trunk thumping

I was cruising down the bike path on Henry Street this evening, on my way home from work, when I had to stop because two cars were blocking the street. One was stopped in the road, the other was diagonal, as if trying to go around the first, with its rear end taking up the whole bike lane. Rude, but it happens.

Another biker didn’t have quite the same take on things. He rammed his wheel into the back of the car in the bike line. “What the hell is the MATTER with you people?!” he shouted, a little hysterically. When the driver protested, he said, “I didn’t scratch your car–I barely touched it. This is bullshit. You’re in the BIKE LANE.” Another dude banged his fist on the trunk of the first car for good measure.

Now, look, people. It sucks when drivers plop themselves down in the middle of our lane, especially when there’s no way to get around them. But is this helping in any way? No. It is seriously, seriously not.

I’m all for giving a driver a good thump–and a good yelling–when they do something really stupid, like cut you off and make you go skidding off the road so that your chain falls off and jams in your frame (yes, I’m talking to you, lady in the tan SUV driving down 3rd street over the Gowanus this past Sunday morning). Um, sorry. Where was I?

Right: If we want drivers to take bikers seriously in this city, if we want them to actually respect us and our lane (and not just hate us) then there are other ways of doing things. Like, just say “You’re blocking the bike lane.” Ohhh New Yorkers.

This morning, riding to work, I started noting all the various things that were blocking my lane. There were some pedestrians, a jogger, a taxi picking up passengers (that’s fine, I guess), a taxi just sitting there with no driver in sight (not fine), delivery truck guys wheeling their towers of beer, garbage trucks, construction and construction vehicles… It’s a long list. I also find that homeless people with carts tend to think that bike lanes are designed specially for them and their piled-high goods.

When I was in college, I would take long rides out through semi-rural New England to clear my head, to get away from it all. I’ve always loved biking, and that’s what it always used to be for me: a way to escape, to relax, to explore new places. I could think more clearly on a bike than anywhere else.

Biking here is something else all together. I have trouble actually thinking anything through. I get angry quickly when cars cut me off or block my way–when, for instance, as I’m tring to bike through an intersection, a car quickly pulls in front of me to make a left turn, then stops, blocking my way, as cars are backed up on the cross street anyway. Negotiating the streets takes my full focus, even if I don’t realize it.

Thoughtless, inconsiderate drivers, who don’t take bikes into consideration, who don’t realize that this is a way that people get around in this city, are a problem. But we need to handle our road rage wisely. If bikers allow ourselves to fly off the handle at any old thing, then why can’t pedestrians–why can’t drivers? And NY bikers break enough rules as it is.

This rant/lecture is getting long, but having just been in Sweden–where I got a city bike to cruise around Stockholm–the flaring emotions on the NY streets are more jarring to me than usual. Seeing for myself that there really are other ways to handle city biking…

Well, we’re a long way from Scandinavian bike culture. But scream-offs aren’t going to help us get any closer.

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