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.
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.
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.)