Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Indignity of Commuting by Bicycle: Death

Yesterday, on my morning commute, I made one of my usual turns and encountered a police officer as well as a strip of yellow tape. The street was closed to traffic. As many New York City cyclists know, this can be a confusing moment. Although you're legally supposed to follow the same rules as any other vehicle operator, in practice sometimes you can do whatever you want and sometimes you can't. You inhabit a strange middle ground. You can run a thousand reds in front of a thousand police cars, then one day you'll suddenly get a ticket. Similarly, when a street is closed, sometimes they'll expect you to take a different route, and sometimes they'll let you slip right on through. I slipped right on through.

At the next corner I discovered the reason for the street closure. There was a road bike lying on the pavement right behind an empty school bus and just next to a nail polish red pool of blood. If the blood had been wine it would have been enough to get you pretty drunk. I'm not one to linger at accident scenes, and I'm definitely not one to take pictures of them, but I did ask a nearby officer what had happened. "Accident," he replied without looking at me. In my experience that's how police usually respond when someone's died. I cringed a little and went on my way.

While I thought about the blood for the rest of my commute, I didn't try to find out what had happened, and as the day wore on I forgot about it. In fact I didn't think about it again until this morning as I rode through Prospect Park, and happened upon this scene right around the spot where I had my transcendent ride among the geese:



You have to feel a little sorry for monks, because they can't do anything normal without it seeming either spiritually significant or ironic to a bystander. He was probably just calling the dry cleaner to see if his spare robes were ready, but to me the sight of a monk on a cellphone seemed simultaneously profound and funny, as if he were on a hotline to enlightenment. As I contemplated this, I suddenly remembered the blood from yesterday. Not the bike, not the bus, just the blood. Morbidly, I wondered if any of it was still there.

Approaching the corner, I saw some people pondering a lamp post, and as I got closer I saw the cheap deli flowers, so I knew someone had in fact died yesterday:


I asked the people if they knew how the accident had happened. They were mostly useless and doled out an ignorant pudding of speculation and opinion, but it seemed like the cyclist had made a right turn at the intersection, maybe at high speed, and hit the bus. Before I left I took a photo of the sign by the flowers, to which someone had added a pointless message in black ballpoint pen which read "Imagine no cars":


I wasn't sure what that had to do with anything. It seemed to me the problem here was not with cars but with bicycles and school buses, two things I think most of us agree are useful and necessary, despite the fact that they may have come together disastrously in this particular instance. Personally, I feel the only thing more depressing than a makeshift roadside memorial is a pointless and simplistic faux-John Lennon sentiment riding piggyback on a makeshift roadside memorial. It's sort of like going down to Ground Zero and spraypainting "Airplanes Suck." Speaking of spraypainting, I'm sure someone's preparing a ghost bike as I type this. As I've said before, if I were to make a premature exit via bicycle I would never want a ghost bike. (Though I must admit the idea of a Scattante Empire State Single Speed ghost bike is oddly appealing to me.)

In any case, for the second morning in a row I found myself contemplating blood and death during my commute. I also thought about the middle ground cyclists occupy as I mentioned earlier, and how it extends well beyond law enforcement. As a human being you're never really all that far from death no matter what you're doing, but when you're on a bicycle you're especially close. When I'm on a bike I think of death as a membrane so thin you can't see it because when all is going well you're looking at it from the invisibly narrow side, not the all-encompassingly wide side. But when things go awry, and a series of decisions and coincidences sends you directly towards it, it's all you can see. And the death membrane has extraordinary wicking properties, so sometimes all you need to do is touch it in order to wind up on the other side of it in a puff of vapor like an evaporating bead of sweat.

We all behave a little differently in this precarious middle ground, too. Some of us ride cautiously, and some of us ride recklessly. Some of us obey all the rules but without that extra level of comprehension that allows you to make a decision when the rules no longer apply, and some of us disobey the rules but have the intuition and experience to successfully slip through unharmed. And some of us just ride blithely along, waving our hands in the air as we ride our wobbly bikes over bumpy expansion joints on the Manhattan Bridge, avoiding tragedy simply by dumb luck like Mr. Magoo wandering through a construction site:



As I rode behind that last rider this morning, I realized it's this sort of disregard that can be most infuriating. For those of us who respect death because we know on some level that we ride with it every day, it can be frustrating to watch people who don't seem to know it rides right beside them. Perhaps that's even why some of us favor a certain austerity when it comes to our bikes and our attire. Sure, it's important not to take cycling and life too seriously, but at the same time tragedy is all the more tragic when the victim looks ridiculous. (Walking into a room full of dead bodies is one thing; walking into a room full of dead bodies in clown suits is something else entirely.) Yet perhaps most infuriating of all is that one can take every precaution one can and still meet with disaster, yet the salmon chatting on the phone with a shopping bag full of $300 jeans hanging off the handlebars will live to ride another day and smoke yet another pack of American Spirits.

Then again, whether you fear death, respect it, or ignore it, it's always there. One second you're riding along with the flow:



And the next thing you know traffic, circumstances, and fate align themselves in such a way that there's nothing between you and the great tacky tinsel-festooned afterlife except an invisible soul-wicking membrane:


I don't know the story behind yesterday's accident, and to be perfectly honest I haven't been compelled to find out. I'm just going to do my best to keep on this side of the membrane for a little while longer. I hate street fairs.

147 comments:

genersal lsmenedd said...

zing zang!!

WheelDancer said...

Hmmm...

Anonymous said...

all you haters suck my balls

Don't Look Back said...

