Remembering Danny Lieberman, a Gentle Force for Better New York Cycling

Before Streetsblog, there was “ebikes.” Since the early 1990s, this listserv has been a digital village square for New York-area bicycle riders — the place where cyclists share info on routes, gear, events and politics — and an incubator for change as well.

Danny Lieberman with Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan at this year's Five Boro Bike Tour.

Danny Lieberman, the listserv’s beloved founder, moderator and guiding spirit, and a mainstay of the 5 Borough Bike Club, died last Friday. He was 52. Danny was diagnosed with leukemia two years ago and hung in as long as he could. Two fellow 5BBC’ers, Ed Pino and Liz Baum, helped care for Danny in his last weeks, and many of us got to see him before the end.

Danny and ebikes were a perfect pair: unglamorous, talkative, ecumenical, workmanlike … and essential. I’d guess that the number of list-members over the years has totaled at least a thousand. Each of us has a happy story — or a hundred — about routes learned, repairs accomplished, rides taken and alliances formed as a direct result of one posting or another. Each of us drew from the list the encouragement and courage to get back on the bike, and stay on, in the face of the indignities and adversities this city throws at everyone who traverses it on two wheels.

Right Of Way, the activist collective I helped form in the mid-1990s, probably owes its existence to ebikes. Through posts on the listserv, individuals who could no longer abide the recurring slaughter of NYC pedestrians and cyclists saw that we were not alone and started to band together. The Street Memorial Project, which ultimately stenciled body outlines of 250 victims of reckless driving throughout the city and gave rise to the groundbreaking study “Killed By Automobile” [PDF], was the result. Danny came on many of the memorial rides and shouldered his share of data entry and coding.

Unlike blogs, listservs require posters to include their names and emails, yet are off-limits to the larger public. These features allowed ebikes to build a “moral ecosystem” of trust, honesty, and clashing viewpoints, noted Carol Wood, another cycle activist engaged with the list. “Ebikes changed the quality of my life in New York and brought me into contact with many people, ideas, and events I now take for granted,” Wood said, attributing the project’s success to Danny’s “generosity and goodwill.”

Danny’s contributions transcended shepherding ebikes. He was an active ride leader for the 5BBC, a dedicated volunteer for Transportation Alternatives, and a faithful marshal and ride organizer at the Montauk Century and Bike New York. Danny was also unfailingly good-natured and upbeat — a mensch for sure, but even more gentle and nurturing. “Listmom,” he once termed his job at ebikes, and it stuck.

Like so many who devote themselves to advancing cycling, Danny wasn’t celebrated, but he left an indelible impact. As ebikers consoled each other over the weekend, list member Michael Smith quoted W.H. Auden:

When there are so many we shall have to mourn … of whom shall we speak?
For every day they die among us, those who were doing us some good,
who knew it was never enough but hoped to improve a little by living.

Michael’s was one of a few dozen posts in ebikes digest #3256. I did the math, and came up with 80,000 posts to date — ten a day since Danny cast ebikes upon the waters. They’ve made a lot of ripples — way more than enough to reach from Danny’s Lower East Side apartment to Montauk and back again.

Ebikes continues. Thanks Danny. You’ll always be with us.

  • Clarence Eckerson

    So many parts of the T.A. Century benefitted directly due to Danny.  I’ll never forget in the late 90s we were out scouting the route when we ran into Danny near Joe Michael’s Mile in Queens.  He was insistent we go check out a Little Neck Bay section he had just ridden to give the riders something wonderful to experience.  Sure enough we were all bowled over and it was in the Century for the next 4 or 5 years.  Thanks for all the rides Danny.

  • Dani

    Thank you Charlie for posting this tribute. 

  • Sharonnyc

    Thank you for this beautiful tribute…speaking as a personal friend and fellow 5BBC’er….

  • Thank you, Charlie.  A wise and lovely eulogy of the man behind my personal New York bike culture.
     

  • Danny let me onto ebikes and it was a refuge from Usenet. When I moved to New York, I was able to hit the ground running (er, rolling) thanks to folks from ebikes and Time’s Up!  — and ebikes is where I first heard of Time’s Up!  Thank you, Danny.

  • Holla439

    Though I am not into bike riding as I once was….the one thing I will always miss is the people..like Danny. RIP

  • Pedal_Power_Pete

    Oh, man, this is a shock.  I sat with him at Steve Vaccaro’s presentation at REI just a few months ago.  He only indicated he was on a medical leave from his job (I believe a very computer/tech position at Chase?).  I didn’t ask what the condition was.  Instead, we just kinda exchanged nods.  Dude!

    As I just wrote to Time’s Up! members, Danny used to come on many of the early txup rides — and was instrumental in publicizing those early rides, like the traffic calming series, the precursor to critical mass aka The WEDGE with his day-glo colored hand outs made for all of us, moonlight rides, critical masses, and of course he had his toeclips in so many different biking organizations.  He danced that complicated/risky dance between the techno-couture of road bike cycling clubs (was a fan of the be-logoed jerseys) and the street style of direct action cycling posses.  He told me (spoiler alert) when I turned 40 about a million years ago that I was the newest of the olde guard, and I never forgot that clever quip.  The guy was as sincere as they come, and he will be missed.

    We should do a ride for him.
    We should do a ride for him.
    Yeah, we should do a ride for him.

    -pm

  • Danny was a great guy!  Way back in 1995 he saw my website, Fiboro Bridges, invited me to ebikes, and encouraged me to join Transportation Alternatives.  When I put up the first website for TA, it was based on a draft he had done, and at the domain he registered, transalt.org.  It was always a pleasure to catch up with him in person at various events.  I’m sad to hear he’s gone.

