[messengers] Bike messengers run over pedestrians for sport

Date: 15 Dec 2010 13:22:29 +0100
From: Joe Hendry <messvilleto@xxxxxxxxx>

It’s really hard to take someone serious who make a comment
like this:


“Does Mr. Podziba actually believe that bike messengers are
going to curb their anti-social ways, such as running pedestrians over for
sport—I repeat, for sport!—just because you pin a medal to their lapels?”




Survivor: Bicycle Lanes


Wall Street Journal, December 15, 2010



By Ralph Gardner


I wish people would stop griping about the new dedicated
bike lanes blossoming all over the city. So what if they hurt business,
eliminate parking spaces and made me wait three times as long as it took, just
a few days ago, to accomplish a left turn onto Columbus Avenue at 81st
Street—the cab's meter running the whole time—because there appears to be one
less lane for traffic of the motorized, four-wheeled sort?


There's a simple solution to this unappealing situation—not
including drinking, meditation or moving out of the city altogether: Cry uncle
and start riding a bike around town. I've resisted that option this far into
adulthood for any number of sensible reasons. The experience doesn't lend
itself to business attire: You're hot and sweaty when you get to work; and you
run the very real risk of suffering life-threatening injuries if some fool, not
realizing this town belongs to bike people now, throws open his car door just
as you're riding by and launches you into low earth orbit.


"Ride four feet away from a car door" to avoid
becoming just such an urban cycling casualty, Emilia Crotty instructed me.
"Arm's length and a little bit more. Moving traffic isn't the enemy."
(It isn't?) "It's the opening car doors that's going to toss you into


Ms. Crotty is the star instructor of Bike Commuting 101, a
free course taught by Bike New York,
a nonprofit that promotes biking and bike safety. Since I thought it unlikely
the mayor was going to bow to public pressure and rip out the new bike lanes
he'd just put in, I figured it wouldn't hurt to pick up some rudimentary bike
survival skills and perhaps even hit New
  York's mean streets with a certified bike warrior.



"Be visible, predictable and very alert," Ms.
Crotty went on. "No headphones. No talking on cellphones, and always wear
a helmet. Also, assert your space on the road."


Assert your space on the road? I'm all for being assertive,
for having the courage of your convictions, for standing tall for human
dignity, mine in particular. But the tools normally associated with
conventional social interaction—intelligence, persuasion, humor and, when all
else fails, karate—are rendered moot when there's a city bus bearing down on
you at 40 miles an hour.


"Be assertive to a certain degree," said Ms.
Crotty, who was outfitted in battle tights, bike shoes and an iridescent
pale-green windbreaker shell. "Don't be self-righteous about it. Be
courteous. Especially to pedestrians. The bottom line is ride your bike as if
you're driving a car. Would you drive your car against traffic? Would you drive
your car on the sidewalk?"


I wouldn't. But just about every bike messenger and
deliveryman in the city seems to have no qualms about doing so. They're the
people Ms. Crotty should be proselytizing, not milquetoast, law-abiding
citizens such as me.


"We're trying to appeal to the top delivery companies
and get them to buy into the program," explained Ken Podziba, Bike New York's president, who'd joined us at Eastern Mountain
Sports in SoHo, which provides the
organization support, and where its bicycle education classes muster.
"Perhaps we'd even certify them when they're done."


Does Mr. Podziba actually believe that bike messengers are
going to curb their anti-social ways, such as running pedestrians over for
sport—I repeat, for sport!—just because you pin a medal to their lapels?


"I think it's economics," Mr. Podziba countered.
"They're trying to get from point A to point B." (And in the process
plowing through pedestrians while wearing diabolical grins.)


"We can list the different restaurants," he went
on, encouraging customers to patronize those that take bike safety
seriously—rather than just those that can deliver your moo shoo pork in 10
minutes flat.


The time had come for our ride. For the record, Ms. Crotty,
a 29-year-old NYU graduate who grew up riding bikes in New Bedford, Mass.,
drives a bike on which she's switched to straight handlebars from dropped ones
(being able to sit up straight offers better visibility, she explained, though
she shuns a rearview mirror, which I consider de rigueur). However, we bonded
when we discovered we shared a passion for bike lights. She had directional
signals on her childhood bike (I still do on one of my two bikes), and has red
spoke lights on her wheels. "It creates a ring of red," she said.
"It's awesome.


"In New York
  City," she added, "legally you have to have
a front white light and a rear red light."


She also told me—and I find this hard to believe—that if you
call 311 the city will give you a free bike helmet.


EMS outfitted me with a
7-speed Jamis Commuter 2 bicycle, which also had straight handlebars and came
with fenders. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Ms. Crotty's bike had
fenders, too; as far as I'm concerned, there's nothing macho about mud stains
running up your back.


Our ride was brief but illustrative. We traveled from
Broadway to Lafayette along Spring Street, made
a left on Lafayette,
another one on Prince and a third back onto Broadway. We traveled the route
twice, in the course of only a few minutes encountering many of the obstacles
that makes riding a bike in New York
a routinely compelling experience—kamikaze cabbies, ADHD bike messengers doing
pirouettes in the middle of traffic and comatose pedestrians.


But as we turned back onto Broadway the second time, and
with traffic at a standstill, Ms. Crotty did something that was beautiful to
behold: Rather than hugging the right or left lane like a sissy, she
athletically circumvented the knotted cars, moving boldly into the middle of
the avenue. Broadway belonged to her.


So what if she was risking debilitating injury once traffic
started moving again? She was the personification, for one brief moment, of the
triumph of lithe, improvising humanity over the crushing forces of technology.
There might be something in this bike-riding thing yet.


—    ralph.gardner@xxxxxxx


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