I ride a bicycle in New York City.
It’s not a political act. It’s transportation.
A lot has changed since I started in 1978, but the inescapable logic of cycling here hasn’t: Things are close together. The place is mainly flat.
It’s not for everyone, which is part of the allure. It demands an attention—to motorists, pedestrians, pavement conditions (bad, but better than they used to be), and other cyclists—that is sometimes not worth the hassle.
Usually it is. Which is why I’m looking forward to the arrival of a few thousand bikes in the bicycle share program, though I haven’t decided whether to sign up.
I’m looking forward to others sharing the pleasures I enjoy. Lunch more than a few blocks from the office. Getting across town and back without taking out a second mortgage to pay for it. Running errands in lieu of a trip to the gym.
The bike share program is controversial. Heedless cyclists already terrorize pedestrians, the argument goes, and adding more riders will only make it worse. Why should we give up scarce street parking for rows of bike racks?
First of all, bikes this heavy and slow are unlikely to terrorize anyone who is not already cowering in fear.
The parking argument awards motorists the status of a beleaguered class, but everybody who tries to move anywhere in this crowded city is beleaguered, and maybe this is a good time to ask the question:
What are streets for? Are they for cars? Delivery trucks? Bikes? We’ve had streets a lot longer that we’ve had any of those things.
If streets exist for a purpose other than to keep buildings from running into one another, it is for the free movement of people and goods. In that light, giving one or two lanes to stationary vehicles is maybe not the best use of a public space.
Change can be hard. Cyclists may have to learn to slow down, and they will have to learn, for God’s sake, to ride with traffic. If the NYPD started a ticket blitz aimed at wrong-way riders, I’d cheer. Pedestrians need to learn that bicycle lanes are often located right at the curb: look for traffic before you step into the street, not when you’re a parked-car’s width into the intersection.
And drivers need to learn that they do not own the road. (Yes, I own a car. More than one, if you must know, so I feel your pain.)
I’m happy that the number of bike lanes has been growing, but as a place to ride, they’re a mixed blessing. Pedestrians use them as an extension of the sidewalk. Cars and trucks stop in them. Wrong-way cyclists seem incapable of moving over one block or following directional arrows.
What I like about the bike lanes is that someone in a position of power has said: We are aware that you exist.
That feels good.
Perhaps the critics of bike sharing are right. New York City is unique. Maybe something in that uniqueness would prevent a program that’s been a success in Boston, Washington, Chicago, Montreal, Paris and London from working here.
But it would be a shame if a relatively small number of loud doubters are allowed to kill CitiBike in its crib before we get the chance to find out.
Warren Levinson is a correspondent at The Associated Press, an avid biker, and the long-suffering player-manager of a softball team.