Where’s your helmet, buddy?
They’re after us cyclists again! The recent crackdown on biker traffic violations in Brooklyn was just the thin end of the wedge: now Hunter College has released a study of midtown Manhattan bicyclist behavior, showing — brace yourself — that bikers are lax about following the rules of the road. Less than a third wear helmets, and two-thirds either treated stoplights as stopsigns — pausing to check traffic, then scooting before the light changes — or just blew right through them. And very few have tail lights or headlights.
The authors are cautious in their recommendations, but do suggest more rigorous enforcement of the helmet law, which we expect the city will seize upon, as it suits the Mayor’s nannyish governing principles and will also feed the depleted public coffers with fines.
More ominously, the study suggests that “commercial cyclists display license plates.” Sure, they’ll start with bike deliverymen. But soon enough there’ll be a Department of Motorless Vehicles collecting fees on every two-wheeler in town.
In keeping with the spirit of the times, Transportation Alternatives has launched “Biking Rules!” — a “new street code for cyclists” designed to make bikers more law-abiding, or at least less egregiously criminal. “The huge growth we’ve seen recently means that it’s time for bicycling to play are more positive role in how our streets function,” says TransAlt executive director Paul Steely White.
The Biking Rules! site’s invocations are certainly friendly, putting a positive spin on restrictions (e.g., “Don’t be invisible. Front and rear lights are our eyes to the world,” “Take a break and relax at red lights,” “Learn to love that helmet hair”). But they do lay down the law. The clear message is that, since the city’s making biking more legitimate with its greenways and other bike-friendly initiatives, bikers must reciprocate by being responsible. The wild west days are over.
We wonder how this will play out. Will bikers, thus encouraged, evolve naturally into helmeted, belled and reflective-surfaced citizens of the road? Or will we have to be made so by ticket blitzes? One way or another, though, there’s no getting past it; like every other constituency in this town, we will be civilized.
But — sigh — we sure will miss feeling the wind in our hair.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 19, 2009