Now if youre feelin kinda low bout the dues youve been paying
Futures coming much too slow
And you wanna run but somehow you just keep on stayin
Cant decide on which way to go
Yeah, yeah, yeah

I understand about indecision
But I dont care if I get behind
People livin in competition
All I want is to have my peace of mind.

Now youre climbin to the top of the company ladder
Hope it doesnt take too long
Cantcha you see therell come a day when it wont matter
Come a day when youll be gone

I understand about indecision
But I dont care if I get behind
People li vin in competition
All I want is to have my peace of mind.

Take a look ahead, take a look ahead, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah...

Now everybodys got advice they just keep on givin
Doesnt mean too much to me
Lots of people out to make-believe theyre livin
Cant decide who they should be.

I understand about indecision
But I dont care if I get behind
People li vin in competition
All I want is to have my peace of mind.

Take a look ahead, take a look ahead. look ahead.

(scholz)


Thanks Snob, Only you could genius-ly provide a “peace of mind” through the magical mystery boston based “Bevo-Bike”

I raise my cup to You and Frilly and commenting & blogging in undies..

Can’tcha say and whatever u do, Don’t look Back

Thanks for everything, we're having a really good time.

Gratzi

ant1st said...

First!

ken (is evil) said...

whoa heavy and enlightening all at once. great post

mendacity said...

top 10!

alexmo. said...

death sucks! top ten!

R. Zach Thomas said...

I'm always a big fan of candy apples, no matter if they're for sale in a street fair.

John Ritter said...

Top 10!

Anonymous said...

kindof a downer today

Anonymous said...

Bravo, that ending was stellar.

Sobering said...

Thanks Snob,

Can't say I'm not one to think about that wicking membrane all the time.

Ride Safe, & Thanks for everything

Anonymous said...

well fuck.

Anonymous said...

that was sobering.

Anonymous said...

RTMS:

Poignant and sobering. Nicely done, sir. The occasional glimpses at the world beyond making fun of people who are harming "bicycle culture" are always appreciated, and the rariety with which they appear makes them even more striking.

Ride in peace, unidentified cyclist.

--Anon

mendacity said...

Here is what happened

Looks like the traditional right turn, cutoff and kill the cyclist accident

http://www.brooklynpaper.com/stories/31/36/31_36_sp_bike_deaths.html

Anonymous said...

i volunteer in an ER, and its really distressing how many people come in from accidents that could easily be avoided (like the "right hook").

which makes yesterday's interaction with the helmetless, brakeless fixie rider with the NCCC number safety pinned to his messenger bag, TALKING ON HIS FUCKING CELL PHONE all the more distressing.

though at least he wasnt a bike salmon, i guess.

Anonymous said...

Bikesnob, if i ever die on a bike, I'd like you to comment on my obituary with all of your awesome sarcasam.


"all you haters suck my balls"

Video_Drome

M. Weed said...

BSNYC, if you died, I would leave a ghost pie-plate (or MANY ghost pie-plates) at the scene, which would inevitably attract a flock of geese, which would make the scene, ah, slippery, and uh, pungent. I think it would be a fitting tribute.

JIM N said...

Jonathan Millstein.

db said...

Those accidents are always sobering, aren't they? Thanks for the thoughtful post.

And for hating on street fairs.

Critical Ass said...

Here's the link to the
Brooklyn Paper
The photo looks like what Snob saw on his commute minus the blood.

Cadel Evans said...

Motorized vehicles better not touch me!

Aaron said...

nice post, but what do you mean by regarding the scribbled note at the make-shift memorial as "pointless"? respects paid for someone - anonymous or not - seems genuinely empathetic. not pointless at all, but rather very human.

Rich said...

Deep

Caaah said...

Thank you. Someone gets it. As always, its very sad to see this happen. However, all the other people on a shall-not-be-named neighborhood message board just keep dragging the conversation into how unsafe biking in the city is. Like obliviousness is something to be remedied by traffic cops. I can only waste so much of my time reminding people, who can barely ride in a straight line, to turn their head and see if a car is going to run them down as they enter an intersection.

mary poppins said...

i wore a helmet to work today, really should do this more often

Judi said...

Best. Post. Ever.

Joshua said...

John Ritter made the top ten from the grave. This should give us all hope.

Der Kaiser said...

www.bringbackjan.blogspot.com

Lucky 7 said...

Great post, especially considering the day. The invisible soul-wicking membrane waits for us all.


A

Critical Ass said...

The reports from the two different papers are conflicting. One says the cyclist got hit by a turning bus and the other said he cut a red light and got hit by a bus barreling through the intersection.

Anonymous said...

aaron

BSNYC wasn't talking about the RIP sign itself, he was talking about the addition in black ball point pen that says "Imagine No Cars." You have to click on the photo to see the full size version. BS, you should add a closeup... it's a little confusing.

Anonymous said...

One of your best posts yet. Nice work dude.

Anonymous said...

ah, looks like he amended the text to make it clearer.

- anon 2:52

Anonymous said...

Well written post snob, though I don't get the last sentence "I hate street fairs". The picture appears to show preparation for some sort of procession in Little Italy. So is your distaste for fairs an allusion to the flowers and ghost bikes mentioned in the earlier post.

Apologies for being so dense

AnnaZed said...

And the death membrane has extraordinary wicking properties, so sometimes all you need to do is touch it in order to wind up on the other side of it in a puff of vapor like an evaporating bead of sweat.

Wow, that is one of the most extraordinary sentences I have ever read, and I read a lot. Dude, you need a book deal. This is pearls before swine.

Strayhorn said...

At lunch today I took a photo of a spectacularly stupid bike I saw, intending to share it with the tough crowd here.

Seems a little pointless now. Perhaps tomorrow.

Treespeed said...

