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NYC encounters: Bicycle vs pedestrian

In many European cities (not so much in London, though) bicycle riders are provided with enough dedicated riding space to make it appear to a fascinated visitor that practically everyone in the city rides a bike instead of a motorized vehicle. Amsterdam is an obvious and well-known example, but, say, Munich would also surprise you with the volume of its bicycle traffic. It is all enabled by plenty of bicycle-only lanes and a certain amount of preferential treatment given to cyclists at crossings and intersections.

New York City does not have many bicycle lanes in Midtown. Those that do exist are more often than not blocked by illegally parked cars or walking pedestrians.

Yeah, let’s not forget every New Yorker’s near-constitutional right to walk wherever they please: Sidewalks, grass, driving lanes, biking lanes…

One of the cycling lanes goes by the Port Authority Bus Terminal along 8th Avenue. I almost never see it used by any cyclists. But, at the end of the workday, with thousands of people simultaneously walking towards the terminal to catch their commuter buses home, it is always a well-traveled walking lane, used by anyone who is keen to avoid the unpleasant navigation of the sidewalk. Yours truly, admittedly, is one of such people.

Imagine a middle-aged woman, in a full biking get-up, complete with a small rear-view mirror attached to her helmet, pedaling along the 8th Avenue. She can’t stay in the bike line, on account of all of the pedestrians, but she tries to stay as close to its boundary as possible.

When she crosses 42nd Street, she is now going directly against the human stream. Most of these pedestrians keep to the outer edge of the bike lane, not because they are considerate of the practically non-existent cyclists, but because they are wary of very much existent cars that are jousting for free space themselves. But an occasional pedestrian would dare the motorized traffic to go around him, by walking pretty much in the outer car lane.

So here is this big fifty-something guy, purposefully walking towards the terminal. He is clearly not going to tolerate the stop-and-go-and-dodge of the sidewalk – or even bike lane. He is passing the slower walkers on the divide between the bike lane and the car lane.

The cyclist going in the opposite direction, trying to squeeze herself between a passing car and this guy cannot avoid brushing against him. He continues walking as if nothing happened. She almost loses her balance and nearly veers into the next car’s path.

She recovers. Turns around. And hollers. “You a@#$%le! What the f#&% are you doing walking in the bike lane!?”

He acknowledges her by half-turning and hollering back, “F#&% You! Watch where are you going!” And continues to his destination.

The rest of the bus-terminal-bound crowd pauses for a split of a second, smirks, and keeps going as well.

Gotta love New York!


  1. Nathan

    As a 25-year veteran of the wars for space on NY streets, let me just say that this is a situation that could be satisfactorily solved with a neutron bomb…(while I’m out of town works o.k. for me.)

  2. Sharon

    I got honked at and yelled at the other night for crossing at the GREEN light just as it was turning yellow. Obviously, the driver was more than a little ticked off that I took my right to cross on green literally. His assinine-ness(?) startled me into flipping him the bird. Something I swear I haven’t done in many a year, and certainly not since I’ve been in London this past 18 months. Then I remembered, it’s the not the “bird” here, but that innocuous backward victory sign. I just couldn’t bring myself to correct, (simply doesn’t have that “uumph”), so I just shook my head and walked on, ignoring the puzzled look on his yellow-light lit face.

  3. Ilya

    That reminded me of a completely unrelated situation, in one of our first months in England. On a train into Central London, Becky and I were animatedly talking about something that included emphatic finger-aided display of number “two”. As fits my cultural background, I happen to indicate “two” by extending my point and middle fingers upwards, while keeping my fist inward. That is hardly distinguishable from the “bird-flipping” equivalent that the Brits use. I caught a couple of concerned looks in my direction. They seemed to say, Is that how you treat your own child?

    I was rather conscious of how I indicated “two” for the rest of our nearly three years there.

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