WTF? article in NYTimes about cycling in the city.

I’m not sure who I should be more pissed at? The author of this long winded out of touch article on the current state of cycling in NYC or the NY Times editorial staff who some how deemed in their infinite wisdom it would be a good idea to give a page and half of realestate to this article. First off, this is not journalism, but rather one opinion, from one cyclist who doesn’t talk to anyone else. Why is this not in the op-ed section along with the other random rants about people angry about cyclists riding on the sidewalk, as if that were the biggest thing the rest of us have to worry about everyday on the streets? This would be much more suited for the NYPost and their columnists who every now an then have a near-death experience with a food delivery person and want instant legislation banning all cyclists from the 5 borough area.

The article in the Sunday’s City Section of the NYTimes:
A cyclist speeds through the crosswalk at 34th Street and Broadway.
Photo by: Todd Heisler

This is a photo of what appears to be a working NYC messenger, I think its Tone. But taking the time to find out who it is would have required the writer to give this person some just credit and find out what his opinion is about the rise of popularity of cycling. Then we the audience could get some other opinions of what its like out there everyday on a bike.
Title of the article:
by Robert Sullivan

I won’t bore you with all the details of this opinion piece about how this cyclists remembers the 80’s and how rare bikes were and blah blah blah…you can read for yourself Here.

The idea of this piece is that more bikers are on the streets these days who have less experience of riding safely and the author poses these 4 points in ways to become more responsible. I’ve added some responses myself.

Which brings me to four sure-to-be-scoffed-at suggestions for better bike P.R.:

NO. 1: How about we stop at major intersections? Especially where there are school crossing guards, or disabled people crossing, or a lot of people during the morning or evening rush. (I have the law with me on this one.) At minor intersections, on far-from-traffic intersections, let’s at least stop and go.

NO. 2: How about we ride with traffic as opposed to the wrong way on a one-way street? I know the idea of being told which way to go drives many bikers bonkers. That stuff is for cars, they say. I consider one-way streets anathema — they make for faster car traffic and more difficult crossings. But whenever I see something bad happen to a biker, it’s when the biker is riding the wrong way on a one-way street.

There will be caveats. Perhaps your wife is about to go into labor and you take her to the hospital on your bike; then, yes, sure, go the wrong way in the one-way bike lane. We can handle caveats. We are bikers.

NO. 3: How about we stay off the sidewalks? Why are bikers so incensed when the police hand out tickets for this? I’m only guessing, but each sidewalk biker must believe that he or she, out of all New York bikers, is the exception, the one careful biker, which is a very car way of thinking.

Granted, many food delivery people insist on riding on the sidewalk…probably because they are undocumented workers who have low paying jobs without health insurance and have to be on a bike for 12 hours a day and would rather take their chances making short trips on the sidewalk then out where they can become hood ornaments by irate vehicles. This may change about the time NYC food vendors don’t have stale pretzels. Good Luck. I occasionally ride on the sidewalk and here are a few reasons why.
1) the narrow side street is filled with stopped cars because some A-hole is double parked on his cell phone and their is no room to get around.
2) there is random construction stopping traffic.
3) the address I am looking for is way to far away for me to go around.
In my 20 years of biking in NYC, I have never had a close call with anyone on the sidewalk. I dunno…maybe I just know how to ride a bike. If we stop riding on sidewalks can we ask the pedestrians to stop walking in the bike lanes? I doubt it. Sorry Robert Sullivan…this IS NEW YORK, but I hear the property values in Portland Oregon are at an all time low.

NO. 4: How about we signal? Again, I hear the laughter, but the bike gods gave us hands to ring bells and to signal turns. Think of the possible complications: Many of the bikers behind you are wearing headphones, and the family in the minivan has a Disney DVD playing so loudly that it’s rattling your 30-pound Kryptonite chain. Let them know what you are thinking so that you can go on breathing as well as thinking
I agree. I use my hands to signal. I make noise. I communicate with drivers as much as possible. These are good points but do we really need this long article to tell us this?

My suggestion to you Robert is: Stop and interview some REAL NYC cyclists. The really cool bikers like me who have been writing a bicycle blog for over 5 years. Get a bunch of their testimonials together…its called journalism. Then rewrite your article. You may be surprised what you find and how their are a whole bunch more factors going on in NYC. Things like, yes we have new bike lanes but some of them go right down Broadway into a esplanade full of pedestrians forcing us in dangerous close contact with each other. Like how the Manhattan bridge doesn’t have any German tourists on it taking pictures like the Brooklyn bridge but its almost certain suicide trying to get on the bike path on the Brooklyn side. Lets not forget to mention the 5 year harassment campaign by the NYPD against cyclists and not just during critical mass. Do your homework pal. I wish we could just talk about the current state of cycling in NYC in terms of just weather to ride on the sidewalk or not, but unfortunately it a much bigger picture.

