Holy Rollers in This Week’s New Yorker

Ben McGrath’s big New Yorker story on bicycling is now online, Holy Rollers: The City’s Bicycle Zealots:

"It’s the next big fight," a biker who has been agitating to get cars permanently banned from the Central Park loop said recently. "I really think I’m doing God’s work." He equated the current political moment with the nascent state of civil rights in the late nineteen-thirties. "Bicyclists are the ni**ers of New York," he said.

  • Karen Orlando

    It seems like Ben McGrath is more interested in showcasing his flair for wit than reporting on anything of substance. The article reads more like a story in The Onion or a piece on The Daily Show, (not to knock either, because they are funny, as is Ben’s article), than as a piece of serious journalism. It’s too bad. A real article about cyclists’ issues would have been nicer than Ben’s exercise in mocking.

  • I found McGrath’s piece breathtaking in its inanity. In 5,000 words he managed to say almost nothing substantive about bicycling and the city’s larger transport/streets context. Remarkable!

    Sam Schwartz’s Sunday op-ed in the Times City Section delivered far more in one-sixth the space. True, in calling for physically separated bike lanes, he should have offered an alternative or two to the raised curb designs that failed in 1980. But overall Sam’s piece is sensible, fair, sympathetic and informed.

    Just think what Sam, or practically any of us, could have done with 5,000 words in The New Yorker!

    — CK

  • badwriting

    I agree. This was the sorriest excuse for an article about an issue I’ve read in a while, which is saying a lot. It’s the equivalent of going to Iraq to write about the war but only reporting on a small group of fringe nuts arguing over who gets to live in a building that keeps getting bombed.

    Ben McGrath owes every person — pedestrian, bicyclist and person sitting on her stoop — in New York City who has been menaced by an anti-social driver an apology for not bothering to care.

  • m

    This article was truly awful. I’m not sure what the point of it was.

  • Clarence

    I find myself agreeing with Charlie K. I don’t read the New Yorker often – so apologies, I just don’t get the style – but I found myself amazingly bored while reading it. By the end it felt like a chore just to finish it.

  • g

    It’s certainly more of a character study than a serious dissection of policy. Shame. Such a lost opportunity.

  • tjh

    Relevant social commentary regarding the thoughts, desires and needs of pedestrians, bikers and mass commuters is largely missing from main stream media.

    And, thanks to The New Yorker and Mr. McGrath, it is still missing. A completely pointless read that examines nothing.

    Thanks for nothing Mr. McGrath and The New Yorker.

  • Frank

    Why is it so difficult for NYC’s elite media, with the exception of Andrea Bernstein at WNYC, to treat Livable Streets issues with the level of seriousness that these issues are given in competing world cities? Why must they latch on to the zany New York City character angle? I expected more from the New Yorker than this. I thought these issues were becoming a legitimate concern in NYC and moving up on the civic agenda. I think these guys totally missed the story and fell back on old habits.

  • JK

    I’ll join this chorus.

    This piece is a sorry, witless attempt at quirkiness. It’s a banal abomination, that would be good for bum wipe except it’s printed on glossy paper.

    A truly lame effort from a magazine that can make coal trains seem interesting.

  • Its the same ol story: “Hi I’m Ben McGrath, I’m going to embed myself in the biking community and find out what is really going on…I won’t report on any real issues just find some wingnuts to prove what we’ve all known all along…cyclists are all freaks. T.A. does all the work, Time’s Up are just into finding out where the beer is hidden and having conspiracies about being infiltrated by undercovers because…its true an they are the only group willing to make enough noise to aggitate the police into stooping to such actions.” How about this for a real issue. THE POLICE have decided not to go through the city council and to make rules of their own. Soon it will be illegal for anyone to travel in groups of 10 or more in NYC. Anyone doing so need to have permission from the police. They are holding a public hearing on this at 1 police plaza on a Monday after Thanksgiving from 11:00-1:00pm… on the 27th of November. Oh how convient. It’s not like anyone has to work.

  • I agree a sorry excuse for journalism. How about a few new angles? I’m tired of this always coming back to critical mass. It’s an event, the mayor is acting stupid on this and everyone knows it.

    How about asking people what it would take to get them on a bike and out of crowded subways and buses? How about going to another city where they have figured all this out and have everyone from 8 year olds to 85 year olds on bikes for normal routine getting about town? How about linking in issues of obesity, asthma and quality of life?

    The article was too witty by half.

  • Clarence

    I just went back and attempted to re-read parts of the article to try and make a little more sense of it. The first time I was annoyed and bored. This time I felt like my brain was being eaten; like some kind of sick torture game from the “Saw” film series. I didn’t get very far.

    I really want to write a letter to the New Yorker, but that would require going back and finding some quotes to excerpt and address. I don’t want to lose any more brain cells.

  • Ben

    Whoever made the decision to write about bike culture as opposed to bicycling and transportation policy killed any chance of getting a relevant story in print. But good lord, some people really hung themselves with their words. “Bicyclists are the n*****s of New York” is an asinine quote.

  • It would be good if someone more familiar with bicycling in New York than I am would write some of this criticism on the New Yorker online forum.

  • Ah, the New Yorker’s typical bemused, detached, above-it-all local-color piece. Caricatures of a lot of people-in-the-street, no serious examination of the underlying issues.

    Not that everything in the New Yorker is like this — it has provided some of the most trenchant examinations of the Iraq war, and did once print part of James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time — in columns of print that were walled in between the ads for diamond jewelry,
    expensive cars, and exotic travel destinations.


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