This morning I enjoyed a leisurely bicycle tour of the Bronx, during which I encountered what is rapidly becoming the borough’s signature bit of road furniture:
This is what happens when you order infrastructure out of a catalog instead of building it:
Hey, the city’s taking the Ikea route, that’s fine, it’s better than nothing I guess. More noteworthy however is of course the platform’s resemblance to the streetscape in the 1980s skateboarding video game “720:”
It occurs to me that I’ve repeatedly made fun of people who Zwift instead of riding outside, and yet I used to ride my skateboard to a convenience store where I’d play this game for hours instead of, you know, staying on the skateboard now propped up against the machine. (Though in my defense the store was a hub for nefarious teenage activity and the “smoking and loitering” phase is an important one in childhood development.)
In any case, bike lane critique is a popular pastime here in New York City–as is calling out the people who block them, which can sometimes result in unfortunate outcomes:
In fact, the victim himself calls this a “bad decision:”
Confronting drivers is indeed a risky business. Or, as Forrest Gump famously said, “Life is like a box of chocolates. Don’t even bother lifting the lid, because you never know when it might just shoot you:”
I’ve never had someone brandish a firearm at me in the course of road rage-induced discourse. I have, however, had other “Oh shit!” moments wherein I realized some psychopath was more than ready to call my bluff. Moreover, even when drivers don’t threaten violence the outcome is never favorable (at least in my experience), which is why I’ve increasingly advised against it:
Worst of all, riding around in a heightened state of outrage takes a terrible toll on the psyche, and if gone unchecked you can start lashing out at everyone including pedestrians and your fellow cyclists:
There are always people who take offense when you suggest it’s better to just get on with your ride than it is to call people out. (I think it’s part of the reason the popular kids no longer like me). There are also people who will accuse you of engaging in “Served him right”-type victim-blaming for pointing out how badly confronting people can go. This is not my intention at all. However, I do think it’s fair to use them as examples, if only so that others don’t find themselves in the same situation. If you read Bike Twitter and Streetsblog and all the rest of it you could easily come away with the impression that confronting bike lane blockers and aggressive drivers is noble, or at least part and parcel of cycling in the city and your responsibility as a person of virtue. However someone who’s already knowingly put you in danger is not going to respond well to your attempting to them for doing so, and in fact, they may very well see it as a convenient opportunity to finish the job. I also only realized after reading the Twitter thread about the assault that the victim was receiving death threats only a month ago after shoveling snow on to some asshole’s truck:
But watching an old woman struggling over a snow bank to the sidewalk after getting off the B61 last Monday — because the truck was blocking the bus stop again — pushed Melone over the edge, he said.
After filing the 311 complaint, he went out to shovel out a new path for bus riders to the sidewalk — and threw snow onto the truck in the process.
“I had no intention of damaging the truck — didn’t think some snow could do that — but I did want to create an inconvenience for the driver who had inconvenienced so many bus riders,” Melone said.
I am NOT SAYING he had it coming to him, or that making anonymous death threats isn’t despicable behavior. I am saying that when people engage in this type of vehicular don’t-give-a-fuckery that it is a sign of an antisocial personality, and that they’re often the last people you should be poking at:
This in no way means you shouldn’t do anything. What it means is that you should save your poking for the people whose job is to be poked–especially the city councilmembers, who talk a good game about justice and safe streets and all the rest of it. (Certainly in fairness the victim had been the poking people whose job it is to be poked by calling 311, but messing with the vehicle was ultimately what unleashed the psycho.)
Sadly, I do think it’s only a matter of time in New York City before someone gets shot under these circumstances.
When you love to ride it’s easy to become enamored of an ideal, whether it’s logging a Strava KOM or ushering in a post-automotive utopia. Ultimately though, in a city like New York, the winner is the person who’s still cycling 10, 15, 30, and 50+ years down the line. Certainly being able to do so requires luck, but if you’re fortunate enough to still be able to ride a bike as you get older then what’s really going to keep you on it is your ability to still enjoy it. The KOMs won’t get any less elusive, and the cars and assholes aren’t going away anytime soon, so moving through the city without falling victim to the undertow of rage is the only way to keep that love–and yourself–alive. If you learn how to flow around the obstruction like water, it may not even seem like an obstruction at all. It may even seem…oddly inspiring:
You never know how a driver may react, even one with a spiritual message on their vehicle. Usually it’s not worth finding out.