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Old 07-25-13, 01:21 PM   #1
Ferdinand NYC
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the worst of us

Yesterday, for the second time, I was hit and knocked off my bike by a bicyclist riding on the wrong side of a street in New York City.

The first time was last summer, when I was struck head-on by a someone riding west on the eastbound side of Grand St. near Bushwick Ave. And yesterday I was hit broadside by someone riding south (and through a red light) on the northbound side of Woodhaven Blvd. at the intersection with Jamaica Ave.

Both times I was lucky: I wasn't hurt either time, suffering only bruises on my hand and on my ribs in this latest fall. And the damage to my bike was minimal, with a severed brake cable as a result of the first collision, and nothing from the second one.

But these incidents made me very angry and very sad. I am angry because the people who hit me sped away both times. In the first collision, the other person was also knocked off his bike, and he scrambled to it and rode off. In yesterday's crash, the other person didn't fall from his bike; he was speeding through the light after it had changed, and he clipped my front wheel as I was beginning through the intersection eastward.

I am sad because these people who hit me epitomise the public's perception of bicyclists: dangerous, lawless, and arrogant. Several times a week, I am treated to complaints from people I know who are aware that I am a bicyclist, who take the opportunity to vent to me about the bad behaviour that they witness from other bicyclists. While these people sometimes complain about actual danger to pedestrians, they most often express their disgust about the rampant law-breaking on the part of bicyclists.

I wish I could say that these people are wrong. But, during my daily rides, I see very few other bicyclists stopping at red lights; and I see plenty riding the wrong way on one-way streets and on the wrong side of two-way streets. This paints a terrible picture of bicyclists to a hostile general public, giving us all a very bad name. Every blown red light will surely result in multiple dinner-table conversations about "those arrogant bicyclists". This hurts our cause tremendously; when we in New York lose our bike lanes, it will be on account of the bad publicity that we create for ourselves by virtue of this constant law-breaking.

It's tempting to make the argument that such behaviour, while illegal, is often not dangerous. But doing so would miss the point: the problem is generally not one of bicyclists doing physical harm to others, but one of bicyclists doing political harm to ourselves. It is true that traffic laws which are written with cars in mind often cannot be sensibly applied to bikes, and that we need separate laws which take into account the realities of bicycling. However, we'll never get there if we squander the gains that have already been made.

I will admit that, for the first 30+ years of my life, I paid no attention to traffic laws while riding. There was no reason to do so, as I had nothing to lose. But as Mayor Bloomberg, through DOT Commissioner Sadik-Khan, began to drastically improve the City for bicyclists, I became aware that we now have a tremendous stake in the game, and, therefore, that I and all bicyclists have a responsibility to protect the gains in bicycling infrastructure. So following the traffic laws became an ethical duty, something that's in our long-term interest.

I've been riding in this City since long before I ever saw a bike lane. I rode on the 59th St. Bridge before there was a dedicated bike/pedestrian path on the north side, when the two service roads were, on an ad hoc basis, sometimes open for bicyclists and sometimes closed to us. And I was once almost killed once when I was directed by a traffic cop to cross to Manhattan on the south service road, but then that road was opened to Queens-bound traffic as I was halfway across.

In comparison to those days, New York is now nothing short of a bike wonderland. But, every morning after I cross the Williamsburg Bridge on my commute to work, as I watch bicyclists ignore two huge "WRONG WAY" signs in order to enter and travel west on the one-way eastbound bike lane in the centre of Delancey St., and then watch them swerve onto westbound Delancey on the left side of the fast-moving traffic lanes, I realise that I am seeing the end of our golden age of biking in New York.

It is important to remember, of course, that drivers who behave illegally are a far greater threat to safety than are bicyclists who behave illegally. Hell, even drivers who behave legally are a greater threat to safety than are bicyclists who behave illegally. Driving is by its nature a dangerous, filthy, and deeply anti-social practice. The main physical threat to bicyclists, to pedestrians, and to drivers themselves comes from cars, without any question.

But, we bicyclists have the power to control our public perception. And, by and large, we are blowing it. Or, to be more precise: we have blown it.

We're at the end of three terms of the most bike-friendly mayoral administration in the City's history, a period in which the bike infrastructure has expanded to a degree that would have been unimaginable before. And the bicyclists who ignore the laws are effectively waging a highly visible public campaign for the removal of our bike infrastructure, thereby spitting in the eye of the activists whose decades-long work to make bicycling mainstream made it all possible.

