Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Cycling in NYC: Know Your Enemy

For those of you who are new to cycling in the city, or who may be planning a trip to town with bicycle in tow, following is a guide to the local vehicular fauna that inhabits our streets. Recognizing their appearance, habits, and means of attack is essential to your survival. Here are seven of the most dangerous vehicles you’re likely to encounter:

Yellow Cabs

New York City yellow cabs are the sharks of the automobile world. While they’ve become the archetypal example of bad driving, aggressive behavior, and general internal-combustion mayhem, the fact is they’re pretty low on the danger scale and are pretty easy to deal with. Recently, as one drifted slowly into the bike lane and nearly crushed me against a row of parked cars, I knocked urgently on its sheet metal in the same way you’d punch an approaching shark in the nose to drive it away. The driver not only refrained from squelching me, but also offered up a bewildered expression that could have been interpreted as an apology in some countries. If that’s not politeness and consideration I don’t know what is.

Town Cars/Car Services

These things, on the other hand, are death on wheels. Generally speaking, the older and more customized the Town Car the more dangerous it is. A shiny new Town Car in Manhattan is generally operated by an upscale car service and will for the most part operate with a degree of civility, as the driver is not about to delay the financier or celebrity in the back seat by having to stop to pry a cyclist from under the car. However, as the cars age, they are sold to progressively lower-end car services, and they bring their increasingly predatory behavior to habitats well outside of the city. They acquire more layers of paint, more dents, and shinier wheels. The suspension is also usually jacked up too, to ease the removal of unfortunate cyclists from underneath the chassis. Eventually they become gypsy cabs, whose drivers are responsible for more hitting-and-running than the Yankees and Mets combined. If in doubt, check the car’s antenna length. The longer the antenna the more dangerous the car. Some of these things have antennas so long they resemble trolley polls on electric buses. This is because they receive their marching orders from the center of the earth, and are dispatched by Satan himself.

Access-A-Ride Buses

According to the MTA, “Access-A-Ride (AAR) provides transportation for people with disabilities who are unable to use public bus or subway service for some or all of their trips. It offers shared ride, door-to-door paratransit service.” What they fail to mention is that for some reason these things rarely have passengers on them and they drive like bats fly. Their preferred mode of attack is going through intersections at high speed ten seconds after the light has changed, switching lanes schizophrenically, and making high-speed right turns on red. If you don’t know what these things look like, they’re boxy white buses similar to airport shuttles, and they usually have a crushed wheelchair under the front bumper that’s throwing out a shower of sparks.

City Buses

Like Access-A-Ride buses, these too will run lights. They are also emboldened by their formidable size and will quite willingly play chicken with cyclists. One favorite tactic is to speed up in order to pass you, and then to quickly pull over at the next bus stop in an attempt to make you either stop short or hop the curb. Don’t make the mistake of thinking a municipal service like a bus would ever yield the right-of-way to a fellow citizen when it’s appropriate to do so, or would take the huge disparity between your level of vulnerability and theirs into account. It won’t. It will, however, kill you.

Fresh Direct Trucks

Thanks to the proliferation of people in places like Brownstone Brooklyn who are too important to do their own shopping, the urban landscape is now completely cluttered with Fresh Direct delivery vehicles. Fresh Direct customers cite their busy careers and child-rearing responsibilities as reasons for having their groceries delivered to their homes, despite the fact that people have somehow managed to juggle these tasks successfully for centuries now. The truth is that they are of a certain breed that considers olives and fresh shrimp a staple, who won’t let their children watch TV despite owning four giant plasmas, and who are secretly thrilled at the prospect of having three or more service people in their house at a given time. (For them, making the cable guy work around the contractor while their personal organizer accepts a FedEx package is ecstasy.) Unfortunately, they make the rest of us work around their service people as well, since these trucks stop wherever and whenever they want, and halt traffic for blocks. And should you attempt to speed by one, you are liable to become one with a hand-truck laden with free-range chicken, tapenade, and organic vegetables.