Great writing.
I get so tired of being lectured about bike safety from motorists and having to account for the actions of clueless cyclists as if were part of some big club.

JPB said...

aaron 2:41 PM

The "pointless" note is the one that reads "Imagine No Cars".

crispy said...

An eloquent post on an unusual topic. Well done, and you nailed the reason unaware "pedestrians on wheels" drive me nuts :-)

areUpake? said...

very sobering as they always are. Thanks snob. Keep it safe.

... rubber side down ...

Chocolate Donut said...

"For those of us who respect death because we know on some level that we ride with it every day, it can be frustrating to watch people who don't seem to know it rides right beside them."

Probably your best post, Snob. It ought to show your critics that you're not a cynic all the time.

leroy said...

BSNYC --

A very good post.

Cycling is safe, except for those random moments, usually few and far apart, when it isn't. Using death as a platform for a political statement is as appalling in cycling as it is in politics.

But there is a difference between "Imagine No Cars" and a ghost bike.

You've written about ghost bikes before, noting one in Brooklyn.

That bike is for a colleague's wife. I was with him when two detectives showed up to tell him about the accident.

I don't know how he feels about the ghost bike. But if it helped/helps with the grief, I'm all for it.

Recently, I rode with someone who was close with one of the cyclists whose ghost bike is on the West Side Highway path. She maintains that bike. I think it helps her.

When I pass one of these bikes, I usually put my hand over my heart for a moment. I don't why I do this.

Maybe I do it to remind me to watch out for the clueless among us like the Bozo you saw on the Manhattan Bridge and his counterparts.

Those who tempt fate without knowing it are infuriating -- especially when they increase your risk.

Coming home over the Manhattan Bridge earlier this week, I had to hug the fence to avoid a guy on knobby tires popping wheelies and wobbling all over the bike path while coming towards me and several others. He'll probably ride for years to come without a scratch or even a stray thought as to what the dental bill after a head on collision might look like.

Life isn't fair, but death is worse.

jason said...

As I rode home yesterday, I was heading downhill in a dedicated bike lane at about 27mph. Free from cars. The bike lane crosses an industrial road. It's dangerous at best. I see no cars. Booyah. I bunnyhop the train tracks, back up on the bike lane with the subway 20 feet above me.

Lo and behold a cyclist occupying the whole bike lane with "dog on a leash" strung 15 feet across. I had canine, human or a concrete abuttment as an option. My insect like awareness allowed a shoulder check and a boost off the sidewalk into a truck route at over 30 mph now. Lucky for me no trucks.

A cyclist nearly killed me. Imagine a world without idiots?

Lord Batu said...

Thoughtful post on a weird day.
I'm going to crack a beer and pour some out for my fallen homies.
You are damn straight about the death membrane man...I never could leave the house without telling my wife I loved her when I was slanging packages.
Rest in Peace in Bicycle Heaven.
I had a mantra: Be where they aren't.
Can't remember who said that one first.
Rubber side down, and stay the fuck away from box trucks, buses, and garbage collectors.

broomie said...

Good post.

Ride smart boys n girls

libertyonbikes! said...

bsnyc, i think your writing pays
your bills, but then again maybe not. it's of such quality that someone would pay you enough to drive to work, and act like an ass each day in an over starched suit.
'accident' is thrown around too often, most are negligence on the
drivers part- as a cyclist you're just a marginalized second class
citizen, "if you were somebody of
worth, you'ld drive a car". it's an odd feeling that the cyclist
you pass each day could be gone.

Jim said...

(Walking into a room full of dead bodies is one thing; walking into a room full of dead bodies in clown suits is something else entirely.)

Depends. Are they regular clowns, or Evil Dead Zombie Clowns?

As for the substance of your post, I know what you mean.

frilly said...

As an aspiring cyclist, reading stories like this scares me into thinking that maybe I should go back to the safety of the elliptical machine at the gym. But then I think about how completely happy I am outside riding my bike, participating in the world not hiding from it.

Yeah, I think I'll save the elliptical for snow days. Then again, there's always cyclocross!

Philboy said...

Gee Snob, that 'soul-wicking membrane' bit sounds like Cayce Pollard's 'soul delay' bit. You're really William Gibson, eh? I was reading you because you the biggest smartass I know, now I got to take you serious? Way to go, Commuter!

leroy said...

Note to self: Dress better. Just in case.

Anonymous said...

Snob:

The pleasure in reading your work is witnessing you apply your wit and erudition to topics that are of mutual interest. I remain your devoted reader.

I'm with you through some of this post, but not all. You are talking about my life, your life, and the life, now ended, of someone else. The death of another person perhaps isn't the best occasion to showcase your wit.

Thanks for the honesty, all the same, and the memento mori, such as it is.

Here I was thinking Snob's awfully late to post today, and I hope that nothing's happened to him(her).

Brad B. said...

Brilliant article.

stevep33 said...

Biking does seem more dangerous lately. I got nailed by the sideview mirror of of a pickup truck recently, and I'm basically OK. Though I'm a little freaked out that the difference between basically OK and dead or paralyzed is probably inches. On some level, riding safe isn't enough because stuff happens. Accidents are sobering.

Anonymous said...

forget about the guy talking on his cell phone while riding his bike--what about the guy taking pictures??

Patrock said...

Ive never posted a comment here before, and normally I find you pretty funny. However, your sarcasm does not prove funny in regards to death.

jamie said...

be safe out there folks. love you all, even the idiots. rubber side down.

Anonymous said...

http://www.brooklynpaper.com/stories/31/36/31_36_sp_bike_deaths.html?comm=1

Mike D said...

