A unified theory of New York biking

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 07, 2010

Felix Salmon’s dissection of the awkward and often dangerous pedestrian/bike/car dance on NYC’s streets is exactly right. If this was a manifesto, I’d sign it.

Bikes can and should behave much more like cars than pedestrians. They should ride on the road, not the sidewalk. They should stop at lights, and pedestrians should be able to trust them to do so. They should use lights at night. And — of course, duh — they should ride in the right direction on one-way streets. None of this is a question of being polite; it’s the law. But in stark contrast to motorists, nearly all of whom follow nearly all the rules, most cyclists seem to treat the rules of the road as strictly optional. They’re still in the human-powered mindset of pedestrians, who feel pretty much completely unconstrained by rules.

The result is decidedly suboptimal for all concerned, but mostly for the bicyclists themselves. New York needs to make a collective quantum leap, from treating bicyclists like pedestrians to treating bicyclists like motorists. And unless and until it does, bike relations will continue to be marked by hostility and mistrust.

This car/pedestrian duality in the manner in which bicyclists behave is also why the City’s Summer Streets initiative is becoming almost unusable by pedestrians. We tried walking on the last Summer Streets weekend, but the cyclists were going way too fast, were routinely weaving in and out of pedestrians, pretty much refused to stay in their lanes, and there were just too many for the width of the street. We bailed out after several blocks. There will likely be even more bikes next year because the word’s getting out: it’s just too dangerous for walking.