  • guest

    R.I.P.  May you cycle in the heavens..  

  • It was only a year ago,  not two years (his diagnosis)  far far too quickly. 

    I remember – he called me to come to the emergency room and meet him there (and stay) in the days after 9/11/11.  The AML diagnosis was a month or so later. 

    He will be missed.  By many. 

  • Steve Vaccaro

    I first met Danny when I began my representation of the Five Boro Bicycle Club over the NYPD’s post-RNC crackdown on cycling.  I’ll never forget him systematically introducing me to the “NYC bike mafia” at TA’s 2006 holiday party. Or defending his deposition taken by the NYPD.  It so happened that he participated in the very first NYC Critical Mass ride, which was organized by TA and conducted with the approval of NYPD(!).  When he was asked by the NYPD’s lawyer to describe his bicycle riding, his (highly summarized) answer lasted about 20 minutes.  And the part of that answer that will always stick with me is that on top of all his group riding and commuting, there were often times he would just take off on a bike on his own, simply to explore…he was a cyclist’s cyclist, leading challenging “perimeter” rides all summer, and “freezer burn” rides in the winter, marshaling rides for a wide variety of organizations year-round.

    In the years since then I had the pleasure to ride with him on several occasions.  We trippers on the ride couldn’t understand why he seemed so tired leading his “Neck and Neck” ride on LI’s North Shore three summers ago.  He was diagnosed with Leukemia shortly thereafter.  So sad.  RIP, Danny–I’ll never forget you.  None of us who knew you will.

  • Manasonic

    Wow. This is a horrible news. I first met Danny, years ago, on a 5bbc ‘ice cream’ ride. I’d always come over to him at other rides to say “hello”. For a while, I think he knew me only as the guy that said hello to him, but seemed to warm up to me. I loved his passion for cycling and will miss him. We spoke just before the tunnel ride, when I asked if he was doing it. He said, “not this time”. The ride wasn’t the same without him, nor will the NYC biking scene be the same without him.

  • John Kaehny

    Danny was a great New Yorker. He was fun,humane and hopeful, yet intrepid and a doer. I’m glad i knew him, he made me laugh, and made me think. He made the city a better place to live and bike. Thank you Danny.

  • Grace Lichtenstein

    A lovely tribute, Charlie, to a lovely man.

  • Pengel

     Danny
    Lieberman was one of a kind. We had a lot in common, a lot we disagreed
    on, and he always made life interesting. I’ll miss him.

  • rickC

    Oh! How sad. Danny was such a good-hearted soul (though not without his prickly moments!). I liked talking with him, and searched out for him during critical mass rides. He introduced me to a lot of NYC’s bike culture, and I admired so much his role of list-mom for eBikes. Thanks Charlie, for writing this.

  • Mike cusick

    God speed Danny
    May you be in heaven long before the devil knows you are dead

    Mike Cusick

  • Edpino

    Charlie you did a wonderful job capturing  Danny’s spirit. It was only 1 year and a month from diagnosis until death. During that year Danny and I became as close as 2 people can.The cycling world,the sci-fi world and all of his friends will miss him. I will miss my friend

  • Zydecolaura

    Wow — this is a huge shock — Charlie, I agree you did a lovely write up for a special person, and I am glad Liz & Ed were with him….. to help.    So sorry, Danny, for this loss — may you rest in peace….. Life is not measured by our years here on earth, but what we did during those years.  So Danny, you certainly had a full life

  • Danny Lieberman was a regular on the Central Park Moonlight Ride
    since it started in 1994.  He introduced many friends to this
    ride, so the November ride will take a moment to remember him —
    10 p.m. on November 2nd at Columbus Circle:

    http://times-up.org/index.php?page=moonlight-ride-manhattan

    Ever helpful, he often took an early “drop” position so he could
    count the number of riders.  We know he’ll be there in spirit
    so will add one to the count in honor of Danny.  All friends of
    Danny are welcome, especially those he brought to the Moonlight
    Ride over the years and those who intended to join him.

  • Ian Dutton

    I was so saddened when Danny’s too-brief period of remission ended. He made a big impact without resorting to shouting from the rooftops. Thanks for all you added to our lives, Danny.

  • Greenight8

    Danny, you were a friend, and fellow biker. May you enjoy many great rides in the better place you are at now. You made a difference in our lives, and we are all the better for it. God Bless you. Alex M.

  • Oh, Danny! Lovely friend in Wicca. Will miss you.

  • Danny gone, man, am I sad to get this news! Danny was one of the first people I met in 5BBC, my first friend in the club, albeit ever so casual. Him and John Chiarella, who were tight back in the day. Danny’s easy laugh and manner and ready smile were so winning. Seeing Danny on a ride or an event I knew it was going to be enjoyable! Rest in peace, Danny!

  • Jmfriedman7

    Been out of town since last Friday.  Just got back and found out.  This is very sad.  Wishes go out to friends and family.

  • Steven.

         Incredible.  He was a young man and passed away too.  I want to thank you Danny for taking me across the Brooklyn Bridge for the first time!  I thought it was illegal to cross that bridge just to show you how little I knew about cycling. 
         Let me tell you, Danny was a strong rider!  When he put on the power, the guy took off

    like a motorcycle!  What power he had in those legs!  I only went on half a dozen rides with him but learned alot got rid of my fear of riding in the city.  My next ride will be in your honor.  Thanks Danny.

    Steve…

  • Zydecolaura

    A beautiful and moving evening last night, in Danny’s memory.  Thanks to everyone who participated and spoke so beautifully.  A few laughs and a lot of tears ….

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