The Ten Worst People on Bicycles

I’ve been riding a bicycle around the great city of New York for as long as I’ve lived here. I resided in Astoria, Queens during the last year of Giuliani and the first of Bloomberg, and I took regular rides out past Flushing Meadows, poking my way up through coastal Queens on a clunky hybrid.

After leaving the city, then returning, I took that bike with me out to Fort Greene and rode it back and forth to NYU for class throughout grad school. I spent a little money on a road bike, trained for a triathlon by taking long rides up the West Side bike path and out to the George Washington Bridge. Those were lonely days riding streets in NYC, before The Great Two-Wheel Enlightenment. I wanted to ride, so I learned to coexist with car traffic: be alert, visible, and decisive.

Over the past few blessed years, as the city has made it a priority to carve out more streetspace for cyclists, I have been more regularly commuting by bike from Crown Heights to Lower Manhattan. I ride in at minimum a few times a week, now for a few years, and most recently on a zippy Felt fixed-gear.

The best part: riding is no longer a lonely endeavor. Indeed, at about a quarter to nine on any given weekday, a ragged but well-dressed peloton twenty riders long might be snaking around the Brooklyn approach to the Manhattan Bridge bike path, gearing down for the climb.

I am a fanboy booster for the bike lanes, and I celebrate that bicycling has achieved its critical mass. The culture has transformed so completely, and there are now so many New Yorkers pedaling around on our busy, teeming streets, that it is the safe and responsible thing to do to start calling out cyclists who annoy us.

Without any further prelude, NYC’s ten worst people on bicycles:

10. People who follow too closely.

Did I mention I love the bike lanes? But they are, when they are lanes, about three feet wide. In other areas they are suggestions of lanes, markings indicating a roadway meant to be shared. Still, on the odd occasion, I’ll have someone riding our back wheel (again, peloton behavior), close enough to block me from passing any slowpoke in my way. Give me some room so I can get around…

9. People who take the middle of the bike lane.

If you’re on, say, the Brooklyn Bridge (which you shouldn’t be, because it sucks riding over the Brooklyn Bridge, but stay with us) and you’re just poking along down the very middle of the bike path, I will feel justified yelling at you.

8. People who stop in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge.

I know I said it sucks riding the Brooklyn Bridge… these are a few of the reasons why. I’m running late to get home, I’m working decently hard on the climb up from the City Hall side, and wouldn’t you know there is someone who has to choose that very spot ten feet in front of me to stop and turn lengthwise to block the entire lane… so they might take the perfect photo of their best friend. Shoot me.

7. Me.

If you haven’t noticed yet, sometimes I am impatient when I’m on a bike. I carry a whistle instead of a bell, and I am sometimes obnoxious about blowing it in the face of tourists, laggards, and lazy drivers. I may sometimes appear reckless to pedestrians and drivers, though I don’t believe I am. I will sometimes disobey red lights, though I always stop and look first. I am competitive with strangers, and try to pass other cyclists, because I am trying to get exercise. In short, I am not the model cyclist but I’m not bad enough to be any worse than #7 on this list.

6. People riding with big headphones covering their ears.

HEY YOU! Listening to whatever skinny kids in skinny jeans listen to these days! Did you hear that car? No? At least you will have music for the ambulance ride.  There is some crossover between #6 and #5, which is…

5. People riding with a helmet strapped to their bike instead of their head.

I actually think there’s a decent argument for riding without a helmet, though I wear one when on my own rig, always. The administration has suggested that fewer people would use the Citi Bike system if they were all forced to wear helmets–people don’t walk around all day with helmets just in case they feel like grabbing a bike. I think that’s right. But the people I’m talking about here have helmets… and they are riding through traffic with the helmet strapped to their bag, or the rack over their back wheel, or somewhere other than their head, which is the only place it will do any good. Please, do better next time.

4. People who ride city streets dressed as though they’re riding in the Tour de France.

One of my favorite commuting stories: A dude in full kit, matching jersey and tights, with a racing bike that cost 8-10 times my rig, coasts into the intersection at Vanderbilt and Myrtle Avenue. He does a slow roll through a red light, in front of a cop going north on Myrtle.  Cop slows down until he’s directly in front of our dude, who’s just trying to catch up with his partner up ahead. “Didn’t you see me here?” he asks? Dude brakes, can’t unclip in time, hits the deck. Oops. Are you at the end of a 45-mile bike commute from Long Island? If not, you’re showing off. Dress down… or take your fancy pants for loops around Prospect Park. Thank you.