@Critical Ass,

Look again at the pic... the blood is there. It's to the right of the Pace Cinelli cycling cap, which I recognize because I wore the same cap this morning. :(

Anonymous said...

Great post. Those who think that a sense of humor isn't an appropriate tool for dealing with death are ill equiped to do so.

nolucker said...

Not funny, Snob- really anyone can get killed riding the mean streets.

george said...

Thank You man. I love this blog.

Critical Ass said...

***Janet from Windsor Terrace says:
As much as I don't want to blaim the victim, everyone should think about the careless way in which bike riders behave. They run red lights, stop signs and swerve in and around traffic. They are also a threat to pedestrians. Consider the fact that Mr. Millstein might be the one at fault in this tragic accident.***

That coment was from the coments section of the Brooklyn Paper. if any NYC residents are registered on that site, please feel free to sign in and tell Janet to fuck off.

bikesgonewild said...

...well, a sobering yet appropriate post, on this 9/11...

...yesterday, late in the grey afternoon i rode across a very cold & windy golden gate bridge headed to an 'underground' cyclo-cross race in sf...

...great race, awesome people, old & new friends, lottsa 'cross dressers', fun dfl event...

...pedaling home through city streets & the final climb by the ocean towards the bridge & being concerned w/ being seen in the increasing darkness, i was equipped w/ two red rear flashers & a white cateye in the front on flashing mode...hard to miss those coming at cha'...

...just as i think i can relax a bit because i'm in the yellow glow of the bridges vapor lights, making that last left turn before the bike path, the stationary bus at the stop accelerates straight at me, turning my 6ft gap into about a foot & a half...scary shit...

...deep, deep breath & enjoy the view of the cold, dark bay fringed by the city lights...

...doesn't matter how careful you are, how well equipped you are or how well you think you're paying attention...

...we're cyclists & we are very vulnerable...

Anonymous said...

I'm in agreement with Annazed on your beautifully eloquent script. If that's not a great a tagline on a motivational poster, I don't know what is...
And Jason- stupid cyclists abound, the last ignorant fuck almost killed me he hit me so hard. It's why I haven't ridden in almost two years. I now ride vicariously (and safely) through blogs.

manicallday said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
manicallday said...

I had a kinda but not really a similar experience today. This morning, as I was dropping off my wife to work, I noticed that traffic was unusually heavy going along 395, which is the thoroughfare into downtown D.C. and the Pentagon. Although D.C. is a great place to commute by bike, getting across the Potomac is a real pain in the ass. The route takes commuter at least a mile out of general direction across the river.

So when I learned that the freeway traffic was jammed due to mass road closings I thought to myself that I would cross the freeway bridge on my bike. And it was an awesome experience.

As soon as I got home I grabbed my bike and peddled to the nearest on ramp. Once on, I managed to ride all the way from Capital Hill to Pentagon City without incident. I never managed to make it across the Potomac in that short amount of time ever before. I just moved into the left hazard lane and peddled as fast as I could until I saw the Crystal City offramp.

However, when I got off the freeway I found myself smack dab in the middle of the 9-11 ceremony - instant buzzkill. I am not one for sappy events, but this kinda got to me, but I didn't know exactly why.

So I just hopped back on my bike and crossed back over into D.C.the proper way. On my return, I passed by some Truther protesters, some disabled veterans with missing legs and arms, a couple of Black Water like motorcades and some people marching to show their support for the war in Iraq. Now I realize those were the reasons why that ceremony got to me. This is like a day that we celebrate the beginning of our dysfunction as Americans - Sigh.

c_c_rider said...

snob, insightful as always.

bikesgonewild, was that a race put on by the soilsaloon people? i checked one of those events out at GG park on a april sunday when i was out there on vacation. great city, and seemingly safe with all the bike lanes and everything. but still, like you said... one moment bliss, and then bam! i rode mt. tamalpais the next day for the first time, and i underestimated the time, bonked, and came back in the dark with no lights. i remember riding through sausalito and heading toward that last turn onto the bridge. the whole time i was thinking i'd be killed at any moment because i had forgot to put a couple of cheapo lights in my jersey pocket that afternoon. it can happen, for sure. anytime... idiot mistake like mine or not.

Anonymous said...

"Chasing the light, my senses on height...ready to pay the toll
Into the zone, comfortably stoned...cadence is my goal
The wind in my ears disguises the fear of a life at the nadir of sanity
I escape on the road but carry the load of what will define my humanity"
A good day for thinking!

Simon said...

Agreed.

Ride the way you want, but know what you're getting in to.

Rubber side down.

plum said...

I don't know what you added to your breakfast this week BS, but you're on fire.

Norman said...

Death gonna git me,
But he ain't gonna get me down.

Anonymous said...

just a question for Y'all, where did the term rubber side down originate? anybody know?

thejakesnakes said...

Recently life came into perspective for me when a man walking past collapsed on the sidewalk and seized for several minutes before falling into a deep sleep. Some of his teeth went flying out on impact. after seizing he breathed deep face down into his own pool of blood. My coworker had already called the paramedic so all I felt like I could do was stand there and watch him suffer.

The next day I also went back to see the scene and noticed they hadn't cleaned up his blood very well. A fragment of his tooth was still laying on the stained concrete.

Bobbo said...

thank you for today's post

Anonymous said...

critical ass:

Spelling error aside, that comment from the Brooklyn paper isn't really unreasonable if you add one word: "some bike riders..."

bikesgonewild said...

...c_c_rider...just a "little" dfl event..."dead fucking last" being a cool group of folks who, like me, kinda define themselves w/ their use of the bike...

...wouldn't surprise me if a few places chip in for the beer n' coffee...cyclo-cross rule # one: dress straight, pay an entry fee, cross dress, just go race...