The next mayor will surely remove much of the existing bike infrastructure; the only question is how much. And for that we can to some degree thank the type of people who hit me, those stupid little rat-boys who ride bikes that are too small for them and who routinely ride fast and in large groups against traffic, intentionally creating havoc.

And to some degree we can thank those macho daredevil fools who ride recklessly between the traffic lanes on the Manhattan avenues.

But, mainly, we can thank the otherwise-intelligent adults who blithely ride as though they think that traffic laws don't apply to them.

Due to the actions to these sorts of people, the general public sees bicyclists not as people practising a legitimate form of transport and exercise, but as a group of people who are dangerous, lawless, and arrogant, and who need to be put back in their place.

The backlash is coming; and we have brought it on ourselves.
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Old 07-25-13, 01:23 PM   #2
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Just glad you're okay, feeling better with the venting now?
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Old 07-25-13, 01:34 PM   #3
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Thanks. I am relieved that I was not seriously injured.

I just came off the best bike week of my life; so I am still feeling good about that. But, as I mentioned, I'm sad about what this incident represents, as a reminder of the many bad bicyclists who are out there.
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Old 07-25-13, 01:36 PM   #4
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Thanks. I am relieved that I was not seriously injured.

I just came off the best bike week of my life; so I am still feeling good about that. But, as I mentioned, I'm sad about what this incident represents, as a reminder of the many bad bicyclists who are out there.
At least those jerks were on bicycles.. not in SUV's that's how I try to look at it, but I know it can be hard not to get worked up sometimes.
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Old 07-25-13, 02:08 PM   #5
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I've seen quite a few salmons on the 5th avenue of midtown Manhattan. Once it was someone on electric wheelchair going in the middle of the 5th ave. in wrong direction.
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Old 07-25-13, 03:30 PM   #6
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Your rant looks very much like one of mine from a while back. And there are scores of other cyclists who have had the same experience.

My personal experience has more to do with driving than bicycling, though. Out here on Long Island, we have a lot of cyclists who insist on riding against traffic. Many of them are non English-speaking day workers, so I can't even gently explain to them why this is so dangerous. One of these days, though, I'm going to come to an intersection in my car, look right, and go, and there's going to be a cyclist coming up on my right. You know what happens next...
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Old 07-25-13, 04:35 PM   #7
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A collision I had with a cyclist at the south end of the Marine Parkway Bridge was serious enough to really mess up the other rider. He had entered the bike path from a side path without looking. I t-boned him. Knocked him on his ass, he took a big hit to the head, blood everywhere (no helmet). His bike was totaled, as was mine - bent fork and frame. I was really pissed, he spoke zero english and I really didn't give a crap as to how badly hurt he was, sad to say.

And I have no clue as to how to educate the millions of folks on bikes that ride around NYC (and the metro area), completely lacking in any knowledge of the laws as well as not possessing any obvious common sense. It's sad to admit but when I read the local paper - Newsday and read about a cyclist killed, if it happened after dusk or before dawn, I automatically assume it's a rider as Papa describes. And I don't feel a lot of empathy as my observations are that they were probably in the wrong.
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Old 07-25-13, 06:24 PM   #8
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Just to be clear, I'm not suggesting that the reason these people ride on the wrong side of the road is because they are day laborers or because they do not speak English! In fact, I have wondered, many times, if the laws and/or norms in the places many day laborers come from dictate that cyclists should ride on the left side. It could be that simple, but I find it frustrating that I can't correct this behavior to help these cyclists avoid a disastrous fate.

Also, it isn't ONLY cyclists in this demographic who are guilty of this offense. I see teenagers doing it, parents with young children doing it, and even grown men and women on very expensive bikes doing it. It'll never happen, but perhaps test-based licensing for the privilege to ride certain roads might help?
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Old 07-25-13, 10:16 PM   #9
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Sometimes I walk places in the city. I regularly see pedestrians enter intersections against a red light or "don't walk," I see people too lazy to go to a nearby crosswalk and instead cross mid-block basically daring traffic to mow them down. i suppose we pedestrians have "brought it on ourselves?"

