I am also old enough that I remember the days when bicycles were a slow and pleasant way of getting around while enjoying the scenery. Unfortunately, those experiences are being challenged by two new classes of dangerous cyclists. If you want to cycle quietly around Central Park (or indeed, if you want to walk on the interior roads of the Park), you have to beware of the Lycra-clad speed demons. Wearing garish costumes appropriate for the Tour de France, they race around their own Tour de Central Park, often in packs. A few years ago, one of their own, careening at excessive speed, killed a pedestrian on the interior road near the Tavern on The Green at West 66th Street. These “spandex speedsters” have little respect for anyone who gets in their way. The idea of two people gently riding bicycles side by side, is anathema to them. Whistling their whistles as though they sounded the horn of a speeding train, they exceeded the speed limit that cars had to obey when they were allowed on the Park’s interior ring road.
The second group that stirs my ire (see first paragraph), is that of the electric bike-mounted food delivery people. With the goal of getting food to as many customers in as short a time as possible, they disobey all traffic laws, ride full speed on sidewalks, and are a silent but deadly menace. The rules of allowing pedestrians to cross at traffic lights, or following the direction of traffic on one-way streets, are totally ignored by these anonymous motorized bikers.
Aiding and abetting this relatively new electric bikes phenomenon, we have our Mayor and City Council Members building green painted cycle lanes down major thoroughfares in New York City. They say this is in the name of limiting car emissions. Of course, in practice, it works the other way. When Columbus Avenue is reduced to one lane because of the new cycle path and (let us be honest) stationary delivery trucks, the net result is stalled cars and trucks, and increased emissions, as they are forced to slow down their movement to their destination. The atmosphere is getting more polluted, not less, because of these car-stalling lanes. Nor are the lanes occupied by the average New Yorker out for a pleasant ride. Recently, I had to wait outside the Rapid Covid Test Center on Columbus Avenue at 72nd Street, and in my half an hour wait on an admittedly cool day, I counted how many bicycles were using the new green-painted cycle lane and who was riding them. I counted a total of 18 in that time, a third of who were riding against the traffic flow, and none of whom obeyed the traffic lights. All of them, without exception, were food delivery men on electrified bicycles.
These “electric-assisted” bicycles were, at one time, illegal. “Altcycle,” a charity, proudly announces on its website that it has successfully lobbied to make these machines legal. They self-righteously proclaim that they are taking the streets back “for the people.” As one of “the people,” I was never consulted or asked, and nor were you. Most electric bicycles reach speeds of about 28 miles per hour, but some go as fast as 45 mph, and these have a slowing governor, which the rider is supposed to “self-impose.” Self-impose? Responsibility has never seemed the hallmark of the delivery-men, or the spandex speedsters for that matter. If they can go faster, they will.
This insanity seems to be international. In the land of my birth, England, there is a charity called “Cycling UK,” with the same goal of making London a predominantly cycling city. The patron of this society is the Queen. Yes, the Queen of England, a monarch who has never actually been seen on a bicycle. But, as Patron, I assume she does it all the time; secretly. When you think of the Queen, does cycling come to your mind? Not mine!
I suspect her patronage, and indeed the endorsement of our City Leaders in New York is a strange way of virtue signaling. “We are against cars and for pedaling.” It all sounds so noble, until the reality of the danger to pedestrians, and the resultant clogging of the movement of traffic, essential to the City dynamic, is actually looked at. Their self-righteous stand for the environment has resulted in dangerous sidewalks and stalled traffic polluting the air we breathe. And if the speeding racers in their yellows and blues, their pinks and greens, wanted to strut their concern for this planet, they might check first to find out if their spandex was made by child labor? Do they care that, in fact, most of the fastest bikes are made by exploited workers in China? You do not have to answer; it is a rhetorical question.
I remember the days of my youth in England when postmen delivered the mail on bikes, midwives pedaled to the homes of pregnant women on them, and the police routinely rode around their beats on bicycles. Now, no sensible midwife would venture forth in that way; she would be run off the road.
When Citi Bikes were introduced, I thought they were a positive step. Slow, sturdy machines reminiscent of the way bicycles used to be built; safer for all. I still believe that and am all for the program. But, recently, they have introduced Citi Electric-assisted bikes. These are driven by people with little or no experience in controlling these powered two-wheel bicycles. Watch out, pedestrians!
This leads me to my final comment, namely that pedestrians need to be the ones wearing crash helmets. We all have had the experience of being pushed aside by someone texting on their phones and not looking where they are going. Now we have food delivery cyclists and the spandex speedsters to contend with. If you venture out for a stroll, I suggest extreme caution and a helmet. Maybe then we have a chance of enjoying a walk in, what used to be, the most walkable city there was.
But, as I said at the beginning, I enjoy cycling.
Ronald P. Stewart