Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Down to Business

When I saw this article by the not-so-gently self-promoting Robert Sullivan, I thought, “Lo, here there is fodder.” And of course I was right.

Sullivan advocates—mildly, reasonably, in the passionless, careerist way of the Times—setting the Brooklyn Bridge walkway aside for pedestrians and installing well-protected bike lanes one the main level.

If he'd stopped there, I just would've given the closest thing this fledgling blog can give to a high five (namely, a link) and gotten on with my day. I've driven a car and a moving van over the Brooklyn Bridge at rush hour and can't see any reason not to take a strip of it away from the Angry Parkers who apparently enjoy congregating there.

Then I got to this paragraph
If we bicyclists cede the Brooklyn Bridge walkway, then it might be a step toward winning the public’s respect. Then, just maybe, pedestrians would call a truce and recognize that their real enemy is the car, that bikers are like pedestrians in that they are just trying to get to work without the use of a gurney.

And I thought: bullshit. The “real enemy” of humans on bicycles isn't “the car,” it's all the people (humans on bicycles included) who see the street as some territory where the standard rules of civilization don't apply. Or, put differently, the idiots.

But before I can get that thought down in the prissy manner of this blog, Bike Snob NYC has to go and say the same thing better than I possibly could. He even uses it as a pretext for sticking little pins in rollerblading, something I've dearly wanted to do for a while now.

I'm hopelessly outclassed.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Manifesto-like Expression of Somethingness

Though I’ve made a point over the years of living in places where I can easily get around by bike, I don’t consider myself a cyclist, anymore than when I drive I’m a driver.

I just use a bike. I use it to get to work. I use it to shop. I use it to visit friends. I use it, very occasionally, for fun.

I know so little about how my bike works that I can’t even change my own tires. And I kind of don’t want to know.

I have this idea that all I should know is that when I get on my bike I’ll be okay. If I obey the law, if I stay aware, if I do everything a reasonable person would do, I’ll be at least as okay on a bike as I would be in a car.

But I’m not okay. No one who uses a bike is okay riding on American streets—at least anywhere that I’ve lived and biked.

I’m a target. A lightning rod for drivers’ frustration with the misalignment between how easy it is to drive a car and how hard it is to get around using one. How all you have to do is press a few pedals and twist your wrist to shoot along faster than any earthbound thing on the planet did for several billion years before the invention of the engine. But how sticking tens of millions of those kinds of machines next to each other often means going more slowly than many people can walk. How so much money and care is tied up in something that only rarely realizes its obvious potential. How wasteful it all is—burning gas and money and not calories. And how isolating.

Here’s my vision for the future: I can bike without spending almost every second of that time sussing out the accident that’s about to happen. The door that’s going to open. The delivery truck riding three feet behind me and going twenty miles an hour through narrow streets, the driver feeling martyred and angry because he’d rather be going forty. The pedestrian who only listens for traffic, doesn’t look.

Here’s what’s crazy: that vision counts as radical.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Stopping for Red Lights

I ride a bike to work and always stop at red lights. I wait for a green and then go. I do this whether I'm continuing straight on the road, turning left off it, or turning right. I do it at every light, no matter what time or day it is.

This should be forgettable—a normal statement about a normal life in a normal city where normal people go about normal business thinking normal thoughts about normal things.

But really it's an oddly bold position. A kind of social and political statement of the sort I haven't made with this kind of angry persistence since high school.

Because, bizarrely, a bike stopping for red lights makes people froth. Screaming, horn-honking, menacing-you-with-their-bumpers, telling-you-to-stop-taking-up-space furious.

This is a blog about the strange consequences of doing something reasonable in a place with a street culture in love with its own insanity.