Walking my kid to school this morning, shivering, frustratedly yanking him away from the patches of “snow” he was so desperate to walk through, I was amazed by how many people were riding their bikes over the same slippery, ice-frozen streets. All bundled up in bulky coats, exhaling visible breath through the scarves wrapped around their faces, some of them carting their own kids in specially designed second-seats. There they were, peddling along, getting to work, clumsily negotiating a very-difficult-to-negotiate terrain and traffic, making better time than I was. (Though, to be sure, I did not envy them. They all seemed to have expressions on their faces that said, “What in God’s name am I doing riding a bicycle today?”) So today was the day it became clear, to me at least, that New York City is actually going to become a bicycle city. It’s like the part in Godfather II, when Michael sees the revolutionary blow himself up in Cuba, and knows the government’s going to fall. You can’t fight that kind of commitment.
Personally, I am opposed. If people want to ride a bike, they should live in Portland or San Diego or someplace. Someplace more spread out. New York’s too crowded for bicycling. I know that it’s better for the environment, and probably a good thing, overall, for the world and everything, if more people biked. But I think the city should be for walkers, first and foremost, and it’s too confusing to have to pay attention to another thing, moving at another speed, while you’re crossing the street. (Or worse, up on the sidewalk. Don’t get me started.) It’s enough having to deal with cars and the baby strollers and the skateboarders and everything else out there whizzing around at different speeds.
I actually think bicycles should be banned in New York City. Or at least, Manhattan. In fact, all other vehicles besides delivery trucks (which we need to bring delicious food to our excellent restaurants) and taxis and buses should be banned, too. (Dogs, too, actually. For similar pedestrian-centric reasons.) I realize this is a radical stance. It’s probably the only thing that keeps me from being mayor.
But with the real-life mayor pushing so hard for more bike lanes (and there are already so many!) and less car traffic (which I support!) and a biking populace so eager to change the world for the better and keep themselves fit while doing it, I can see which direction the wind is blowing. The bikers will live longer than me. And be in better shape to fight. So what to do to make the best of it?
One of the big problems I have with the growing number of bicyclists can probably be solved pretty easily. It is the shouting. Too many times, while walking in a park or by the river or on a bridge, where leisurely walkers share space with people speed-biking for exercise, I’ve been startled by a loud, barked, “Hey!” or “Watch it!” or even a command of “Move!” as a helmeted jocko flies past in a startling blur of technicolor spandex. Now, I know this is for my benefit as much as the loud-voiced bikers’. It’s important that we let each other know where we are. It’s certainly preferable to a collision. But it’s rude. (“Move!”? Excuse me? You move.) The whistles are horrible, too. (Shit! It’s the cops!) The bells are better, but they sound too much like something from “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” to be taken as seriously as they should be. Maybe someone could invent a contraption wherein the push of handlebar button would emit a loud, but not too loud, recording of a more pleasant voice (soothing soothing, but classy, like Kristin Scott Thomas, maybe, or Cate Blanchett or something) issuing a more polite warning. “Excuse me, friend, on your left,” or “Beg your pardon, but if it wouldn’t be too much to ask, might you be able to step to the side?” Or maybe something as simple as, “I am here, I am here with you.”
Or, hey, maybe just this recording:
That would be a compromise I could live with. Good ol’ Freddie, providing a better way to alert pedestrians to the presence of fast-moving, flat-bottomed health-nuts. A better way to make the rockin’ world, and our overcrowded but ever-more environmentally conscious city, go ’round.