Old American-Made Minivans

If you happen to be cycling in New York and you see an old domestic minivan, immediately dismount and seek the nearest sidewalk. (Though once off the street you’re still not completely safe from them.) Fortunately, you can usually hear these things first, since they emit a shrill chirping sound caused by their squeaky belts. They are usually carrying three generations of a large family simultaneously, and for some reason these families almost universally designate the driving duties to the shortest, angriest, and most confused family member among them. These things straddle lanes like Hollywood starlets straddle producers, and for reasons I have yet to deduce, they want you dead. Forest green ones with bubbling tinted windows are the most dangerous, followed closely by maroon. And if the driver is on a cell phone, just get it over with and kill yourself.

Food Delivery Bikes

It’s sad that one of the most dangerous vehicles out there in New York happens to be a bicycle. But it’s true—these things operate with an impunity that would make an Access-A-Ride driver blush. Take a seasoned messenger’s risk-taking and disregard for traffic laws but subtract his artful ability to do both well; that is a New York City food delivery person. Now, I don’t mean to begrudge anybody making a living by bike, and I certainly respect someone who makes a living in a manner as difficult as this. But he fact is, some of these guys are incredibly dangerous and will come at you in ways you’d never expect: from between parked cars; flying off curbs; head-on between two lanes of traffic; and leaping from rooftops and swinging from power lines like Paul Reubens did in “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” during the climactic Warner Brothers studio rampage scene. They also eschew baskets and tend to carry their cargo in plastic bags hanging from their handlebars, which makes their already wobbly department store bikes handle even more unpredictably. Lately, too, they seem to be fed up with not getting the kind of respect and admiration that messengers get, since they’ve actually been trying to race me with increasing frequency in what I can only assume is an attempt to assert themselves as cyclists. The other day I passed a guy with a pizza who was going to be damned if he wasn’t going to beat me to the light. (I tried to let him go but he slowed right down with me like it was a matched sprint.)


Anonymous said...

Forest green ones with bubbling tinted windows are the most dangerous, followed closely by maroon. And if the driver is on a cell phone, just get it over with and kill yourself.

You forgot to mention the little "Kill a Cyclist for Christ" fish thingies. Must be nice to live somewhere where Dodge pickups plastered with Bush stickers aren't a problem.

Anonymous said...

The Dominos guys in my neighborhood uptown keep trying to race me, too. It's particularly funny when I cruise past them on my 45-year-old utility bike with my bag on the front rack.

Dr. Logan said...

I was just at the Monterey Bay Aquarium this weekend and the wild-life I saw there has nothing on the bunch you're describing. Well, maybe the sunfish...

Prolly said...

the car service drivers are the worst. I got rear ended by one on Grand st in BK. REAR ENDED. How the hell do you rear-end someone on a bike?

You forgot the rollerbladers.

Anonymous said...

...this column is much too realistic & truthful...

...please go back to your usual great erudite satire.

cloveras said...

You have to write a book.

Niki said...

The Access-a-ride vans are just trying to create more customers.

Anonymous said...

A couple of exceptions to the generally safe cabs:

(1) if you see anyone hailing a cab in front of you, duck and cover, because they will stop at nothing to get a fare, and

(2) beware the tickety-tick of a stopped cab's meter printing a receipt, a woman with a Prada bag is about to door you and begin screaming like a banshee when you make impact.

Anonymous said...

something you might enjoy or make you want to do slam your head into a wall

Anonymous said...

In the area NW of Los Angeles the biggest problem I have is bicyclists traveling the wrong way in the bike lane, esp. at night and with no lights. I have had many near accidents with them. They should at least be looking for bikes traveling the right direction. If you are a pedestrian, good luck: There are more bicycles on the sidewalk than on the street.

