Tag Archives: bike lane

Self-appointed bike lane enforcement guy

It’s not my job to tell people what to do, I get it. I keep telling it to myself over and over again every time I ride my bike across the Queensboro Bridge. I’ve written about this before, but there’s a shared lane fenced off from traffic on the North side of the bridge. It’s about the width of a single lane of normal car traffic.

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Only, this lane is divided by a white line down the center. The inside side is clearly labeled every twenty feet or so with these stick-figure graphics of a guy on a bicycle, while directly opposite, there are images of pedestrians. It’s easy enough, biking on one side, walking on the other.

But I don’t understand why people can’t just follow this very simple system. If you’re on a bike, why do you have to bike in the pedestrian lane? If you’re walking or running, what are trying to accomplish by taking up space in the bike lane? Why can’t we just respect the system?

But like I said, I’m not in charge, OK, I get that. It’s not my job to tell people to follow the rules. I’m not a cop. People aren’t obligated to listen to me. And so I try to just bite my tongue. I really do make an effort to not let myself get angry just because other people make decisions that I wouldn’t make.

It seriously drives me crazy though. I’ll be biking on the bike side of the lane when I see a runner coming right at me. What do I do? Isn’t it easy enough to just swerve out of the way? Yeah, I guess in theory there might come a time where there could potentially be a traffic issue, multiple bikers trying to pass each other at the same time at the same spot, a situation that could be neatly avoided if the runner would just stay in his designated running lane.

But most of the time it’s not an issue. It’s certainly not my issue. The guy’s in the bike lane, it doesn’t matter. It shouldn’t matter. I should just ignore it, bike around him. Why do I have to let the actions of a complete stranger dictate the state of emotions inside my head?

But I’m not always thinking the same way every time I cross the bridge. Sometimes I might be in a really good mood. I’ll see that runner, I’ll say to myself, hey Rob, just focus on your own life. Don’t worry about what other people are doing. It doesn’t matter.

Sometimes it works. Other times I might be running late, I might have just gotten into an argument with someone. Maybe I’m just pissed off for no reason at all. That happens, I can wake up on the wrong side of the bed. And look, now I’ve got some idiot running right at me from the wrong side of the lane. Well you know what? I don’t feel like getting pushed around, not today, not by these people just blatantly disregarding the bike lane and the pedestrian lane.

And I just want to put it out there, when I get bent out shape, I know that I’m in the wrong. Every time that I take this shit personally, every time I choose to react to something like this, I get it, I’m the idiot here. Yet sometimes there’s nothing I can do. Something about it just drives me off the wall. Like why do I have to get out of your way? Why don’t you just stay on your side and then nobody will have to get out of anybody else’s way?

There are several ways of me going about being a self-righteous bridge asshole. If the runner is running all the way to the side of the bridge, I might meet him head on, a classic game of chicken. Eventually we get to the same spot, and I kind of put my hands in the air, like what the hell man? And he does the same thing, like come on dude! And that’s it.

Other times I might get verbal, like, “Come on man! Bike lane!” and then I’ve basically lost, because now I’m the crazy person yelling at random strangers on the bridge. It’s all nonsense. I don’t want it to bother me anymore. I just want to ride my bike across without feeling like I’m being one-upped by anyone. Maybe I should start commuting blindfolded. When I get in someone’s face, it’s pointless. There’s going to be another pedestrian in the bike lane like thirty seconds later. What am I going to do, yell at every single person? Is that going to be my thing, like self-appointed bike lane enforcement guy?

I hope not. I hope that eventually it won’t bother me, like I’ll learn to not let it piss me off. But I’m still far away from that day. Because even if I do restrain myself, even if I politely get out of everyone else’s way, it still pisses me off. Just stay in your lane, all right, it’s really not difficult at all.

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.

You have no idea (what your body is capable of)

The other day I was out on a really long run. Halfway through, my stomach drops. Does that make sense? That’s what it felt like. It felt like everything holding my insides in place suddenly vanished, gave way, and in the span of about fifteen seconds, I went from perfectly fine to total agony. Did I mention that it was pouring rain? It was pouring rain. And when I say really long run, it’s like much longer than you’re imagining, twice as long. I hobbled along for another mile or so before coming across the most disgusting public bathroom in some park by the Williamsburg Bridge. There was a group of homeless people inside, taking cover from the rain, passing around a bottle of hooch. As soon as I open the door they all turn to me. Man, what do I do? I just kind of motioned toward the stall. It’s amazing what your body is capable of in moments of extreme duress.

