Streetfilms: Michael Musto, Il Ciclista Dolce

Village Voice entertainment columnist Michael Musto has been riding a bike in New York City for more than 25 years, long before it was fashionable or we had bike lanes and cycletracks.

Musto has never had a driver’s license, and he tells us the bicycle is an advantage in his profession. Although he’s had his share of bikes stolen (he recommends buying a used, cheap bike), he has nothing but positivity and praise for the velocipede:

I go everywhere on my bicycle. I go to work. I’ll go to my screenings, my Broadway shows, my nightclubs — and I’ll ride it for recreation too, to Central Park… there’s no downside that I can think of.

Incidentally, this is my second interview with Musto. The first came in 1999, when I was a volunteer at Transportation Alternatives. Musto was TA magazine’s Cyclist of the Month, a feature that I got to write!

  • TKO

    Hope the coment:

    “…long before it was fashionable or we had bike lanes and cycletracks.”

    Was meant to be funny. If not it is just sad.

  • More Bike Profiles

    Would like to see more of these during Bike Month!

  • LN

    I remember riding home from Danceteria, long ago, I passed Michael with his dress caught in his chain.

  • Joey

    Even if taxis were free, Michael would still ride his bike. And that’s saying a lot. Long live Musto!

  • Amazing to think of all the cycling NYC journalists! Michael Musto, the other journalists he names at the end of this video, George Plimpton, Lucy Danziger, Randy Cohen, <a: href=http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/author/j-david-goodman/David Goodman . . .

  • Not to forget NY Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham who has been getting around town on his vintage bikes for well over 20 years.

  • My favorite quote was “Most injuries happen in the home, so get out of the house!”

  • cr

    Musto’s awwwwwwwwwwwwesome, but he needs to cut out the riding the wrong way down a one way.

  • Clarence

    Actually cr when did he ride the wrong way down the street? He didn’t once during this interview. In fact, he was very adamant that the biggest danger to cyclists besides door-ing was other cyclists riding the wrong way.

    I am saving those Musto comments for a future piece for – perhaps – Bike Month and talk to lots of other high profile cyclists – to take on cyclists for riding the wrong way. “Salmoning” is becoming one of the biggest dangers out there.

  • One of the journalistic heroes of my youth was Murray Kempton, who was famous for riding around New York in a three-piece suit (with metal cuff-clips — better than rubber bands) on a three-speed bike.

    Whenever Streetsblog reprints anti-bike screeds by Steven Dunleavy or Andrea Peyser, I think of Kempton, whose NY Post columns were the glory of the paper in pre-Murdoch days, and feel sad.

  • Clarence

    To add: he even walked his bike nearly one-block to start our journey in Murray Hill rather than ride against traffic.

  • Giffen

    “Not to forget NY Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham who has been getting around town on his vintage bikes for well over 20 years.”

    Please, Clarence, please. I would love to see a Streetfilm with Bill. I wish you would do more of these profiles, they are always fascinating and inspiring. (I daydream about it being a weekly thing. That would be so cool.)

  • flp

    clarence, per the requests for bill c. and others, you should consider not only illustrious, well known cyclists but also the quotidian ones. it would be really inspiring and eye opening for many to read the stories of all the different cyclists out there and realize even if they do salmon, speed, obey all traffic rules, yield, ride on the sidewalk, etc. etc. they all are human and using the bike as a venerable transportation tool to meet different needs, accomplish a variety of tasks. i actually thought there was something along those lines being considered, but i guess some things get prioritized by the powers or forces that be while others do not.

  • Clarence

    flp:

    Here are some other profiles we have done over the years:

    http://www.streetfilms.org/tag/cyclist-of-the-month/

    Check those out, but though those are hardly the only ones. We did that as a straight series.

    We also have a few films in SF Streetsblog under production that are quite cool showing your everyday cyclists.

  • Giffen

    “Here are some other profiles we have done over the years:”

    Thanks for link! That should tide me over for a bit. 🙂

  • flp

    thanks, clarence! will check ’em out. hope to see more of this stuff in the future on ny streetsblog.

  • Gwin

    Clarence – he didn’t in the video at all, but he nearly ran me down once at Astor Place because he was riding the wrong way down the street. Other commenters on Gothamist have said the same thing (see: http://gothamist.com/2010/03/11/video_michael_musto_on_riding_a_bik.php)

    Also, as I commented in that thread, he once rode away on his bike (riding the wrong way down 57th) after I shouted across the street at him to pick up my bike I’d just seen him knock over (he heard me, but didn’t pick up my bike before riding off).

    In short, he seems like a cool guy in the video, but in real life he’s a tool with no bike manners.

