Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

My Five-Part Plan For Fixing New York's Bike Problem

It's clear to me that no one was built to get along with anyone else. Humans are, in fact, created to be constantly unhappy. Especially with each other. This is what I learned from reading Central European fiction. I believe it was Franz Kafka who wrote something along the lines of "We are incapable of loving, only fear excites us." After living through a decade dedicated to making us feel freaked out at all times, one might feel like the clouds now are parting. Fear hasn't excited us so much over the last 5 years or so. We've just learned to accept it. And the thing we take for love probably isn't technically love. "Love Your Neighbor" is more like "Tolerate Your Neighbor." Love, naturally, is an emotion that makes us do things we'd never do and behave in ways that are completely at odds with the way we want to live. I mean, no one decides logically to fall in love with a loser or anything. We wouldn't chose to fall in love; it's an entirely out-of-control feeling that is, at heart, unnerving. No one likes to feel out-of-control. Or in love with people who don't deserve our love. Or unloved by people we want to love. If Fear is what we're left with because we've lost the capability to truly love anyone else, than we must constantly be finding new things to fear. Fear I get. Love I don't get.

You want to know what else I don't get? Why people don't like bike lanes. And why New York City seems to hate people on bikes. If the cops weren't throwing your bike in the river during the Republican Convention they were following bike people around for organizing and gathering on Friday nights in Union Square. Bike people are, for some reason, Public Enemy #1. For complicating the lives of car-drivers. When complicating the lives of car-riders is exactly what the government should be doing. I guess we just need to elect a bike-riding mayor. Or maybe just one that doesn't leave town by helicopter every Friday afternoon.

I'm not a bike person. But I appreciate bikes. It's kind of like having gazelles in the city. Imagine if there were a million beautiful gazelles running around the city at all times. With their graceful legs constantly bending and jumping, we'd be so thrilled to have these animals running amok on our streets. People on bikes are often beautiful. With their spandex and sweating glistening hotness, toned from riding bikes all over the place. Bike people glisten not just with hotness, but also with a sweaty halo of superiority. They do not pollute the earth except with their hotness. And their haughty, beautiful self-righteous dispositions. And you know what bike people feel entitled to? To not having to worry about being killed riding their bikes in the city. Every day I pass at least one memorial bike painted white dedicated to someone who died on a bike in that very same spot tied forever to a pole. If there were Shells of Cars painted white at every intersection in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn, well, that would be a lot of cars. But bikes don't kill people on bikes. Cars probably do. By running them the hell over. Or people getting out of cars do, when they open a door without looking and hit someone on a bike.

Bike people glisten not just with hotness, but also with a sweaty halo of superiority. They do not pollute the earth except with their hotness.

Their haughty self-righteousness is reasonable enough to me. I'd be a little punchy—though much less glistening-hot—if everything in the city was trying to kill me all the time. I'm too scared to drive a car in the city. Because I'm sure I'd kill a bunch of people and myself. And cars are expensive and a pain in the ass. I have nightmares about parking, I wake up screaming. I'm a jaywalker more than anything else. Whenever I suddenly and mysteriously get the urge to cross the street, I do. It's because I'm from Boston, where jaywalking is tradition. Paul Revere's ride took a lot longer because he had to dodge all kinds of dudes who seemed to be crossing the street just to bug him. If you want a city not built for walkers, bikes or cars, it's Boston and Cambridge. Great for horses, though! And paddy wagons!

New York was also built for horses and carriages. And yet somehow the city elders got together at some point and said, "We should forget about these horses and focus on cars. All this horse poop in the street is really bringing me down." And so now horses are restricted to bringing tourists around the park in an unhealthy and kind of weird way and cars are everywhere.

If they've banned smoking, won't they someday ban cars in the city? And why do you need a car anyway? You can have Fresh Direct or deliver whatever you need to shop for. You can take a cab when you buy dresses at Barney's. You really only need to have a car in the city when you want to Leave the City. And that's against the interest of all the businesses in the five boroughs. They want you to stay! And eat dumplings! And go to Thor! And they want you to do it here. Never mind drawing tourists to the city, we ought to make it a little harder to leave for the people who do live here. Thankfully, I have a solution for everything. I'm a middle child, I'm always trying to fix everything.


