Amsterdam? Copenhagen? Nope: NYC.

The first thing I thought of when I saw this photo was the famous H.G. Wells quote, "When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race." A city where distinguished gentlemen commute to work by bike is a city where I am happy to live. Of course, this city isn’t bad either. Go ahead and criticize this fellow’s mobile phone and lack of helmet in the comments section. But first ask yourself: Does this photo depict a stupid guy or stupid urban design? 

Snapped by BicyclesOnly at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 58th Street in Manhattan.

  • It’s all about risk and the perception of risk.

    In the UK, parental paranoia, (largely) induced by media reports of ‘stranger danger’, means that significantly fewer children walk or cycle to school than they did 20 years ago. Far fewer are allowed out to play.

    So we have more obesity, a generation of children for whom being driven ‘everywhere’ is ‘normal’. Consequently they are far less aware of traffic dangers (as pedestrians – never mind as cyclists.)

    The abduction and murder rates for young people are unchanged – AND (statistically) if they are victims it’s likely to be a, known, family member.

    Everyone has a duty to themselves to be careful – whether it’s walking, cycling, driving, playing sport or cooking. (Drinking and setting houses on fire with chip pans is fairly common…)

    If people are cycling/driving faster than the conditions justify, putting faith in a helmet is perhaps not the answer.

    If poor road surfaces are an issue, campaign harder.

    I don’t want to be seen to be trivialising this with a tragedy –

    http://www.sundayherald.com/latestnews/hubnews/display.var.2282777.0.0.php

    but things happen.

    Wear a helmet if you want – especially if you consider the risks you take justify it.

    But be consistent. Do you use seat belts in taxis, buses, the subway? If they don’t have airbags would you wear a helmet.

    Do you wear a stab vest on the street?

    People in places with lots of cyclists tend not to wear helmets.

    Are they –

    a) foolish

    b) deluded

    c) more skilled

    d) slower

    e) better segregated from traffic

    f) cycling amongst motorist who cycle

    g) enjoy better maintained roads/paths

    h) other

    i) a combination of the above

    I don’t know the answer though I suspect it might be i)

  • Regarding comment 42, bicycles are now not allowed on front bus racks anywhere in the EU because new-EU wide rules state that buses and coaches have to have some passive pedestrian protection. This means smooth fronts, with no protrusions, also anti over-ride protection on some coaches. (The racks are not dis-allowed by name). Some trams now have softer ends, but I am not sure if that will be incorporated into bus designs.

    However, I know from lots of discussions that in the places in Canada and the USA where the racks are used there is no measurable amount of bus vs. vulnerable road user injury or deaths determined to be caused by the racks.

    European cyclists oppose the racks, too. Someone from Fietserbond in the Netherlands asked me how he could be for front bus racks when he was against bull-bars on cars and SUVs. I responded that front bus racks serve a purpose.

    In other words, I would think that the health benefits alone of having more people riding and less using cars would outweigh any projected health cost (injuries and deaths, plus effects of tailpipe emissions and noise). That is the basis for a research project I am trying to organize.

    Compared to Canada and the USA, there are more options for bicycle carriage on transit here, to be precise, there are proportionately more trams, light-rail and but subways which allow it. Still, many medium-sized and smaller towns all over Europe are only served by buses, and bringing full-size bikes inside is not always possible due to space. Some larger cities like Budapest and Prague also have very hilly areas.

    In case the front bike rack solution is not accepted here, I am working on other ideas.

    The best solution of course is reduce crowding of public transport vehicles. This also makes things easier for people with prams and with mobility restrictions.

  • Duh. What I meant to say was that racks are not allowed. No racks = no bikes on the front.

  • Tom

    Yup, that’s ME. I do happen to get to work every day on this bike. And I must admit that I do not wear a helmet. My usual route is through Central Park until 59th St, and then go straight down 5th Avenue. The buses travel on the right lane, so I use the left lane. The main problem is people who turn left without looking. But I am always on the lookout for them, and for people opening car doors. Otherwise, since I typically do not go much faster than a fast jogger, I feel quite safe. That said, I wouldn’t recommend this for everyone. Some day, I hope the city will consider a bike lane on 5th Avenue, through the heart of the city. Plus, lots of strategically placed high-tech, camera-monitored, bike racks, so that you don’t risk getting your nice bike stolen (mine is not the kind of bike anyone would want to steal!). I love our Mayor, but that might be a good alternative to his Congestion Pricing Plan as a way to get more cars off NYC’s midtown streets.