I used to tow my race car home from a dirt track 80 miles away and enter the city on a freeway at 1:30 AM Sunday. I was pretty much the only sober driver on the road. Have we motorists "brought it on ourselves?"

Do you tell law-abiding members of a minority group "you have brought it on yourselves" because some members of a minority group are in a gang?

Do you tell white, middle class males who practice tolerance and love towards all groups that they can be considered bigots and because of the attitudes of some white middle class males they have "brought it on themselves?"

Total BS! A person is responsible for his/her own actions and only his/her own actions.

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Old 07-25-13, 11:36 PM   #10
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I'm always on guard and will slow down when making a left turn onto a one-way local street at night, just in case a salmon is creeping right at me in the dark. But the greater danger these salmons can cause is when vehicles are around.
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Old 07-26-13, 06:27 AM   #11
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NYC would have a budget surplus every year if they spent a month or two giving out tickets for jaywalking in Manhattan.
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Old 07-26-13, 06:50 AM   #12
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Sometimes I walk places in the city. I regularly see pedestrians enter intersections against a red light or "don't walk," I see people too lazy to go to a nearby crosswalk and instead cross mid-block basically daring traffic to mow them down. i suppose we pedestrians have "brought it on ourselves?"

I used to tow my race car home from a dirt track 80 miles away and enter the city on a freeway at 1:30 AM Sunday. I was pretty much the only sober driver on the road. Have we motorists "brought it on ourselves?"

Do you tell law-abiding members of a minority group "you have brought it on yourselves" because some members of a minority group are in a gang?

Do you tell white, middle class males who practice tolerance and love towards all groups that they can be considered bigots and because of the attitudes of some white middle class males they have "brought it on themselves?"

Total BS! A person is responsible for his/her own actions and only his/her own actions.

Don in Austin
Do you tell all cell phone users they can't use their phones while driving, even though only some drivers doing so get into accidents?
Do you tell drinkers not to drive, even though most of the time (such as 1:30AM Sunday in your state)most of those drunk drivers aren't actually having accidents?

The law certainly does!

Generalizing, though often odious, racist and wrong-headed, is a necessary part of the legal system, as well as a vital tool for understanding the world.
Just because you feel that everyone should be judged as an individual doesn't mean that that's how it works. People often do condemn all cyclists when they've been injured by one. The OP certainly isn't biased against cyclists! He is rightly concerned with how it makes us look to people who make & enforce laws, many of whom will lump us all together if it suits their purposes.
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Old 07-26-13, 01:58 PM   #13
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Sometimes I walk places in the city. I regularly see pedestrians enter intersections against a red light or "don't walk," I see people too lazy to go to a nearby crosswalk and instead cross mid-block basically daring traffic to mow them down. i suppose we pedestrians have "brought it on ourselves?"

I used to tow my race car home from a dirt track 80 miles away and enter the city on a freeway at 1:30 AM Sunday. I was pretty much the only sober driver on the road. Have we motorists "brought it on ourselves?"

Do you tell law-abiding members of a minority group "you have brought it on yourselves" because some members of a minority group are in a gang?

Do you tell white, middle class males who practice tolerance and love towards all groups that they can be considered bigots and because of the attitudes of some white middle class males they have "brought it on themselves?"

Total BS! A person is responsible for his/her own actions and only his/her own actions.

Don in Austin

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Do you tell all cell phone users they can't use their phones while driving, even though only some drivers doing so get into accidents?
Do you tell drinkers not to drive, even though most of the time (such as 1:30AM Sunday in your state)most of those drunk drivers aren't actually having accidents?

The law certainly does!

Generalizing, though often odious, racist and wrong-headed, is a necessary part of the legal system, as well as a vital tool for understanding the world.
Just because you feel that everyone should be judged as an individual doesn't mean that that's how it works. People often do condemn all cyclists when they've been injured by one. The OP certainly isn't biased against cyclists! He is rightly concerned with how it makes us look to people who make & enforce laws, many of whom will lump us all together if it suits their purposes.
Right, aixaix. My concerns are strategic.

Don, bicyclists are still in a sense the "other". We are more present than ever before, but we are not yet entirely mainstream. The general public still judges us by the actions of the worst of us, whether we like it or not (and I don't like it at all -- I hate that I am lumped in with the idiot who hit me in the public consciousness).