3. People who ride the wrong way in the bike lane.

About 90 percent of the time, there is a lane going the same way you’re going just one block over. Just a minimum effort to plan your route, and you could be there, riding with traffic like a good New Yorker. Instead, you are riding directly towards me in the bike lane, and either you’re going to force me into traffic or I’m going to force you into traffic. What’s it going to be?

2. People who talk on the phone while riding.

I don’t care if you’re hands-free, if you have one of those Apple microphones embedded in the wire leading to the plastic bud in your ear, you’re an idiot. The call can wait. Also, people who text, tweet, or take pictures while pedaling.

1. People who ride on the sidewalk.

You scare people! You are killing all the goodwill we’ve accrued over these precious few golden years. I have two daughters, who are occasionally pushed around in strollers on those sidewalks. Should I go on? There has been a tremendous amount of effort to make space for you on the street… and now you want to ride on the sidewalk? You deserve the dirty looks you’re getting. And it’s against the rules. Unless you have training wheels, get on the street.

Not on the list:

Restaurant delivery men. You make a living on a bicycle; I can find a way to adapt to your game. Delivery guys on bicycles are predictable the same way cabbies are: if there is an inch, they are going to sneak past you, probably going the wrong way. But they’re not going too fast, and they live on tips.

People on Citibikes. You have increased our numbers, and made it safer to gripe about everyone else. God bless you.

Women biking in high heels. Just because I can’t figure out how on earth you manage to pedal doesn’t mean you’re a bad person.

I would have photos of all these people, but I’ve been too busy keeping my eye on the road. Thank you.

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The Story of the Three Little Bears, as Told by My Two-Year-Old Daughter

There were three bears, and they lived in a little house. With a green door. In the forest, with trees. And they ate… oatmeal! And they went for a walk, and Goldilocks came, and the oatmeal was too hot, and she spit it out and then she ate the other oatmeal up. And Goldilocks went in the bed, and then in the other bed, and the three bears came home, and Goldilocks woke up, and she said, “Sorry.”

The end.

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My Neighborhood Has A New Hummus Bar

That’s right, you heard me: we’re getting a hummus bar. And not one of those scuzzy hummus-and-falafel takeout places like the one near your office, either… our neighborhood will soon have a hummus bar, with authentic-style decor and a vaguely Arabic-sounding name. I’ve done some investigating, and it even has shiny new taps, for draft beer. It has wine, too if you’re into that sort of thing.

Do you have one of those in your neighborhood? Probably not, because your neighborhood is not as cutting-edge as mine. Hummus is the best. Did you know that hummus is the one thing that the entire Middle East can agree on? People are acting horribly towards their neighbors over there, shooting guns and throwing rocks and firing rockets (and worse)… but the one thing they agree on? Yes, hummus! Whether you are an Israeli  or a Palestinian or a Syrian or an Iranian, you love hummus! (Fact check: do they eat hummus in Iran?)

We don’t just have hummus, as I’m sure you know. We have a beer garden that opened a good three years before the whole NYC beer-garden craze really got started. We have an adorable little wine shop, with a constantly-rotating selection of organic wines that are carefully organized not by country of origin or grape variety but by optimal music accompaniment. (“This soft pinot noir has delicious notes of currant and goes exceptionally well with the new Neko Case record…”)

Our neighborhood has a fancy pizza joint. It serves pies with a crackly, bubbly, blistered, paper-thin crust, baked for exactly 14 seconds in a 900-degree oven and topped with fresh burrata cheese made that morning by hand. You simply cannot get these anywhere else. We have another pizza joint, which might be more like the pizzeria in your neighborhood except that it uses organic ingredients that are either harvested from the landord’s rooftop garden or foraged in Prospect Park.

Down the street is a coffee shop that serves these amazing cardamom-ginger scones baked by the owner’s six-year-old daughter. We have another coffee shop that only serves coffee made from beans that were first crapped out by Vietnamese monkeys. And the third coffee shop is the place everyone goes for bagels, but they use Fluffernutter marshmallow spread instead of cream cheese. It’s outstanding on a Sunday morning with a triple espresso and some Nutella.

Our neighborhood has two artisanal grilled-cheese shops opened by competing quasi-celebrity chefs. But to be perfectly honest, one is really a morning-grilled-cheese place while the other has more of a focus on dinner-grilled-cheese, so it’s all good.

We have a new Italian restaurant that specializes in slow food; you need to make a reservation no less than two weeks in advance so they can have sufficient time to interview, prepare, slaughter, mourn, and ultimately braise the fine animal that will make an appearance in your ragu. Next door, there is a bar that serves only Albanian beer and Norwegian whiskey.