22 comments to WTF? article in NYTimes about cycling in the city.

  • jTuba

    If we stop riding on sidewalks can we ask the pedestrians to stop walking in the bike lanes?

    Or for that matter, while we’re all getting “incensed when the police hand out tickets” for riding on the sidewalk, maybe they could hand out tickets to try to discourage cars from parking in the bike lane. Of course, that might also require that the cops to stop doing it themselves, say, along City Hall Park or on Boerum near the Brooklyn Bridge.

  • Great post! Good points. Typically, my non-cycling friends will forward stories like the “The Wild Bunch” to me, perhaps thinking that because it’s about cycling, it must be a good thing.

    In some ways they may have a point, naive as it may be. At least someone is writing, as bad as it may be and now we’re talking, albeit arguing, but it’s better than being ignored.

    Keep up the great work.

    “See you on the Streets!”

  • nyt

    how much longer will the nyt be in (their) business (is going down hill)?

  • Just because YOU know what you’re doing, doesn’t mean everyone else does. The numbered rules actually provide a pretty good set of guidelines for the MAJORITY of people riding in the city.

    What are you going to tell us next, that you’re safer because your ride without brakes?

    Oh, and a bunch of testimonials from bike bloggers who call themselves really cool does not journalism make.

    Yeah, the article was op-ed and a little messy, but there are good guidelines for safe riding there. Read around the message lists and other blogs – most people have agreed on the fact that these are generally good suggestions to follow.

    The guy rides his bike in the city and has been for as long as you. Just because he didn’t ask you or other “cool” bloggers what they thought doesn’t mean the article doesn’t have value.

    “I agree. I use my hands to signal. I make noise. I communicate with drivers as much as possible. These are good points but do we really need this long article to tell us this?”

    Yes, apparently, because plenty of people don’t do it who SHOULD.

    The truth about food delivery guys is that they are NOT the angelic navigator of sidewalks like you are.

    A good family friend of mine (78 years old) was hospitalized for two days because a food delivery guy knocked her over on the sidewalk at the corner of 11th and B. But it’s okay because he’s working long hours and under lots of pressure and being hunted down by the immigration police, right? Oh, and he’s scared of traffic.

    I’m scared of traffic too but that doesn’t give me a right to ride on the sidewalk – even if I THINK I can do it as safely as you.

    Mike, I’ve been following your blog since just after it’s conception and I have to say I’m really surprised this article got to you the way it did. People telling me what to do on my bike who don’t know me and the way I ride bothers me as much as you, but we have to look past that and assess the the helpful points of the article that will make people hate us less.

  • Found this on streetsblog.

    “The Robert Sullivan article was more frustrating than constructive. I’m mostly fine with his four cyclists’ rules of the road (staying off sidewalks, never wrong-waying down one-way streets, and stopping for peds at red lights are all essential, as far as I’m concerned). But I think Sullivan (and the Times) blew an opportunity to represent reality on the streets as it is: reading the article, you get the impression that if it weren’t for a fixed-gear-loving rogue bikers, city streets would be safe. There was no mention of pedestrian behavior that puts bicyclists in danger —- for example, how about pedestrians who use bicycle lanes as curb extensions (think of Astor Place), forcing cyclists out in traffic? Or how about mobs of pedestrians crossing on a red light in front of oncoming cyclists (on my commute, this is especially bad at Lexington and 28th and again at 23rd)? In other words, while we’re proposing rules of the road, how about two for pedestrians: when I jaywalk, I’ll look out for bicyclists; I won’t cross at red lights without checking out for cyclists first; and I will not stand or walk in bike lanes.”

  • I am in agreement with Liam. Sullivan might not have created a perfect article, but it’s an Op-Ed and clearly not traditional journalism. You should be able to take it for what it is and not get all fussy about it.

    His main point is that everyone should respect each other. Sloppy writing or not, it’s the truth.

