23 January 2012

My Bike Doesn't Take Space Away From Your Car

Every time I take a trip on my bike, I'm taking my car off the streets and/or my butt off of a seat in a bus or a subway.  I'm not widening the potholes in the city streets, or cutting you off at an impromptu merge in Houston Street construction, or fouling the air you breathe with my car's emissions.

Non-bikers regularly tell me that "they" break the rules of the road.  It's true: we run red lights and stop signs.  In some cities, law allows cyclists to treat stop signs and red lights as yield signs, because of the mechanics of riding a bike.  (It's harder to get going than to keep going.)  It's also true: some cyclists ride the wrong way on one-way streets.  They're more of a menace to themselves and to bikers going with traffic than they are to motor vehicle drivers.

Hey, guess what?  Cars also run red lights and stop signs.  A few months ago, I yanked Zeke out of the path of a van careening through the intersection of 1st Avenue and 34th Street against the light.  He never saw the van: "Ow, you hurt my arm.  What did you do that for?"  The what-ifs still give me heebie-jeebies.

And take pedestrians.  If I had a nickel for every time a pedestrian stepped right in front of me while I was making my way legally through an intersection with the light, I could retire right now.  I'll take a dime for the ones who lead with the stroller, and half a dollar for the ones so hypnotized by their texting machines that they never noticed I laid rubber squealing to a stop to avoid crashing into them.

Most bike lanes are carved out of streets without reducing the number of lanes allocated to motor vehicles.  On the few New York streets where a bike lane replaces a traffic lane, it also reduces danger to pedestrians, and the number of bikers that aren't driving a car or taking a ride in a cab probably reduces the traffic enough to make up the difference.  Because one car takes up as much space as six to eight bikes. 

Maybe four bikes, if it's a Smart Car.