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The Ethicist, on biking in New York City
May 20, 2010 9:05 AM   Subscribe


 
I had only a little idea of how the bike infrastructure in New York has grown up since I moved from the city in 2006, very nice.

But as someone who commutes by bike, whenever I watch/hear anyone else talk about it, it always comes off as really pretentious.
posted by wcfields at 9:13 AM on May 20, 2010


Bike salmoning, coined by the bike snob, goes mainstream. Did he talk about shoaling?
posted by fixedgear at 9:14 AM on May 20, 2010


Thanks for putting something nice on the front page, Greg Nog.
posted by Mister_A at 9:16 AM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


it always comes off as really pretentious

I disagree; at least in this case, Cohen sounds like someone who is really excited and passionate about something. I can see how it might sound like he's being pretentious when he discusses, say, going the wrong way up the bike lane, but I feel like that's just the product of passion - you want to discuss minutiae when you're discussing something you love.

I think it's pretty cool that people can get so excited about something so mundane as commuting to work. You'll never hear someone talk about how awesome their drive in to work was.
posted by backseatpilot at 9:35 AM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh my, how I love Randy C.
posted by ikahime at 9:35 AM on May 20, 2010


Yesterday I came within inches of splatting a bicyclist at ~30 mph because he did not see me through the cars waiting to turn when he decided to go through the red light. Yes, please pretend we are German.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 9:37 AM on May 20, 2010


Yes, please pretend we are German.

"Hello, Randy Cohen," I say. "What are you doing in Dusseldorf?"
posted by Greg Nog at 9:41 AM on May 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


Would that be Randy Cohen, the umbrella thief?
posted by TedW at 9:48 AM on May 20, 2010


Guten tag, Randy!
posted by fixedgear at 9:50 AM on May 20, 2010


Shoot. I was hoping this was about Landis.
posted by No Robots at 10:07 AM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


You'll never hear someone talk about how awesome their drive in to work was.

Well maybe not in gridlocked metropolitan areas, but yeah I do hear it often enough. Actually, I used to talk about how awesome my commutes were when I lived in LA, but that was only because I lived downtown and I was always the wrong way from rush hour so I had amazingly clear freeways. It was amazing, leaving downtown when everyone was trying to get IN.

Oh hell, come to think of it, everyone here just DID hear someone talk about how awesome their drive to work was.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:15 AM on May 20, 2010


Would that be Randy Cohen, the umbrella thief?

From an ethical standpoint that test sucks. It's just a series of right or wrong decisions without any reasoning provided.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:33 AM on May 20, 2010


Exactly what I thought he'd look like. Wow.
posted by L'OM at 10:33 AM on May 20, 2010


Great article. I love my bicycle. However, I live near the center of a small city, so biking around the neighbourhood is not fun, especially in tourist season. I have no idea why car drivers are so aggressive and so angry.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:41 AM on May 20, 2010


That video contradicts the ethical rule I've followed when riding the wrong way: the rider heading against the direction of car traffic has to pass on the outside since he can see if there's a car coming.

Now out to ride around Manhattan on this glorious afternoon!
posted by nicwolff at 11:46 AM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Pope Guilty: "From an ethical standpoint that test sucks."

Only if you think the rationale matters more than the consequences.
posted by pwnguin at 1:37 PM on May 20, 2010


how awesome my commutes were when I lived in LA

I used to live in LA and I loved my commute even though it was 7 miles away because of the distance between lights which allowed me to cruise at a good 20-22mph for long distances.
posted by wcfields at 2:32 PM on May 20, 2010


Only if you think the rationale matters more than the consequences.

I'm a consequentialist myself, but just saying "Correct!" or "Incorrect!" is, philosophically, shit. What's interesting is why it's correct or incorrect.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:23 PM on May 20, 2010


Here's something that happens to me, on average, three times a week: I'm crossing the street as a pedestrian. I have the right of way. A cyclist ignores the red light and I see him speeding towards me...

Now, here's what I imagine is going on in the cyclist's mind. (And I'm not about to make fun of him. I think his logic, if I'm right about it, is reasonable.) He thinks like Randy Cohen. He thinks, "There's really nothing wrong with me running a red light on a bike, as long as I'm not endangering anyone. And I'm NOT endangering that guy, because even though he's crossing the street and, according to the law, I'm supposed to stop for him, there's PLENTY of room in front of him and there's plenty of room behind him, and I can tell from the speed he's moving that if I curve, when I reach his path, I'll miss him by a mile."

Here's what he doesn't count on: I have an INSANE deer-in-the-headlights instinct coupled with a jerky, dangerous flight instinct. When I see a bike coming towards me (when I formerly thought I was free and clear to cross the street without obstacles), the first thing I do is freeze. I stop walking and just stand there, staring at the bike.