Oh, and we have a bike shop.

It is so interesting to live here! If I have made your neighborhood look dull by comparison, please know that was exactly my intention. But do not fret! We have an eight-story condo building going up across the street built entirely out of wood reclaimed from shuffleboard courts across the southeastern United States. It has not yet been completed, but it is under consideration for landmark status. Applications are being accepted for potential buyers, but I understand there is a wait list.

Please feel free to visit one day, and be sure to post a few choice pictures of your meal to your friends on social media. In fact, most establishments will recommend a preferred Instagram filter for your shot… so please be sure to ask.

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The big ugly? Could be worse.

I am, during the day, an evangelist/apologist for the system that provides New York City politicians with public money to run their campaigns. (If you found your way here from my twitter feed, you probably know this already.) Depending on where you get your news this week, we are either a) “model for reform at the state and federal level that puts a higher priority on encouraging small donors than restricting big ones,” or b) “a bunch of unaccountable bureaucrats” administering a set of “ugly campaign laws.”

The New York Post editorial page can be sharp and deadly when it dials in on hypocrisy or corruption among the political class. But when one of their pet issues is on the table, the page is liable to summon its mightiest outrage at the mildest of provocations. One of these issues is the city’s campaign finance system, and today’s edition offered an example: a straight-faced argument against any limitations on campaign contributions, based (precariously) on CFB’s refusal to allow Bill Thompson to spend public funds campaigning in a runoff election that has not been declared.

The argument, as I understand it:

  1. Thompson says he cannot campaign because he has no money.
  2. Thompson’s statement reminds us that money = speech.
  3. Removing limits on money would provide more speech.

I think that’s it. It’s not really about Thompson, it’s just a remix of the same old conservative song on campaign finance: Money Is Speech, Leave it Alone (First Amendment).

But money isn’t speech. Speech is what I’m doing here. It’s what I post to Twitter, it’s what I do when I answer the phone. It’s what Bill Thompson or anyone else does on the steps of City Hall when they have something to say.

Money is different. Money puts all of that on your television. It stuffs your mailbox full of it. Money buys a microphone, speech is what you put into it. And– as Alec McGillis argued in The New Republic earlier this month, the public financing program gets more and different kinds of speech in front of the microphone.

Today in the same publication, Mark Schmitt goes one better. “The big story about money in politics in New York,” he writes, “is that small-donor public financing can make elections more competitive and offset big money.”

He rattles off the high points: in two citywide contests, a candidate who took public matching and limited his spending defeated a self-financing millionaire. On the Democratic side, the major candidates in a wide-open race for mayor finished in reverse order of what they raised. At the Council level, a Super PAC with seemingly unlimited resources posted a mixed record where it backed candidates in truly competitive races. And despite the breathless commentary over the impact of outside spending on city races, it amounted to about 1/10 of the funds available to candidates themselves. (In US Senate races last year, spending by outside groups amounted to half what the candidates spent themselves.)

So at worst, the day was a wash. The general election is 7 weeks from today. Our work is out on display, for worse and for better. I still came home before the dark, had dinner with daughter #1, made faces at daughter #2, and made dinner for my wife. Hopefully I will do it all again tomorrow.

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The Post makes an argument on contribution limits

So, I cannot and should not make a habit of responding to everything the New York Post writes about NYC’s public campaign financing system. I work with the good people who administer the system, and I believe that the program achieves its policy goals: any serious candidate in NYC needs to make small, local donors central to his or her fundraising plan. (Unless the candidate has his or her own money to spend.)

New York City candidates don’t throw $25,000/head dinners. City laws don’t force candidates to learn to ask for donations larger than NYC’s median annual household income to be competitive.

That said… Monday’s Post has a pat-on-the-back for George McDonald, who is suing to overturn the law that limits the size of contributions to a non-publicly-financed candidate. McDonald lacks Bloomberg’s wealth, the paper writes, so he wants to rely on wealthy friends to finance his campaign.

Alas, the reasonable, common-sense limits of the city’s system stand in his way. It’s a shame. But McDonald makes a good argument, the Post writes, because the “professional politicians” who oppose him “excel at turning favors into campaign contributions.”

Underneath the populist, visceral distaste for incumbents that is essential to the tabloid voice, there is a truth that bears repeating: promises and favors may sometimes be traded for campaign contributions. If this is true, don’t larger contributions require larger favors? Don’t super-sized contributions require super-sized favors? The limits exist precisely to eliminate this sort of favor-trading, or the perception thereof.

