Jake Blumgart, writing in Pacific Standard, has a nuanced take on the reasons why he, as a regular bike commuter, breaks the law:
Because bikes belong on the road, they have to contend with laws and infrastructure that were not made for them. Most of Philly’s bike lanes are not separated from traffic, so people park and idle in them, taxis swoop over to pick up fares, and on the big boulevards—which you have to cross to get to many neighborhoods—cars are going up to 50 miles an hour.
In such an environment, it’s not a level playing field for bikers. I have to take my advantages where I can to avoid one of those awkward outbound hospital calls that mothers are so loathe to receive.
Like Blumgart, I experience this need to “take my advantages where I can” every day. Take, for example, a situation where I’m stopped at a red next to a line of drivers and scan ahead to see cars parked in the bike lane just beyond the intersection. In such a scenario I have three choices:
- Stay to the right of the driver at the front of the queue. When the light turns green, attempt a dangerous merge with a steady stream of moving traffic, since cars can accelerate from a dead stop faster than a person on a bike. If it’s an intersection where drivers can turn right, run the additional risk of a right hook.
- Pull in front of the first driver in the queue. When the light turns green, take the lane until I pass the double parked cars and can re-enter the bike lane. This choice yields additional choices: pedal as fast as I can when the light turns green or pedal at a normal pace and risk an angry honk from the driver behind me. (Note: sometimes pedaling fast also yields an angry honk.)
- If there’s no cross traffic nor pedestrians in the crosswalk, go through the light, cycle at a relaxed pace around the double-parked cars, and re-enter the bike lane long before light behind me turns green and the drivers can catch up.
Ninety-nine percent of the time, I opt for choice three. In the absence of a clear bike box that’s respected by drivers, a cycling-specific traffic signal or leading interval, and a general culture of civility, it is one of many situations I and many other people on bikes face in which the technically illegal choice is by far the safer one.
While the news processes the candidates’ comments on the Times Square pedestrian plaza at last night’s mayoral debate, I thought the language used by the moderator, CBS 2′s Maurice DuBois, was perhaps more telling when it comes to how livable streets are discussed not only in politics, but in the media.
Note how DuBois asked the about one of the Bloomberg adminstration’s signature achievements, as related by Dana Rubinstein in Capital New York:
Last night, at the second-to-last debate before the mayoral election, CBS reporter Maurice DuBois asked de Blasio if he would “take out the tables and chairs from Times and Herald squares and reopen Broadway.”
Emphasis mine. If you’re a pedestrian enjoying a safer walk through Times Square or sitting at a table drinking a coffee after having spent a lot of money in a nearby store, Broadway probably feels pretty “open” right now. Any effort to “reopen” the street to cars would essentially close it to people on foot, making Times Square feel about as spacious as a cattle car. This kind of language demonstrates the pro-car bias of local TV news and shows how anchors and reporters typically experience the city: from the backseat of a town car or riding shotgun in a news van.
So what can advocates and progressive transportation wonks do to change the language? One great way is to stop using it themselves. Here’s an old Cap’N Transit post on one thing that irks him about DOT’s otherwise excellent Summer Streets program.
Several times I heard and read reference to the street being “closed,” and at 1:00 I heard repeated announcements that they were going to “open it up again.”
To someone like me, who rarely takes taxis and drives even less, when cars are allowed it doesn’t feel “open” to me. It’s open to me for three mornings a year, and pretty unavailable the rest of the time. Repeating over and over again that Park Avenue will be “opened up again” emphasizes that we don’t belong.
A few times I’ve stayed on one of the streets and been directly addressed by the staff, who don’t seem to be aware that bicycles are allowed on the streets even when Summer Streets is over. Last week a bunch of us were traveling the right direction in the Centre Street bike lane and got yelled at.
A more neutral framing would be to simply say, “Cars will be allowed on the street again. Be careful of the cars; they can kill you. Pedestrians move to the sidewalk, and bicycles move to the right.”