This is off subject but you all have helped solve a mystery that has been bugging me. I buy old bikes in lots at auctions, fix them up and give them to needy families. There are lots of people needing transportation here. Anyway, the popular bikes here are mountain and BMX bikes. (Road bikes are not "macho") The BMX bikes I get are invariably missing brakes. I buy and install replacement brakes and levers on the BMX bikes. Later I will run across a bike I fixed and find that the brakes are again missing. For the life of me I could not figure out why the brakes would get removed??? Now I know, it is because they are fixed gear bikes!!! Now what do I do? Do I keep replacing brakes, leave the brakes off of compromise and just install one brake??

Re. fixed gear bikes: How are double sidded hubs regarded in NYC where one side has a track-type threading, (with lockring) and the other side is threaded for a single-speed standard freewheel?

Anonymous said...

re: Access-a-ride

I thought I was the only one who realized how craze these drivers are.

Anonymous said...

Another identifying feature of gypsy cabs is that they honk frequently, but not a you (assuming you are on a bike). It's kind of like a mating call to pedestrians. It can result in a brief moment of relief, if not happiness, on the part of the cyclist upon realizing that no personal harm is threatened by the horn.

Anonymous said...

what, no SUV's with 19 year old obese puerto rican girls with giant jodi watley hoop earings? that's exactly who told me to get out of "their" way yesterday. if only rosie perez knew that bikes are allowed on the street. i passed her at the next red light, told her she should keep quiet since i'm apparently faster than her.

Anonymous said...

to the guy from l.a. the food delievery guys are constantly going againest the bike lane, not for a block or two but usually their whole delivery...drives me nuts

Unknown said...

Here it Boston it's always seemed to me that the most dangerous category of vehicle is actually a category of driver: someone who's driving for work, but is not a professional driver. Any time I see a plumber's van or a contractor's pickup, or even an SUV or nice Lexus with one of those magnetic signs on the side, I give it a very wide berth and won't pass it.

You get all the distractibility and irritability of a driver on the job, but none of the training or experience or fear of losing their livelihood by killing someone.

Jim said...

Porsche Cayenne, aptly named because only having a cayenne stuck up your fourth point of contact would make you drive like that. They go harder to get ahead of cyclists than Lance Armstrong, cut more people off than the average mohel, and like to scream more than Jenna Jameson.

What's also nice is they look out for me. Sure, they may cut me off in traffic, run me into parked cars and occasionally nudge me into oncoming traffic at turn lanes, but the two times I've caught up to Cayennes at the next light and challenged the drivers to get out and engage in a game of Catch the Curled Fingers With Your Chin, they've sped off through the red light, thus sparing me the trouble of assault charges and bloody knuckles. See? They care! They really do love me!

Richard said...

I love you.
London Baby Racing Club

Anonymous said...

what about the bridge and tunnel guidos veer at you on their aimless tours around town on fri. night "looking for the bar, bro!"

"get a car, faggot!"

"nice bike, bro! what are you, gay?!"

Dan Mc said...

Hmmm it seems that we have similar predators in Vancouver as well. One of my bikes hangs in a bike shop at the moment, awaiting is fate after a run-in with minivanus domesticus greenus.

Anonymous said...

You forgot dollar vans. All the worst of buses and Town Cars rolled into one. I especially love the friendly too-da-toot too-da-toot horns, which must be the East Indian signal for "I hate you and I hope you die".

Art said...

Around here there are also migratory species to worry about. The worst are the out of state leaf peepers in the fall (looking everywhere but the road) and motor boat guys in the early summer (that don't seem to realize that their boats are five feet wider than their pickups)

brianfmorrissey said...

Another trait of the Mini-van species: pulling to the right into the bike lane, just as you are passing in bumper-to-bumper traffic as they come to a stop behind the car in front of them, as if to see around them and yes, there are more cars.

Anonymous said...

