Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Modest Proposal

Bikers, Take the High Road

"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.

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."

Another Good Opinion.

It doesn't have to be this way, though. Some measures that could improve things would be:

1) Legalize the "Idaho Stop" for bikes. Bikes would be required to stop at red lights, but could then proceed if everything is clear. It's not practical for cyclists to be stopping every block because it uses too much energy and slows you down to the point where bicycles are no longer practical.

2) Once the Idaho Stop rule is in effect, enforce it ruthlessly. While the NYPD is at it, they could take it upon themselves to actually enforce the speed limit in this city. Automated speed cameras and red light cameras are a must. The city (and by "city" I mean all 5 boroughs) is not a place to ride flat out. It's too dense and congested for that. The roadies should save their watts for the open road and realize that like cars, bicycles are guests in the city. The city is for pedestrians first and foremost.

3) Continue building out the bike lane network. As bikes are increasingly legitimized over time and are no longer seen as fringe, the bike culture will gradually shift. This will take years. It didn't get this way overnight and won't change overnight. Over time, the demographics of cyclists will change away from those prone to take risks toward a more general slice of the population. And that will be good on many levels - health, the environment, congestion, you name it.

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