A tale of two cities

First, there’s Amsterdam, “a faraway place where the bike reigns supreme.”

Then there’s New York, where “virtually everything about the city’s growing bike culture has prompted vigorous argument and even fury.”


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24 Responses to “A tale of two cities”

  1. John Says:

    Here in Dysfunction Junction we finally got some long-overdue signage showing the “bike route” way to get from the east entrance of Colorado National Monument back to the west entrance, and vice-versa. This is the “famed” Tour of the Moon ride that was a stage of the Coors Classic. Up until now, for a newbie or a tourist getting back to where you started on this famous and popular ride was often an exercise in getting lost. So great! We have signs!

    I heard from the city that within less than 24 hours the city was getting complaints about the signs. Seems the locals resent having “hordes” of cyclists in their area.

    I guess all of the whining and temper tantrums among drivers isn’t unique to New York or here. I’d say it’s the norm, especially in our pampered culture. Since when did it become acceptable for grown adults to throw a fit every time that they don’t get their way? Enough already, grow the fuck up!

  2. khal spencer Says:

    My understanding, and I could be wrong, is that the Federal governments in the Netherlands, Germany, and a few other nations in Europe were making bicycling part of an overall strategic plan to reduce dependence on foreign oil, given that oil was scarce in Europe when we were awash in the stuff here.. So adding bicycle facilities, putting a punitive surtax on oil, making it easier to bike, walk, or take a train or bus easier than it is to drive, etc., were part of an overall strategic plan to reduce driving. Add to that Vision Zero to keep drivers from behaving badly, and you get a unified plan.

    Here in the U.S., we are working at cross purposes. On the one hand we subsidize roads, keep gas cheap, and make the auto industry a critical part of our industrial base. Motorist misbehavior is tacitly accepted via weak laws and lax enforcement. On the other hand we try to promote cycling. You end up with people squabbling over space and funds. Not surprising, everybody gets self-righteous and gets into a kitty snit with each other (I am sure O’Grady is familiar with kitty snits in his house).

    One would think NYC would welcome bikes, but from what I read, the politics have gotten toxic. With space at an extreme premium, its easy to see the other as enemy.


    • Steve O Says:

      I can’t speak for Nederland or the other countries, but I lived in Deutschland when acid rain was a huge deal. The forests that produced cuckoo clocks, nut crackers, and Wüstof handles were disappearing hookers at a GOP convention. And they weren’t about to tell Bosch to slow down headlight production or lower the speed on the autobahn. (Actually, now that I think about, I think they did drop the speed in some areas to a reasonable 120 km/hr.)

      Anyway, there was a concerted effort to move to nukular power, to update mass trans, and maintain bike lanes and fußgängerzones.

      It’s hard to tell over there which policies are top-down government directives and which are simply good business decisions. The American business model is to hit it big and cash out, while the German model is to build something to leave for your kids. We’re always looking for cheaper parts and cheaper labor, but Germans focus on building stuff that will last so that other customers will want the same thing.

      One example: nearly ever gas station back in the day had a vampire oil change system. Your oil filter was built to last 50,000 km, so at the 10k mark, you’d just suck out the bad oil and pour in new. The oil was collected and recycled. Smart concept. But was it gubbermint mandated or just good business?

      • khal spencer Says:

        That’s right. I fergot the forest poisoning problem. Some of that probably has to do with burning coal, too, since Germany continues to rely on coal for some of its energy. Its soft coal, too. In fact, Germany is presently on track to fuck up really badly, replacing nuclear power with lignite that is strip mined. According to Forbes, Germany took 8 reactors offline after Fukushima, even though Germany is not likely to be hit by either large earthquakes or tsunamis.


        “…Because renewable power sources have been so unreliable, Germany has been forced to construct numerous new coal plants in an effort to replace the nuclear energy it has taken offline. In fact the country will build more coal-fired facilities this year than at any time in the past two decades – bringing an estimated 5,300 megawatts of new capacity online. Most of these facilities will burn lignite, too, which is strip-mined and emits nearly 30 percent more carbon dioxide than hard coal. In other words Germany is dirtying the planet in the name of clean energy – and sticking its citizens with an ever-escalating tab so it can subsidize an energy source which will never generate sufficient power….”

  3. Derek Lenahan Says:

    Had to go to the Big Apple last Holiday season. I found it interesting that electric bikes are illegal but you can’t go ten feet without seeing one chained up, they are literally everywhere. They were all the same brand too. Somebody is making a killing.

