Monday, July 9, 2007

The Indigity of Commuting by Bicycle: Giant Holes of Death

The cycling community is like a giant family. And just like my own family, I find many of its members irritatingly quirky and interact with them only out of necessity.

However, family is family, and no matter how annoying your family may be you should always take its side. It's us against the world. Even the rider who discovered fixed-gear bikes yesterday and bought a brakeless Pista today deserves to be able to ride down the street without falling through a hole into a subway tunnel.

The following is a letter I am sending the Commissioner of the City Department of Motor Vehicles regarding one such hole. This hole is in no way unique, but it has come to symbolize every inconvenience and life-threatening obstacle I am forced to confront on a daily basis.

(The faint lines just past the crosswalk are what passes for the "bike lane." The hole comes in two flavors: without cone...)

Janette Sadik-Khan
City Department of Transportation

Dear Ms. Sadik-Khan,

I am a cyclist who was born in New York and who, due to various misfortunes and cruel twists of fate, continues to live here. The reason I'm writing is to tell you about the giant, gaping, incredibly dangerous hole right in the middle of the goddamn bike lane at the intersection of Dean and Nevins Streets in Brookly, which has been there for months. (Photos attached.)

Why is this thing still here? I know the city's aware of it, because awhile back some city-employed genius spray-painted a red line around its perimeter. I'm not sure what this was meant to accomplish. I can only assume the DOT is implementing some kind of "Pothole Beautification" project. And while I admit the hole is much more attractive now that it sports day-glo eyeliner, it remains as dangerous as ever.

Look, I realize that bike lanes are meaningless. They're just convenient places for unlicensed drivers in customized Honda Civics to idle and roll blunts while they wait for their friends to come downstairs, or for giant UPS trucks festooned with orange parking tickets to sit while they make deliveries, or for Fresh Direct trucks to belch exhaust fumes while they disgorge organic groceries into million-dollar brownstones for lazy Park Slopers who can't be bothered to drive their Priuses to Fairway.

Yet despite all this, I like to ride in them. Call it a naive fantasy, but I actually like to imagine as a cyclist that there's a tiny sliver of road somewhere that belongs to me. And it's tough to maintain this fantasy when I suddenly come upon a hole large enough to swallow a 10-month old baby.

I'm also reporting this hole via email through the DOT website. I would have done so sooner, but I mistakenly took the eyeliner and the orange construction cones that are sometimes (but usually not) stuck in it as signs that repairs were imminent. And while I'm sure filling out a form on the internet will result in blindingly swift action, I wanted to take the time to write you personally as well.

Please also know that in the meantime, as long as the city and the drivers who use her streets continue to toy with my life, I intend to continue making and adhering to my own rules. I shall continue to treat traffic signals as optional; I shall continue to follow and verbally harass drivers who irritate me; and I shall use no hand signals except the one that needs to be blurred out on TV. And please be assured I will do all of this only out of necessity, as it is the only way to remain intact as a cyclist in this town.

I look forward to the filling of this and all giant holes, and I would appreciate being the Guest of Honor at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.



(...or with cone. Note crappy old Honda Accord and FedEx truck, both in the bike lane.)


prcrstn8 said...

Call 311. Everything else is a waste of time.

BikeSnobNYC said...


I have, of course. The city already has the complaint. I've been around the pothole block (literally and figuratively) before. 311 complaints just get routed to the appropriate agency anyway, so going directly to them in addition to 311 can be useful. The squeaky hub gets the new bearings...


Anonymous said...

I've run into this giant pothole before. I'm currently on hold with 311 about this. I've been routed to about 3 different people, including a nice lady called Catherine at the Dept. of Transportation who's "screen is not equipped to take complaints about potholes".

OK...just off the phone, and found out that it's been assigned to someone in maintenance. They said it can take up to 30 days to get to it, and the first complaint (mine is the second) was filed June 30th. We'll see what happens.

Anonymous said...

Ahaha that thing has been there since the fucking winter!

Colin R said...


alliwannadoisbicycle said...

While I agree that NYC is a treacherous place to commute by bike (i do it in manhattan from time to time), I feel that its part of the character. Makes you a better rider (if it doesnt kill you, that is...)

Brock Tice said...

You should see the holes we had in the streets in New Orleans. Still have them, but I don't live there anymore.

Nice letter. I think I'll style all of my complaint letters, especially those to my senators, just like that.

That sounds snarky, but really I found it an enjoyable read. said...

Lights! Camera! Action!

alliwannadoisbicycle said...

Holy crap- brock Tice- I had your mom as a finance professor @ Tulane!

You're right about the potholes in NOLA- so much worse than anything in NYC...

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

This is classic. I've been going through old posts and this ones a true beauty. Love the letter to your commiss. I look forward to reading what happened! Special invitation to the gala?