One of the old chestnuts of anti-bike-lane rhetoric is the argument that bike lanes are on the one hand empty and therefore not necessary, and on the other dangerous for pedestrians to cross because of all the cyclists whizzing by. To this absurd entry into the Encyclopedia of NIMBY Logic, writer and producer Delia Ephron, in an opinion piece that appeared in the New York Times, added her own.
Ephron — who with her sister Nora adapted a 1940 black-and-white film starring James Stewart and Margaret Sullivan into a 1998 color movie starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan – says that the bright blue bicycles of the Citi Bike program distract the eye from the “browns, grays, greens and brick red” of New York City’s natural color palette. But she also suggests that they’re invisible, so apt to appear out of nowhere that they could mow down innocent pedestrians at any time.
If you read Ephron’s piece, you probably noticed that she opens with a Cuozzoian anecdote about scofflaw cyclists:
It’s this bike program. The other day I stepped off a curb and a bike coming the wrong way down a one-way street passed so close I could feel its breeze on my back. It seems as though, every day, I’m almost hit by a bike.
But late in her piece, Ephron claims that the blue bikes are simply impossible to not notice.
Almost all directors and cinematographers know that, in a movie, the color blue pulls focus. If you place a love scene in front of, say, a blue bench, the audience will look at the bench and not the actors. Our city, if you look around, isn’t a blue city, or wasn’t until the bikes arrived.
If Ephron sat and thought about it for even a second, she should probably write another opinion piece thanking Citibank for choosing a shade of blue that announces a bicycle’s presence long before one almost hits her.
Of course, Ephron’s gripe isn’t really about her fear of getting hit by a bicycle. (“That’s a problem, but it’s not the problem.”) Given the statistics, that would be insane. ”The problem” is the fact that
at least 8 children have been killed by automobile drivers in 2013 so far bike share bicycles ruin movie shoots.
Forget for a moment that bike share stations are easily removable and unlikely to mar any period pieces set in pre-2013 New York City. As a TV producer and film fan, I can honestly say I was fascinated by this cinematography factoid, previously unknown to me:
Odds are, in your favorite romantic Manhattan movie, you’ll see barely any blue.
Come to think of it, Ephron is right. Here’s a shot from one of my favorite romantic Manhattan movies:
Thank goodness the bench isn’t blue.
Of course, Ephron, as the writer/producer of some of the most successful romantic comedies of the nineties knows a thing or two about shot composition. Take the following scene from “You’ve Got Mail.” There’s absolutely nothing blue to pull the audience’s focus. You know what else you won’t find pulling the audience’s focus? Cars!
(By the way, the fact that there’s an available parking spot in front of an Upper West Side store in this shot caused Blockbuster to accidentally shelve “You’ve Got Mail” in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section for years.)
Like John Cassidy, who once infamously claimed there was a bike lane causing congestion on Brooklyn’s Fourth Avenue, Ephron — and by extension, the Times fact-checking department — does not let the truth get in the way of a good anti-bike-lane swipe. Here’s her take on the changes that came to the intersection of 9th Avenue and 18th Street, or “Bloomberg corner” as she likes to call it:
Where there used to be four lanes for cars traveling down Ninth, there are now two. A long triangular concrete island has been installed to guide drivers making left turns even though drivers have been making left turns since they got licenses.
Emphasis mine. Here’s the Google Street View of 9th Ave and 18th Street:
So not including the lane dedicated to car parking and another devoted to vehicles making left turns, there are three lanes for cars traveling down Ninth, not two. And just in case you’re wondering if the lanes go down from three to two south of 18th Street, they don’t.
Then there’s the question of those ads. Ephron is none too pleased that the bikes are mobile billboards for a bank:
To make certain you don’t forget this fact, a Citi Bike sign hangs in front of the handlebars, Citi Bike is printed twice on the frame, and a Citi Bike billboard drapes the rear wheel on both sides. The font is the familiar Citibank font and the Citibank signature decoration floats over the “t.” There is no way to see a Citi Bike without thinking Citibank.