...& c_c_...glad ya got to enjoy the beauty of the area...no better way than by bike, even if it's a tough sell to the inexperienced...& doubly glad ya made it safe & sound...

gavin said...

Blah. You can die doing anything, including riding a bike. But dying while riding is pretty hard to do. Possible, but rare. Look at how many cyclists die on their bikes each year, then compare it to other things like snake bites, lightning strikes, etc, etc. The benefits of riding vs risk of riding are so uneven (in a good way) that any fears of riding are irrational, imo.

Ps: I love your blog to pieces.. but please start insulting people more! More snob!

knfuckyoules said...

is this supposed to be your sappy 9/11 story? please.

veloben said...

Calculating odds before a ride
or accepting the odds as unfriendly,
a quick way to gain focus.

Every rider does it,
but the numbers are all different.

Thank you for the evocative reflection, RTMS.

O ' Bama said...

it's more than sad for the child who was hit, and for his parents.
The bicycle was probably a gift to him from them.
my heart goes out them.

manicallday said...

Oh, and if you ever need a agent for your inevitable book, let me know. Your writing is amazing. When I look at your first post compared to this, the improvement is astounding. So when that time comes, let manicallday show you the money.

Anonymous said...

nobody would make a ghost bike for you. don't worry.

bookworm said...

you used to suck, but now you don't suck as much. when you get ok at writing, let's talk and see how i can make money off you.

rickrise said...

Sorry to hear of a comrade down...or anyone, comrade or not, really. Sensitively done, BSNYC.

But don't get too thantocentric while riding, as stats I saw (FHA, I believe) show cycling as about as dangerous as driving on a per-mile basis. (This looked only at deaths, not injuries, which I suspect would be higher for cyclists, from "minor" accidents.)

"As dangerous as driving" is still pretty dangerous, of course, but a spectacular death, no matter how tragic, shouldn't be used to make it seem riding a bicycle is a death-defying feat, at least not any more so than other daily activities such as motoring.

And we know now that the more people ride, the safer riding becomes. Eg, Britain had lower death rates per mile for cycling in the 1950s, with no infrastructure accommodation at all for bikes, simply because 25% of a vehicular journeys occurred on velos and drivers were accustomed to watch for them; now, despite a comprehensive bike lane program, deaths are higher than back then. According to the article linked to below, the "total lifetime risk" of dying in accident in Britan for a competent cyclist is just 0.2% higher than for a driver.

http://www.networks.nhs.uk/uploads/06/09/wardlaw.pdf

Don't think that NYC traffic is that much crazier than much of Europe's, either.

Every death is sad, but every death is not statistically significant, though many will use this poor rider's demise to argue against the bicycle as transport. We ought not to let them do that.

prolly said...

as for death...

"I know him pretty well and he's a solid dude and has been riding bikes for a long, long time for whatever thats worth."

Anonymous said...

2nd!??! where is everyone?

detective dick said...

i bet the bus driver was wearing a black vest a furry hat and had curls.

Fatty said...

One of the good things about cycling is that it gives you something deeply personal to have in common with complete strangers. 'Course, that means a stranger's tragedy impacts you more personally. But I think that can be a good thing too.

You did a great job of crystallizing the sadness of this event, without getting maudlin. One of your best posts.

Gnarles Darwin said...

Ok, you definately need to read the last paragraph of todays BSNYC post while listening to this...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FmAasDWg8yM

Is BSNYC Neil Patrick Harris?!?!

Camp Cupboard said...

That's why I always ride in the middle of the lane wearing a neon clown suit made of chain mail with three reflective pant leg bands on each leg.
There is a reason you've never seen a room of dead clowns, after all.

dinglearm said...

There are some roads where I feel death is looking over my shoulder....

Great Post....

jflo said...

Interesting post for today. Nearly got wicked myself this morning only this time it was my own dumb fault for making a wide right and nearly smacking into a car.
We all blink sometimes.

Anonymous said...

BikeSnob,

I had to use my car for work today, but I got out of early. I was itching to ride. I should have headed straight for the bike, I but read your blog and about eighty comments first. I found your post both sobering and thought provoking, and must admit that I almost stayed home instead of going out in what was by then rush hour traffic without actually needing to go anywhere.

I was about to start preparing supper when I came to my senses, sparked one, put on my helmet, hopped on my brakeless fixed gear bicycle, and went out to mix it up with the cars and buses on the main drag of our entry-level city.

I feel better now. Still on this side of the membrane. Thanks for helping put things in perspective.

Tom said...

The accident is a tragedy and Snob's irony is out of place. His comments are not deep. The event carries the sense of depth in and of itself. I can't help but think that a family member reading this would find snob's callous comments painful.

BoW said...

If I get creamed on my next ride, I/my family members want nothing better than Snobby eulogizing me.

Well, that and maybe a quick trip to the pet cemetary...

Julian said...

Wonderful post, just great.

WadeN said...

