A Heartwarming Brooklyn Bike Story

I was just having a conversation with the Spiders last night about how, in the knitblog world, many things are kept off-blog. Here's an off-topic story that could be kept off blog. But I'm going to tell it to you anyway. If you're not interested, I'm sorry - you should check out the Counterpane Carpet Bag photos above, though!

In case you haven't heard, people don't love cyclists in New York. Whatever you feel about Critical Mass and similar bike-rights events in the city (I personally support them, for the most part), some people think they perpetuate resentful feelings against bikers as annoying traffic hazards who don't follow traffic laws even though they claim to have the same right to the road as vehicles. Having biked some in NYC and Chicago, I think there's an extent to which that's true, and lately, the more I've been biking in the city, the more I find myself irritated when other bikers flagrantly disregard the law. As Chris' cousin Abigail (an avid road biker) observed on the topic, bikers in the city sometimes run lights as an act of self-preservation, to get out of potentially dangerous jammed traffic and such, but breaking other traffic rules "just because" is bad PR. There are some things that I see people doing that are just out of sheer laziness and only serve to annoy drivers and pedestrians alike.

Topping the list of shame-worthy practices are (1) adults riding on the sidewalk and (2) riding the wrong way down a one-way street. So this morning when we were walking back from the Greenmarket, a woman whizzed past us on the sidewalk coming down 3rd St. (the wrong way). We'd passed her above 8th Avenue, so she clearly could have gone down 2nd the right way, and off the sidewalk. Really, I know normally it's not a good idea to shout at strangers in the city. And I normally don't engage in shaming, especially because I'm sure I inadvertently do rude things all the time myself. You may not support this kind of vigilante action, and if so, I'm sorry to offend. That said, I present our interaction for your entertainment and edification:

Bike Lady: [whhhhhizzzzz]
Jess (to Chris): Why is she riding on the sidewalk?
Chris and Jess (together, shouting): Get off the sidewalk!
BL (stops): What's your problem? Am I hurting you?
Jessica: Only kids are allowed to ride on the sidewalk. This is why people hate bikers.
BL: Oh, why are you so uptight? You guys didn't have sex this morning or something?
Chris: Actually we had sex three times already this morning. (I love Chris. He's so great at this! Maybe it's because he's from NJ.)
BL: [silence] (continues riding away, shouting some expletives)

So a minute later, she is waiting at the light on 7th Avenue (still on the sidewalk) and we meet again. BL notices us.

BL: What's wrong with you [bleep] people? You have no reason to yell at me you [bleep bleep]. What am I supposed to do, go the wrong way down the street?
She and Chris have an exchange that I'll pretend I didn't hear.
Jess: Don't you know this is the reason people hate cyclists? You could easily have gone to 2nd St., and gone the right way on the street. You know that.

Here's where it gets really bizarre. The woman had with her a giant paper tube, like the kind wrapping paper comes on. She took it out and thwhacked Chris with it several times on the chest. Then the light changed and she pedalled off, on the street this time, in the 3rd Street bike lane, but still, going the wrong way, yelling.

Chris: Whaaa? Did she just hit me with a tube?
Jess: That's is such a good way to solve problems! By the way, you're going the wrong way!
BL: [middle finger aloft, shouting incoherently]
Jess (to Chris): It's too bad we didn't get her name. You could sue her for battery.

Ugh. Not pleasant, and I don't pretend to be the hero in this story. I know yelling at strangers is a bad idea sometimes, and hell, she could have had a machete instead of a cardboard tube. But in any case, she'll probably stay off the sidewalks for a while. (oh, BL, if you're by some small chance a reader... nothing personal. Just don't ride on the sidewalk, k?)

Posted by jess at July 29, 2006 11:59 AM | TrackBack

You are absolutely right about rude bicyclists! Although, your point about her possibly having a machete is true too. Sad times when we have to keep quiet and let others do what they want because they might have a gun etc.....

Posted by: carol at July 29, 2006 1:21 PM

You go! I am not that brave, though I have found myself muttering irratedly when people are just generally dumb and rude on the subway or out and about, and sometimes I hope they hear me. My biggest pet peeve is people on the subway who are blocking the aisle/door and don't move at all when you say "excuse me" but then glare at you when you push by them. What, am I supposed to miss my stop because you don't feel like moving? Garh.

For the record, Boston struggles similarly with the biking problem.

Posted by: Alison at July 29, 2006 1:47 PM

Good job! I think she probably just got upset because she was embarrassed about getting caught doing something wrong. A little embarrassment can do a lot more than when people litter...."Excuse me, sir, I think you dropped this" while you hand them back their cigarette butt, etc. It takes a lot of guts, though, and I usually just think about saying something.

