30 November 2022

Why Bike Theft Should Be Taken More Seriously

Perhaps it should surprise no one that in New York and other American cities, bicycle theft isn't a high-priority crime for police departments.  If your bike is stolen, you probably won't see it again and the cops will tell you there's "nothing" they can do.  And they might give you a lecture in which they tell you to do the things you'd already been doing.

Depressingly, that is the case in other cities throughout the world.  A case in point is London.  According to a report the BBC cited, about 18,000 thefts were recorded in the city between November 2021 and October 2022. Only 206 resulted in a charge or caution, the latter of which is the British justice system's of saying, "You've been caught; don't do it again."

The BBC news item offered an interesting analysis of the situation.  According to experts, the report goes, many stolen bikes end up on auction sites and those sites should be doing more to stop it.  The report also calls bike theft an "entry level crime," that often leads to bigger crimes.  I wonder whether that separates London bike theft from its counterparts in American cities, which tends to be a crime of opportunity or done by professional thieves.

But aside from losing bikes and contributing to overall lawlessness, bike theft has another undesirable effect. According to Tom Bogdanowicz, a senior policy officer at the London Cycling Campaign, about a quarter of all bike theft victims never cycle again.  This, he said, is "not good for the city" because "if there's less cycling, then there are more emissions from cars, more congestion and people's health isn't improving."  Moreover, he said that while building bicycle infrastructure encourages cycling, if people have their bikes stolen, then you lose customers."

Then, of course, motorists will complain that "their" traffic lanes were "taken away" for bike lanes that "nobody uses."

Thus, not taking bike theft seriously adversely affects public health and exacerbates the already-adversarial relationship that too often exists between motorists and cyclists.  None of that can be good for anybody, I think.


29 November 2022

The Incredible Shrinking Distance Between Bikes And Cars

Apparently, I am not the only one who perceives what I am about to describe.  Moreover (How many times have I used that word on this blog?), there is empirical evidence to back it up.

In New York City, where I live, as well as other American municipalities, there are more bike lanes than at any time since, probably, the 1890s bike boom. Of course, that is not to say that you can get from anywhere to anywhere you want or need to go in a lane separated from traffic, but you can spend at least some of your cycling time secluded from large motor vehicles.

Well, at least in theory, that's possible.  But there is something else that's mitigating against cyclists' safety.  As more "cycling infrastructure" is being built (too often, from misconceptions about cycling and traffic), motor vehicles are getting bigger.  Twenty years ago, a typical family vehicle was a Toyota Camry or some other sedan.  Today, it is a sport-utility vehicle (SUV) like the Kia Ascent or pickup truck like the Ford F-150. As an infographic from Transportation Alternatives shows, that means the typical amount of "elbow room" between a cyclist and a vehicle has shrunk from 18 inches to 4 (46 to 10 cm), a reduction of about 75 percent.

The trend toward larger vehicles began and accelerated well before cities like New York started to build bike lanes.  So, encounters between motor vehicles and cyclists were already getting closer.  That means drivers can't use the excuse that bike lanes were "taking away" their space for driving.  

On the other hand, as I've said in other posts, lines of paint does not a bike lane make.  Many family vehicles*  on the road today take up the entire width of a traffic lane.  So, if someone is driving their Toyota 4Runner to their kid's school or soccer practice and is trying to pass another driver, or has to swerve for any other reason, there's a good chance that the SUV will veer, or even careen, into the bike lane. At least one driver has done exactly that right in front of me.

Of course, a couple of lines of paint or a "neutral" buffer strip between a bike and traffic or parking lane won't protect a cyclist--or change a motorist's behavior--in such a situation.  Then again, so-called "protected" lanes don't, either:  Most of the objects used to segregate lanes, like bollards or planters, are easy to knock over, especially with a multiton vehicle.  