I do think you were a bit glib about the cyclist's death and the ghost bikes but at least you're consistent in your tone, addressing cyclist deaths or the latest fixed gear hipster trends with the same self-consciously detached manner. I think the ghost bikes remind me that I travel among enormous destructive machines and that I should not take that for granted. I find the ghost bikes sobering in an abstract, superficial way that wears off by the end of my commute but I unfortunately see them alot. Not to blame the victim, but we as cyclists in NYC also shouldn't find ourselves aside one of those machines near an intersection or when the space between parked cars and moving vehicles narrows. Cyclists have to slow down now and then and consider everyone around them. It's a shared PUBLIC space, not your own private space to construct your individuality. Postpone your bike messenger fantasy and live another day. And don't be a million other things that annoy me on my daily commute. I'm frightened that you may not know the vexing things you do. Why do you grab your handlebars so close to the neck when you know you're about to wobble out of control?!! What's the point of handlebars that are narrower than your shoulder width? But, back to the point. Keep in mind that no one sees you. Cyclists, pedestrians, motor vehicles. We're all fucking up out there often. Everyone functions under the assumption that they have the right of way. And I think it's almost worse on the bike paths, like on 9th Avenue between 23rd and and the once Western Beef. It's like some kind of illusory safe zone where people feel free to do whatever caprice dictates. Gotta go. The sweet scent of boudin noir and cabbage draws me away. Vayas con dios, Bodhi (Bike Snob)

chump said...

10-4 BS, I was hit by an SUV last wednesday on my way to the Repulitard's National Convention. luckily the guy was a decent human and has ponied up the cash for my bike. I'm fine, don't know how. but I am. This morning I heard on the radio that some poor soul had been hit and run on their bike. just not his day.

genersal lsmenedd said...

And when I'm lying in my bed
I think about life
And I think about death
And neither one particularly appeals to me
And if the day came when I felt a
Natural emotion
I'd get such a shock I'd probably lie
In the middle of the street and die
I'd lie down and die ...

bodhi said...

bikesnob is karl lafong

johnnyvu said...

A person is dead and while this of course happens all the time it does not make it less deserving of our respect. As for the blame game I offer instead this article from velonews on the psychology of road rage. If ever there were anything worthy of becoming a viral email, this article is it:
http://velonews.com/article/82470/legally-speaking-with-bob-mionske---summer-of-rage

Jack said...

A guy was hit and killed on his bike in Minneapolis this morning also.

http://www.startribune.com/local/28234979.html?elr=KArksLckD8
EQDUoaEyqyP4O:DW3ckUiD3aPc:_Yyc:aUUJ

Jack said...

Hey Chump!!! I guess I'm not the only person from Minneapolis that reads this retards blog. weird.

Anonymous said...

This story scares me a bit extra today because I got so badly cut off by a right-turning (non-signaling, non-"body"-language giving) car yesterday that I thought my front wheel was going to get caught in its bumper. And just when I was thinking my sixth sense about car behavior was starting to get into a groove...Nope.

Anonymous said...

all you haters suck my imagine no cars

Colin said...

i hate new york. i fully expect to one day be hit by a retard in a retardmobile.

Sycophantic Backstabber said...

Life-side of the membrane!

Micah said...

Snob -
I haven't always agreed with your more cynical posts, but this one hits home.

Without trying, what you've said is as much a tribute to our passed cycling colleagues as a lovingly placed boquet. Thanks.

Physassister

matt said...

Wow, great writeup. This really struck me, as I nearly died 10 months ago from a traumatic brain injury.

It infuriates me seeing people riding in an unsafe manner. They'd hate to learn the (sometimes permanent) hard way.

MW

anon 2:11 said...

I understand how easy it is to be critical of a request as outrageous as "imagine a world without cars" but what I learned from losing someone close to me at a young age is that you cannot blame people for how they react in such a situation.

All of the flourish and memorials, the ghost bikes and the cardboard signs are simply defense and coping mechanisms that try to assign a purpose to the loss. People think that if the death can "mean something" then it is a cross worth bearing and not random chance and stupidity.

I think the conclusion that this board jumps to, just because of the attitude inherent in being critical, is that some stranger is abusing this tragedy to push a political statement much like a pastor uses a funeral to try and convert people to the church.

But if you can picture a broken woman, tears running her eyeliner ,on her knees and still in her work clothes scrawling a message to try and ease her burden, then maybe you can give them the benefit of the doubt.

As concerns death, there is a membrane that seperates us from it and us from those who cope with it. Doctors deal with it every day and they are forced to numb themselves to the emotion in the waiting room. But myself and anyone else who has held a hand they know will not squeeze back, we understand that there are some things you cannot prepare for.

Wade said...

by the way, after rereading your post I don't think you were being glib at all. I have no idea what I was thinking when I wrote that. I was perhaps distracted by boudin noir.

Anonymous said...

"Pointless message in black ballpoint pen which read "Imagine no cars" WAIT MAN! im all the way on the left coast on a noon ride alone, car speeds by me i said the same saying as above! yes weird, then today Friday, I read this.. WE are all connected somehow, if we ride and live by the truth we are connected, some just go threw the days always asleep! I care for all who put their lives in front of these 1 ton death traps. cars o
suck! i do Imagine a city or world
carless to some point.. * hope you read what i posted..

Peace all,
Joe

Wutz said...

Snob, that was an excellent post. As a consistent reader of you bloginess, I could feel your snark-tinged humanity trying to come out in an overly sappy post. Luckily your better sense kicked in and your post was perfectly constructed to convey the feelings of human connection (to the fallen rider) and the callousness required to keep riding and survive the mean streets.

I got nicked by an SUV a couple weeks ago. They hit my rear tire from behind as I turned left. I've been a bit miffed since. I've had a few "no-hit run-ins" and they didn't bother me. It was from the front and I could deal with it. This one from behind has me spooked. I looked over my shoulder, I merged in to the lane, I signaled, I waited a second for the oncoming car to pass, I turned, and got hit from behind.

I was completely visible, completely predictable, and caught completely by surprise.

Thanks for the post; it's always good to feel connected and sometimes it's necessary to be reminded of the "thin membrane."

Scrooge said...

so colin

everyone is a retard in a car/truck/van....what a narrow view of the world, especially of NY

may I suggest a trip to Europe to open your eyes a little

Lupin Yonsei said...