We have seen wonderful things during the Bloomberg administration. This, however, was due largely to the fact that these were things that the mayor himself wanted. In other words, while the bicycle activists of the past decades have done heroic work to make bicycling more visible and more mainstream, the changes we've seen in New York were not responses to public pressure or to the demands of the majority; they were actions taken by a visionary mayor who understands that promoting bicycling amounts to promoting good health.

The next mayor will surely not have the same commitment to bicycling that the current mayor has; and there isn't the mass of public support that would be necessary to ensure that our bike infrastructure doesn't get dismantled.

If the next mayor were to decide to remove all bike lanes and to install as DOT commissioner someone who (like every commissioner before Sadik-Khan) sees his/her mandate as serving the needs of drivers only, those decisions would be met by a wave of approval that would drown out the objections from the bicycle community.

So our bike lanes hang by a string, and we bicyclists need to understand this. Our primary responsibility is to behave properly ourselves. But we can also help the cause by trying to educate as many fellow bicyclists as possible about the need to protect what we have, and about the danger of exacerbating the inevitable backlash.

We'll never reach the little rat-boys. But it's possible to use reasoned arguments to change the minds of reasonable people. I think it's probably too late; but we need to go down swinging, giving it our best effort.


Tom - If you are encountering Spanish-speakers who are riding on the wrong side, then perhaps you can say to them "otro lado", which means "other side". Incidentally, I am not a Spanish speaker; so I can say very little in the language beyond a few short sentences. My ethnicity is Italian; but neither do I speak that language. (I am, however, fluent in Esperanto. And today is Esperanto Day. So happy Esperanto Day!)

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Old 07-29-13, 08:02 AM   #14
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lots of kids (late teens-early 20s) breaking rules in Boston too (blowing stops signs & lights & weaving in and out of traffic and riding the wrong way, etc). Sometimes I bike in from the western suburbs and am shocked at what they do. but they are young and haven't seen what I have seen and haven't had their share of near-death experiences yet. likely they aren't parents either.
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Old 07-29-13, 08:17 AM   #15
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Idiots, fools and morons come in all shapes, sizes and colors. They speak every language on the planet and participate in every type of activity, including cycling. Best you can do is try to avoid them.

Also, for every time you behave responsibly on your bike you're helping to cancel out the effect of our bone-headed brethren.
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Old 07-29-13, 11:00 AM   #16
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I'm sure we've all been on the receiving end of blanket judgments about arrogant cyclists. However, I do feel like our numbers in NYC are finally getting the tipping point where we're not viewed as a monolith anymore. Especially with CitiBikes, the average New Yorker isn't lumping everyone on two wheels together as crazy hipsters.

I for one have started to reject cyclists judging other cyclists, wanting us all to be stewards of safe cycling. I try to be courteous and safe as much as possible but I don't think it serves us well to point the finger at ourselves more than we do cars.

All 3 transportation modes -- driving, cycling, walking -- try to ignore the laws when they think it will a) save them some time, and b) won't really hurt anybody. For cars, it's the speed limit, for cyclists, it's red lights, and for pedestrians, it's jaywalking. And just from observation, I'd say the scofflaws make up the majority of each group.

That said, I think the bike lanes and infrastructure are here to stay. All the mayoral candidates are trying to woo the cyclists. Maybe they won't put the support behind it Bloomberg did, but there's a growing contingent of people who are finding out it's just a good way to get around town. If the police want to start enforcing traffic laws, that's up to them, but I'm not going to do their job, anymore than I would scold a jaywalker.
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Old 07-29-13, 12:05 PM   #17
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I for one have started to reject cyclists judging other cyclists...
That's awfully hard for somebody whose just been knocked over by a hit & run!
There nothing wrong with distinguishing between riders/pedestrians/motorists who are generally safe but violate certain laws, and those who do things that endanger themselves and others. You don't need to be a cop to let somebody know he's doing something dangerous. I don't yell at people simply for jaywalking but I certainly let people know when they walk out in front of me against the light.
Solidarity is important, but it is more realistic and honest to acknowledge that some riders are doing bad things.
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Old 07-29-13, 12:13 PM   #18
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That's awfully hard for somebody whose just been knocked over by a hit & run!
There nothing wrong with distinguishing between riders/pedestrians/motorists who are generally safe but violate certain laws, and those who do things that endanger themselves and others. You don't need to be a cop to let somebody know he's doing something dangerous. I don't yell at people simply for jaywalking but I certainly let people know when they walk out in front of me against the light.
Solidarity is important, but it is more realistic and honest to acknowledge that some riders are doing bad things.
Yes, I meant, judging as a monolithic group. I let driver/ped/cyclist know when they endanger my life, I just don't follow the OP's suggestion of spreading the word to my fellow cyclists that we have to behave ourselves to get respect.
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Old 07-29-13, 12:37 PM   #19
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I for one have started to reject cyclists judging other cyclists,
Huh? This is the real world, where people can get seriously hurt. It is not Grade 2 or some politically correct paradise where everyone is a winner and nothing anyone does is wrong.