  • Hey Tom,

    Congestion pricing is a “stick” and safe bicycle parking (cameras are not necessary… I mean look where you ended up!) is a “carrot”.

    p.s. Nice tie

  • Jorinde

    http://famfeenstra.nl/fotoalbum/2006/foto's/10.%20ned06deel1/45.JPG

    check out this picture, if you know how to ride a bike, you can do it in any sort of clothing, with one hand, mp3-player in your ears and next to each other with a childres seat attached to your stear in the middle of busy amsterdam traffic and above the ground subways.All at the same time without a helmet. trust me, i live there 🙂

  • The number of cabs in this photo just blows my mind. A lot of these people would be travelling to areas of the city served by public transport of some sort, right? So it must be a case of public transport not being attractive enough. If this is the case, is it a matter of running more buses?

    If they’re going somewhere not served by public transport, then that’s a sign that it needs to be built there.

  • So it must be a case of public transport not being attractive enough.

    It’s not so much about it not being “attractive” in the sense of functional, but in the sense of glamorous. This is Fifth Avenue, where lots of people don’t drive, but take cabs because they think they’re too good for the bus or subway, or too important, or that the buses and subways are dangerous or dirty, or some combination.

    In New York there are plenty of people who are willing to share public transportation with the Great Unwashed, but there are many who will not. At least they’re taking cabs instead of driving private cars that will need to be parked. The only way I can think of to get them out of the cabs would be to have some “first class” express bus service that would allow them to continue to feel like they’re above the masses.

  • Cap’n, let’s not over-generalize. You would be surprised how many senior citizens with limited incomes and rent stabilized apartments live on 5th Ave. Many of these people and other 5th Ave. residents use the buses regularly. One sees them emerge from their homes on the east side of the Avenue and cross over to the west side to wait at the bus stop each morning.

    Moreover, the mix of vehicles in this snapshot is hardly a basis for analyzing the transpo modes of 5th Ave. residents. There is no reason to believe that mix is representative of the traffic on 5th. And cab drivers will use 5th Ave. or Park Ave. as downtown routes during rush hour even when the pick up their fares elsewhere, because those avenues do not have commercial traffic a flow a bit more smoothly. So we can’t assume the cabs shown in this photo are all carrying 5th Ave. residents.

    But I will agree that cab use on 5th is quite liberal. I expect many 5th Ave. dwellers who take cabs do so because they think cabs are faster than buses or the subway, not due to snobbery or misanthropy. If the middle lane of 5th Ave north of 59th St. was converted to buses only (just as DoT plans to do south of 59th St.), you’d have only one non-bus lane remaining. I expect many 5th Ave. dwellers would then shift from cabs to the resulting speedier bus service, eve if it meant rubbing elbows with the “great unwashed.” Those who did not would be relegated to sitting in a slow moving single lane composed primary of cabs and balck cars that kept stopping everytime a passenger got in or out. Hardly a “first class” experience.

  • Tom

    “Many people die from falling down stairs in their own homes. Should people be encouraged to wear helmets at home – or live in single storey houses?”

    Be careful. The safety nazis might take you up on it.

  • galvo

    #47 not to prolong the helmet topic, but even the bicycle helmet manufacturers know that bicycle helmets do not prevent and are not designed to prevent concussions.

    i have ben following a lot of the cycling message boards and theyre has been an increae of closed head injuries by helmet wearing riders on club rides, these are exactly the kinds of injuries that helmets are supposed to protect against, since there is so poor quality control of this alleged safty gear , who knows the hemet was up to the minimum standards to begin with, seems any time a independent outfit, not cpsc test the off the shelf helmets the helemts fail the minimum standards.
    “Another person I used to know — an amateur bike racer — went out on a leisurely ride with some friends and rode into the wheel of the rider in front of him. He got a severe concussion, resulting in long-term language problems and personality change (for the worse).

    In neither of these incidents was a car anywhere nearby. In both of these cases, a helmet would have helped.”

  • Amsterdam has got it sorted on the cycling front! – Its all about the mentality – you wouldn’t find anyone there cradling their mobile phones in a desperate manner.

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