It's clear to me that cars and bikes and strollers and walkers all can't live together. I mean, no one can ever really live together in peace with anyone else. But it's more likely that cars can deal with other cars. And if you asked me which should stay and which should go, I'm picking bikes. Everyone should start biking. Women on bikes are beautiful. Men on bikes look strong. Women and men in cars are just, like, selfishly killing the earth. But apparently we can't just tax cars for coming into midtown—that's a solution no one seems to be down with.

Instead, I'd like to advance a solution similar to Chris Rock's for the gun problem: Guns don't kill people, bullets do. Just make bullets super expensive., and you would be less likely to shoot guns randomly if at all. Gas is already $4 a gallon in the city. It could just as easily be $100 a gallon. A parking ticket is already $100. It could be $1000. You'd have to be a great car owner to live in Behrle's New York. Hitting someone on a bike with your door would be $10,000,000 a pop. You'd have to wear a photo of the person you doored around your neck for ten years wherever you went, recounting the story whenever anyone asked. If killing people on bikes was a financial and social pain in the ass, you'd definitely look both ways before you opened your damned door. Most definitely. And if having a car for those who weren't totally on top of the car at all times was incredibly expensive, you'd keep your car in Connecticut or New Jersey and take public transportation out of town to go visit and drive it around.

There need not only be bike lanes, there ought to be Entire Bike Avenues. I'd start with Broadway. What if only bikes could go up and down Broadway? How delightful might that be?

I propose floating car parking flotillas that can not just house your ride, but also give you a lift out of town to drive it around. They could pick up at 34th St., Battery Park and the Queensboro Bridge (fuck you, Ed Koch) and you could ride it like a ferry to Jersey City, Crouton-on-Hudson or Bridgeport. And then drive, drive, drive like a mofo, you drivers. There's no reason in the world so much of our city needs to be taken up so that you can drive to your girlfriend's house 20 blocks away and back. Walk! I mean, You're Killing the World.

We could also give out parking spaces in New York to only those who are truly deserving. Those who do great deeds, save puppies from fires. Give mouth to mouth to strangers on the subway (only when they NEED mouth to mouth, you pervs!). The mayor now gives out keys to the city that open nothing. How about a golden ticket you hang on your rearview mirror that says you've committed enough miracles to earn yourself Parkinghood? And ensuring that you continue to commit grand gestures at all times or else "Yipes! They revoked my Golden Parking Ticket for being a dick!!"

There need not only be bike lanes, there ought to be Entire Bike Avenues. I'd start with Broadway. What if only bikes could go up and down Broadway? How delightful might that be? It's hard enough to drive up and down Broadway with all those little Tourist Cafés at 23rd, 14th, 34th and 42nd. Just get cars right out of there. Less smog on tourists drinking cappuccinos. In Brooklyn, maybe no bikes on Atlantic Avenue And Flushing. We ought to be making it easier for bikes and harder for cars. Bikes are clean, keep people fitter, create less noise and take up much less space to park. New York City ought to be making it much easier to bike and ought to send cars to the same place they sent saturated fat, the original Four Loko and Marlboros.

But what about Moms and strollers, you ask? Now, first of all, aren't you a bad person if you use a stroller? Like Maggie Gyllenhaal said in that Dave Eggers' movie, "Why would you want to push your child away from you?" Shouldn't everyone have a Baby Bjorn? And use it until the kid is, like, 15? Yeah, they should. But they don't. They wheel around town in these giant baby missiles. Well, they can have 2nd Avenue. Just push your kids for miles next to other moms and their kids and you can all judge each other.


Using this awesome plan, there'd be no cars in Manhattan by about 2012, 100% less pollution and 100% more toned-hot bikers—but the very same amount of people who think that having children makes them special in a world full of people who have had children. Children are fun; people who take their children too seriously are seriously not fun. People have been having children since the beginning of time, but did you know it was actually perfected in Park Slope in the early 2000s? Someday our children will inherit a New York not populated by cars, but with those pneumatic tubes we saw on the documentary “Futurama.” Until then you should think of your child and the oil war they will someday have to fight every time you turn the ignition of your car to drive to the dry cleaner. Vroom! Shouldn’t you be raising your kids in Connecticut anyway? Yeah. You can drive and push strollers around up there all you want.