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    Gwin,

    That’s bad. I can only take you at your word and experience. Musto talked about how the only times he has had a serious issues on a bike is when he is nearly hit by cyclists barreling the wrong way. I actually have footage of at least three different cyclists nearly hitting him while he was riding legally to the Voice. So I am not here to say who is what, seems like you both have a beef.

    As far as Gothamist, I never trust anything people say there. It is a site where 70% of the comments are trolls. I am not doubting you at all of course, but the sad truth we all know is this city is filled with cyclists with no manners. People gotta stop “salmoning”. It gets me more and more angry every day!

    And before someone jumps down my throat – this city is also filled with drivers, pedestrians, runners and bladers with no manners. Oh and also my checkout counter guy yesterday was dilly-dallying a little too much. Come on Fairway, replace the guy at register #9 last night at 815 PM.

  • Gwin

    Clarence – I totally hear you. There are indeed a lot of trolls on Gothamist, but the people who are calling him out in that thread are actually in the “pro bike” camp (i.e. not people who hate cyclists in general… trust me, I know who they are). Also, it doesn’t make sense that several people would feel compelled to make up such similar incidents, does it? Trolls would just say something nonsensical about how bikes don’t belong in the city, we all deserve to get hit by trucks, etc.

    Personally, I was surprised to see Musto being profiled as I am honestly not making anything up about my experiences with him. Also, it sure would be nice if he wore a helmet, but I know that is a much more divisive issue than “salmoning” is. 🙂

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    Uh oh, the helmet issue! Ha ha. My take: people are crazy not to wear a helmet, but I don’t want to see any laws forcing people to use them either, of course except for children. Now if past is predictor on Streetsblog, there will be about 74 comments to follow this one.

  • Giffen

    Clarence, you’re wrong. Without exception, I’ve found that people who share your conventional viewpoint have not actually taken the time to read some reviews of the relevant scientific literature. Have you?

    The *fact* is that there is *no conclusive evidence* that helmets help prevent permanent brain injuries in the case of an accident. There is no such consensus among the scientists who actually study the issue. That is a fact.

  • Clarence

    Ha, ha, nice try!

  • Forget the helmet thing, my one issue is the following:

    “I have never had a drivers license or taken a driving class”.

    I find that driving a car once in a while is a very good thing for a cyclist. As a mostly pedestrian and cyclist, you forget how limited a car drivers vision is. Besides the blind spots, the biggest issue is driving at night. When you drive a car and almost run someone over because it’s 11pm, theyre wearing all black and you dont see them until the last second….it helps your behavior as a pedestrians. It helps you fully understand that just because you can see them doesn’t mean they can see you. Most people know this, but the longer you spend without driving, the harder it is to remember exactly how invisible you can really be.

  • BicyclesOnly

    Jass’s point is well taken, but misses the thrust of the Musto non-driver boast, which I read as a boast of being a true New Yorker. Among Musto’s (my) generation, never having driven nor wanted to drive means virtually all of your needs are met by the city. A real New Yorker. It would be nice to harken back to that mindset a bit, as a counterweight against the weekend- exodus demographic.

  • I completely agree that it’s great to live car free. I don’t own a car either, and never have, and rely on public transit and my bike. I just recently got my license to help people out (such as driving for a couple of hours on a road trip) and it surprised me how big the blind spot really is. Before that, I knew it existed, but didn’t realize an entire car could fit inside it, never mind a bike. Now that I know where it is, from a drivers perspective, I can be safer on my bike.

  • Gwin

    Both of you are right of course… I do definitely see what Jass is saying in particular. Driving a rental around the city was what made me realize how crucial lights are at night, for one thing.

    Also, more recently I was driving a pickup down 5th Avenue in Park Slope… it is marked as shared bike/car lanes, but it is seriously too narrow for this. I was driving this huge vehicle down the street (it was for a move), and there were two people on bikes with one of those baby trailers behind… there was NO way I was getting past! I caught up to them at a light and told them I was a cyclist, and that 5th Avenue simply wasn’t a good route for them with that trailer as it made traffic unable to get by, and not all drivers would be as patient as I.

  • Hey Gwin (and anyone else familiar with sharrowed 5th Ave):

    Last night at a Community Baord meeting a DoT representative stated that DoT did not expect bicyclists to ride side-by-side in narrow sharrowed roadways, rather cyclists were expected to take the lane in those circmstances. When he was then shown a picture of the DoT’s side-by-side “share the road” sign on Seventh Ave. in midtown, the DoT rep said that this sign was outmoded and would be replaced, and that new signs with the proper message about sharing the road were already installed on 5th Ave. in Brooklyn.

