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Brooklyn Spoke’s Law

December 15, 2010

Any of the big blogs can post something about bikes, no matter how innocent, and it is all but certain that the comments will quickly start railing against bikes, bike lanes, and rogue cyclists.  It’s almost a rule of the Internet, akin to Godwin’s law.  Call it Brooklyn Spoke’s Law: If a website posts something about bikes, the probability of comments complaining about rogue cyclists is one.

Take this article from the New York Daily News on Sunday about Marcus Woolen, 36, who switched from riding the E train to riding his bike to work and lost thirty pounds in the process.  It’s a positive story on the benefits of giving up a sedentary lifestyle and not an advocacy or opinion piece on the merits–or evils–of bike lanes.

So how long does it take for the comments to turn sour?

Validating Brooklyn Spoke’s Law: one.  “Is it possible to find out what Mr. Woollen has to say about riding on sidewalks, wrong way on streets and stopping (or not) at stop signs and traffic lights? Does he “call out” to rogue cyclists, as Janice Sadik-Kahn wants done, when they break the law? Thank you.”  Thankfully, the Daily News site doesn’t seem to get a lot of traffic, as the story generated fewer than a dozen comments overall.

That’s why I was ready for the worst when I read this headline over at The Awl yesterday: If People Are Going to Ride Bicycles in New York in this Weather, We Can’t Win.  The piece seems designed to provoke angry comments, even if the author has a sense of humor about his opinion and admits its shortcomings.

But here’s the thing: The comments are actually thoughtful.  They pick apart the author’s tongue-in-cheek suggestion to have a recorded message on bikes rather than allowing cyclists to shout “Move!” or blow whistles at pedestrians.  They decry assholes of all stripes, not just on bikes.  They debate cycling in the cold.  All in all, it’s very civil.

Of course, readers of the Awl are probably more literate than Post or Daily News readers and have a younger sensibility than stodgy Times readers.  There’s an ironic tone to many of the comments, something you won’t find on Gothamist, where the comments tend to be angrier and meant to provoke.

So there you have it.  Brooklyn Spoke’s Law proved and disproved within the span of three days.


One Comment
  1. Chris permalink
    December 15, 2010 10:09 am

    But what about the rogue cycler? (Just had to do it).

    In all seriousness though, part of the reason I switched to reading many blogs to RSS version is the lack of comments. Life is just too short to get irritated by angry comments. To be fair though, the Daily News and Post have some of the most racist commenters of any sites around. I’m not really sure the point of a “news” site to have comments. Any opinion blog sure, but why NYT, DN, and the Post need a comment section on a majority of their articles is beyond me. Maybe to drive up readership and page views. Comments on editorials I understand as it (hopefully) fosters good debate and discourse.

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