This must throw the cyclist a little, because his assumption (probably) was that I would keep walking at the rate I had been walking. But it's not hard for him to adjust. In fact, I'm now even EASIER for him to avoid, because I'm like a tree. He just has to ride around me.

At his point, he usually peddles straight towards me. My guess is he thinks it's okay to curve away at the last moment, because I'm standing still. You can bike really close to a tree before swerving away. It's not like the tree is going to pull any surprise moves. (There are probably one or two other people crossing the street, and they ARE moving. So his best course to avoid hitting anyone is to ride towards me as long as he can. I am the one who isn't moving. The other people MIGHT surprise him by speeding up or slowing down.)

I keep giving the cyclist assurances that his instincts are correct. If my freeze started when we was fifteen yards from me, I'm still frozen when he's eight yards from me. Obviously, my plan must be to stand still until he passes.

But when the bike gets within a couple of yard of me, the flight response kicks in. I lunge forward. The surprised biker makes an emergency change of course to avoid me. The problem is that I'm not operating on anything remotely like logic now. I am operating on pure terror.

And it's like there are ten different voices in my head, all telling me to do contradictory things: "Jump forward, you idiot!" "No, jump back!" "Stand still, you fool!" "To the left! To the LEFT!"

I obey all of them. I lunge forward, then lunge backwards, then to the left, then to the right... I'm suddenly doing this random dance in the middle of the street, and the cyclist is having to make dozens of split second course changes to avoid me.

A couple times I've been hit, but usually the cyclist barely misses me. Often, he and I both shout "ASSHOLE!" at each other as he speeds away.

I totally understand why we both feel like the other is an asshole. To him, he was doing something totally reasonable. And, either because I'm a dick and wanted to toy with him, or because I'm a FUCKING.LITTLE.GIRL, I acted like a jumping bean (WHEN THERE WAS NO FUCKING REASON TO BE SCARED!!!!) and almost got us both killed.

To me, I should be able to safely walk across the street when there's a red light for traffic going the other way. It shouldn't matter how fucked up my reflexes are.

I have tried SO hard to change. I don't know how to do it or if it's possible. I can report this to you, but as it's going on, my conscious mind and will totally shut off. That's not even true. It's more like my consciousness is trapped. I've OBSERVED myself doing it. I've said to myself, "PLEASE don't do the scared dance." But then I do it. I can't stop. (I'm the same sort of annoying person who jumps every time a door slams. I'm a nervous motherfucker.)

I'm not here to pass judgment. What good does it do? Even if the bikers are wrong, they're not going to stop. They are a force of nature. So am I. Even if I'm wrong or broken or a fucking scared little baby, that's how I am. It's just a very bad event that happens when two types of people who should never meet, meet. It sucks. I hate it.
posted by grumblebee at 10:59 AM on May 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


(Don't worry. I don't drive a car.)
posted by grumblebee at 11:11 AM on May 21, 2010


I lived without a bicycle for about fifteen years. Then I took the bus down to the used bike store and rode my $90 bike ten miles back to my house. I felt like a little kid again! I love riding a funky old high-handle bars bike. You see things. You get exercise. You are happy. Yay bikes! Yay beans and rice and vegetables!
posted by kozad at 3:37 PM on May 21, 2010


I should be able to safely walk across the street when there's a red light for traffic going the other way. It shouldn't matter how fucked up my reflexes are.

grumblebee, you're making it sound as though the risk of your getting hit is already so high that taking extreme measures will not increase it. Here's an option next time a cyclist runs a red light and steers straight at you:

Stop, turn toward him and make eye contact. Feet a bit more than shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent, weight over the balls of your feet. Extend your arms out to the side in both directions (that's important) and wave them a bit. Make a face that expresses your startledness. Shout "look out!"

Advantages:
- You're letting the cyclist know that you are feeling afraid to the point where you might behave unpredictably, a reason for him to steer clear of you.
- By extending your arms, you've become a much larger pylon for him to steer around. You're forcing him to start making a significant course correction immediately. If you can see that he's not pointing directly at you, you might feel less inclination to jump.
- Would pulling in your arm at the last second be enough to satisfy your jump instinct? Maybe. (be ready to do this. you don't have the right to clothesline the guy)
- If you do feel the need to jump, at least you're in a good position to do it right. Your legs are ready, and you know which way to jump because you can see which way he's steering.
- You're taking control of the situation. As compared to the deer-in-the-headlights scared dance, it's likely to feel good.

(speaking as a former bike commuter, running your bike through a red light and across a crowded crosswalk is not OK)
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 5:25 PM on May 21, 2010


Great advice. I won't follow it. I'll mean to, but instinct will take over when the time comes. Then, after the fact, I'll curse myself for not doing it.
posted by grumblebee at 5:43 PM on May 21, 2010


Great advice. I won't follow it.

Why I, as a jumpy person, don't follow it: I'm more afraid of getting shouted at than I am of getting hit.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 6:40 PM on May 21, 2010


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