HOW TO AVOID BEING 'THAT CITIBIKE RIDER'11 months ago
When CitiBike launched a few months ago in NYC, I argued that it was one of the best ideas NYC has come up with in the past twenty years. I still believe that. It’s easy, convenient, and other than needing lots more bikes, it’s a great system, one that will only improve with time. I love being on a CitiBike almost as much as I love doing five loops on my Felt at 5am in Central Park.
What a shame, then, that more and more people are screwing up the program.
In the past two months, I’ve watched countless CitiBikers put pedestrians at risk, narrowly avoid taking out families of four with children, talk on their phones as they’re biking up 6th Avenue, wear headphones loud enough to block out the rest of the world, and even smoke a cigarette while cycling down the West Side Highway bike path.
That last one doesn’t really affect anyone else, it just makes the smoker look like a douche.
But the other things? Yeah… A small number of CitiBikers are making the rest of us look bad. This needs to stop.
As someone who grew up biking in Manhattan way back before bike lanes, jogging paths, or even civility, can I offer some practical basics here? Incorporating these tips into your leisurely ride to your office at 8:45am might prevent you from killing other people, or at least prevent you from being flattened by a tour bus just east of Times Square, effectively killing everyone’s commute for the morning.
1) Always assume NO ONE sees you. This is NYC. People have 45 billion things to do before lunch. Everyone is in their own world. “Oh, I'm sure he sees me” is a thought that’s killed more people than “Hold my beer and watch this.” He DOESN’T see you. That truck DOESN’T see you. That pedestrian on his phone walking into your path DOESN’T see you. That car turning left on 11th Avenue to get to the Lincoln Tunnel DOESN’T see you. SEE THEM FIRST. Biking in NYC is like chess. If you’re not thinking about every move your opponent (read: everyone else) will make, five moves before they make it, you’ll lose. Except here, you’ll lose your arm or your life, not just the game.
2) For drivers, traffic signals are merely a suggestion. I’m sure you had the light. Hell, I’m sure you even had the “bike light,” those new lights they’re installing at major intersections all around the city. But here’s the thing: Most motorists don’t care. If they don’t see something in their way that can kill them, they will go. YOU CAN NOT KILL THEM. You can dent their car, and possibly break their window. But you’ll more than likely do both of those with your head. Who wins there? End result: Just because you have the light doesn’t mean you have the actual right of way. Be smart.
3) Banging on someone’s window, door, or bumper won’t teach them. Neither will talking trash about their mother. If they’ve cut me off and their window is open, I’ll roll by them and politely mention to them that they did. While I might be answered with an obscenity, I also might be answered with an apology. And that’s how the driver might learn for the next time. Sound trite? So be it. It works. Banging on their bumper only makes drivers hate cyclists more. And before you go insane on me here, I know what it’s like, you’ve just gotten cut off, you’re out of breath anyhow, the endorphins are flowing, and it just feels so damn GOOD to curse that asshole driver out at the top of your lungs. But at best, it’ll just widen the rift between drivers and cyclists. At worst, it’ll get you shot.
4) Every single pedestrian has a horrible combination of ADD, nervous ticks, and severe seizure disorder, which makes them stop, start, and change direction with no warning whatsoever. It also makes them walk into your bike lanes without any regard for what bikes might be coming up behind them. Know this, and be ready. And remember: Every. Single. Pedestrian.
5) The bells on the CitiBike don’t do ANYTHING. They’re the equivalent of bringing a Vuvuzela to a NASA launch and expecting to be heard. For about six dollars, you can buy a small boat horn. They fit in your palm, and alert the aforementioned pedestrians that they’re in your space, and you’re barreling down on them.
6) That being said, NYC is, and always will be a pedestrian city first. I watched an idiot in a business suit, on his cell phone, roll through a crosswalk at 40th and 7th Avenue with the light against him. He clipped one woman’s purse, and didn’t even bother to look. When another pedestrian mentioned to him that “rolling at five miles an hour through a crosswalk without the light when there are three hundred people crossing the street at rush hour” isn’t the same as “stopping,” he was met with “I didn’t do anything wrong.” And if we were in the land of the douchebag, he’d be right. But we’re in a wonderful city, only made occasionally worse by idiot bikers in suits who think that lights don’t apply to them. Stop for 20 seconds. It won't kill you. But nailing someone with your bike who then hits her head on the curb and successfully sues you for all you're worth? That just might kill you.
7) The NYC media, starving to death due to Anthony Weiner keeping his penis in his pants for the past two weeks, is just ITCHING to do the first story about a distracted CitiBiker taking out grandma as she was crossing the street to buy a pound of American Cheese sliced thin. Do you really want “mowed down grandma” to come up first when someone Googles your name?
8) You’re not in the Tour de France. Have you LIFTED one of these CitiBikes? They’re virtually indestructible. They’re designed to survive potholes for the next ten years, they’re not designed for speed. They’re like, 45 pounds a piece. They’re heavy as hell, and they don’t stop on a dime like a Cervelo. Slow down. You’ll arrive wherever you’re going less sweaty, and you’ll have a few seconds more reaction time to avoid the woman on her cell phone and her yappy dog who just broke free of his leash.
9) Remember that as nice as the past 12 years have been for NYC, Bloomberg is on his way out. Because he doesn’t have another four years, he won’t achieve his master plan of making NYC 100% car and truck free. That being said, don’t help the haters who want the bikes out of the city, and ride with a little common sense, and a little compassion for other forms of conveyance. Despite the fact that we’re healthier than the zombies driving, cabbing, and yes, even black-car’ing everywhere, we’re still all in this together. Wait for the light to change. Let the iPhone-glued pedestrian go in front of you. In a word: Just be nice. The CitiBike itself might be indestructible. But the program itself can be seriously wounded by just a few of us in a few bad situations.