  4. James Says:

    Not sure if I would say “the bike reigns supreme” in A’dam but there are quite a few there. The infrastructure – as far as I could tell during my vacation there a few years ago – is such that bikes are transportation, and dealt with as such. They are not toys, a means of recreation, or “the new golf” as some think of them here. In a sense it is more like an SAT question: Car is to New York as Bike is to Amsterdam.

    Further the transportation system is built around a small area – like NYC – and the different modes of transport available. Within Amsterdam there are trams, intercity rail, buses and intracity rail, along with quite a few highways. Bike traffic, at least from what I saw, was not as great as some would imagine since a cyclist must share the road with trams, buses, cars, motorcycles, scooters, trucks and millions of pigeons (or tourists). In a sense, bikes become the traffic of Amsterdam because it is not built around the idea of a car – since the ‘idea’ for a car was still 400 years off when the city was founded.

    The one thing that I would like to see the US implement is the law whereby if a cyclist is hit by a driver, the driver is 100% responsible for the accident. So, in a sense, the bike does reign supreme on this matter. Yet it is probably not as ‘supreme’ as the American reliance on infernal combustion engines.

    • khal spencer Says:

      I’ve avoided hitting a few suicidal cyclists in my years, James and am glad I wasn’t 100% responsible for their folly. Including the one riding downhill on Silver Ave. in Albuquerque at night without lights and wearing dark clothing. Almost made it a twofer, as he had a passenger sitting sidesaddle on the top tube.

      Only reason he didn’t end up impaled on my driver side door was I caught some motion in my peripheral vision and braked hard as I was entering the intersection, after having done due diligence looking for cross traffic.

      Me? I wish the cops and juries would simply look at all of us as equals. Cyclists are third class citizens in court.

      • John Says:

        “I wish the cops and juries would simply look at all of us as equals. Cyclists are third class citizens in court.”

        Oh, Khal, you’re going to love this story from just last year, which just confirms what you said. The short version: my far better half and I were harassed by a couple teenagers in a POS Ford Escort last year. The kid driving charged at both of us repeatedly even though we were as far to the right as possible. Eventually I stopped on the side of the road for the second time and this kid (again) charged his car right up to me and stopped short. I looked down at the license plate attached to the grille with bailing wire and, not wanting to forget the number, proceeding to remove said license plate and the plastic grille it was attached to. In response the kid took his car and ran into me as I was remounting my bike. The cops were called and in the end the cop claimed (in what I suspected at the time and later confirmed to be a blatant lie) that in order to charge the driver with anything he would also have to charge me with menacing or something like that. In other words, a teenage kid used a 3000 pound car to assault two cyclists, one of them a 110 pound woman, and the cop threatened to charge me if I wanted to press charges against the driver.

        I ask myself, what if we both had been driving cars? You can bet your ass the cop would have had a different attitude, because to the local cops the roads were made for cars.

        Around here, when dealing with the GJPD I often wish we could be promoted to third class citizen.

      • khal spencer Says:

        One of the reasons I worked my ass off developing a relationship between cycling and LAPD was to avoid these horror stories. If that had happened here, the teen would have been a guest in the county B&B.

  5. khal spencer Says:

    Ok, here’s one for the O’Grady Cycling and Brain Eraser Think Tank.

    We talked on this thread about improvements to cycling designed around cycling as transportation. We we don’t always cycle for rote transportation. Sometimes, having a double standard works in our favor. Or does it?

    Last night, after slapping the lightweight wheelset onto the Cannonball, I did a balls to the saddle and nose to the handlebar descent of Camp May Road, reaching speeds that would rightfully have me listening to that famous phrase “Will the Defendant Please Rise” if I did it in my car or motorcycle. That would have been fair had I been doing it in a 3500 lb car or 600 lb bike, as I would have been a clear and present danger to others had I fucked up. But generally, society looks the other way when we play on an 18 lb vehicle. Is that a good idea, or does it once again reinforce bad stereotypes, to wit, that not only should we look the other way when some maniac has his nose to the handlebar on an 8% descent, but when that same cyclist, in Clark Kent mode, is lawfully proceeding through an intersection and gets nailed by a texting driver?


    • John Says:

      Khal, you bring up a very good point. Descents especially are one place where we take often choose to ignore the speed limit, maybe it’s because for most of the time keeping it under the speed limit isn’t a real concern.

