Thursday, February 7, 2008


from dig

Personally, I'm not in favor of bicyclists getting mowed down by cars. I've felt strongly about this since Stereolab keyboardist Mary Hansen was killed by a truck while bicycling in London in December 2002. I'd interviewed Mary for a now-defunct magazine, and besides being an integral part of one of my favorite bands, she was one of the most charming and self-effacing people I have ever conversed with inside a dingy rock club. So, just to reiterate: pro-bicyclist, anti-getting mowed down by cars.

Yet there's a certain subset of bicyclists that I have trouble relating to. A recent article in the Boston Globe about Critical Mass (a loosely organized group that advocates bicyclists' rights) included a scene of several members riding their bikes up and down an indoor hallway in one of MIT's main buildings. In the article, Critical Mass member Lindsey Barcebal argues for the group's assertiveness on Boston's short-tempered streets: "This is to show cars we have every right to take the road, even in the winter. There are a lot of fair-weathered bicyclists out there that need to be shown we can do this." You can't argue with that: Bicyclists have as much right to the road as cars do. But cars don't drive down that hallway, so bicyclists don't need to reassert their rights there. So it's hard to come away from that episode without the feeling that, basically, they were just being dicks.

That's unfortunately illustrative of the mindset of some bicyclists. By framing the streets of Boston as a one-on-one fight between cars and bicycles, they're establishing a hierarchy that puts both groups above my people, the pedestrians.

I think it's genuinely stupid to own a car in the city, so I walk as much as I possibly can. It's partially an eco-conscious choice, partially for health reasons and partially for economy: note that these are the same reasons bicyclists give when defending their choice of locomotion. We're on the same page here. So I don't understand why so many bicyclists are so openly hostile to pedestrians.

See, here's the thing: I'm very sorry that the few bicycle lanes in the Boston metro area suck, and I understand that biking on the streets around here is potentially life-threatening. But that doesn't make it okay for bicyclists to try to take over the public space assigned to pedestrians, who—in a complete inversion of the car/bike dichotomy—are smaller, slower and less safe than the bicyclists invading the sidewalks. For one thing, bicycling on sidewalks is illegal within the city limits of Boston. More to the point, it's simply rude, obnoxious behavior.

But what should really embarrass the testosterone-laden guys who blast up and down Comm. Ave.'s sidewalks is this: Riding on the sidewalk makes you look like a candy-ass. This was brought home to me when one of these guys plowed into me in front of the Paradise; when I told him to get in the street where he belonged, the guy sniveled, "Have you ever been hit by a car?" No, but I'd just been knocked over by a two-wheeled idiot who wasn't where he belonged, and I had a right to be pissed. If I were to start up an advocacy group for pedestrians ("Paths to Glory" would be a good name), one of our first tenets of solidarity with our car-free brothers and sisters would be to encourage bicyclists to follow the precepts of Critical Mass and take their fight to the street ... not the sidewalks.