The size and weight of the vehicles presents another problem.  Safety experts say that driving even a mid-sized SUV like the Buick Enclave, let alone a full-sized one like the Cadillac Escalade, is more like driving a truck than a family sedan of the 1990s.  With all due respect to all of those parents who ferry their kids and aging parents, most of them don't have the driving skills of someone who operates a long-hauler.**  So, Sarah or Seth driving their Honda CR-V to pick up Ian or Beth can easily misjudge the distance between them and other vehicles--or pedestrians or cyclists. Worse, the larger size and heavier weight of their vehicles means that a blow that might have struck a pedestrian or cyclist in the middle of their body and caused damage that could be serious but was probably survivable had the vehicle been a Honda Accord or Ford Escort could, instead, trap the benighted person riding along the street or crossing it underneath the grille or the vehicle itself.

So, while the effort, if not the results, to build "bicycle infrastructure" is laudable, it won't make much difference in cycling (or pedestrians') safety if typical family vehicles continue to grow in size, along with the sense of entitlement that some drivers have.

*--I'm not talking about delivery trucks and the like, which have remained more or less constant in size.

**--Although I've never driven such conveyances, I am aware of the differences in driving skills between people who drive them and the average driver:  One of my uncles and a close friend, both departed, drove trucks for a living and another uncle and a cousin did so for significant parts of their working lives.


28 November 2022

Albany Bike Shop Is Historical

 There is a particular kind of heartbreak to living in New York City—and, I suppose, other large metropolises:  You could lose your favorite bookstore, cafe or bike shop. It might’ve been in the same location since your parents were born but it could close for any number of reasons, more than a few of which have to do with real estate markets.

I haven’t been in Albany in a while, so I don’t know whether the forces of capitalism and pure-and-simple change are as powerful as they are in my hometown.  But I’m happy to know that at least one of the town might get some help in ensuring that it can continue to serve its community.

The Downtube Bicycle Works and Cafe the capital of the Empire State since 1972.  That has just made them one of the first inductees into the New York State Historic Business Preservation 

The State’s Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation launched the NYSHBP earlier this year to “honor and promote businesses that have been in operation for at least 50 years and have contributed to their communities’ history . It is an “honorary program” which “provides educational and promotional assistance” to help ensure that businesses like Downtube “remain viable.”

After Harris Cylery in Newton, Massachusetts closed its doors last year, it’s hard to believe that any bike shop is safe.  But at least one can hope that the NYSHBP can help businesses like Downtube—and some other bike shops, cafes and bookstores I love—to stay open. Oh, if they had only been available for Gotham Book Mart.

27 November 2022

He Gave Us A Great Ride

 Charles M. Schulz, who created one of the world’s best-loved comic strips—Peanuts —would have been 100 years old yesterday.

What would Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays have been like without the animated cartoons that featured Charlie Brown, Linus, Peppermint Patty and all those other characters who were like kids we knew—or ourselves as kids—only more so.

Oh, and Schulz gave us one of my first heroes.

He’s still one of my heroes!

26 November 2022

Did A Crash Save His Life?

Years ago, while pedaling along a long flat stretch in central New Jersey, I saw a woman and her bicycle lying on the side of the road.  She was conscious but in obvious pain.  I promised her I'd call for help at the next public phone. (This was in the days before cell phones.) She waved her hand. "No.  I don't need..."  

"Are you sure?"

She nodded. 

Of course, I was going to call for help, but not long after I started pedaling away, I heard a siren and glanced back to see flashing lights.  

I wondered whether she was OK--and why she didn't want help.  Was there someone she didn't want to worry?  Or, perhaps, she worried about a potential bill: Maybe she didn't have insurance.  It didn't occur to me that she didn't want to be found out by immigration officers or other authorities because such things weren't much in the public discourse and she was a white woman who seemed to speak English without a discernible accent.  

She may simply have been stubborn--as I can be in such situations. Or she may have had another fear that I hadn't thought about last night, when I came across the story I am about to relate.

The 27th of January in 2018 dawned as a cool and windy but clear morning--one that practically begs for a ride--in North Texas.  And so Tan Flippin did.