  • Jjjgss

    Jeez. Pretty harsh reaction to this article. Sure its not journalism, but it doesn’t present itself as journalism. Maybe it should have been in a different section. It really makes a simple point: That the city is finally making concessions to cycling – to maker it safer, easier and more fun – and that maybe in exchange cyclist should consider making some concessions so that pedestrian and drivers don’t hate us. It’s not trying to give a complete account of justices and injustices at work on the streets of the city between all different interests. It’s proposing a few simple rule to cyclists to help improve public relations and safety. So, yes, idiot pedestrians walk in the bike lane or idiot trucks block the bike lane, but rather than responding to them by riding on the sidewalk, why don’t we take and extra 15 seconds and walk our bikes around them. And don’t ride the wrong way. And don’t blow through lights, and signal. And this guy’s experience as a rider is just as legitimate as anyones!

  • Ben

    Why even retort to the #3 suggestion “How about we stay off the sidewalks?” with a sob story about how it sometimes is inconvenient for you? It’s a fine, sensible rule we should all strive to follow, and while the rule may reasonably be bent sometimes, you shouldn’t be surprised if the excuses you listed — a car blocked the bike lane, there was construction, the address was too far to go around … WAAAAH! — don’t get you out of a ticket. Would you respond to “How about we not drive drunk?” with “But sometimes it’s hard to hail a cab, and I might not have enough cash to pay for a ride, and in my 20 years of driving drunk I’ve never been in an accident”?

    And, please, all NYC cyclists are real NYC cyclists.

  • Why are people so obsessed about bikes riding on the sidewalk? I don’t see this kind of public outcry when cyclists are killed repeatedly on major busy inefficient intersections by motor vehicles? NON of these deaths are even investigated about weather the driver was at fault, talking on their cell phone, high on crack…But God forbid there is a bike riding on the freakin sidewalk. WAAAH!

  • Ben

    Listing a common sense bicycle safety rule in an article about urban bicycling, and striving to adhere to it in most situations, doesn’t constitute an obsession. But arguing against it does.

  • Mighty Chin

    I thought the article was just condescending and paternalistic. I have never actually met a cyclist who doesn’t have a STRONG sense of trying to maintain their own safe space in a very unsafe environment. Every cyclist I know occassionaly breaks the rules, but no one has as their mission to be some sort of suicide rider as this article (and most written by major media) seems inclined to stereotype city cyclists as having. The author really should engage his fellow cyclists in conversation rather than pre-judging them as road racing maniacs and too cool for school daredevils. I’m sure he might have learned a thing or two about the WHY cyclists break laws that are not actually appropriately tailored to bicycle transportation if he had.

  • Dont worry, the newspaper (or any for the matter) probably wont exist for much longer.

  • Sticky

    I liked this article. Thought it was a good read. Yes I stop at lights myself, and have seen many Lance wannabes almost get smacked. Though my only reaction was that I have laughed at them; cause well, it would have been funny. Though I have obeyed the “rules of the road” and have almost been killed by cops running lights and macho Italian buttholes. Guidos. But I digress. Once crossing the street at Union Square, I was in my own world rocking my cd player(long time ago) and was pummeled by a messenger who decided to run a light. I got some bruises, but the jerk was so scared that he just up and ran. Why? Cause he was wrong. Plus he broke the law. NYS law says that bicycles must stop at lights. Plain and simple. Plus pedestrians ALWAYS have the right of way.

    Though many people who read this blog will agree with the snob in his hatred for this article, I cannot. I did like how the author cut into the fixie riders. He only forgot the cuffed up jeans.

    Ride safe.

  • An addendum from a Long Island bicyclist:
    In many ways, I think it’s more dangerous to bike out here. With rare exceptions, there are *no* bike lanes, and cars are moving much more quickly. Just to get to the nearest bike path (i.e, inside a preserve) it’s a 3.5 mile ride for me, mostly along a heavily traveled road.

    Will I often use the sidewalk? Absolutely. I’ve already been run over by a driver once and don’t care to repeat the experience. Sidewalks out here are rarely used, except right outside stores (by people going to/coming from their cars). I’ll do so carefully, but #1 rule for me is avoiding death. And if that means risking a ticket on a sidewalk, I’ll do so. I slow down when I near pedestrians, take a wide berth around them, and call out to alert them, but I won’t go on the street where drivers can play Grand Theft Auto with me.

  • Scott –

    Sounds like you need to toughen up man. I’ve ridden many miles commuting on Long Island roads, including three mile harbour road which can be really bad especially since the shoulder is full of sand.

    I guess sidewalks are safer for you to ride on there, but still… bikes are meant to be in the street.

