Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

01 May 2013

What Makes For A "Bike Friendly" City?

Today begins National Bike Month.  And, the 9th of May is National Bike To Work Day.


From Sheepshead Bites


Here in New York I see many more people riding to work, shop and to conduct other activities of their daily lives than I saw twenty-five, or even ten, years ago.   Bike lanes, which were nearly non-existent just a few years ago, wind along the city's shorelines and cut across various neighborhoods and districts. Bike-parking facilities are being built, as well as kiosks for a bike-share program.

However, as I've said in previous posts, these developments don't make the city more "bike friendly" than it was in in the '80's or '90's.  Sure, more people are biking, and know people who are biking.  But you're just as--or perhaps more--likely to be harassed, spat at, cussed out or even run over. 

From my experience as a cyclist, I know that facilities don't make for an atmosphere in which practical, everyday cyclists can ride safely, let alone in a tolerant atmosphere. In the early '80's, I was living in Paris.  The City of Light didn't offer much more in the way of the facilities I've described than New York or other American cities had.  And motor traffic was just as heavy, if not heavier, in part because Parisian streets are typically much narrower than the ones in the Big Apple.  Yet I used to feel safer riding on even the main arteries, such as the boulevards de Champs-Elysees and Saint Michel, than I did on even the smallest side-streets in Staten Island or New Jersey.

What I've just said about cycling in Paris was also true of other French cities in which I've cycled, and in other European 'burgs.  

I've long felt that one major reason why those cities were more bike-friendly is that, in those days, most European drivers also rode bicycles. That is still the case in some European capitals, most notably Amsterdam and Copenhagen.  Once in a great while, a particularly obnoxious motorist would honk his horn repeatedly and shout things that Mr. Berlitz never taught his students.  Such encounters were far less frequent in Europe than they were in America, at least for me.  The European exchanges also seemed less threatening, whether or not I understood the motorist's language.  Even when they drove "close enough to tear off the back of my glove," as I used to describe it, I never felt that I would be turned into a road crepe because the European drivers seemed to understand bicycles and cyclists, and knew how to act and react.

Even with the exponential increase in the number of cyclists in New York and other American cities, the vast majority of motorists don't ride bikes.   For that matter, many of the pedestrians who fill New York bike lanes--and cross into them without watching the traffic-- also never ride. Or, perhaps, they think they're not going to be hit by a cyclist, or if they are, they assume it's the cyclist's fault.

While I'm happy to see bike storage facilities and some of the bike lanes (like the one that leads to the Queensborough /59th Street Bridge), I think we'll continue to see new "ghost bikes" cropping up all over town until we have a couple of generations of motorists who are also cyclists.  And New York and other American cities will be "bike friendly" only in comparison to other cities.  

4 comments:

  1. I hope it won't take a "couple of generations."

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    1. Steve--I hope that it won't take that long, either. But I came to that conclusion because, by the time I was living in France, there were about three or four generations of motorists who were also cyclists. And, of course, America had about the same number of generations of motorists who hadn't ridden bikes since they were kids, if they ever rode at all.

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  2. You make a point worth repeating. I agree with you regarding riding in Paris. I did it in the mid 90s and felt safe. In fact I felt safer on all the skinny back roads in France moreso than I do in the U.S. I know it stems from drivers also being cyclists. Think about it. Don't we cyclists when we're behind the wheel of an automobile pay attention when a rider is up ahead? I certainly do.

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    1. Annie--I don't drive, but I agree that if I were to drive, I'd probably be more careful around cyclists.

      Now I'm starting to feel a little wistful. After all, today is a beautiful spring day, which makes it difficult not to think about all of those beautiful French back roads--and, of course, of Paris!

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