This article was published in 2008 in a monthly column I wrote in a Lower East Side print and online magazine, the (late) Grand Street News. The bike lane story is still relevant, and I’m still riding my bicycle all over New York City.
When the city installs new bike lanes, as they did on Grand Street last year, I picture a cartoon of truck drivers and cabbies jumping up and down, high fiving each other. In cartoon balloons, they’re saying, “The city is so good to us. They give us special double parking lanes! Yay!”
On the next panel, I see a hapless bicycle rider (me), veering into traffic because a FedEx truck is blocking the bike lane. A cell phone-talking driver thumps right over me. leaving cartoon tire tracks over a flattened me and my bike. Splat! Next panel: a cab driver veers into the bike lane to drop off a passenger and doors another biker. Kabam! The biker twirls through the air. “Ooof!”
Biking around New York is my most reckless activity. People think I’m nuts to do it. I think I’m nuts to do it. As a grown-up of the gray-haired persuasion, if I get in a minor accident, I’m going to limp for months. Every time I go out, I think about how I could get maimed or killed. But I love it so, and it’s such a fast way to get around.
It wouldn’t be such a dangerous activity if the police stopped vehicles from hanging out in bike lanes. But they like to idle in the bike lanes themselves. When I go to City Hall for photo jobs, which I’ve been doing a few times a week in the summer for some five years, I bike down Centre, which curves into Park Row (the J&R street). The other day, for the first time, I saw that section has a bike lane. I had never seen the stenciled bicycles because there have always been so many police vans, TV trucks and official vehicles parked there.
Last month, I wrote about my trepidation going to Nuremberg to visit friends. I’d like to report that the city was charming with intact medieval town walls, towers and turrets, a castle, half-timbered buildings, cobblestone streets, fountains, and beer gardens. But I kept paranoia at bay and enjoyed our friends, who took us around on bicycles. There are bike paths everywhere in town and out in the country, riders everywhere, and hardly anyone wears a helmet. That’s because it’s safe to ride bikes there. A biker won’t get smushed like a bug.
There’s supposedly a commitment in this city to bike lanes, and they’re a wonderful idea. Keeping them clear would make biking safer. So would protected (curbed) lanes. Biking is easy on the joints, and lots more older people could do it, but I think many people just don’t want to play in traffic the way you have to do to get around New York.
Update: There are more protected bike lanes now. There are also new dangers. Uber and other ride services joined taxis to use the bike lanes to drop off, pick up and hang out. Electric bikes, which are quiet and fast, so you can’t hear them coming, motorbikes, even motorcycles ride in the bike lanes. Delivery guys go the wrong way on the lanes and in the streets all the time. It’s a mess. I can’t help it. I still ride almost every day when the temperatures outside are above 50. (Below 50 and I forget I own a bike.)
The publishers of the Grand Street News, Yori Yanover and Nancy Kramer, ceased publication of the Grand Street News and moved back to Israel in 2011.