People on bikes are better people than us. I stand in awe as I watch them go, pumping and pumping while I am eating pork chops. And I say, Go Bike Racers Go. If people had to pedal their Priuses and the only emissions were the Familial Happiness They Felt While Pedaling, I’d be for those, too. I'm still working on my Idea For A Citywide Teleportation Device, with results that are thusfar excruciating. Someday I hope all the things we need will come to us. And we will be 800 pound cyclopses whose main role in life is to ruminate in our own personal kabuki drama. The future is with us and yet it is also so far away. “What will survive of us is love,” wrote the poet Philip Larkin. And he was probably right. So go hug something or someone. When we pick on other groups we are forever wrong. Except people with babies. What's up with them? What makes them so special? They once had sex? C’mon!

Jim Behrle tweets at @behrle for your possible amusement.

Photo by Ed Yourdon from Flickr.

58 Comments / Post A Comment

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

Cops love cars because cars have registration numbers, registered owners (or leasers) and VIN numbers and such crap. If everyone would just get a car and stay in it at all times it would make it a hell of a lot easier to keep track of everybody. Cars are also a good source of revenue: nothing easier than to slap a ticket on car for any of thousands of possible reasons.

If you think emissions standards are there to protect the environment, you are a fool. They are there so that you can be charged money to comply with them, and penalties if you are caught not complying. The problem with bikes is exactly that they are inherently friendly to the environment, which means there is no money to be made in forcing them to be environmentally friendly.

Leon (#6,596)

Wait when did we start having pull quotes up in here? EXCITING

oxla (#12,069)

@Leon Saint-Jean my reaction as well

Tulletilsynet (#333)

In the future, copy editors will have only pull quotes left.

oxla (#12,069)

In Soviet Union, pull quote is you?

Bittersweet (#765)

@oxla: First they came for the paragraphs, and I said nothing because I loved pull quotes…

whizz_dumb (#10,650)

Yup! Same goes for many cities. I drive and bike here in The (S.F.) Bay Area, but have also wondered how other drivers can get so mad at all the hot asses perched on bike seats.

nogreeneggs (#12,239)

Really…why do people hate bikes so much? I don't live in NYC but I just recently mentioned that I was thinking about biking to work now that it's nice out. Just thinking about it! Instantly, my boyfriend, parents, sisters, everyone I know, and random strangers freaked the hell out saying how I was either going to die a horrible car related death and/or cause a ton of car accidents. By biking. On the shoulder of a road where the speed limit is only 30 anyway. I just want to be one of those mega-hot biking laddies rocking some spandex.

Then on Hairpin there was an article about how much they hate bikes! Why?! I'm going to start a town where you're only allowed to bike. No cars allowed. Horses and gazelles are welcome.

SourCapote (#4,872)

I will join on the condition that anyone who steals a bike is given 25-life. I caught some dude who tried to take my bike the other day like it was no big deal

@nogreeneggs I don't hate bikes. But I hate people who bike on the sidewalk. Stop that, people!

nogreeneggs (#12,239)

@nogreeneggs True! They are annoying and I think breaking some kind of sidewalk law/rule? In the same vein (just realized how kind of gross that phrase is), I hate people who walk WITH traffic. You're supposed to walk/run AGAINST it and those people who walk with it are giving everyone a bad name.

nogreeneggs (#12,239)

@BritaWaterFilterJuice Whaaat!? What did he say? Was he at least shame-faced that he got caught? I agree with the 25-life. Repeat offenders will be outcast from the town and released into the desert. I'm assuming to have an all bike town we'd have to pick somewhere nice, like Arizona or something.

SidAndFinancy (#4,328)

@DorothyMantooth I had to get out of the way of some jerk in a suit and tie on a motorized scooter on the sidewalk this morning!

skyslang (#11,283)

@nogreeneggs Oh don't listen to them! I bike every day (not NYC) and it's safe and fun, as long as you're not an asshole and take a defensive stance. Obey the traffic rules, and always always always be aware where every single car on the road is, make sure you're visible to them and pull over to let them pass when they're being aggressive or whenever you feel weird. Seriously, it's just about being totally defensive whenever you're on your bike.

