Missing The Point

When you’re a normal person and you have to schedule an appointment at a retail business with multiple locations, you generally choose the one closest to home. But when you’re a semi-professional bike blogger and terminal bicycle weenie, you choose a location that’s out of your way so you have an excuse to ride there and back. You also go to Central Park and ride around in circles before heading home, because your time is worth very little, and that’s exactly what I did today:

A 30-ish mile ride that spans two boroughs gives you ample opportunity to observe New York City’s various road users. While it was a beautiful day and I enjoyed every pedal stroke, I also found myself marveling at what a shitshow it all is:

In the course of my ride I encountered every conceivable form of wheeled conveyance–from cycle rickshaw to e-scooter with a chair attached to it to full-on quad bike–and it’s hard not to see the streets as some roiling primordial soup in which the evolution of locomotion is taking place right before our very eyes. This is in no way to dismiss danger, recklessness and death as mere facets of natural selection, but when you’re churning your way through it all sometimes getting all philosophical about it is your only option. Anyway, after watching a garbage truck run a solid red light at speed and marveling that somehow nobody died, I finally made it to the safety of the park–then I got home and saw an article about how a cyclist recently died in the park:

I felt terrible for the victim and anyone close to her, and I was also surprised to see Streetsblog report on her helmet status, since like the word “accident” I thought we’d all moved passed that:

She was found by passersby lying on the roadway unconscious and unresponsive, with head trauma, cops said. Police said she was not wearing a helmet. (Cyclists over the age of 13 are not required to do so in New York City.)

Meanwhile, the Daily News mentioned the helmet status:

A passerby came across her unconscious and alerted authorities. She was not wearing a helmet.

While also alluding to a mandatory helmet law:

Cyclists above the age of 13 are not required to wear helmets under New York state law — but Mayor de Blasio in recent years has floated the idea of requiring everyone who rides a bike to wear one.

And a local news outlet also mentioned the helmet status:

Upon arrival, officers observed a 56-year-old woman lying on the roadway/bike path, unconscious and unresponsive with head trauma. Police said no helmet was found.

But then made a hard left at “possible hate crime,” because, you know, it’s 2021:

There have been widespread reports of attacks against Asian-Americans in recent months. However, according to police, no other vehicle or person was involved in the incident, or affected. They added that the investigation remains ongoing.

The focus on helmets and racism struck me as absurd, especially since I’d just ridden this section of bike path. As you can see, it’s a pretty steep decent for a greenway trail, going from 146 feet in elevation:

To only 39 feet in about a half a mile:

Moreover, at the bottom of this steep descent the pavement is so buckled that someone has spraypainted the cracks and heaves orange, a detail the Streetsblog story not only misses, but oddly contradicts:

The Van Cortland Park mixed-use path on which Li was traveling — part of the NYC Greenway — is not especially rutted as New York City bike paths go, but it is steep. 

Not having known about this tragedy I didn’t think to take a photo (I’ll go back and do so), but I ride this section of trail often and it’s bad enough that the buckled pavement at the bottom of the hill is always on my mind, especially when I’m riding a fixie with skinny tires as I was today. And while I have no idea what happened to the poor cyclist, where she crashed, or whether the poor condition of the path played a role, it seems a hell of a lot more relevant than her ethnicity or what she happened to be wearing on her head–especially when you consider a fall on a poorly-maintained bike path can be fatal helmet or no helmet:

Again, I have no idea if the pavement had anything to do with it, but if it did, the idea that I’ve ridden over it countless times and then stopped thinking about it just as soon as it was behind me makes me feel kind of sick. It also makes me feel lucky, which I’m ashamed to admit. Our bikes are miraculous in their sheer efficiency as well as the joy they bring us, yet almost anything can upend them, and it can happen at any time. Something as little as a pebble can send you hurtling through the Death Membrane. I suppose it’s only natural we focus on the helmets, because it’s something over which we have control. But control is illusion, and reality requires a weird mix of competence and surrender.

But fatter tires couldn’t hurt. I’d argue they’ll do way more for you than a helmet. But “the victim wasn’t riding high-volume tires” doesn’t make good news copy I guess.

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