    I must confess that I don’t use 5th Ave. very often. Can someone enlighten me on the 5th Ave. “share the road” signage?

  • Gwin, as BicyclesOnly said, sharrows are meant to mark exactly when a lane is too narrow to share. You’re supposed to pass them by changing lanes. Sharrows are to encourage a cyclist to use the middle of the lane, exactly so those in large vehicles don’t try to pass within the same lane.

  • Jass, in practice I agree with you–I take the lane on a sharrowed roadway–but DoT has published no explicit guidance to the public as to what sharrows are or mean. And often DoT puts the sharrows not up the center of the lane, but to the right hand side, seeming to suggest that cyclists shoudlnot be taking the lane. As for changing lanes to pass, that’s not feasible on 5th Ave. in Brooklyn, since (at least the last time I was there) It was two-way with a single lane in iether direction and a theoretically uncrossable double yellow up the middle.

  • Hey BO,

    The real problem here, in my opinion, is that the places where DOT proposes to put sharrows are areas with huge traffic backups. In reality, bikes won’t take a lane when taking a lane means being stuck behind stop-and-go traffic. They’ll do what they do today: lane-split, merge with abandon, etc. That’s fine for expert riders, but really hard for timid riders or kids. And a lot of riders will end up riding in the bus lane to avoid battling with cars, which will slow down buses and cause dangerous situations by mixing with theoretically fast-moving traffic in the bus lane (assuming the bus lanes are actually kept clear somehow).

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    Pleasantly surprised here that we went from a potential re-tread of the helmet vs. no helmet debate to a debate over sharrows and driving!

  • Gwin

    Jass and BicyclesOnly: I don’t live out there, but if I recally correctly, the sharrows were to the side on the pavement. Also, as BO pointed out, 5th Avenue is indeed a 2-way street with only one lane for each side and heavy traffic, so there is actually NO way to get safely around a larger bike (i.e. in this case, one with a trailer carrying an infant!), even when the cyclist is riding next to the curb. If the cyclist rides in the middle and there’s nowhere to pass, that’s just going to lead to a lot of angry drivers which leads to road rage and possible danger for both cyclists and pedestrians.

    I’m not defending the drivers here, I’m just saying it’s a unrealistic scenario for that particular avenue given its narrowness, and that cyclists would be better off finding a wider avenue. I’m constantly going slightly out of my way in favor of a safer route. It’s worth it.

  • Mike,

    It does seem that the sharrows go in where the traffic is most intense, but I think that may merely reflect the fact that sharrows are used to provide some minimal degree of protection to cyclists in intense traffic situations where there is simply not enough lateral space for a motorist and a bicyclist side by side (about 15 feet). But when the sharrow is off center and there is no explicit statement as to what sharrows mean (or even worse, the posting of the side-by-side sign linked in my comment above), the motorists think “sharing the road” means the cyclist must ride to the right of the motorist in whatever space s/he finds there, and cannot impede the motorist by taking the lane.

    I agree that a sharrow up the middle even with explicit signage that cyclists should occupy the full lane still is not enough to embolden many novice or timid cyclists, but I would take such a lane when escorting my kids, and I think the majority of cyclists would. and remeber that we are talking about a gap in an otherwise continuous cycling track running from Houston to 125th–novice cyclists may well learn to feel comfortable taking such a lane if they see experienced cyclists right there doing it.

    As for the cyclists’ ability to both take a lane or to manuever around the motor vehicle traffic in a lane at will, there’s no reason to think that sharrows, wherever placed, limit cyclists’ options.

    It will be dangerous and unfortunate if timid or novice cyclists use the bus lanes. The best answer is to have a continuous cycle track with no gaps, but for the area from 69th to 100th Streets on Second Avenue, it’s hard to justify building a cycle track when the street is going to be dug up for the SAS. One person at the CB proposed using orange traffic barrrels to create a temporary protected lane, as on Centre street by the courthouse. However DoT at present seems unwilling to give up any of the lanes in the Second Avenue construction zone to create a protected space for cyclists. doT representatives even claimed last night that there could be no painting of bus lanes in the construction zone. I think a low-speed turning lane painted green with a 10-15 MPH limit, sharrows up the middle, and signage allowing cyclists the use of an entire lane may be the best feasible interim solution in the construction zone.

  • BO, that may be fine for the construction zone on Second Ave, where traffic tends to move (more or less). What I was primarily talking about was the midtown section where they plan Option C. In those sections (First Ave from 49th to 61st, and Second Ave from 68th to 34th), traffic tends to move much slower, if at all. For a significant portion of the time, it is not feasible to take a lane because in so doing you won’t get anywhere. In such cases, sharrows don’t provide any meaningful advantage at all.