      There are a couple descents around here, though, where the double standard still points the usual way. Within the local National Park Service entity there is a strict 25mph speed limit on the downhills that they enforce for cyclists at least as much for us two wheeled types (we’re easy to catch). I’ve tried many times to adhere to their speed limit but a) it’s really hard to hold a bike down to 25mph on a long 7% descent, I’ve ended up with two very warm rims, and b) I inevitably get some asshole in one of those multi-ton motorized things driving six feet off my rear wheel as if I had a back bumper. For me, I would feel better about doing their speed limit if they would take a very hard line when it comes to “tailgating” a cyclist (even though we don’t have anything like a tailgate).

      I’m not easily rattled but having a redneck in a Ford F150 so close behind me that I can’t risk pulling over does that job. And so I speed up, and reward bubba back there for being a dick.

      As for the other descents around here on county roads, the guys at Mesa County Traffic seem to like driving fast so many of these descents have ridiculously high speed limits. Windy descents on rough and patched chip sealed roads with 50mph limits? Yea, I don’t see me risking too many tickets.

      Just a quick PS: I bitch about riding here but that’s just the fly on the birthday cake. The cops can be apathetic, and the park rangers can be ignorant and biased, but my god the road cycling is good here! The shit experiences stand out only because most of the time it’s so much fun to ride a bike.

  6. Patrick O'Grady Says:

    K, I think we as cyclists want to have it both ways. We want our fair share of respect on the road, but reserve the right to hop up onto the sidewalk when desirable, slither alongside the right-hand side of a long line of cars up to the stop light/sign, and treat stop lights/signs (and speed limits, when possible) as advisory.

    • khal spencer Says:

      My personal rule is to go out and play on the open road and toe the legal line when in city traffic. I guess that is my compromise to The Cyclist’s Double Standard.

    • Patrick O'Brien Says:

      Every time a rider runs a local stop sign we pass while walking the Duffinator, I silently thank them for pissing off the drivers that will now lump me in the same group with the offender. The “stop as yield ” laws have my support, and I wish AZ would pass one. We treat stop signs as yield signs, and almost stop even when no traffic. You never know who is watching. AZ law is clear, bicycles are vehicle and must obey all traffic laws.

  7. Steve O Says:

    Happy Bealtaine, by the way. May the sí protect your livestock throughout the coming year.

  8. Jon Paulos Says:

    Meh. Last year I finally hit the age where I’ve owned a car for more years than I haven’t. It took me some years to get to that point. Years ago when I lived in Seattle sans car I enrolled in an Effective Cycling course and it has shaped my attitude since then. That story in NYC isn’t really about bikes, but is about apathy toward one’s duties as a citizen to stay informed on the events of the day. Change from a bike share program installation to a traffic revision installation or a traffic light addition and the story would be the same. “What do you mean you’re doing this? I wasn’t informed, even though I had every opportunity and walked by this every damn day. It’s not MY fault.”

    The stories about evil car drivers? Completely true, and the reality is that there are always roads you should avoid. Even in treehugger Seattle. The stories about idiot privileged bike riders? Completely true, and don’t whine if you get caught or run over as a result. The stories about crappy police attitudes? Completely true. Stand by your rights and lawyer up if you have to.

    Now I live in York PA, a distinctly blue-collar red-state area. Cyclists are a small minority and roads are crappy. Do I have problems riding? Not yet, knock on wood. 5.5 years and counting. My biggest difficulty is dealing with the hills.

  9. James Says:

    Food for thought:

    A friend posted this link on FB earlier today – maybe he read my mind, or this blog. Either way, it is pretty interesting.

    • Patrick O'Brien Says:

      That is a great article. If we change the idea of a bike from toy to transportation here, think of what would happen to bike racing. NACSAR ring a bell? How about the Daytona Century?

  10. Phat Says:

    A. Somewhere on the Innertube is a clip from A’damn, looks official, about bikes. Seems like bike use rates are inversely proportionate to traffic injury/fatality rates, and between that and congestion problems is what drove the Dutch to De-automobilize A’damn.

    B. There should be a law…in any collision, the heavier collisionist is automatically at fault. Crawling babies could never be wrong. Railroads would remove grade crossings. Cars might have some respect for cyclists (assuming most drivers are clever enough to have a self-preservation instinct, but then I remembers that half of everybody is below average so that last statement might not be true).

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