Get out of the bike lane

The Queensboro Bridge links Midtown Manhattan with Long Island City. I cross it every day on my bike to get to work. There’s a dedicated lane, totally apart from traffic, for pedestrians and cyclists. It’s wide enough for everybody, so on a purely theoretical level, there shouldn’t be any problems. But there are always problems.

People don’t know how to follow the rules. This dedicated lane has a line drawn down the middle. On one side, there are stenciled images of people on their bikes, on the other side, ones of people walking. That sounds simple enough, right? People on their bikes are riding fast, and people walking or running, not as fast. Terrific.

But it’s like, maybe twenty five percent of people on the bridge at any given time are either not understanding this very clear line of demarcation, or they understand it, but they’re thinking to themselves, fuck this line. I’m not going to get bossed around by a line. I’ll do whatever the hell I want.

I know it’s really lame for bike riders to complain about people being in the bike lane. Even though it’s true, it’s a tired argument, and Fred Armisen made fun of this trope at length on Portlandia. But come on, why are you going to walk in the middle of a bike lane? Riding downhill, bikes are flying. It’s like some people are thirsting for a collision.

And so every day I cross the bridge and there are always at least one or two people doing their thing, walking in the bike lane. Most of the time it’s … whatever, it’s annoying to me, but I’m not going to do anything. Normally there aren’t tons of people in the way, and it’s really no big deal for me to do a little swerve and avoid that guy with his head down (looking straight at the stenciled bikers spaced twenty feet apart) with his headphones on, or texting on his cell phone.

I really try to prevent myself from getting annoyed. I know that it’s crazy, that there are a billion people in this city, and I can’t let myself get upset at stupid trivialities like this. If I indulge even one urge to yell to somebody, “Hey man, this is the bike lane,” as I zip by, even if it does do something, which it most likely won’t, there’s just going to be somebody else doing it five minutes later.

And so I just try to stay calm, tell myself that I don’t have any control of this world, of other people, that this is probably like a metaphor for life, for my existence on the planet, me trying to do my thing without getting all bent out of shape about other people doing their thing.

But sometimes I’m not so patient. Every once in a while I will yell out, “Bike lane!” at some clueless pedestrian. Sometimes I’ll try the passive aggressive route, cutting right in front of the walker just inches after I pass. Did you feel that gust of wind when I passed? Yeah, that’s because you’re in the wrong lane buddy. You’re going to get hurt. I’m going to get hurt.

The lanes aren’t there arbitrarily. They’re an attempt at maintaining order, at facilitating the bridge crossing for a large number of people using different methods of transportation. Why do some people ignore it? It’s like life, why are some people just so opposed to everything?

“Hey, maybe things would run a lot smoother if we did it this way.”

“You think you’re smarter than me? Don’t tell me what to do! You can’t tell me what to do! This is America! I’ll do whatever the hell I want!”

The other day I was crossing and this guy and girl were walking their bikes, taking up the entire bike lane. And as I was trying to cross, there were other pedestrians going the other way in the pedestrian lane. And so I actually had to come to a stop because there was no way for me to pass. I made eye contact with the guy in the bike lane and that was all it took to set him off as he got instantly super aggressive.

“What the fuck are you looking at, bitch?” he screamed. And so I probably should have just ignored this and pedaled on, but I responded to the aggression with my own surge of adrenaline. I shouted back, “Get out the bike lane, you’re in the way!” His response to that was to throw down his bike and start walking toward me. I didn’t want to throw my bike down, but I didn’t want this clown to think that he could scare me away, so I placed it down, but did it with dramatic zeal.

“What are you going to do, beat me up?” I said, wildly mimicking his chest thumping and arm flailing, “You’re going to be a tough guy?” at this point the girl he was with started pulling at his arm, and me, having absolutely zero interest in getting in an actual physical altercation with a complete stranger, I picked up my bike and continued my ride to work.

It was pretty stupid. That guy could have been nuts. He could have totally attacked me. I don’t know what I was trying to prove. I felt like an idiot on the rest of the way over. What if he punched me in the face? What would I have said to my boss if I showed up to work all bloody and bruised? “Sorry boss, you see, this guy was walking in the bike lane, and we got into a fist fight …”

I just don’t see why we can’t at least try to follow the rules sometimes. Not every line is a challenge to your personal liberty, an invitation for something to be crossed. There are a lot of people on this planet, and sometimes these rules just help everything to run a little smoother.

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