Good friend and fellow cyclist Joe over at movement movement wrote a great post about his love for breaking the law on his bicycle. The article wonderfully captures the romance of fixed gear bike culture in a specific place (New York) and a specific time (the early 2000s) but its conclusion that cyclists in New York should “fuck the law” is dead wrong.
There was a time when riding a bike through New York streets was a death defying act. People really were out to get you. I’ve had a cabbie throw a cup at me; I’ve kicked an SUV after it swerved to hit my girlfriend, and I’ve gotten into more screaming matches than I can remember. It used to be rough out there. I couldn’t blame cyclists, especially those who made their living on their bikes, for worrying more about getting home alive than the rules of the road.
But New York has changed. Now there are thousands of people cycling in New York every day and the city has accommodated those cyclists by building hundreds of miles of bike lanes, encouraging employers to support bike riding, and making the whole experience a hell of a lot safer and more pleasant. Cyclists owe their fellow residents of the city a little civility in return.
When cyclists blow through an intersection, they’re not just endangering themselves. They’re endangering the people in the cars around them and the pedestrians who have to dodge them. They’re undermining the idea that cyclists are part of the fabric of New York and reinforcing the idea that all cyclists are dangerous, egomaniacal assholes who are not to be trusted.
Put simply –they are undermining the social contract that keeps this mess of a city from exploding.
This place holds together because, for the most part, New Yorkers treat each other with respect and obey certain social conventions. We let people get off the train before we get on, we try not the block the doors when others are exiting, we treat each other with dignity – if not always politness.* When a cyclist screams through an intersection, or hops up on the sidewalk, or speeds her way through pedestrians crossing the street, she is not just breaking the law, she is disrespecting, and endangering, her fellow New Yorkers. She’s putting her personal expression of “freedom” above her responsibility to her neighbors.
It drives me nuts. And it drives me even crazier who this culture of rule breaking is associated with progressive politics. As I have said before, how can I trust an Occupy Wall Street activist to create a better world when I cannot even trust them to treat an old lady crossing the street with respect? Our behavior has consequences; our personal freedoms are not without limits. Our traffic lights are there for a reason. Pay attention to them.
*And woe unto you who breaks these rules. I hate you even more than I hate asshats on fixed gear bikes.