Posted by: Mandy at July 29, 2006 2:00 PM

OK, I think that is so funny... maybe I'm immature, and maybe I've lived in a big city myself (LA) for too long... but yelling happens. Not pretty. Where on earth did she get the tube? Odd.

Posted by: Mary-Heather at July 29, 2006 2:22 PM

wow-that is quite an exchange! i can't believe she hit him with a cardboard tube!! that's insane. let's add that to our "only in new york" list we started last night. michelle is probably reading this and saying, "i'm so glad i'm moving to portland!"

Posted by: Lisa at July 29, 2006 3:20 PM

OMG, that is too bizarre. A tube? She hit Chris with a tube? There are some really, really weird people in this city.

Posted by: Jessica at July 29, 2006 3:21 PM

i HATE when i see people riding on the sidewalk!! it's one of my biggest pet peeves. i've almost been knocked down many times by insane riders on the sidewalk, especially chinese delivery guys. i just don't get why they don't ride on the street. ridiculous. good for you for saying something! and she should be ashamed of herself.

Posted by: gleek at July 29, 2006 3:55 PM

I got your back girl! I probably would have yelled something at her too. I bike a lot, albeit not to commute, but I really hate the bad rap people give cyclists. Riding the wrong way, cruising through lights or stop signs without even slowing down. A lot of it is just a safety thing, not really just for others, but for themselves too. I think they take it for granted that people don't treat them like cars and that if they were to get into a confrontation with one, of course the car will win. Ever since I started cycling, I've realized it's made me a more conscientious driver. But cyclists have to remember that not everyone is and that just because you're on a bike, doesn't mean you have the right of way of a pedestrian.. it's either you want to be treated like a car or you don't. *-- end rant --*

Posted by: Angela at July 29, 2006 4:21 PM

Bicyclists, you know the kind of ethics they have. It's like a notch underneath child molester.*

Seriously, I have little sympathy for bicyclists in NYC. Sorry. Shame on her and good for you. You go, girl.

*brownie points if know where that line is (uh, sorta) from. :) *

Posted by: Sandra at July 29, 2006 4:43 PM

Ugh. that's just so unpleasant. I can't believe she swore at you guys. People are freaks. Why would you defend yourself when you were obviously in the wrong?

I must say, though, it's great that you guys have bike lanes. In my city, where I commute to work on my bicycle, there are three bike lanes on the city map. They run about 100 metres each along streets that aren't even connected. I try my best to stay off sidewalks, but most of our streets were designed for horse and buggy, so there are times when it become necessary to ride on the sidewalk. If the sidewalk is busy, I get off and walk, but if it is clear, I keep riding.

What I hate is when I am using proper hand signals, etc and cars practically mow me down. I had a driver pull out in front of me when I had the right of way. The passenger hollered out the window that I should get the *ahem* off the road. And you thought all Canadians were nice.

Posted by: Steph VW at July 29, 2006 6:10 PM

Hahahaha, "Did she just hit me with a tube?"
Oh man. . .I know it's not right that she did it, put picturing some grown up stranger on a bike hitting another grown up man with a cardboard tube puts me into a fit of giggles. :]

Posted by: meena at July 29, 2006 6:27 PM

Even in Salt Lake City, with the extra-wide streets and improved bike lane access, there are cyclists who don't bother with traffic laws (I commute frequently by bicycle). It's almost as annoying as drivers who won't respect stop signs.

Posted by: thraceknits at July 29, 2006 6:52 PM

Wow, the second cycling commuter from Salt Lake commenting on this. The best cyclists I know obey the traffic laws, realizing that in order to be respected by motorized vehicles, they need to be respectful of them, as well. On the other hand, I have had people try to run me off the road out in the boondocks just because i was on a bike and not in a truck.

In any case, i wish i could have filmed the lady hitting Chris with a wrapping-paper tube. I find that very amusing. A new niche in self-defense?

Posted by: holly at July 29, 2006 7:59 PM

machetes or no machetes, i think New York is the perfect place to publicly shame people like this. chances are, you'll never see this lady again, but she won't forget you. then again, the anonymity here obviously made her feel comfortable assaulting chris. i think battering someone with a cardboard tube would be third-degree assault.

Posted by: carrie m at July 29, 2006 10:51 PM

OMG, this sound just like something I would do. Only, my hubby is so very against public anger so he would've been mortified. How lucky you are to have a partner in crime like Chris! What a fantastic exchange you shared with BL. Very inspiring, really. But that cardboard tube thing is odd. And, yet, picturing her beating Chris with the tube brings a morbid smile to my face. I'm so sorry!

