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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Eternal Vigilance and Tenacity

I know a man who has trained domestic cats that do an entire circus act, including jumping through hoops of fire*. Remarkable really. I have had a number of cats in my lifetime and as anyone can attest, they are extremely difficult to train or discipline. Much as it has been said that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance - it is also the price of having a disciplined feline. Cats are extraordinarily persistent, patient and unrelenting in getting what they want and ultimately will wear an owner down the moment he or she relaxes.

New York City is also quite unrelenting. Thieves never give up, new measures to secure property are foiled, drug dealers move back into areas cleaned up, new variants on vandalism arise. Only massive diligence and constant attention have a permanent effect. Few areas of the city get that kind of attention. When things do improve, the tendency is to relax. And then that damn cat is back on the kitchen counter.

There is a lot of whining and howling from bicyclers in New York City who want to see a more bike friendly city. Understandable, since on the surface of it, bicycling would seem like a wonderful mode of transport, like it is elsewhere. Efficient, clean, lean and green. I love bicycles and have always had one in the city, although I use it much less frequently now.

However - and New York is the city of howevers - bicycling in New York has had a plethora of problems and roadblocks, daunting to all but the toughest and most tenacious. The dangers and deaths are realities - see the ghost bike of Derek Lake here. Two of my coworkers are regular bikers and commute from Brooklyn to Manhattan daily. One has pledged that she is essentially boycotting the city's transit system due to cost. It requires the use of heavy locks, chains and bravery to navigate the streets of New York.

Bicycling has seen numerous setbacks and obstacles to progress. In other parts of the United States and Europe, we see many innovative and progressive ideas regarding bicycle use and storage. Hearing of things like The Yellow Bike Project of Portland Oregon or the BikeValet Automated parking system of Europe (there are plans to install this in NYC) just adds insult to injury for the New York cyclist who only aspires to getting from here to there safely and parking without their bike being stolen or vandalized.

But the bike community in New York City is militant and relentless. Recently, a number of steps forward have been taken. Bike lanes have been more seriously implemented, and new legislation has been passed: buildings with freight elevators are required to allow employees to bring their bikes upstairs and parking garages of certain sizes are now required to offer parking for bicycles - see the NY times article here. Many question, though, whether $68.89 per month is progressive or draconian. Rates as high as $160 per month have been reported.

Ultimately, improvements and positive change in New York City are incremental and arduous as we move two steps forward and one step back. Whether cats, freedom, crime or bicycles in New York, the price is always eternal vigilance and tenacity...

*The act is known as Dominique and his Flying House Cats. Dominique LeFort performs regularly at Westin Pier for Sunset Celebration adjacent to Mallory Square in Key West, Florida. Valery Tsoraev with Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros Circus has an act with trained house cats. Yuri Kuklachev, a clown with the Bolshoi Circus, created the Moscow Cats Theatre featuring 120 domestic cats. Gregory Popovich started Comedy Pet Theatre with 14 cats, eight dogs, three rats and two pigeons.

Other Bicycling Posts: Derek Lake (ghost bike), Orange You Glad, Get Well Curve, Jungle Gym, Left For Dead, Urban Bike Polo, Wild Crash, Art Bikes, Penny Farthing.


Naomid said...

I am boycotting the MTA because of the increase in cost combine with a decrease of service. I won't pay more for fewer and more unsafe trains.

Introducing bikes to NYC has been frustrating for everyone. Pedestrians, bikers and cars are all in turnmoil, fighting for space.

Brian Dubé said...

Kudos to you for such discipline and courage. And yes, it has been a battle for space in every arena.

Mary P. said...

For Naomi--

Do you find the new concrete islands for bike lane separation at street corners to be helpful or hazardous? As a former bike commuter, they look dangerous to me. Any unexpected presence in the lane or roadway cannot be responded to easily. You can't swerve if needed.

How do you feel about them?

Also, I've seen pedestrians walking along in the bike lanes on some major avenues. The sidewalks are uneven and crowded, so some people walk in the bike lanes. An added benefit for them is there are no curb cuts to negotiate at the end of blocks. (Some of these seem much too steep for their stated purpose which is for wheelchair use.)

(Since I now walk with a cane and have balance issues, I am especially sensitive to pedestrian conditions on the street.)

Brian Dubé said...

Mary P - I can't say I have examined this situation closely but attempts to create new lanes by adding islands just decreases street real estate. Mayor Koch did a bike lane like this on 6th Avenue in the 1980s, publicly admitted it was a failure and removed it.

Naomid said...

Hi Mary,

The new divided bike lanes serve 2 purposes. 1) to slow down traffic. 2) to create an extra lane for bike.

Those lanes are a little better for me then a traditional bike path painted on the ground because cars are less likely to park/idle there.

A real problem is people with baby carriages, which infuriates me. More commonly in Brooklyn, less in Manhattan. Careless parents are endangering their children by pushing them into bike traffic. Dumb! My big pedestrian problem is people stepping into the bike lanes to cross the street. That surprises me. If I have to swerve I put myself and others in danger. People who are full on walking down the street in the lane are less of a problem. I see them, and I have time to maneuver. I also have a bell, and it usually does the trick. Pedestrians talking on cell phones in bike lanes, that's another kind of problem.

In summary, those lanes are better, and feel safer with fewer cars to deal with. Its important for us to have a dedicated lane.

Mary P. said...

Glad to hear they are of use. Now that I'm mostly a motorist on the street, the slowing down of traffic is a major nuisance. The "traffic calming" effect they talk about certainly doesn't pertain to the tempers of motorists. Broadway was once one of the best ways of getting downtown. Now...impossible. Seniors I know complain about their bus trips being twice as long as before, and since the buses were slow already... For them the subway or bicycling is not an option.

I guess you can't please everybody. I hope these changes DO help bicyclists.