The Indignity Of Commuting By Bicycle: Other People

A couple days a week I commute between the Bronx and Brooklyn. Generally, I use the Hudson River Greenway. My route looks like this:

It’s a good route, mostly because the Greenway segment that comprises the majority of it is car-free. However, every so often I use the streets instead, both to save a little time and for a change of pace. Yesterday evening I did just that.

The Greenway is increasingly overrun with motor scooters and high-speed e-contraptions these days, which kinda sucks. However, it’s positively utopian compared to the bike lanes of midtown:

Really, at this point we should drop the pretense of calling them “bike lanes.” What they really are is “electric motorbike food delivery lanes.” I suppose it’s silly to resent this, since it’s not like the motor vehicle lanes of midtwown aren’t also full of commercial vehicles. Still, there was a brief period after the bike lanes went in and before the commercial motorbike takeover that they sort of allowed you to chill out a bit–at least when there wasn’t a UPS truck parked in them. Now either the food delivery guys are beeping their annoying electronic horns at you, or they’re stopping right in front of you to check their apps, and it feels like the city has basically just handed over the bike network to the tech companies in exchange for…well, more battery fires, I guess:

Sure, it’s not all food delivery, and every so often you’ll see someone on a scooter:

But bicycles? Nope. On 6th Avenue in Manhattan, seeing another bicyclist is almost like spotting someone on a pennyfarthing.

Oh, when drivers block the bike lane to make deliveries they’re “forcing you into traffic,” but if a cargo biker does it it’s, I dunno, a blow against car culture or something?


Once you ride through the park and head uptown, things are still kinda crazy, but they’re crazy in the way you’re used to if you’ve been riding here for a long time, and so it’s almost relaxing. However, on this particular evening I soon found myself being overtaken by a large group of bicyclists and miscellaneous riders of wheeled thingies:

Back when there used to be a Critical Mass ride in New York City I once got accidentally swept up in it. I don’t think I even knew what Critical Mass was at the time; all I knew was that I was heading home from an evening road ride (obviously this was before I had children, only people with no kids take evening road rides) when I found myself surrounded by some sort of rolling freakshow. It was like walking down the street only to suddenly find yourself in the middle of the Thanksgiving Day Parade, and while some people might find something like that whimsical and delightful, I found it maddening. Suddenly I was at the mercy of all sorts of weaving, swerving knuckleheads, not to mention all the enraged motorists the ride was creating. So I extricated myself as soon as possible, and as a result of this forcible lapdance I’ve disliked the whole idea of Critical Mass ever since.

This was shaping up to be a similar situation, and clearly my Critical Mass encounter gave me PTSD because I began to relive my trauma. All I wanted to do was get home, but with every block I found myself surrounded by more and more riders, who were in turn creating more angry and impatient motorists. It’s not like things were out of hand or anything, but anyone who lives in a city knows that feeling when the environment around you starts to simmer, and in my experience when that starts happening the best thing to do is get out of there before it starts boiling. No doubt everyone participating in the ride was just out to have a good time, and if that’s what they enjoy doing it’s their business. As for me, I have to interest in riding in groups that large on open streets, or with flirting with driver road rage block after block. They call it “corking the intersection,” but when a cork goes flying it’s liable to take out an eye. Plus, bike traffic is still traffic, and if I wanted to commute home in traffic I’d have driven a car.

By 145th Street I was really in the thick of it, and it’s a busy enough intersection that the ride was forced to stop:

From here I’d generally continue on to the Harlem River Greenway. It’s the best way for me to get home, and it spares me a lot of chaotic uptown traffic in the vicinity of the George Washington Bridge. However, the Greenway is really narrow, and if the ride was heading that way too I did not want to get stuck in that funnel:

So I asked a rider next to me which way they were going, figuring if they were continuing on to the Greenway I’d take another route. He said he didn’t know, but he pointed out the ride leader to me, and so I approached her. “Hey, are you leading the ride?,” I asked.

It seemed an innocent enough question, but she looked at me with absolute and total disgust–sort of a mix of how bike shop employees treat you, and how the person next to you at the bar might react if you asked them to join you and your uncle for a threesome. “Yes,” she spat, and then simply rode away. The rest of the ride followed:

They appeared to be heading towards the Greenway, so once they passed and I was finally able to turn, I rerouted and took my chances with the Uber maelstrom. Anyway, I guess I can’t blame the ride leader, since it must be positively intoxicating to be in command of such an formidable army of dorks. Nevertheless, she was certainly the most objectionable person I’d encountered in some time–though this guy who wanted me to get out of his way so he could drive his van down the protected bike lane I was in was almost as bad:

His license plate says “farmer,” so maybe he had important agricultural business in the bike lane.

I’d like to say that was my final frustrating encounter of the evening, but just as I was rounding the corner near home I heard a sort of mechanical sound from the sidewalk and felt several small projectiles strike my head and back. I have no idea what they were, and it wasn’t painful, so my money would be on a kid or kids with some sort of modern-day pea shooter-type thing, whatever that might be.

Sometimes to move through the city on a bike at night is to experience a sort of glorious elation. Alas, on this particular evening, unlike whatever those things were that my assailant(s) fired at me, my ride fell well short of that target.

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