Is it great that a public transit service is festooned with ads for a corporation? Perhaps not. But in my imaginary socialist utopia where brown, gray, green or brick red taxpayer-funded “City Bikes” lined the streets, we’d still be reading anti-bike jeremiads by the Delia Ephrons of New York. Because the biggest problem the guardians of the status quo have with bicycle sharing is that the shared bicycles are not private automobiles.
Oh, and about those ads. Did you know that there’s no way to see another form of public transportation without thinking “lap dance”?
Say what you will about Citi, but I’ve never felt uncomfortable explaining what a checking account is to my daughter.
Zero pedestrians have been killed by cyclists since before 2010, but over 600 pedestrians and cyclists have been killed by drivers. The uncomfortable truth about pieces such as Ephron’s — and, to a greater extent, the Times editors’ decision to print them — is that they completely ignore the real hazard on our city’s streets. So much so that they have to include fictions such as this:
Then the snow will melt and freeze, and someone on a blue bike will skid right into you. Finally spring. Your broken leg is almost healed. The surgery to insert pins went well. You have completed four weeks of physical therapy, and at last can limp around outside without crutches. As you spy a cherry tree lush with blossoms, a you-know-what will zip by. Suddenly that beautiful day will get so much uglier.
Ephron ought to speak to Sian Green, whose dream of a beautiful day in New York City was forever sullied by the reality of an ugly encounter with the wrong end of a curb-jumping taxi.
That cab, of course, was yellow.
Leslie Albrecht at DNAinfo has a nice write-up on the efforts of 13-year-old Allison Collard de Beaufort to memorialize her classmate Sammy Cohen-Eckstein and turn her grief into action.
The eighth-grader, who had a class with Sammy and lives two doors down from the Cohen-Ecksteins on Prospect Park West, decided that drivers on the busy straightaway needed a stark reminder that Park Slope is teeming with kids.
To make her point, she went to Ikea, bought 40 teddy bears, and spent the next two days tying them to lampposts and street signs along Prospect Park West. Now they line the busy boulevard, looking down on drivers whizzing past.
Collard de Beaufort is hoping people who see the stuffed animals will think of children, and press their foot on the brake as they cruise down the street, which kids routinely cross on their way to and from Prospect Park.
“I don’t want anybody else getting hurt,” Collard de Beaufort said. “I don’t want to lose any more friends.”
The city would be a better place if we listened to kids like Allison a little more.
I hope to see many of you at the Streetsblog and Streetfilms benefit tomorrow night. In a way it will be a sort of valedictory celebration for the Bloomberg/Sadik-Khan years, but it will also be a reminder that the livable streets movement now transcends these two leaders. I’m more confident than ever that the gains we’ve seen on our city streets will only continue to grow.
Many thanks to my friends at Showers Pass in Portland, Oregon for donating a jacket for the benefit’s auction.
Jim Walden is back in court, this time using his
stand-up comedy talents legal acumen to fight a Citi Bike rack in SoHo:
“Funny, you have a duck, and you know it’s a duck because it walks like a duck, it talks like a duck, it introduced itself as a duck, and it’s wearing a T-shirt saying, ‘I am a duck,’ with a corporate logo emblazoned on it,” Walden said, extending the metaphor, “This is not a cow.”
The courtroom, packed with activists who oppose the rack’s placement in Petrosino Square, a triangular sliver of parkland between Lafayette and Centre streets just south of Spring Street, erupted in laughter.
Measuring less than a third of an acre, Petrosino Square is “a park that is too small for cycling,” Walden told Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Cynthia Kern.
The park has traditionally been used to showcase art installations.
Walden argued that the fee structure — which allows free rides for subscribers cycling for limited time periods — is geared toward commuters, not bikers out on joy rides.
How a judge may rule in this case is anyone’s guess, but I’m not concerned. Walden may win this battle, but he’s already lost the larger war. Why? In 2010 his pro bono clients argued that because few people use bikes for transportation the Prospect Park West bike lane should be moved inside Prospect Park. But fast forward to 2013: cycling has grown so much that the infamous lawyer for Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes is using the fact that bikes are for transportation as an argument against putting a bike share station in a park.