Counterpoint to Hugo Rifkind's piece from New York
14.03.09 by Buffalo Bill
I blogged Hugo Rifkind’s pro-cycling polemic, which, although it wasn’t all that logical, was worth noting, because it appears in the Times, which, whatever you think about its current ownership, is still an ‘important’ newspaper. In the New York Times, we find a more thoughtful piece by a New York cyclist who has been riding in the city since the early 80s. Much of what he says reasonates with me, because I remember a time when I pretty much knew every cyclist in London by sight, and one could count the number of commuters who cycled right through winters on the fingers of two hands. It’s a witty piece, too:
Next comes another species of biker, which I call the Really Cool Biker, because they are really cool — usually younger than the Lance Armstrong types, wearing skinny jeans and a windbreaker imprinted with, say, the name of a bar or a bowling alley, and riding a sleek, fixed-gear frame bike that I myself am too uncool to even adequately describe.
But the broad thrust of his argument is contained in these 3 paragraphs:
Despite the presence of bike lanes, we see many bikes on the sidewalk, and the bikers riding the wrong way down streets, alarming cabdrivers at the light. For biking to make it to the next level, for bikes to be completely accepted as the viable form of city transportation that they are, bikers must switch sides. They must act like people and stop acting like cars.
This means doing things that we, the bikers of New York, would have laughed at just a few years ago. It means getting a little personal, though not that personal. Acting like people means that we have to do things that we frankly don’t want to do and things that we want cars to do, like slow down.
As far as bikers go, I’ve become a kind of laughingstock because I wait at traffic lights. Recently, as I waited in a bike lane at Atlantic Avenue for a light to change, a woman in her 70s, walking hunched with a cane, approached the crosswalk smiling — until she spotted me. Then she began shouting as I waited behind the crosswalk, “Well, are you going to stop?” I assured her I was waiting. She grimaced. “How do I know you’re not going to go?” she asked.
I think I have written elsewhere that it is never ok, whatever the circumstances, to ride in a way that puts other road-users’ (this includes pedestrians) safety at risk. I am not sure that I would go all the way and endorse Robert Sullivan’s Modest Proposal, because I don’t agree that cyclists could ever be more than a minor threat to other road users. But there is something to be said for showing respect on the roads.
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