Thank you Bike Snob. Very well-written.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Scrooge, pretty much everyone in New York is a retard, regardless of how they get around. Of course that's not true, but I've dodged enough bike salmon, pedestrians who walk right in front of me while they're talking on their cell phones, and SUVs that cut me off in the bike lane that it sure seems that way.

Commiecanuk said...

Imagine there's no cars
It's easy if you try
No assholes behind us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
cycling for today

Imagine there's no pie plates
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to blog or comment for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life one speed

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no scattante
I wonder if you can
No need for carbon fiber
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will ride as one

Anonymous said...

I got clipped on the handlebar by a truck last night and landed in a ditch. The driver said he was blinded by the setting sun. I came to only a little battered and bruised, but what was interesting was that this article flashed through my mind at the same instant I heard the woosh and sound of shattering glass behind me.

Canadian Trawler said...

commie

actually it should be "imagine there are no cars"

Plural...

John would not be impressed

some more canuck humor pour toi

kale said...

I miss Portland bike lanes, but that didn't stop the problem of me getting hit there. Or the people that die in the Velotopia that they say exists there.

Cars and bikes can coexist, but since we live in an experiment in social Darwinism, rather than coming up with a solution. We just have to wait for it to work itself out, and maybe someday you and I won't have to have brakes on our fixies and cars won't have to signal. Until then, keep safe and kiss your dog or cat or wife and kids for me.

Also, I want to put a fatwah the person that came up with the excuse that EVERY driver that's ever hit anyone: "Oh, I didn't see you"

The only bandaid I can think of would be something like auto insurance for bikes. The lobbying power the insurance industry has would at least hold reckless drivers accountable for damages. It seems like every time this happens, the driver gets off with a guilty conscience, and the cyclist gets off with a memorial, then it happens again. Drunk drivers go to jail...

Lousy Buddhist said...

Very sad and sobering post. But a necessary thing to remind ourselves of as cyclists.

Thanks to whoever posted the link to the very good column on road rage on Velonews ...
http://velonews.com/author/71301

I read a few of them and now am finding myself reassessing my stance on verbal retaliation as a cyclist. Over the last few years, as my commute through the windy city (not cleveland) has gone from 4 to 12 miles long and as traffic seems more and more congested at every hour, I have found myself losing my cool a lot more on the bike. I have gone from an almost beatific contentment to one pissed off bitch who isn't afraid to tell a driver they just endangered her. I have really been wanting to change this point of view as of late, and the Velonews articles were definitely helpful.

Lastly, my father suffered a serious brain injury in a hang gliding accident about 20 years ago, and all I can say is that I believe there are some fates perhaps worse than death so
please everyone, wear a helmet !!!

Safe riding everyone.

Kris said...

great story. Ride with respect to life.

Commiecanuk said...

Trawler, achete un vie.

Ben said...

This may be a topic that has already been thoroughly hashed out but I thought I would comment on ghost bikes. On the one hand they are a very powerful symbol of a cyclist now gone having met a premature and violent death. It is a memorial, a haunting tribute to that person, no longer with us, and a grim reminder to the dangers of riding a bike in the city.

That being said, I believe there are an average 7 -20 cycling deaths per year in New York.(needs to be checked) If the cycling community were to erect a memorial for each of these tragic deaths, it wouldn't take long before any route you took to bicycle through the city would involve going past multiple ghost bikes. I know of a couple that I routinely ride past now and it almost always gives me a sense of dread. My mind starts wandering, "wow, you can die riding a bike, I need to focus" or "she was too young" or "what was a car doing here in the first place?" or "it must be terrible to get hit by a car"
Regrettably I don't think ghost bikes cause drivers to drive more safely or in a manner more considerate of cyclists, I think it primarily makes cyclists feel unsafe and less likely to ride, and I doubt there are too many cyclist that want that to be the end result.

Sonya Nicole said...

As someone who has been touched by (but not wicked away and instead made a triumphant return) your so-labeled "death membrane" by a nonobservant driver who took a right hand turn into me and causing a list of injuries that left me off bikes for 10 months, I truly appreciate this post.

Thank you.

Todd Colby said...

Thank you for this post. More cyclists should be reading it.

Kyra said...

beautiful writing...this is the first of your blog that I have read.
Ill come back

Kyra said...

Beautiful writing. First time at your blog. I'll have to read the archives now.

samjam said...

Actually, I reckon you are on the very verge of cynicism, and I'm not that convinced you are expressing much more than a sense of your own morbidity.

All you haters suck my balls, oh yea

Anonymous said...

bsnob - thanks for this article. i have felt the same way - a woman at work telling us her 'hilarious' story about how she borrowed her childs bike, while carrying a skateboard, an talking on a celphone, giggling as she says 'i almost got hit by a truck', the rest of the class giggling along.

but i have realized, too, that i used to be the doddering idiot, going up one way streets, riding without lights at night, considering helmets a step away utter balllessness.

so by miracles and close calls, i got an education... one that could have been had more cheaply, but ... there was noone to teach me.

Johnny Sprocket said...

Apparently, this cyclist was hit by this 4WD/SUV from behind while turning into his own driveway. Sadly this is becoming much too frequent. RIP.

http://www.theage.com.au/national/cyclist-dies-after-being-hit-by-car-20080913-4fvb.html

Anonymous said...

Accident

--> I like the way they call things accidents! I call them incidents. Most accidents can be prevented.
But, those in the big metal cage with over 150 of hp at maybe 25% efficiency have the power in their hands.

