Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Nanny State

New York is an aggressive place, this is no secret.  Everyone is trying to carve out the little amount of space they can get, and the roads are just another example of that, and tempers can flare when people are in the space you wish to occupy.  Bike lanes are one such trouble spot. Without going into the myriad of pros and cons, the history, the purpose, etc that is covered elsewhere, suffice to say that they provoke a lot of strong opinions, and recently many of these have been focused on a stretch on Bedford, where a bike lane was recently taken away largely due to the political pressure imposed by the Hasidic community.  (That is an extremely abbreviated, and perhaps misleading account, for a more complete picture, see Gothamist or Streetsblog.) 

In the days following, a question was tweeted asking if other cyclists felt ok about tapping a car that was in the bike lane to let it know it shouldn't be there.  First of all, as a friend was quick to point out, you should be ready to be threatened should you choose to do this.  Now, first of all, I have no problem with cyclists being aggressive, I am, and I react poorly to articles suggesting we need to behave better, or be 100% compliant, etc.  AND, I do think bike lanes are good and should be kept clear as much as possible, and unfortunately are too often treated like a place to double park.  However, the more I thought about it, I don't like the idea of cyclists tapping cars to remind them they are in a bike lane.  I certainly do my share of yelling "bike lane," etc, and am in no way saying we are wrong for being vigilant of abuse of a small strip designated for our use, but I don't like the idea of us policing each other unnecessarily (and this is the debatable point, what is necessary), unless it is directly and immediately putting someone in harm's way.  I hate jaywalkers.  I jaywalk too, but I hate them, mainly because I almost hit a lot of them on my bike on a daily basis, and then have to listen to them yell at me and post on boards about how dangerous we are.  However, I don't want to live in a city where people yell at each other for jaywalking (again, unless they are causing an unsafe situation).

In the many years I have spent as a messenger, commuter, recreational rider, and racer I have only gotten in one actual prolonged argument with another cyclist, (discounting various expletive laden exchanges) and that occurred after she yelled "way to run a red, asshole" at me. I had just been beside her and a clusterfuck of cars jousting with one another for a parking spot and had mumbled to her (I thought, foolishly, conspiratorially) something about how bad a job they were all doing of driving.  She stopped at the red, I went through, and she yelled.  I waited for her at the next light and said I didn't think she needed to call me an asshole.  She said that I was, at the very least, a hypocrite.  This is true, but I'm pretty sure it's true of most of us, and actually, in this case, I didn't think I was being hypocritical.  I told her that, and she said, "you ran the red".  I replied that I hadn't accused the drivers of doing anything wrong, hadn't yelled at them, etc, and asked if she screamed at everyone she saw do something wrong in her eyes. She didn't want to talk to me, and I don't blame her, I'm sure I was being annoying.  She said she didn't want to talk to me about this, so I rode off, and she screamed "way to be a 5 year old" which struck me as ridiculous at the time, but in hindsight, I can agree that I, like many, want to have my cake and eat it too.  

The point, as tenuous and convoluted as it may be at this point, is that we all annoy the hell out of each other.  People don't behave the way we want them too.  But this doesn't mean we should go around pointing this out all the time.  Someone in front of you have 16 items in the express aisle?  Let it go.  I've seen more altercations in this city that started with a comment about standing in the doorway, or not moving quick enough on the sidewalk, or someone's bag being on a seat than I would have ever imagined before moving here.

In the dark ages known as the period when I took the subway to work, I remember seeing a woman shouting, swearing at the turnstile which was not letting her through, and I shook my head and thought that she really needed a vacation, how bizarre her behavior was, and that it would never happen to me.  Sure enough, not too terribly long after that, it was me.  Thank god, I soon gave up the subway for the bike, much happier, and trying to keep those confrontations to only the necessary ones. 


  1. This is really, really well put.

    I used to get hopping mad at every incident on the street, while riding. Mostly while commuting. Understandable - the maniacal shit that drivers pull is fucking scary and dangerous. But when I got to be a better rider, and when I was working on my bike, on the streets, and I had to be doing it all, getting mad became a big pain in the ass, so I stopped doing it. Cars cut me off and I slid over, dealt with it all. For me, I think I had to survive my anger as much as I had to survive people driving two-ton vehicles poorly.

    The tapping of cars in the bike lane? Well, it's a poor subsitute for decent enforcement of traffic regulations.

  2. Funny post, well put! In my opinion the thing about getting older is I'm less reactive, because I'm physically unable to react like I could when I was 20,30,and even 40--thank, God!

  3. Nice post that I think can be boiled down to a succinct little phrase that has served me well over the years:

    "Pick your battles"