The 57-year-old Baptist pastor, who'd taken up cycling after a torn meniscus ended his running regimen, was pedaling on a street by a subdivision.  He'd ridden that particular street many times before "with no issues," he recalled. That street, however,  had recently undergone repairs.  "I guess they had a little bit of asphalt left over and put it on the shoulder," he explained.

His front tire ran into that asphalt.  His shoes came unclipped from his pedals as he flipped over the handlebars.  "I'd had a lot of wrecks and just got up and brushed myself off," he said. But this time "there was a terrible pain in my right hip and I couldn't stand."

His wife, Janet, drove him to the hospital.  Four fractures were found in his hip.  Due to the nature of his accident, doctors wanted to do a CAT scan.  He waved them off but those doctors--and Janet--prevailed.

The images revealed a mass pressing against the front of his skull, pressing against his brain.  The doctors thought it was brain bleed, considering the kind of accident Flippin experienced. (I had a mild brain bleed near the back of my head after my crash in New Rochelle two years ago.) Looking at those images again brought more somber news:  what doctors thought was brain bleed was, in fact, a baseball-sized tumor.  A few days later, they realized the tumor was malignant.

A grueling surgery and rounds of chemotherapy defined his two years--until cancerous tumors developed on his breast bone and ribs--and another on his skull.  That is how Flippin learned he has a rare blood disorder that predisposes him to tumors growing on his bones.  Radiation was no longer an option, so in October of 2021, he underwent bone marrow and stem cell transplants.

He's been cancer-free ever since.  Six months later, he was on his bike again.

Being the pastor he is, he believes that God used the accident to save his life.  Well, I won't comment on that, but it's not hard to wonder what would have happened to him had he not given in to his wife and the doctors and not gone to the hospital--or gotten the CAT scans.

And now I'm wondering what happened to that woman I saw, with her bike, on the side of a New Jersey road so many years ago.

25 November 2022

A Ride And The Real Thanksgiving

Much of what I was taught while growing up was full of holes.  Sometimes those gaps were obvious but, more often, I suspected them but had no idea of how to fill them in.

As an example, we were taught that Hawaii became the 50th, and newest, US state. We were never told, however, why it was a colony for more than half a century before—or how the US got hold of it in the first place.

Likewise, the story of the First Thanksgiving required a few leaps of faith, or no curiosity, to accept. That the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock on the first day of winter and half of them died by Spring seems plausible.

But how the new settlers managed to find a “friendly” native who spoke English taxes even the most vivid imagination and credulous mind. What neither our teachers nor our textbooks told us is that he was kidnapped, sold into slavery in Spain and escaped to London—where he learned the language well enough that the new settlers understood him perfectly.

From all accounts, he taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn, squash and beans. They were part of that first Thanksgiving feast.  They also ate, according to William Bradford, “fowl and deer.” Whether that “fowl” was turkey is not entirely clear.

I have often thought that their repast would also have included seafood.  After all, they were on the coast and, l’m sure that if the Pilgrims didn’t know how to fish, Squanto would have taught them. 

I got to thinking about all of that yesterday morning, when I took a ride to burn the calories I’d consume in the Thanksgiving meal that afternoon. My ride took me to the Canarsie Pier where I know that while some angle for fun, others do it for not only the Thanksgiving dinner, but also other meals throughout the year.

23 November 2022

I Hope This Doesn’t Give Us A New Group Of Adversaries

 Sometimes I think urban planners are infected with Trump-itis. Like the former (forever, I hope) President, they seem to have a penchant for pitting one group of people against another.

Now, to be fair, that might not be the intention of traffic engineers and bike lane designers. But I don’t think I’m being paranoid or hyperbolic when I say that I can feel more hostility from drivers, pedestrians and other non-cyclists every time a piece of municipal “bicycle infrastructure “ is unveiled. 

Some of that ire comes from an attitude that most people (I include myself) have at least some of the time:  The world is a zero-sum game.  In other words, if I get something that benefits me in even the smallest way, it must have come at their expense.  For example, any time a jurisdiction passes an ordinance that allows redress for people like me if we’re attacked or denied housing or employment because of who we are—or if we specify which pronouns we use (I know straight cisgender people who do so)—we are taking away the rights of people who never had to think about exercising them until we got them.