We as cyclists are blamed most of the time cause it is easy to do.
Like a boy with a rock vs a man with a gun. The boy with the rock will most likely be blamed first before the man with the gun.

good article:
www.bicycling.com/article/1,6610,s1-3-12-16637-1,00.html
extracts:
~"AS CYCLISTS WE ACCEPT THE FACT that our pastime can be dangerous. We recognize that riding among automobiles is a risk, we know we're the equivalent of sitting ducks, we're aware that drivers don't pay much attention, we've seen cars do all kinds of crazy things, and we've had our lives repeatedly threatened by clueless or outright hostile jerks.
"...
"
~"Barely a week goes by when you don't hear of a cyclist being killed, the behavior of the driver being outrageous, and the response of law enforcement or the penalty passed on to the driver being woefully inadequate," says Andy Clarke, executive director of the League of American Bicyclists. "The kinds of crashes we're talking about almost always involve a motorist who was hopelessly distracted or out of control-speeding, taking corners as they shouldn't, talking on a cell phone, or reaching for a CD. Most are avoidable and preventable, but the response is so feeble. It's an intensely frustrating feeling of powerlessness."...

~"As with Cathie Hamer, the law - or, more accurately, the lack of it - often stands in the way of penalizing inattentive drivers. Gary Brustin, a California personal-injury attorney who specializes in bicycle cases, says that a typical response he encounters among district attorneys is: "'Give us some ammunition-some teeth in the law.' Juries are filled with people who aren't cyclists, and a driver's behavior has to be far beyond negligent for a criminal case-there have to be aggravating circumstances to make it vehicular manslaughter or murder. If there aren't, [drivers] usually go to jail for less than a year, or get a suspended sentence."..."

~"When a cyclist is killed by a driver who was text-messaging someone, you read as much in the paper about how awful the driver feels. We've made driving so easy, accessible and convenient - and the system is so forgiving - that people can drive distracted at great speeds and mostly get away with it. But we've seen conclusively that not paying attention will cause bad things to happen; studies have shown that distracted driving is just as dangerous as driving drunk. We should be penalizing those people the same way that we treat drunk drivers."...

~"Clarke observes that while cyclists are uniquely vulnerable, society tolerates traffic fatalities in general. "Despite seat belts, anti-lock brakes, air bags, crumple zones and any number of silver-bullet devices, 43,000 people are killed in crashes in the United States every year," he says. "I worked for four years as a highway contractor for the Federal Highway Transportation Department, which always said that safety was its number-one priority. But if that were true, we wouldn't kill so many people, including 5,000 pedestrians and 700 cyclists per year. In other countries, they've been more active about taking those words seriously." ... (such as Denmark!)

~"The United States has the highest traffic-death rate (15 per 100,000 residents) of all developed democratic countries. Several European nations-for example, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland-have slashed their annual traffic-fatality figures over the past few decades, largely through "traffic-calming" measures that forcibly reduce the speeds of motor vehicles. In places such as Germany and the Netherlands, traffic regulations are actually biased in favor of cyclists and pedestrians-in the event of a bike-car collision, the legal burden is on motorists to prove that they weren't at fault, and Dutch drivers are financially liable even if cyclists are at fault. "...

~"as bicycle lawyer Brustin observes, after a car runs into a bike, "the number-one statement [of motorists] is 'I didn't see him.'"...

~"It's criminal not to be in control of your car, and there should be consequences for it. We've done an amazing job protecting people inside the car with seat belts and air bags; we need to put an equal emphasis on protecting people outside the car.""...

Final last words...
***************************************************
Hence, when in a motorized vehicle - PAY ATTENTION TO THE ROAD!!! AT ALL TIMES!!!
Anything can get in your way. Think, react, use your brakes!
Be Patient! That could be your son or daughter out there!
***************************************************

Anonymous said...

If it wasn't for vehicles, would we need such a huge infrastructure!?!?!?
And, would we need so high taxes?!?!?
Would so many people die day after day (including illness such as asthma and other lung related ...)
All that crud in the air can't be good for us humans who have just started adapting to all this traffic in the last 50 years or so???

Watch - "the gods must be crazy"
great movie.

Anonymous said...

What we have become...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66pTPWg_wUw

great movie! (gods must be crazy!)

Humans, we sure are stupid. Most of the time.

Anonymous said...

see also:

http://www.momentumplanet.com/cycling-everyone-0

don't blame the less threat out there!
The masses push the threat!
The vehicle!

(yet we are made to believe otherwise in the Americas. Almost stupidity really! good marketing!)

kristen joy watts said...

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/10/magazine/10bike.html?_r=2&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

You have to read this piece in the Times about bicycle helmets. It's incredible.

I just quoted you in my contribution to a student blog.
http://blogs.journalism.cuny.edu/interactivefundamentals/

Be safe!

P. Raz said...

Imagine a world with no trans-fats...

Anonymous said...

i often see that monk in the park. i believe he is meditating on my bike ride.

oliverspall said...

what's so bad about remembering a friend or acquaintance. a good friend died on a crossroads outside my house in london and we put a bike there to remember him because he meant something to us and we would like him to be remembered by other people not because of the fact that he rode a bike but because it serves as something to remember him by - both for us and for other people who see his memorial. It is sad when people boil down people's sentiments to pure style points and jargon. It would be nice to hear that anyone's attempt (no matter how lame) at remembering a friend be taken as genuine and heartfelt, rather than dismissing it as another point in the scene bible. Please have a little more tact and sensitivity to people who may have lost a very important person in their lives.

It's crass and naive to say that anyone erecting a memorial to someone is trying to create hype about what they have done - and I would consider your seemingly existentialist drivel more sensationalist than the people you are trying to put down in your self-aggrandising lecture on life and death.

write something better.

dinoibo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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