Our Fair City: The Big Jerk

May 20th, 2011  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized

Since this has proven, in large measure, to be Nathan Bike Week at DadWagon (see here and here), I felt compelled by guilt and puerile competitiveness to chime in.

I haven’t been to Amsterdam in many years, and I was too fogged in (make of that what you will) to ride a bike. But I do ride one here in sunny, friendly, progressive Portland New York City. I make no claims to originality in this regard. In fact, this 2006 article from the New Yorker seems to have me pegged pretty good:

[The] hundred and twenty thousand New Yorkers who ride bicycles every day, comprise three distinct types—commuters (book editors, say, wearing cargo pants), exercisers (lawyers in spandex), and messengers (streetwise minorities without health care)—whose agendas overlap only loosely.

I fall–loosely these days–into category number one. I like to bike: I bike to work, to see my friends, and for pleasure. I own spandex bicycle pants but I’ve only worn them once, during last year’s New York Century Bike Tour. I’m not a fan of such garb. I have a body type that makes a virtue of certain things being left to the imagination; besides, even with the padding–and the humiliation–I couldn’t feel my daddy-making parts for three days (Tomoko referred to this stretch as “My Great Malaise”).

I’m not a bike zealot, whatever that’s supposed to mean, although I think bicycle lanes are a good idea in a city with as high traffic density as New York’s. I don’t think cars should be outlawed or anything like that. I agree that transportation safety is an important social value, and that bikers, particularly with more people falling into that category, should adapt to the existing rules of the road. That said, I don’t much enjoy following the same traffic laws as cars while on my bicycle. I will admit, to the five people who read this site, that I run red lights (although I do look). I have on occasion gone the wrong way down the street. I don’t ride on the sidewalk, an ethical virtue, given the current anti-biking climate in New York, I expect to ensure my entrance into heaven, or at the very least Rao’s, whichever is easier.

Like most New Yorkers, I also walk a great deal. And also like ALL ambulatory New Yorkers, I jaywalk, cross against the lights, and generally follow the only law governing pedestrians here: that of the jungle. Walking in New York, particularly for natives like me, is an instinctive art form: you bob, you weave, you find your rhythm, and whenever possible you make for daylight. Traffic lights and street signs are for suckers and people from Kansas and most definitely for the other guy. Because I am a modern man, I also text, talk on the phone, eat, complete chapters of my book, and buy real estate while walking. If you’re a New Yorker you probably haven’t noticed me, either because you’re doing the same thing, or you’re a geriatric and blind and being pushed in a wheelchair while sucking oxygen from a tank. Get out of my way.

I also own a car, which means I have high blood pressure and anger management problems, directed occasionally against bikers, to be sure–in their fucking skinny jeans–but more so against other drivers and the lawless, artful pedestrians. This is largely because there actually aren’t that many bikers to be mad at. Even if they are apparently, if recent reports can be believed, assaulting traditional values, mating with sheep, and stealing babies in the night. I will also point out, apropos of nothing, that I can parallel park in a windstorm, I shop at Fairway, I am a cliche, and I can’t afford any of the things that I own and need. Look me up in the dictionary under boring or in the encyclopedia under “the disappearing middle class.”

How did I get here? Was it Nathan? Was it the first day in a week dry enough to get on my bike? Was it the view of the tugs on the East River as I crested the Manhattan Bridge? Was it my father asking me when I was going to get a job? Was it because I’m taking the training wheels off my son’s bike and he’s scared? Or was it this RIDICULOUS AND HORRIFYING new “safety campaign” from the City’s Department of Transportation, called “Don’t Be a Jerk,” aimed specifically at a tiny transportation minority–bikers:

DOT’s “Don’t Be A Jerk” bike safety campaign humorously highlights the essential dos and don’ts of safe, responsible biking. According to DOT’s 2010 Sustainable Streets Index, commuter cycling increased 262% in New York City from 2000 to 2010. With more bikes on the road, smart cycling is even more crucial to making New York City’s streets safer for everyone using them.

The simple message of “Don’t Be A Jerk”: Always follow traffic laws by yielding to pedestrians, riding with traffic, and riding on the street not the sidewalk (unless you’re 12 or younger). “Don’t Be a Jerk” is part of DOT’s larger Bike Smart initiative, which includes the Bike Smart Pledge and the LOOK campaign, designed to educate cyclists and other road users about sharing the streets and roadways safely.

There’s video and even television commercials to go along with the campaign (I saw one last night). Life in New York is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and if you aren’t willing to literally shoot your neighbor down in the street for access to public education, parking, healthcare, a job, and a rent controlled apartment inherited from an old lady who just died, short. And yet we find time to harass people on bikes.

Here’s one of the spots, featuring Mario Batali, who NEVER SAYS NO:

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