Posted by: Knitting Niki at July 29, 2006 11:18 PM

First of all, in Japan (and I think China as well), it's common practice to ride bikes on the sidewalks... so maybe that's why the delivery people use the sidewalks.

Secondly, as a bicyclist from NC, where no one walks or uses public trans but instead uses cars, I use the sidewalk to ride my bike as protection. Otherwise, I will get mowed down. Of course, I get screams of "get a car!"... maybe in NY people are more careful about cyclists, but there are really so few of us in NC, it's dangerous to use roads. Seriously--terrifying.

I know that people use sidewalks to walk, and in crowded places (like downtown Osaka and Tokyo) it's easier to walk than to bike (human traffic), but as long as you ring your bell to tell people to move out of the way, it's ok (in my book) to ride on the sidewalk, and also you have to follow the pedestrian rules.

But I can't BELIEVE that that lady hit Chris! OMG!

Posted by: hari at July 30, 2006 4:16 AM

You got me. I was looking for the heartwarming part.

I'm a former bike messenger, struck 4 times- mostly by cabs, and I really disapprove of people riding bikes on sidewalks. (Though, the way cars are here in NYC, riding in bike lanes can get you killed.) I'm quick to yell "get off the sidewalk," especially since there have been close calls with my daughter.

Um, hitting someone with a tube, because they called you out for doing something you shouldn't? That lady a)hasn't lived here long, b)is going to get run out of town soon.

Posted by: Iris at July 30, 2006 11:25 AM

I think everyone has a similar bike story in NYC. My favorite is nearly being killed on Varick and Spring by a cyclist going the wrong way, against the light, on a one-way street. I, being a good pedestrian, looked for oncoming traffic and when there was none, prepared to cross the street, not being aware of the assholes who barrel down the wrong way without regard for anyone else. A man behind me grabbed my by the shoulders and pulled me back with centimeters to spare from getting totalled by the biker. Who, of course, was going way to fast, not wearing a helmet and yelled at me for being there. Jerk. I think you did the right thing by speaking up. Far too often we don't say what we should, and then people never learn.

Posted by: Megann at July 30, 2006 1:07 PM

As a person who bikes everywhere in Philadelphia, I want to be offended by your story, but I'm not. There is no excuse to be riding the wrong way down a one way street--this not only annoys drivers, but has put me in a dangerous game of bike chicken when the rider in the wrong refuses to move and/or is stuck by cars. Riding on the sidewalk is only excuseable if the sidewalk is HUGE.

It is time for bikers, drivers, and traffic laws to adapt to eachother! I'm sick of being intentionally hit by cars just because they don't like me riding my bike.

Posted by: elizabeth at July 30, 2006 1:22 PM

I'm aorry to laugh but that is really funny -- she hit him? with a cardboard tube? What are people thinking?

Posted by: Jasmine at July 30, 2006 4:45 PM

We have the same problem here in Stockholm (Sweden) as well. I ride my bike to and from work everyday during may-september, and it's other bikers that cause most problems/annoyments/dangerous situations. It's like traffic rules don't apply to them!

I think you did the right thing.

Posted by: Katarina at July 31, 2006 9:30 AM

This person defines the term "bikehole."

Posted by: slp at July 31, 2006 9:41 AM

Once in Brooklyn I got slammed into by a jerk on a bike going the wrong way. He was incredibly indignant about being called on it. I should have been the one doing the screaming, considering how hard he hit me, but he was homicidally angry at me for crossing the street (at the crosswalk, with the light...) while he was busy tearing up the road in the wrong direction. Grrrrr. This was years ago but it still pisses me off just thinking about it. No points to my (ex-)boyfriend, either, who just stood there uselessly while the guy screamed obscenities at me.

Posted by: Beth S. at July 31, 2006 12:18 PM

I was about to comment that I totally agree! And that I wish my city had bike lanes etc etc, but Steph VW beat me to it :) (Steph and I are friends who live in the same city, small blog world).

It drives me CRAZY when the dog and I have to lunge out of the way of oncoming bikers on the sidewalk who DO NOT SLOW DOWN AT ALL OR TRY TO AVOID US. However, I live in the seedy north end and yelling will result in bodily harm from something more sinister than a paper tube. Oh, how I wish I was big and scary sometimes...

Posted by: Moe at July 31, 2006 12:36 PM

I am completely in favor of bikes over cars, but bikes are vehicles and must not be on the sidewalk. I had a run-in with a cyclist that nearly mowed me down when I lived in Philly. I turned to yell for her to ride on the street, and she came back to yell. Again, I was not a hero, but when she started mouthing off, I told her to get off of her bike so that I could kick the shit out of her. I think she was so flabbergasted (as was the crowd of unhappy-at-sidewalk-biker pedestrians), and she went slinking away without comment. I feel for cyclists, as cars aren't good about sharing the road, but that is for police to be enforcing.