And so it is when the city in which I live, and others, build bike lanes.  Some span a couple of bike widths between the curb and the parking lane, which is in turn separated from the bike lane by a “neutral” strip.  In theory, it allows drivers or passengers to enter or exit their vehicles without “dooring” cyclists.

Some complain about having to look both ways, as if they’re crossing an intersection. But for the most part, that system works.

Notice that I said “most of the time.”  Some folks in Washington DC claim that a lane impedes their access to, or their ability to alight from, their vehicles.

They are handicapped, and a suit on their behalf is being brought against the District of Columbia.  They say the impediment to entering or leaving their vehicles is a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Photo by Keith Lane for the Washington Posr

I’ m not a lawyer, so I won’t comment on their suit.  But I am in sympathy with their complaints.  The Crescent Street bike lane, which passes in front of the building where I live, also passes an entrance of the Mount Sinai-Queens hospital. Vehicles frequently pull into the lane to pick up or discharge patients and visitors. I often encounter people in wheelchairs or who use canes or walkers. Ironically, they are the only ones who apologize for entering the lane.  

I won’t say that my own interactions with disabled people during bike rides are emblematic of the relationship between cyclists and people who use ambulatory devices. But I hope that suit I  Washington DC isn’t a harbinger of hostilities to come.

22 November 2022

The Massacre In Colorado Springs

Today I will invoke the Howard Cosell Rule.  That is to say, I am going to write about something that has little, if anything, to do with bicycles or bicycling. 

You've heard about it by now:  Some time before midnight on Saturday, a young man dressed in a military-style flak jacket and armed with a long rifle and a handgun--both of which he purchased-- entered Club Q, an LGBTQ night spot in Colorado Springs.  

By the time a couple of patrons subdued him, he'd killed five other patrons and wounded 17 others. At least one of the victims, Ashley Green Paugh, wasn't even a member of the LGBTQ community:  She was with a friend with whom she'd spent the day.  Now there is a girl without a mother and a man without a wife--in addition to the partners, familys and friends who no longer have Daniel Aston, Kelly Loving, Raymond Green Vance and Derrick Rump in their lives. 

The last I heard, authorities were "trying to determine whether" the slaughter was a "hate crime."  Even if the suspect, Anderson Lee Aldrich, didn't know that Sunday was Transgender Day of Remembrance, and some patrons were in Club Q to commemorate it, I don't know how any other motive can be ascribed to him.  After all, if he wanted to kill people just because, there were plenty of other venues he could have chosen, especially on a Saturday night.

As if it weren't enough of a terrible irony or coincidence that it happened on the eve of TDoR or that one of the victims is named "Loving," it turns out that Aldrich, who committed one of the most lawless acts possible, is the grandson of an outgoing California legislator.  Randy Voepel, who lost his re-election bid earlier this month, reacted to the January 6 insurrection with this:  "This is Lexington and Concord. First shots fired against tyranny."  He added, "Tyranny will follow in the aftermath of the Biden swear in (sic) on January 20."

Now, I know some will say that there isn't a direct link between grandfather and grandson when it comes to attitudes about using violence.  But it's hard not to think that Voepel is at least emblematic of some sort of value Aldrich imbibed. Oh, and in June 2021, Aldrich was arrested for making a bomb threat in his mother's home.  Perhaps neither his grandfather nor anyone else in his family taught him that doing such a thing was OK, but I can't help but to think that from somewhere or someone in his environment--whether in his family, community or elsewhere--he got the idea that it's OK to use force and threats thereof to get his way. After all, even the crankiest and most recalcitrant baby isn't born knowing how to do such things.

That he made the threat in his mother's house has been mentioned. So has the fact that, in spite of doing so, he evaded Colorado's "red flag" law, which is supposed to prevent people with criminal convictions from purchasing firearms.  But the media has only hinted at other issues that the slaughter highlights.

