by Lorin Stein
“The elderly are virtually housebound. Parents of young children are deeply concerned for their safety. Animal companions are in peril. The atmosphere of the sidewalks and streets resembles the Coney Island boardwalk carnival live-target paintball game “Shoot The Freak” — and we, the people, are the freak. It is a version of homegrown terrorism.” -- ”It’s Time to Put the Brakes on Rogue Bicycle Riding,” The Villager
As a longtime resident of the East Village, and a terrorist, I am always very gratified to read the coverage of cycling in my local weekly. And I was thrilled to learn, from a recent column of Andrea Peyser’s in the New York Post, that we two-wheelers are now “the Upper East Side’s No. 1 quality-of-life menace.” Chapeau, team! We are winning … in the press.
But this is no time to rest on our laurels. These days, according to Department of Transportation statistics, you are far more likely to be killed by a car than by a bike − and cyclists in New York are riding more safely than ever. These, I’m afraid, are the breaks.
What accounts for this sorry state of affairs? Based on personal and unscientific observation, it seems to me that drivers are becoming used to us. Taxi riders are less likely to throw open a door without looking. Certain goo-goo cyclists have taken to policing themselves and instructing one another on the rules of the road. Like that mysterious caramel smell that blew in last year from New Jersey, a sickening air of mutual toleration has wafted over the island.
Then, of course, there are the bike lanes. On more and more of our streets and even our avenues, one has to actually go out of one’s way to collide with a pedestrian or run a Town Car off the road.
These lanes are especially hard on the delivery guys who make up the majority of the terrorists in my neighborhood. (Remember, Andrea, next time you tuck into that container of pad Thai − you’re dining with Bin Laden!) Many complain that they simply don’t have the time to work 60-hour weeks and keep old people and children off the streets. Last week I counted several dogs on Second Avenue.
And the problem is only getting worse. Yesterday − I write to you while the UN General Assembly is in session − Manhattan traffic moved at an average rate of eight miles per hour.
This does tend to take the fun out of it. To borrow that vivid simile from The Villager, what’s the point of shooting at a freak who doesn’t move?
Furthermore, and most seriously, automotive congestion threatens to swell our ranks with law-abiding civilians − people who “just want to get to work on time.”
Scofflaws of New York, unite! Show no mercy at the crosswalks! If you see a taxi door, take it out! Let the animal companions do their business on the rugs of every apartment that contains them!
Lift the truce, and send a message to City Hall: the current strategy of appeasement and mutual cooperation shall never prevail.
LORI STEIN IS THE EDITOR OF THE PARIS REVIEW.