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Notes From A Polite New Yorker: Cyclist Jerks from Hell

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Just because you can do less damage with a bicycle doesn't excuse you from riding it recklessly, and the Big Apple is sick with reckless cyclists.

One fine morning as I was about to cross a street in lower Manhattan and go to work, I had barely stepped off the curb when I heard the thin chimes of a bicycle bell. I looked to see a cyclist moving towards me.

"Get out of the bike lane," sneered the cyclist as he pedaled past me.

Not only were we not in a bike lane, he was going the wrong way down a one-way street. I stood there flabbergasted as he rolled by. A few seconds later, I heard him ring the tinny bell once again from farther up the street. 

That incident pretty much encapsulates much of the New York bicycle situation. A very large segment of the cycling population not only regularly violate all laws of traffic and common sense, they have an entitled attitude about it. They want all the rights of an automobile owner and none of the responsibilities of sharing the road. 

Let me iterate that I am not against cycling or cyclists. I have many friends who enjoy riding bicycles, and if I didn't live 16 miles away from work, I'd gladly consider riding a bicycle to and from work. It's good exercise, better for the environment and all that jazz. When I was a youth I rode a bicycle constantly and terrorized adults and other children with it whenever I could. I'm all in favor of bike lanes, bicycle parking and even the bike sharing programs that are finally starting to take shape in the Big Apple. 

A good rule of thumb for cyclists is: If I can't do it with a car, don't you try it with a bicycle. That does not apply to keeping the bike in your apartment and walking it on sidewalks etc. If I drove my truck on a sidewalk, ran a red light and then drove the wrong way down a one way street, I'd expect to be arrested for reckless driving. Just because you can do less damage with a bicycle doesn't excuse you from riding it recklessly, and the Big Apple is sick with reckless cyclists. 

Walk the streets of New York and without fail you will see cyclists do one or more of the following routinely: running red lights; riding the wrong way down one-way streets; riding on sidewalks; passing traffic on the right, even passing cars making turns. It's without fail. If a motorist is making a right turn and I try to pass them on the right, I'd be the biggest jerk in the world, yet a cyclist will yell and pound on a vehicle to protest their imagined "right" to be a reckless idiot. I've seen it happen. 

They operate on the theory that they are an endlessly persecuted minority and thrive on being the victims of ignorant motorists, homicidal drivers and overzealous police. 

In many cases cyclists are treated unfairly. Every cyclist I know has a litany of horror stories that involve being struck by car, hassled by the police or confounded by ignorant pedestrians. People that I know have been the victims of aggressive motorists who think they own the road, and I've had to break myself of the habit of prematurely stepping into the street before I have the right of way. 

But bicycle culture has given us another urban horror that the city doesn't need, that of a cyclist every bit as entitled and boorish as the most reckless motorist or thuggish pedestrian. 

Witnessed one night on Stanton Street on New York's Lower East Side: A van was driving the wrong way down this one way street. Next to the van was a man on a bicycle, yelling at the driver of the van for driving the wrong way while also driving the wrong way. 

"You're both going the wrong way," I said to the man. 

"I can do that faggot!" he called to me as he bravely sped away on his bike. Actually he can't; cyclists have to obey the same rules of the road as cars. And unless he's just won the Tour de France, a grown man in bicycle shorts has no business calling anyone a "faggot." But more to the point, riding the wrong way down a one-way street is especially odious in New York, where pedestrians are accustomed to looking only one way before crossing a street because so many streets are one way. Yet many cyclists do this all the time and think nothing of it.  

Many of the cyclists are good people trying to escape the dual hells of public transit and city driving. I can't blame them for wanting the freedom to move in a city that is so often confining. But having a smaller carbon footprint doesn't absolve you from the rules of the road or the precepts of human decency. 

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