There are other arguments to be made about contribution limits and whether they are effective. But I believe that a wide majority of the voting public views any transaction involving large political contributions in the tens of thousands of dollars with deep cynicism, whether the target is a “professional politician” or a neophyte candidate with wealthy supporters. Thankfully, NYC’s system doesn’t have that problem.

Link: “One sweet lawsuit” (New York Post)

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Tom McGeveran of Capital NY writes a how-he-got-that-story piece on the Mitt-the-Barber episode, conversing with his former colleague Jason Horowitz (now of the Washington Post). Tom’s diagnosis: good reporting. I don’t disagree.

As Horowitz notes: “I don’t have the luxury of deciding for people what is or isn’t relevant about a candidate’s biography. My job is to look everywhere.” Indeed. It’s not Horowitz who decides where and how and how often the story gets played. There are a finite number of surprises in a Presidential campaign; one of these is a terrible thing to waste. But in this case, the reveal is kinda narrow, isn’t it?

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They Just Don’t Make Big Announcements Like They Used To

These are silly times.

I will always have a warm fuzzy feeling remembering 2008. That was the kind of presidential campaign you can tell your grandchildren about.

There are some of us for whom presidential politics serves as major league sport and popular entertainment. It is often as competitive and as salacious as any story worthy of E! or ESPN. But part of the obsession is that it is supposed to be a healthy obsession–in a perfect world, the next step in the journey through the presidential campaign is actually more important than the next plot twist on “Mad Men.” It should feel edifying to watch a presidential campaign unfold; it should reveal essential truths about the nation, about its participants, or both.

I’m not delusional. I realize this is not the world we live in. BUT– it seemed like this week had finally provided one of those moments when good policy and good politics intersect to create a dramatic happening of sorts. (I’m talking, of course, about this. Sorry, really, I meant this.)

It’s possible I’m defining “dramatic” down with this assessment. President Obama did the right thing in endorsing gay marriage, publicly. Everyone expected he would, because he had to, of course. And of course, his people still polled the crap out of this question first… and had members of his Cabinet and his Vice President prepare the ground very carefully (or hapazardly, depending on your point of view)… before making his announcement in a television interview aired in the middle of the day.

Still, it is a real issue that matters to many real people who feel really strongly about it. Progress on gay marriage will happen state by state, but the support of the President of the United States is, definitionally, significant. It will energize voters (and donors) for and against him. It is a potential turning point in the race for his reelection, one that came sooner than many had thought.

And by the next day, the chatter cloud that sets the agenda for the national media seems to have moved on to how much of an asshole Mitt Romney was in high school. He bullied a kid; the Washington Post wrote about it; he claimed not to remember the incident, or have ever to discussed his classmates’ sexuality. I read the stories, of course… but I’ve been puzzling over how much they matter.

The focus on candidates’ character over their substance is silly, and lazy, and also useful. If what we really need in a president is a “Great Man” (paging Robert Caro) instead of someone who is able to identify and describe a lovely fruit-basket of beliefs assembled to appeal to 51 percent of voters in selected states that can aggregate 270 electoral votes… if biography matters in our assessment of the candidate’s ability to Get Stuff Done, then the character stuff is useful.

But biography without context is not. (Not to excuse Teen Mitt for being an asshole.) This is a great nugget of a story, when you juxtapose it with the gay marriage announcement. The cynics in us might wonder if it were planned exactly that way. But it doesn’t really tell us anything useful we didn’t already know from Mitt’s refusal to endorse even civil unions.

If I’m concerned about the attention-deficit tone of my news, I need to take a hard look at my information diet. Perhaps, people who don’t pull all their news from the Twitter snark pit (as I do) are indeed taking a moment to savor and luxuriate in the news and analysis of this Important Moment. I am interested and surprised at how the narrative seems to have shifted so quickly; but perhaps that means I just need to reevaluate my news sources. There is news for newsmakers, and news for people. Conscious consumption takes work, more so than it used to. Questions, questions.

UPDATE: On this point… Josh Marshall at TPM suggests the Mitt-was-a-high-school-bully story will persist because his campaign has responded somewhat incompetently. Which is fine, but at its core this critique describes an argument between campaign professionals and campaign reporters, and little more. Again: it is not hard to see that certain parties have much to gain in keeping this nugget on the table, but it is definably a junk-food story to most.

Posted in elections, Uncategorized | 6 Comments