Being a food delivery cyclist myself (on a track bike no less) I laughed pretty hard reading your description because it's right on point. Ask any guy on a fully loaded touring bike, stopping and than accelerating back up to full speed a bike loaded with 50 lb of shit in the back is a royal PITA. Add the fact that you're operating in the busiest area of the city, and the fact that most people doing food delivery aren't exactly avid cyclists outside of work, and you can see where the problem comes in... keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Here in Australia, white delivery vans are the scourge of cyclists. There must be city rules that dictate they can't be utilised for delivery purposes unless they are at least 10 years old and the drivers only recently licensed. They are usually rusty, covered in dents and peeling FOOD TRANSPORTATION stickers. If the diesel fog emanating from the broken muffler or their 'bumper car' driving skills don't kill you, the food they are transporting will.

Unknown said...

I've found that non-native species, in DC it's easiest to sot them by the markings on the license plates, of motor vehicles are especially dangerous. I imagine the same goes in most urban settings. Although correctly identifying an urban NY motor vehicles apart from an upstate or Long Island variety of NY motor vehicle is difficult to discern on appearance alone. Only until you witness its behavior can you truly tell them apart and by then it might be too late.

Their natural habitat is often places like exurbia or Florida and their inexplicable forays into urban habitats make them uneasy and irritable giving way to violent and unpredictable behavior most commonly directed at cyclists.

Xenophobia drives them to attack cyclists, after all where they come from bicycles are docile creatures often tethered in bunches in remote corners of the same garages they sleep in or move slowly and aimlessly in their immature phase.

Seeing an adult bicycle occupying the same territory they are on, moving rapidly and with purpose, frightens the non-native motor vehicle and its instinct is to attack sharply and quickly and immediately flee the scene once it has maimed and pacified the urban cyclists leaving nothing but broken bones and unanswered questions.

whew - Marty Stover RIP.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 2:08, don't be racist. Homicidal driving knows no color or creed.

Anonymous said...

Ha ha, so true.
That's why riding in NYC is so exciting...
I love NY !

Anonymous said...

Pedicabs. Enough said.

Anonymous said...

i think this reigns true no matter what city, state, province, or country you live in. just match vehicle type to the area you are in and you get the worst offenders.

another offender:
the avid cyclist (under 30) behind the wheel.
god damn if you get one of those cross overs behind the wheel they think they can pull quick moves like turning left through an intersection with heavy on-coming traffic- against the light- and escape unscathed!( in one case i managed to go flying head first into a pick up and dent the shit out of the side panel before eating it over the back end. i did not escape unscathed either sadly.)
they are like a wolf in sheep's clothing; daring enough to try bone head moves, but not relaxed or experienced enough to realize their motor vehicle takes up four times as much space as their own bicycles.
you hurt your fellow friends and i hang my head in shame.

living in vancouver, bc and being an avid cyclist myself- this yeah alone i've had 4 motor vehicle related crashes! (i have actually been intentionally doored by a cabbie, grabbed off of my bike, and thrown on to the hood of a car, while he screamed at me.)

the most recent being the most damaging (broken elbow... ect.) the only thing was the driver himself was AN AVID CYCLIST!! he even tried to fix my bike right then and there!
vancouver needs more bike awareness, if any at all. so many of my friends have been hit this past year it's a wonder why any of us try anymore!
though i love riding my bike, so i'm not going to stop.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to add cops to this list. They like to ticket us for running a red light after the 5 express busses have done the same thing.
Today I was riding up 6th avenue and a cop car cut me off, making chose between slamming into the row of parked cars or falling off my bike. I was ready to let him have it until I realized it was a cop, and he'd probably seen me run the red light a block beforehand.

Anonymous said...

i do a death grip on the handlebars every time i hear big, chunky off-road truck tires grinding the pavement behind me. the pickup trucks carried by those tires are usually driven by hate-filled macho young men who frequently die in drunk-driving/street racing incidents.

Jim said...