SourCapote (#4,872)

@nogreeneggs he didn't say a single word!!! he just walked away like nothing happened =[

roboloki (#1,724)

taxis are cars!

brianvan (#149)

I don't even have the supposed superiority complex about cycling. I just want to be able to proceed with law-abiding activities without having other citizens do menacing or life-threatening things to me, angrily, as a routine thing.

I can't even find a parallel to this situation. It baffles me that the media feeds the hate and doesn't defend the oppressed minority here. I guess NY Mag was right, we are the new "terrorists" aka regular people in traditional Middle Eastern clothing. It's the closest parallel I have to the current "bike bedlam" atmosphere. Remember when high school kids and frat boys were finding Sikhs and beating them up in the days after 9/11? Well, motorists beat up cyclists all the time. Hasids even beat up cyclists in Williamsburg! What kind of society is this? Can you ever fix something like that?

barnhouse (#1,326)

O Jim Behrle, say on. About what, I don't even care.

djfreshie (#875)

I sensed a lot of this piece was facetious, and yet I agree with everything. Huh!

KenWheaton (#401)

The only thing bike-riders feel entitled to is to be given the rights accorded both car-drivers and pedestrians, as and when it suits their needs. You best let them ride in the street AND on the sidewalk. You best give them the right of way AND allow them to disregard stop signs and stop lights as they see fit. And if you bitch about it, you're an earth-hating panda-murderer who is likely a cop or related to one.

Or a rabbi.

I just bought a bike three weeks ago. I can't wait for the change!

SourCapote (#4,872)

unfortunately cyclists who don't follow the rules of the road are sort of terrorist-y, and unfortunately hold more weight than everyday bikers

deepomega (#1,720)

@KenWheaton: "them"

whizz_dumb (#10,650)

@KenWheaton It's obvious to me that bikes are somewhere between the right-of-way pedestrians get and right-of-way cars get. It's a sliding scale along each mode's vulnerability and potential to harm. Bike-riders are allowed to treat stop signs like yield signs and red lights like stop signs (actually yield signs, ssshh) in my book. There are no specific traffic signals for bicycles, just a lane that is often ignored by all things in motion.

brad (#1,678)

@KenWheaton and all car drivers are such paragons of lawfullness and virtue.

runsinbackground (#10,344)

@BritaWaterFilterJuice This is my problem exactly! If I'm riding my bike downtown (Denver, not NY, apparently thank goodness) I see some jerk ride up to a red light, hop in the magically clear crosswalk, and keep going, it makes me mad for the whole rest of the ride. We need to be treated like motorcycles in order to function from a car's perspective, don't they understand! Augh!

ericdeamer (#945)

Here's the thing: My grand unified theory is that the people traveling the way that is fastest and most protected are always assholes to the people that are traveling the slower/more vulnerable way. So, while I have total sympathy for bikers when they are on the streets and competing with cars. (To an extent: I hate it when they do stuff like go in between car lanes instead of the side, disobey all traffic laws etc.) in situations in which bikes are the fastest/most dangerous things going – like say on that path along the Hudson or in Prospect Park or Central Park – it's the bikers that are the assholes. A lot of them completely disregard the safety of joggers, walkers, baby strollers, dogs etc. going into the designating walking/jogging lane to do really fast passing moves etc. Do they not realize they're acting exactly like car drivers in the rest of the world? Generally, the problem is the super hardcore biking douches with the "road bikes" etc. who are I guess training for something and are going super fast in areas where it's completely inappropriate. People who are biking to work or to their friends place or for exercise or to be outside are awesome. People who are training for some race or something need to take that shit out of the 5 boroughs like Behrle is saying drivers need to take their driving. It's just too densely populated to be doing that shit in the city.

Bittersweet (#765)

@ericdeamer: For road bikers, it's all about performance.

City_Dater (#2,500)

The day that I don't look both ways, anxiously, on a one-way street because some cyclist (often without a helmet) will come shooting through the intersection the wrong way and holler at me for crossing the street is the day I will stop resenting the Bike People. Also, no one over the age of 8 should be riding a bike on the sidewalk (I'm looking at you, Delivery Guy who the spandex people refuse to acknowlege as one of themselves).

sharilyn (#4,599)

@City_Dater – I honestly think you should probably look both ways before you cross the street anyway. But I'm strongly against bike-riding in the wrong direction. And riding on the sidewalk. Both are idiotic.

pajamarama (#6,019)

@City_Dater Yeah, agreed. I think the common law of transportation courtesy should be to be mindful of things that are smaller than you are: trucks should watch out for cars, cars should watch out for bikes, bikes should watch out for pedestrians, pedestrians should watch out for puppies. (Oh, and do I ever!)

