” to prove that Muslims on the whole are good and deserving of respect, and there is no way for “good Black people” to prove that Black people on the whole are good and deserving of power, there is no way for cycling advocates to prove that “bikers” are responsible and thus deserving of infrastructure spending. We all deserve respect, power and infrastructure because we are people. That’s all anyone needs.

    The only winning move is not to play.

  • Lola

    Angus, are you saying we cannot accept valid criticism without being doomed to servitude for life?

    The example you give of race-baiting is extreme and hardly characterizes the attitude of the average citizen out there, even the average bike hater. Your analogy doesn’t hang.

    I’m a cyclist and a ped too, and sometimes even a driver. It makes me mad to see threatening behavior on the street by anyone, willful or unconscious. The surest way to reduce that behavior in the long term is to raise people’s awareness of it. Yes, a small percentage will remain untouched. They’re called sociopaths.

  • I \v/ NY

    how about the recent proposal in oregon to tax bikes $50+ year per bike, led by a handful of republicans?

    http://bikeportland.org/2009/03/06/mandatory-bike-registration-bill-introduced-in-salem/

  • I’m saying that the criticism is not valid because there’s no such thing as “bikers.” There’s just people, and some of them ride bikes. I do not accept Sullivan’s criticism because I do not behave that way.

    I’m not making an analogy. It’s the same game, where the powerful blame the upstarts for any sin committed by any member of their group. People who play the game aren’t doomed to servitude, they’re just wasting time that would be much better spent fighting for justice or better street design. If you and Sullivan want to wag your fingers until they fall off, go ahead. But if you’re still wagging your fingers ten years from now while continuing to be marginalized, don’t say I didn’t tell you so.

  • Here is another illustration of my point: as a homeowner, I’m not held responsible for the misconduct of homeowners because I didn’t default on a subprime mortgage. As a businessman I’m not held responsible for the misconduct of businessmen because I don’t subcontract to slave-drivers in China. But if I put on a bike helmet, suddenly I’m responsible for every cyclist who runs down a senior citizen in a crosswalk.

    What’s the difference? Power and status. As a businessman or homeowner I have status and power, and nobody’s going to mess with me. As a cyclist I have a little power, but it’s so out of proportion to my status that if anything it makes me a threat.

    Also empathy, which comes from solidarity and familiarity. The main difference between people who complain about “bikers” and people who don’t is that the people who don’t either are cyclists, can imagine themselves as cyclists or have loved ones who are cyclists.

    The only way to avoid this blame is by having enough power to deflect it, or by having enough solidarity with the community at large (beyond cyclists) that people see you as an individual, not a member of a group. That means working on gaining power or making allies. Everything else is a distraction.

  • Kevin

    The problem of aggressive cyclists pales in comparison to the problem of out-of-control motorists in NYC. That is what makes me wonder why the Times felt a need to publish this particular article.

    I have walked to work every day for 2 years and have never had a problem with a cyclist. However, every day I see motorists speeding, running red lights, endangering others, etc.

    And when can we expect to see a positive article about cycling highlighting the convenience and recreational, health, and environmental benefits?

  • I’ll just say this. I see a number of people here whom I respect pulled over to Sullivan’s arguments because they identify (to be fair…in varying degrees certainly) with Sullivan’s desire (and self-promotion) both to be a cycling diplomat and exercise control over certain members of our wheeled family. My friends are then lulled into being sympathetic towards his faulty conclusions based upon very particular and not representative examples about all that is wrong with the social contract cyclists are party to with other street users.

    Clarence is right: it’s a dated article OR it’s about 25 years too soon. We’re not there yet enough to warrant going back to the Future.

  • Also: Susan D, I’m your newest fan!

  • James

    I’m with Komanoff. The piece doesn’t deserve all the hate it gets. It’s reasonably well written and does have some good points. Now some of the commenters, on the other hand, demonstrate what it is cyclists are up against on a daily basis.

    IMO, part of the issue is that we like to toss around terms like “community” as if they actually mean something. In many contexts, it’s mental shorthand for something that does not exist. There is no bike community per se, any more than there is a motorist community. Actually, let me take that back – there is a community but is a very thin veneer indeed.

    If you check out the Editor’s Selections in the article’s comments, you can see the one I wrote (#86) which pretty much sums up how I think we can get from here to there on this issue. It won’t be easy or quick but I think it can be done.

  • donnie jeffcoat

    Lets get beyond this indictment of ALL bikers. Its an indictment of a certain kind of biker who threatens other bikers who aren’t going fast enough, because god forbid, some bikers who live in the city make wrong turns, actually want to dodge pedestrians and cars, and even just want to relax by cruising down quiet streets at medium speeds.

    I’m out to get YOU, you ungrateful spandex crusaders. What loser takes the brooklyn bridge to get somewhere quick?? You know where the tourists are in this town so stop acting like you never expected them to not know where they are going. Jeez. You’re the idiot, not them, and ESPECIALLY not other bikers who are in the same situation as you. Please stop freaking out at other bikers who aren’t up to your unreasonable expectations. If you’re really in a freaking rush every second of your leisure life, then you’re in for a spectacular death. As a “biker” myself, I don’t feel bad on your behalf, by the way, I just feel sorry for you and would like you to be forever banished to a velodrome.

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