  • Addendum to my addendum:
    I use the sidewalk when there’s no safe way to bike on the street. if there’s a shoulder that isn’t jammed with parked cars, I’ll use it. If it’s a road where the cars aren’t whizzing past at 40mph, I’ll probably stay on the street. I often add miles to my trip to travel along a safer route–and, thus, on the road–but LI is very bike-unfriendly.

  • stoned tone!

    yeah, i even think the article iz wack! for instance, when that picture was taken of me, the photographer was on the sidewalk, and i cut the corner so fast that i didnt think twice on who it was.. then BOOM! im the poster child for asshole cyclists in nyc….that’s not a good look. ive been a messenger for 10 years(March19, 1998, and still doin’ it. its these corny-assed kids who wannabe cool w/ their cool fixed-gear, or whatever the fuck, that do dumb shit. and i get looked at as a poser. i wish a n*^@a would…cuz i hope you’ve got a black dress for your mama. Not all cyclists are out to get pedestrians etc. we’ve got places to be w/deadlines and shit, yaknowwhatimsayin’? I’m a careful rider….sometimes, but dont ever fuck with me, you’ll think twice after you step to me…cyclist, pedestrian, car ,or anyone!
    I DONT PLAY!!!!!

  • Scott

    I presume you mean Three Mile Harbor Rd in East Hampton. *That* is your idea of bad? Try Montauk Highway in Babylon township, with no shoulders or shoulders filled with parked vehicles. I’ve been tapped three times by cars. Hempstead Turnpike in Levittown, where a guy thought it fun to try to match my speed and see how close he could get. Union Blvd in Bay Shore where, even with a wide shoulder, some idjit swerved close and knocked my elbow with his sideview mirror.

    In other words, before getting all derisive, learn the facts.

  • Jym

    =v= I have no quarrel with calls for civility nor even his recommendations for same, but I HAVE to take issue with him using the tired old approach of making sweeping statements about “us” bikers due to the behavior of some individuals on bikes. When any of the things going on in his anecdotes are perpetrated by motorists, we hold them responsible as individuals. Bicyclists need to be regarded as individual human beings as well. To do less is self-defeating.

    “Once, they hated us because we were a rarity,” he writes. “Now, they hate us because we are ubiquitous.” Once, however, the argument went that every last bicyclist had to be exemplary or we’d never get anything. Now, the argument is that every last bicyclist has to be exemplary because we’ve gotten something. See what I mean by self-defeating?

    The part I take STRONGEST exception to is his claim that “bikers have begun to treat people [pedestrians] the same way the cars they used to do battle do — in other words, like the enemy.” Perhaps he could dig up some people who act that way, but that’s not what I’ve experienced as a bicyclist or as a pedestrian in New York City. What’s more, bicycling advocacy groups and pedestrian advocacy groups usually overlap (here, WalkSF was started by bikers), or are even the same group (such as Transportation Alternatives, which he mentioned in the article).

  • Jym

    =v= Another premise of the article doesn’t work for me. When I lived in that part of Brooklyn we were super active, and Aaron Naparstek (now of Streetsblog fame) was especially brilliant at finding opportunities. As a result, the Sullivan’s neighborhood has enjoyed both a substantial bike network and a significant increase in biking for years before Janette Sadik-Khan started adding more to the city as large.

    Things changed a lot in that corner of Brooklyn 4-5 years ago, but lately, not so much. Yet he attributes some sort of shift to recent changes. (Some of my friends wonder whether the author has gone for more than one bike ride since 1987.)

  • your neighbor

    Don’t know where else to post, as I’m just trying to get the word out amongst the cycling community. Yesterday afternoon, I, a pedestrian, was walking my dog in cobble hill, and as we were crossing a one-way street with the walk sign saying go, a biker going the wrong way down the one way street hit my dog and broke his back. My dog had to be put down late last night.

    The biker, she was not injured seriously…scraped up from the collision, and I wasn’t touched…the biker was nice and so sorry, but it still doesn’t change the outcome. She was in the bike lane (yeah!), but going the wrong way. After a bit of initial rage, I feel just…wow that sucks. Ironic that I decide to check out tonight if there were any biker blogs out there and this article came out just recently. Please, bikers. Obey the traffic laws. It is illegal for you to be cruising along (she was going maybe 15-20 mph?) the wrong way down the one way street, and even if you don’t care about the law/tickets, you won’t see the lights changing against you if you’re going the wrong way. THere was a van parked at the corner, and I could see the bike coming, and my dog stepped out first.

    Your neighbor

  • your neighbor

    I mean…could NOT see the bike coming, as to that last sentence. Anyway, just thought I’d put this out there.