On a gorgeous Saturday afternoon a few weekends ago, I was riding my bike west on Houston Street toward Houston Hall, the bar where I was supposed to meet my sister during peak hours. My sister lives out of town and I was running a bit late, so I was biking fast when a rear driver’s side car door suddenly popped open in my path.
I locked my back leg immediately and dug up hard into the pedal strap with my front foot. Though I installed a brake on my fixed gear just for these situations, my hand wasn’t positioned to use it and I was not in any mindset to recall that it was even there. I managed to skid and slow down a bit, but still slammed right into that fucking door. After smacking the aluminum and vaulting over the handlebars, I somehow landed ninja-style on my feet—a far better end than the decision to swerve into the street often leads to, no matter how natural it feels to dodge an object directly in one’s path. Then I popped up and started screaming at the motherfucker whose negligence put me in that potentially deadly situation.
A week or so before, on a similarly beautiful weekday morning, I was riding my bike up 1st Avenue, getting ready to turn east and head to my apartment. I live on 3rd Street, which goes west, and usually I’ll loop around to 4th Street to avoid riding against traffic. But since I was late, and feeling lazy, I decided to turn east onto 3rd instead.
As I slowed down to edge into the intersection, I looked to my right and found myself directly in the path of a screaming missile of a commuter on a road bike. I eased out into the middle of the street to give him space, but he (understandably) panicked and swerved right into my altered path. His front tire clipped my back tire, and he spun out and crashed to the asphalt. As someone who has wiped out in the worst way—and possesses the awful scar to prove it—I feared that my impatience and selfishness had caused a serious injury. I circled back with my tail between my legs. He was (understandably) pissed off, but okay.
In tandem, these anecdotes illustrate a very important point: We are in a period of belligerent dick swinging about the changing nature of New York City’s transportation system and who should control the roads. Bike share, bike lanes, pedestrian islands, etc.—there are a million should-we-or-shouldn’t-we items up for debate. And these two incidents provide a crystalline illustration of how, for all the legislative and infrastructural dialogue, the most important factor in bike/pedestrian/driver safety is good ol’ human behavior.
I bike everywhere, and I try to be a good citizen about it. But just one moment of laziness—of willfully flouting the rules—nearly caused a serious injury. The guy who doored me certainly had no malicious intent, but his carelessness—and not a lack of paint on the ground—created the problem.
Ironically, the dooring perpetrator’s response to my query of “WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?” was “this is Manhattan, dude.” Which is exactly the point. This is a city in which people move fast and constant vigilance is required. This is a city in which you have to look before you open your door and you have to suck it up and bike with the flow of traffic even if it adds a minute to your commute. The alternatives are accidents and anarchy.
The sooner we all stop bickering about the inevitable evolution of New York City transportation and start focusing on our own personal on-the-street behavior, the better off—and safer—we’ll all be.
Featured image courtesy of Fil My Scene