Recently, I was reiterating my pet theories on city traffic. I was reiterating them to my wife, because I’m sure she loves hearing me say the same thing a million times. I’ve held for a very long time that, of the five boroughs, Queens has the worst drivers while Brooklyn has the worst pedestrians. These theories have been arrived at following years of both driving and walking in New York. Queens has a deadly mix of aggressive louts and the dangerously clueless behind the wheel, while Brooklyn pedestrians love to pop out from between parked cars and get within a hair’s breadth of your car as they amble across the street. (Don’t believe me? Try driving down Bushwick Avenue some evening. Go ahead.) I shouldn’t call these “theories,” since all my evidence is circumstantial and I have no idea what the root causes might be. Regardless, experience convinces me of their absolute truth.
While I expounded on these theories, my wife asked which borough had the worst bikers. I thought about this for a few moments and then realized it was a trick question. The answer is, they all do. Bikers in all parts of the city are completely terrible.
Spiritually, I am pro-bike. They’re obviously much better for the environment than cars, and you burn more calories pedaling than you do steering. Critical Mass? Sure, go ahead. But in reality, 99.9% of my interactions with bikers, as a pedestrian, have been miserable.
Perhaps because there is an assumed superiority of bike ownership, at least in this city. Sometimes it’s implied, sometimes it’s stated outright. Proclaiming that a bike is your primary mode of transportation is often said in the same manner as one might say, I don’t own a TV. It reminds me of what Paul F. Tompkins once said of San Francisco residents, that they’re very proud–not of the city, but of themselves for living there.
It is often stated by bikers that cars need to share the road, and drivers in this city definitely need to work on pretty much every aspect of driving, from signaling to not zipping across five lanes of the BQE at a 45-degree angle. The problem is, bikers in general do not extend pay that courtesy forward to pedestrians. I can not tell you how many times I have nearly been mauled by a biker who decided to ignore a red light or a stop sign, or to drive the wrong way down a one way street, or to hop the curb for no good reason. And in the vast, super-majority of these incidents, the biker will give me the stinkeye, like I’m the bad guy for getting in their way.
I was reminded of all of this yesterday as I walked up Hudson Street on my way to the L train. A good chunk of Hudson Street has a bike lane, and that’s perfectly fine. Considering the homicidal proclivities of cabs and trucks in this town, bike lanes are a legitimate public safety measure.
There is one awkward spot where Hudson meets Bleecker and becomes Eighth Avenue. Hudson curves eastward a bit, forming a weird little cobblestone triangle. This triangle has a tree and well manicured island surrounding it, guarded by large black pylons that I presume are meant to guard this elm from terrorist attack. It all conspires to leave very little room for a pedestrian to walk.
As I reach this junction, it is necessary to step temporarily into the bike lane. There is simply no way to walk this along this street without doing this, unless you want to go out of your way to a ridiculous extent.
Before I step off the curb, I give a quick glance behind me to make sure there’s no bikes coming, as a courtesy to bikers and my own neck. I see nothing, so I proceed. I take three steps and am literally angling to get back on the “sidewalk” at a more accessible point, when a chunky blur whizzes past my ear.
It’s an older gentleman on a well-worn bike, with a large gray Jansport backpack strapped on tight. As he zips past me, he says Get out of the bike lane. I would have put this in all caps, but his voice wasn’t quite an all-caps voice. It sounded more like Droopy Dog, or, if you listen to The Best Show on WFMU, frequent caller Spike. It dripped with harassed annoyance, even though I feel I’d taken all necessary precautions and was literally one step away from stepping back onto the curb.
Something about this guy’s voice absolutely infuriated me. Maybe it was the tone, the weirdly wimpy aggressiveness. Getting “yelled” at by such a voice was so weird and grating; imagine being reprimanded by Truman Capote. But I think, ultimately, what I found so galling was the idea that, by virtue of riding on a bike in a bike lane, this schlub felt instantly superior to everyone in his line of vision. Oh, how DARE I tread on the majestic and sacred BIKE LANE, me a common flesh-bag with not even a single wheel upon my lowly frame! A thousand pardons, fat guy with rusty old Schwinn!
Unfair? Trust me, if this guy had hissed get out of the bike lane to you as you were in the process of exiting said bike lane, you’d want to crush every Huffy in the world under a Hummer’s wheels, too.