Posted by: Gina at July 31, 2006 7:45 PM

First, it's great of you to share that story - these things happen in NYC. As for me, I didn't know about all those bike rules. I really didn't. Luckily, I don't actually ride a bike in the city. So I can imagine deciding one day to give it a try with the best intentions, and then finding myself in the position of the bike lady, uninformed and yelled at. Especially in a place like Park Slope where it's so residential it kind of looks like the suburbs, where I grew up riding wherever I wanted. It's good of you to inform people, and she certainly shouldn't of hit Chris, but you were taking all of your pent up anger at all bike riders out on that one bike lady.

Posted by: jessie at August 2, 2006 10:22 AM

That's pretty hilarious, but only because it didn't happen to me - if it had, I'd feel yucky and stew about it too. Like the guy this morning that honked at me in the left turn lane because I was ...gasp... waiting for a pedestrian to cross the road. The nerve.
If you're gonna use a vehicle, you gotta know the rules and follow them. Always and forever. And when you don't, you gotta be prepared to face the consequences. I hope BL falls off her bike and smashes her paper tube. (Cuz I can't really actually wish harm on anyone, it's just not right.)

Posted by: Carrie at August 2, 2006 1:02 PM

Haha wow! That was pretty bizarre behaviour on her part! She was probably just reacting to being yelled at by strangers, though. Getting a positive response out of someone after you yell at them is pretty rare, I find.

Posted by: Erica at August 3, 2006 7:02 PM

Why is it that people seem to get their rocks off yelling at bicyclists? Is it because we are unshielded by tonnes of steel, and yet free to get around the city at a reasonable clip? Are you jealous? Is that why you hate us so much that you assume we haven't done the appropriate cost-benefit calculation before choosing to ride on a sidewalk crowded with pedestrians, dogs, and babies? Oh wait, if the sidewalk was crowded, I wouldn't use it! Please bear in mind that bicyclists are attempting to balance not interrupting your aimless morning stroll with NOT GETTING KILLED. Unless a bicyclist actually scares you by the way they ride on the sidewalk, you should give them the benefit of the doubt that they are avoiding a more dangerous situation, and will resume proper behavior when the danger has passed, or they have the opportunity to seek another route. Then again, perhaps you are also the kind of person who yells at strangers in the street about their poor grammar, or snatches cigarettes out of the mouths of local adolescents while you lecture them about the woes of emphysema?

Posted by: not dead yet at August 10, 2006 2:31 PM

Hi, I'm new here but I couldn't pass up commenting on your post. I'm completely with StephVW on this one. I live in a suburban area with no bike lanes. My husband and I try to ride in the road, following all bike rules, whenever possible. However, there are times when the road is narrow, and the big SUVs will not move over the least bit to accomodate you. At that point, you have two choices: check to see that there are no pedestrians on the sidewalk, and use it temporarily to get out of harm's way, or get run over. I'll take the first every time. If there is a pedestrian on the sidewalk, then I'll get off and walk my bike past the person til I can get back on and get in the road. In my area of the world, people are just not used to cyclists and refuse to share the road, whether you are following the rules, and using proper hand signals, or not. Their rule is: I'm bigger so get out of my way. If our governments want people to ride bikes and save gas and cut down on traffic and lower the obesity rates, they really need to give us safe bike lanes!!

Another thing I wanted to point out is that all cyclists are lumped together by drivers, but there is a difference. Some cyclists are serious riders, with proper helmets and equipment and follow the laws. Others are the teenage boys with no helmets who want to play chicken with the cars. I wish that drivers would realize there is a difference, and only be angry at those like the BL who don't follow the rules, rather than take their anger out on ALL cyclists.

Posted by: Debby at August 10, 2006 9:25 PM

Hmmm...I didn't even know bikes weren't supposed to be on the sidewalks. Then again, I don't ride a bike, never have in this city.
But I also have NEVER in the 9 years I've lived here had any issue with a bike or bike rider on the sidewalks, streets or otherwise. They pretty much have stayed out of my way and honestly I barely notice them.
That's hideous and horrible that the biker woman attacked him with As surreal as it is, she should have been ticketed for the assult. Totally out of bounds. Insane.
But also, I guess Chris might think again before yelling at strangers...
Love the stitching on the handbag.

Posted by: Katie at August 11, 2006 11:29 AM
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