I walk to work every single day, which is actually the single eco-friendliest option, and every time I have the right of way to cross an intersection, I have to wait for all the fixed-gear jerks who are crossing illegally and can't be bothered to slow down.

djfreshie (#875)

@sharilyn @City_Dater

Definitely look both ways. I bike the wrong way on one-way streets. I live on a one-way street in the center of a maze of one-way streets.

I do what I need to do to not die, generally. It's hard out there. Sorry! Smart bikers pay attention to everything and won't whiz by pedestrians, or cars, or be dangerous really. But I speak for myself only. Look both ways at all times. I bike on one-ways sometimes for the same reason you should probably look both ways: Not everyone is paying attention. A LOT of people are not paying attention. To be quite honest, I feel safer in the city if a car is looking at me head on, and I can see them, versus having a driver incapable of staying within the lines of their lane – blindly almost shatter my elbow because they got a text. I hate that I can't see that coming.

amuselouche (#448)

@City_Dater Yup. Never come close to being hit by a car in the city but I've been run down by bikes twice. As far as I'm concerned they can feel free to ban cars AND bikes. Pedestrians forever!

ohhleary (#846)

@djfreshie Sorry, you're either lazy or ignorant. I, too, bike to my place on a maze of one-way streets. But you know what? The law is the law. I either ride around the block or walk my bike down the block. How fucking difficult is that? Hint: it's not. And it's not going to kill you! Stop being a jerk and giving fodder to all the bike haters. Jesus Christ, just ride for an extra minute or two. It's good for you!

djfreshie (#875)


BURN. I am lazy and I am ignorant, and you are superior for biking 2 more blocks than I. The shame is strong in me right now.

But really…hilarious! the law is almost never just the law. I can't stand that argument. The sheer number of illegal things I do on a daily basis would probably astound you!

I ride nearly 2 hours every day. I'm not exactly missing that extra minute (probably more like 10 minutes given the network of one-ways I'm dealing with, but why would you care about my specific situation? You've assumed, and that's the best medicine,) of "good for you," time. But thanks for the heads up, I'll consider it the next time I'm not heeding your excruciatingly condescending advice at all.

b3k (#12,241)

Er, maybe the bike-hate has something to do with the fact that a lot of cyclists in NYC are reckless-bordering-on-suicidal? Bikers here aren't cute little literature professors slowly riding their adorable vintage bikes to their offices at the Universitie da Vreejohrsssten or whatever — here we got our over-entitled high-speed rich athlete bikers, our drunk hipsters (Thirtysomething guy biking up the middle of Bedford Ave. the wrong way! While texting! True story!), delivery drivers who literally don't really know how to ride bikes and won't get off the fucking sidewalk, etc. Once bikers start to act like they're beholden to at least _some_ sort of traffic law, they'll get a lot more respect.

brianvan (#149)

@b3k The "law abiding" part is starting to happen among commuting and recreational cyclists. Unfortunately, car drivers are still menacing cyclists for doing totally legal things.

I don't know what to do about delivery cyclists. It's clear most of them shouldn't be on any kind of vehicle on the road. I don't know why cops are cracking down on white women running errands on the Upper West Side for stuff like "bag on handlebars" when these sketchy dudes on the rice engine bikes going the wrong way up bike lanes in the East Village are probably the most dangerous riders out there. I suggest that all commercial cyclists require licensing and a road test (on top of helmets, safety gear, and identifying clothing). But that'll "hurt" small businesses by taking away their cheap off-the-books immigrant labor, and I'm sure the NY Post will stick it to Bloomberg if anyone tries that.

ericdeamer (#945)

@brianvan It's funny how all the hardcore biking guys who most likely have expensive equipment etc. and are doing it purely as a hobby are perfectly willing to turn all the ire against most likely poor people who are actually forced to ride bikes to make a living as long as it takes the focus off of them and on to these "sketchy dudes". Tell me more about the ethnic/racial/socio-eonomic status of these "sketchy dudes". I'm fascinated. Just as long as people aren't mad at "white women running errands" right?

