This means doing things that we, the bikers of New York, would have laughed at just a few years ago. It means getting a little personal, though not that personal. Acting like people means that we have to do things that we frankly don’t want to do and things that we want cars to do, like slow down.
As far as bikers go, I’ve become a kind of laughingstock because I wait at traffic lights. Recently, as I waited in a bike lane at Atlantic Avenue for a light to change, a woman in her 70s, walking hunched with a cane, approached the crosswalk smiling - until she spotted me. Then she began shouting as I waited behind the crosswalk, "Well, are you going to stop?" I assured her I was waiting. She grimaced. "How do I know you’re not going to go?" she asked.
A good point. But I stood my ground, smiled and tried to win the point by not doing anything. Just as she finished crossing, two Lance Armstrong types whipped through the crosswalk and pulled past the red light, waiting to slip through the crossing traffic. The woman who had crossed looked back at me and started shouting again. "See?" she said, proclaiming herself the winner. "You’re going to run me over!"
Which brings me to four sure-to-be-scoffed-at suggestions for better bike P.R.:
# 1: How about we stop at major intersections? Especially where there are school crossing guards, or disabled people crossing, or a lot of people during the morning or evening rush. (I have the law with me on this one.) At minor intersections, on far-from-traffic intersections, let’s at least stop and go.
# 2: How about we ride with traffic as opposed to the wrong way on a one-way street? I know the idea of being told which way to go drives many bikers bonkers. That stuff is for cars, they say. I consider one-way streets anathema - they make for faster car traffic and more difficult crossings. But whenever I see something bad happen to a biker, it’s when the biker is riding the wrong way on a one-way street.
There will be caveats. Perhaps your wife is about to go into labor and you take her to the hospital on your bike; then, yes, sure, go the wrong way in the one-way bike lane. We can handle caveats. We are bikers.
# 3: How about we stay off the sidewalks? Why are bikers so incensed when the police hand out tickets for this? I’m only guessing, but each sidewalk biker must believe that he or she, out of all New York bikers, is the exception, the one careful biker, which is a very car way of thinking.
# 4: How about we signal? Again, I hear the laughter, but the bike gods gave us hands to ring bells and to signal turns. Think of the possible complications: Many of the bikers behind you are wearing headphones, and the family in the minivan has a Disney DVD playing so loudly that it’s rattling your 30-pound Kryptonite chain. Let them know what you are thinking so that you can go on breathing as well as thinking.