Last spring I was biking to work. It was total gridlock, everywhere, all the way from my house to my job in the city. The cars were at a complete standstill. So I’m just flying in between rows of parked vehicles, weaving in and out. I get to the Queensboro Bridge. Usually I’d just stay in the bike lane, but traffic wasn’t moving in the car lane, and I figured, what the hell? Why not? It would save me a left turn going downtown. At first everything was great. The lanes are so wide on the bridge that I basically had my own lane in between lanes. And I’m just feeling fantastic, cruising past all of these cars, them totally stuck, and I’m just flying.

But then like halfway across traffic opens up, and not gradually, but all at once. Like something must have been stuck up ahead, an accident, I have no idea what, but something. And now, nothing. Traffic picks up. The cars start flying by. They’re honking at me and cursing at me out the window, and while my lane is still somewhat wide, I mean, it’s hard to stay in a perfectly straight line with cars zooming by me on both sides, fifty miles per hour. And it’s a long bridge. Finally, and I don’t know if it was my fault or the taxi’s fault, but this taxi kind of clips me, just barely. And so I kind of ricochet into the next lane, and another taxi clips me, again, just slightly. And so I’m bouncing back and force in between these two cars, like I’m in some weird pinball machine. All I’m thinking is, I’m so fucked, this is it. But it gets worse. Another car comes up and hits me, and my derailleur gets actually physically stuck in the hubcap of another car in front of me. Did I mention that it’s a police car? So I’m riding in tandem with him, but he doesn’t know it. He sees me, he thinks I’m up to something, apart from just being in the car lane, he thinks I’m up to some stunt, which I kind of am, but not this stunt. And he’s out of the window, “Slow down!” and I’m like, “I can’t!” and he’s like, “You can’t? You will! I’m the cops!” It’s crazy what your mind is able to make your body do in insane situations like that, using all of your reflexes, having a conversation with a policeman while barely maintaining control of your stuck bicycle, then getting off the bridge, dislodging your bike and making a break for it before the cop figures out what’s going on.

One time I was skydiving. Did I mention that there was a tornado warning on the same day? The pilot was crazy, like a total adrenaline junky crazy person, and as the sky blackened and the hailstones started to fall he looked me dead on, a real insane glint in his eye, and he just said, “I’m good if you’re good.” And I’m so stupid, I was just thinking, well, this guy’s a pilot, I’m sure he’s been through it all. Did I mention that there was actually a tornado on the other end of the runway? “Don’t worry!” he yelled back, “I think I can beat it!” He took off and yeah, he actually beat it. But the canvas roof of the plane got ripped off and that’s when I started to get really worried. When I wasn’t getting smacked in the head with hailstones, all I could hear was the pilot going, “Yeeeee-haw! I ain’t fraid a no tornados!” We got up to jumping altitude and I realized, shit, I totally forgot to bring my parachute. Did I mention there was a tornado? There were actually three tornadoes, and we were in the center of the tornado triangle.

Just when I make a move to tell the pilot, that we better land, that I don’t have a parachute, a huge hailstone comes out of nowhere and knocks him in the head, knocks him right out. Then the hailstone ricochets off of his head and onto the cockpit, hitting some of the airplane controls. The whole thing goes dead. My only idea is, is there some way I can get inside this guy’s skydiving outfit, lug his unconscious body out of the plane, all while it’s in a total freefall, spiraling out of control, and activate his parachute without getting eaten up by one of those tornadoes? Did I mention that the three tornadoes had since splintered off into nine tornadoes? And that there was a constant web of lightning bolts connecting all nine of them, like an octagon, but with nine sides instead of eight, and us plummeting to our doom in the middle? I mean, yeah I made it, I’m alive, right? But still, you never know what your made of until you’re looking death right in the eye, or in the gaping hole where his eye would be if he had one.