Honest Engine (#1,661)

"They do not pollute the earth except with their hotness." Can we focus on the hilarity of lines like this rather than open the floor to the pro/anti-bike debates. They do this every day it seems on Gothamist… so tiresome.

ejcsanfran (#489)

@Honest Engine: STRONGLY AGREE! Even though I posted my own sort of pro-bikish comment downthread.

sharilyn (#4,599)

@Honest Engine: So true, and although I am a kneejerk cycling advocate, I very much appreciate the silly joy of this piece.

whizz_dumb (#10,650)

@Honest Engine good point, new rule: All future comments either celebrate or supplement the general comedic styling and/or particularly witty portion of the respective post.

ejcsanfran (#489)

Anecdotal evidence that some bikers are a-holes – yes, kill them all! Also pedestrians and drivers – if one of them does something stupid or annoying, then it CLEARLY FOLLOWS that all of them are horrible reincarnations of Hitler and must be stopped. IT'S JUST LOGIC, PEOPLE!

Also, I have to confess that when I'm pedaling steadily along while the cars around me are gridlocked in after-work traffic, I do tend to wear smug grin of self-satisfaction. Until I get doored and/or hit a pedestrian…

sharilyn (#4,599)

@b3k: for real there is a lot of bad biking behavior. Only today I was nearly run down twice by two different delivery people riding in the wrong direction. That burns me up, really!

But some traffic laws make biking more dangerous, and I happily flaunt them. I'd rather get a ticket than die. For example: the law asks bikes to stop well before the crosswalk (back where the cars stop. But if I do that, and I'm slower off the stop than a combustion engine, I get run over. Much safer to be out in front of the cars where they can see me. And don't get me started about people who park their cars in the bike lanes, forcing me to ride into traffic. WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE?

sharilyn (#4,599)

oh also: electric bikes are not bikes. Anything with an engine does not belong in the bike lane. That includes you, Vespa rider who cut me off on E 9th St today.

Nelson Trautman (#9,077)

Totally agree with the Bike Avenues idea. There is a proposal for this kind of thing that launched last year in Chicago:

gumplr (#66)

@Nelson Trautman

I expected the proposal to be something along the lines of, "Oh, so you want to bike? Move to Milwaukee."

metoometoo (#230)

I lived in the Marina for a year and rode a bike to work in the Presidio, on a separated bike path along the water, past Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. It was awesome and I got so skinny and toned without even trying. But then I quit that job and moved to an apartment at a crazy intersection on Market Street, so I sold my bike because I'm uncoordinated and scared of cars and hate helmets and don't want to die. (I walk and take the F.)

Bikes are great, bikers are brave and impressive, and cars are evil.

ejcsanfran (#489)

@metoometoo: SF Bike Coalition offers free urban bike riding classes. I cannot recommend strongly enough – I was way more comfortable riding in traffic after the classes.

Tully Mills (#6,486)

Even here, in Boulder (Boulder!) the bike/car debate is a whirly spiral of name calling and fists shaking in the air. We have bike lanes as big as Gold Paved Streets and trails to everywhere but, also, plenty of reasons to have a car (for mountain things). For years, it has been almost a Thunderdome between these two groups and still cyclists and drivers can not get along. Good luck, New York.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

When I kicked my not living in New York City habit, I quit cars too because who wants to fool with that, and so yay (except I miss cars). — But I would be horror-movie scared to ride a bike amongst all the psychopathic haters of New York. Just forget it.

K.I. Hope@twitter (#12,248)

Greatest. Article. Ever.

constant reader (#12,250)

"And if you asked me which should stay and which should go, I'm picking bikes."

skyslang (#11,283)

You know what? Just don't be an asshole. When you're driving, when you're biking, when you're pushing your giant stroller down the sidewalk. Watch where you're going and if you get in someone's way by mistake, apologize, smile and get the fuck out of the way. The end.

queensissy (#1,783)

I think I'm in love with all of you.

Their haughty self-righteousness is reasonable enough to me.

Entitlement is cool for bikers, but not parents and pedestrians trying to survive in this town? OK, got it.

xuxin4123 (#12,294)

great news,thank you

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