Hey Josh, don't forget the three other menaces in D.C. - (2) literally foreign drivers (World Bankers, exchange students from countries without cars, or the guys with diplomatic plates that apparently mean you can mow down cyclists as if they were political protesters in your own country); (2) young dudes driving $2,000 ricers with $3,000 turbos and $4000 stereos; and, (3) anybody with New Jersey plates.

Some of the other states send ridiculously bad drivers to D.C. along with their congressional delegations - Florida drivers rival New Jersey's.

alliwannadoisbicycle said...

nice. but you're forgetting the worst- at least in the park: leash-less kamikaze dogs and their apathetic owners.

AdamB said...

uh, don't you mean "match" sprint?

BikeSnobNYC said...


I've seen it both ways. To be honest I have no idea which is correct.


The thing I don't like about the "Bridge and Tunnel" sobriquet is that (with the exception of the GW Bridge and the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels) when you cross a bridge or tunnel out of Manhattan you're still in NYC. The term "B&T" was coined by Brett Easton Ellis types who are scared to leave Manhattan. (Though they will now make occasional foryas into Brooklyn).


Anonymous said...

In the Boston area, we have the scourge of the September 1st U-Haul - it's the biggest move-in day of the year, so there's gazillions of badly-driven u-hauls double-parking and swerving all over town.

Anonymous said...

Haha! I'm right with you with the food delivery bikes. Those guys are awful. I've had more near-collisions with them than with any vehicle.

I do take offense at your characterization of Fresh Firect customers. When you live 10 blocks from a supermarket as I used to, there a super-convenience. Don't tar us all with the same brush. The really elites get their food from Whole Foods

Anonymous said...

Kudos to BSNY, truly the voice of reason in the cycling world! I must however point out one glaring omission from today's post.

Fresh Direct customers deliver a 1 - 2 punch to cyclist in NYC (and the surrounding outer boroughs and suburbs where many of your loyal readers tend to swarm). These people, when they take to the road, will do so in some form of Lexus or Infiniti laden with every possible gadget, convenience, and distraction to take their minds off the mundane task of gettig from point A to point B. Perched on the finest leather seats, surrounded by precision controlled climactic comfort these high end purveyors of mayhem are totally oblivious to any other life forms on the road.

As with minivan demons, the sight of a Lexus of Infiniti raises a red flag warning of impending doom. Steer clear, yield unfailingly, to them, you are not there, never have been, never will!

Remember, if you don't show up on their GPS, you can't be there!

BikeSnobNYC said...

8/23 6:56pm,

Understood. However, my commute takes me through Brownstone Brooklyn, and this morning I watched a double-parked Fresh Direct truck block a fire engine en route to an emergency.


adam ryan said...

this post is right on! haha. i love the part about the people who have there food delivered to them. dead on.

Anonymous said...

Heh, to be honest I got a good laugh from this post. Although I think any car donning New Jersey plates should be added on the list.

Unknown said...

RollerBladers. There was a time when we had room to ride...

Anonymous said...

A few that have been left out:

Garbage trucks and restaurant grease collection trucks- They smell so bad and noone suffers more than cyclists so when you work your ass off to pass them they speed up to try and force you to stay behind their putrid fucking asses. Plus they leak all kinds of nasty shit onto the road that you end up wiping out on (happened to me once).

FedEx, UPS, DHL drivers etc. and Beverage distributer trucks that consider bike lanes to be their personal standing zone.

Pedestrians! They have no business not having a clue.

Hasids and Puerto Ricans. Let's be honest, who drives the shitty minivans and has immediate family members numbering in the double digits?

Anonymous said...

I'd have to say that the one thing that makes me fear riding in NYC is the damn food delivery guys.

I can't count the amount of times these guys have cut me off because they were riding down the wrong side of the street not paying attn. while doing their run.

The last guy cut me off catching is food delivery bag on by bars causing me to fly into moving traffic where I was struck by a car.
The food delivery guy saw me with my legs covered in blood and just got back on his bike taking off from the accident. He didn't even try to turn around to grab his food delivery bag which was still on my bars.

Good post!


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