    In reality, where traffic is stop-and-go in the sharrowed lane and there is a relatively clear bike lane, there is no question that most cyclists in the real world will ride in the bike lane. That’s bad for everyone cyclists and bus riders alike. And that’s the direct consequence of DOT’s failure to provide reserved street space for cyclists in these heavily congested areas.

    It’s especially bad that the approach to the Queensboro Bridge on First Ave won’t have any meaningful provision for bicyclists. Cyclists will still be funneled into a dangerous roadway that alternates between stop-and-go and aggressive driving (depending on the time of day), with no meaningful bike accommodations.

  • BicyclesOnly

    Mike, we’re on the same team. In fact, there’s been quite a bit of citizen letter writing activity by TA East Side Committee this week geared toward eliminating the midtown (CB6) Design C elements.
    The message to DoT at CB8 was, convert Design C to Design B, in the construction zone think outside the box and do something to protect cyclists in this 30-block gap during SAS construction.

  • “so there is actually NO way to get safely around a larger bike (i.e. in this case, one with a trailer carrying an infant!), even when the cyclist is riding next to the curb. If the cyclist rides in the middle and there’s nowhere to pass, that’s just going to lead to a lot of angry drivers which leads to road rage and possible danger for both cyclists and pedestrians.”

    That’s why sharrows were invented. Ideally, they’d be matched with signs that say “Cyclist may take full lane” (this is an approved sign). The whole point of a sharrow is to say “This lane is too narrow to pass, but is a busy cyclist route. Cyclists: Take full lane. Cars: Be aware that cyclists are entitled to take full lane”

    As for road rage, again, the sharrows are supposed to help that. A driver stuck behind a bike is less likely to yell “get off the road” if a sharrow makes it very clear that the bike is exactly where he should be.

    “I’m not defending the drivers here, I’m just saying it’s a unrealistic scenario for that particular avenue given its narrowness, and that cyclists would be better off finding a wider avenue. I’m constantly going slightly out of my way in favor of a safer route. It’s worth it.”

    For you it may be worth it, but how about a cyclist with business on that street? Bike infrastructure should be on every street, not just along the river, or where it happens to fit. If a sharrow was put in that street, it says that cyclists use that route for whatever reason. That’s not going to change by removing the markings.

  • Gwin

    Jass: your idea that drivers will correctly interpret and adhere to the rules of sharrows is admirably idealized. The reality is that most drivers are jerks who aren’t going to wait behind a bike that is in all likelihood not going as fast as they would like to.

  • Mike

    BO: Great. I figured as much.

    Relatedly, do you happen to know how extensive the surface construction will be for SAS? I was under the impression that, aside from the station caverns and the launch box, there wouldn’t be a whole lot of disruption to the surface. In between those locations, would there be room and opportunity for bike lanes? Or am I totally wrong?

  • BicyclesOnly

    There are other people who know much more about the SAS construction process and the extent it will cause surface disruption than I, but as an observer who rides Second Ave, it seems there is extensive disruption, less due to excavation than to storage of heavy equipment (though there is plenty of excavation too). Sidewalks have been shortened in multiple segments to preserve 4 traffic lanes while equipment occupies 3+ lanes. The disruption may lessen when they get the mole machine down there and it does it’s thing boring the tunnel.

  • The sharrowed portion of Brooklyn’s Fifth Avenue isn’t really all that long, and the way the lights are timed, a car is only going to get a few blocks before catching a red signal. I say take the lane and ignore the honking, or, if you prefer, pull aside where it’s safe and let them pass. You’re going to catch up to them anyway. Once construction gets going in earnest for Ratner’s arena, Fifth Avenue will be impassable to anyone but peds, anyway.

  • Oh, and putting aside whatever else Michael Musto may or may not do while on his bike, this is a great advertisement for cycling in NYC.

  • Pamberjack

    Screw saving the planet, Michael more concerned about arriving at work “glowing”…

  • Pyrrah

    I think the saddle on his bike is set too low. Raising it a bit should make it easier to exert force on the pedals.

  • Jason A

    Another vote for seeing a Streetsfilm on Bill Cunningham. That man is a marvel. Love that guy!

  • Michael, great video. But perhaps raise your seat height a bit for better pedalling efficiency. Any bike shop will be able to help. Ride in good health!

  • If riding a bike has become too banal, too mainstream, try a recumbent. I’ve been riding one in Tokyo for 10 years. Works great and is easy on the crotch.

  • Musto has never had a driver’s license, and he tells us the bicycle is an advantage in his profession. Although he’s had his share of bikes stolen (he recommends buying a used, cheap bike), he has nothing but positivity and praise for the velocipede:

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