Photo by Scott Olson, for Getty Images

One of those issues is that a place like Colorado Springs needs a place like Club Q.  I have spent exactly one day in the city:  I was passing through on my way to someplace else.  The city always touts its proximity to Pike's Peak, which is visible from just about everywhere.  I must admit that made me long, for a moment, to live there, if for no other reason that I'd probably be a better cyclist--or, at least, a better climber--than I am.  

But I also knew that, had I stayed in Colorado Springs, I would be living a very different life. Actually, I might not be living at all:  Aside from being a cyclist, it would be very difficult to be the person I am.  Like many "blue" or "swing" states, Colorado has its red, as in redneck, areas where some have longings like the one a taxi driver expressed to me:  to be in Alaska, Montana, Wyoming or some other place where people live, as he said, "like real Americans."  

Colorado Springs is in that red zone.  But its conservativism is amplified by some of the institutions in and around the city.  The most prominent and visible is the United States Air Force Academy.  There are also several military bases nearby.  And the town is also home to Focus on the Family which, like other right-wing Christian organizations, uses its "focus" on the "family" as a smokescreen for a homo- and trans-phobic, misogynistic, anti-choice agenda.  Several people who were interviewed, including a few lifelong residents, confirm the impression that I have about the city.

As in any place else, kids grow up in the closet. For them, a place like Club Q is the only place where they can safely be themselves.  And there are adult LGBTQ people in places like Colorado Springs because of work or family ties--or simply because they like living in the mountains.  Where else would they meet people in similar circumstances but in a place like Club Q.

Anyway, I couldn't think of much else besides the tragedy in Colorado Springs.  The most terrifying thought of all, though, is that it probably won't be the last.

21 November 2022

How Many Can Ride Your Bike?

 Now I am going to separate the guys from the girls.

Wait, why would I do that?

Actually, I am going to separate the generations. If you can remember what I am about to mention, you’re definitely not a Milennial and possibly not of Gen X.

Back before we got cell phones, if you needed to make a phone call away from home, you went to a phone booth.

I am told that for a time, there was a fad among college students: They crammed as many people into one of those booths as they could.  I don’t know whether I wish I’d seen it, but I am glad I never participated in such lunacy:  I’m pretty claustrophobic.

(So what, you ask, am I doing in New York, living in an apartment?)

Anyway, I got to thinking about all those bodies stuffed into glass boxes when I saw this:

How many people can ride a bicycle built for one? I don’t know whether the limit is nine.  Then again, I’m not sure I want to know!

20 November 2022


 About three weeks ago, after a long day of work and errands, I was pedaling home when I flatted.

Rain and darkness were falling. I decided I’d rather fix my flat at home than on the street.  So I took the subway.

While waiting for the train, I saw this:

I’ve seen other shoes on the track bed. None were in as good condition, let alone as vibrantly colored.

Oh, and I’ve never seen another  shoe stand so prominently and conspicuously in its surroundings, in a trackbed or anywhere else.

It, of course, begs the question of how it got there, in such good shape and standing as proudly. Was it placed there deliberately?  If so, for what purpose?  So someone like me could babble about it on her blog?

Or was some street performer fleeing from law enforcement?  Perhaps he or she was playing Jean Valjean in a modern update of Les Miserables.  I mean, why not the New York City subways instead of the Paris sewers?

I haven’t been back to that station:  Cortlandt Street/World Trade Center on the R line.  So, of course, I don’t expect to see that shoe again. I hope, though don’t expect that it’s reunited with its mate—and, perhaps, the foot that dropped it!

19 November 2022

She Survived Kyiv—But Not Bethesda

 In 2020, I crashed and was “doored” barely three months apart. A few people asked whether I’d give up cycling.  A couple said I should.  But, as I pointed out, I had been a dedicated cyclist for nearly half a century, with no mishaps that caused serious injuries, before those experiences.  Other people drove for less time and had more serious accidents but didn’t give up driving.

A cycling calamity cost Dan Langenkamp even more than both of my crashes cost me, because the price he paid is permanent.  