Riding on the wrong side of the road is highly dangerous and illegal for a good reason. If I'm on a head-on collision trajectory with a wrong-way Fred, then they are going to get out of the way, and then hear about it loud and clear.

As far as judgment, if I get hit and suffer loss by a wrong way Fred, or any other bonehead cyclist, then the lawyers and the courts will do the judging for me. It may take years of process and hundreds of thousands of dollars of legal costs, but justice will be served.
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Old 07-29-13, 12:40 PM   #20
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Yes, I meant, judging as a monolithic group.
If there's one thing NYC cyclists aren't, it's a monolithic group. That could change if the lanes are threatened by the next administration. I agree with you that cyclists trying to educate errant riders on the error of their ways won't help. Most people get testy when made to feel guilty by strangers.
I hope you are right about the future of cycling in NYC. I think you are.
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Old 07-29-13, 12:47 PM   #21
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Huh? This is the real world, where people can get seriously hurt. It is not Grade 2 or some politically correct paradise where everyone is a winner and nothing anyone does is wrong.

Riding on the wrong side of the road is highly dangerous and illegal for a good reason. If I'm on a head-on collision trajectory with a wrong-way Fred, then they are going to get out of the way, and then hear about it loud and clear.

As far as judgment, if I get hit and suffer loss by a wrong way Fred, or any other bonehead cyclist, then the lawyers and the courts will do the judging for me. It may take years of process and hundreds of thousands of dollars of legal costs, but justice will be served.
By all means, yet you missed the point of my comment.
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Old 07-29-13, 01:15 PM   #22
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blanket judgments: divorced women no longer trust men
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Old 07-29-13, 06:26 PM   #23
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Originally Posted by Dave Mayer View Post
Huh? This is the real world, where people can get seriously hurt. It is not Grade 2 or some politically correct paradise where everyone is a winner and nothing anyone does is wrong.

Riding on the wrong side of the road is highly dangerous and illegal for a good reason. If I'm on a head-on collision trajectory with a wrong-way Fred, then they are going to get out of the way, and then hear about it loud and clear.

As far as judgment, if I get hit and suffer loss by a wrong way Fred, or any other bonehead cyclist, then the lawyers and the courts will do the judging for me. It may take years of process and hundreds of thousands of dollars of legal costs, but justice will be served.
This is pretty funny. In my collision with a cyclist that was obviously in the wrong, there was zero chance of my recovering anything from the other cyclist. A) He spoke no English or at least would not respond to my requests for ID, only reply'ing in what I believe was Spanish. B) Had I called 911, I'm certain they would have taken the call but it's just as certain the police would never have responded. It's possible that EMS might have after a prolonged delay, but with no cops, no 2nd cyclist to get the info off of as to further action.

I know that this is how things exist in NYC and I'm certain other major cities in the US. The cops just have more important things to do and the minute they hear "Bike on Bike collision" they put it way down the list of response priorities.

Thus the OP's attitudes and actions are spot on.
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Old 07-30-13, 08:45 AM   #24
Steve M.
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I actually have a policy on this: If the salmon is a delivery person, I say nothing. Those guys have difficult lives. If it's a civilian -- or god forbid a hipster -- I alert them to the error of their ways as profanely as I can and at extremely high volume. Only another century or two of this and the Eight Avenue bike lane will be a paradise.
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Old 07-31-13, 10:41 PM   #25
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Where I live, only about half of cyclists are using a bike for transportation. A huge number view cycling as a counter-culture activity, and there is also a significant group who are bums on presumably stolen bikes riding erratically and unpredictably.
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