He was a press attaché and spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv.  His wife, Sarah, was a diplomat. They cycled in and around the city with their son, to work and school and for pleasure. Cycling had been such a part of their lives that Sarah gave him a bicycle with the words “It’s been a great ride!” painted on it.

Along with other Americans, they were evacuated from Ukraine when Vladimir Putain’s, I mean Putin’s, forces invaded the country. They returned to Bethesda, Maryland and worked in nearby Washington, DC.  They continued their bicycle-centered lifestyle until August, when Dan and Sarah were riding home from an open house at their kids’ elementary school. 

A flatbed truck made à right turn. The driver “wasn’t looking,” Dan said.  He made it home but she didn’t.  That truck “crushed” Sarah. He used that word to convey the “violence “ of what happened.  “It was as if the war followed us,” he lamented.

He’s since left his State Department job to advocate for “road safety.”  He understands that agitating for “bike safety “ or “driver awareness” is not enough.  Better road and lane design is also necessary.  So are safety features on trucks, he notes.

He is beginning his campaign today, with a bike rally which includes a ride that will re-trace Sarah’s last.

People in his life have asked him whether he thinks about not riding anymore. Some have implored him to do so.  Of course, he won’t.  Giving up cycling because of bad, careless or malicious drivers, he insists, would be “like changing your life because of terrorists.”

Mary Louise Kelly did a sensitive interview with Dan that aired yesterday:

So...while stealing one bike might or might not be worse than stealing another, it's hard to think of a more morally bankrupt bike theft than that of a disabled veteran's wheels--or a "ghost" bike.

11 November 2022

The Heroes In A Veteran's Story

One hundred four years ago today, the treaty to end "the war to end all wars" was signed.  For years after that, this day was known as Armistice Day.  Then it came to be Remembrance Day, as it's observed in much of the world.  But here in the US, it's Veterans' Day.

Now, I have nothing against a day to commemorate veterans.  This might sound counter-intuitive, but as I've become more anti-war,  I have become more pro-veteran.  Whether or not the cause was right--which, in recent wars, means whether or not the war was based on any sort of fact or truth--no veteran should ever want--especially if that veteran was disabled in any way as a result of serving in the armed forces.

Forty-four years ago, Kevin Hebert was 19 years old and in the Air Force.  The latter would change when he suffered a broken neck, which left him paralyzed from the neck down.

Eventually, he learned to walk with leg braces.  Then he took on another challenge:  riding a bike again. 

Perhaps not surprisingly (though it may have been a disappointment to him), the Wilmington, North Carolina resident wasn't going to ride a bike like mine or, probably, yours.  Yes, it's propelled only by his feet spinning pedals.  And, at first glance, it looks like a recumbent; it differs in that it has three wheels.  But its most distinguishing trait might be the grip bars that allow him to get into or out of the seat by himself.  He was adamant about having that feature which, he says, "is independence for me."

Well, if in the immortal words of Tom Cuthbertson, stealing a bike is one of the lowest things one human can do to another, stealing a bike (or anything) from a disabled veteran drops someone a rung lower in Dante's Hell. You can tell that Hebert, even after what he's been through, isn't a cynical New Yorker like me:  He assumed that someone "borrowed" the bike.

His faith in humanity may have been well-placed after all:  Someone spotted the bike, returned it--and refused the reward Hebert offered. Oh, and the cops found the perp who took his bike.

Kevin Hebert isn't being immodest when he says he's "accomplished a lot."  That's why I am happy that he got his bike back, not only because it's his bike, but for what it's allowed him, as a disabled veteran to accomplish.  I don't know him, but I suspect he, being the veteran he is, would say that he's not the, or even a, hero in this story.

By the way, today is the 100th birthday of the author who wrote one of the best novels about a soldier's experience in World War II--and of PTSD, although nobody was calling it that when the book was published.   I'm referring, of course, to one of the first writers I fell in love with (as a writer, that is): Kurt Vonnegut, whose Slaughterhouse Five was published in 1969.