Biking for the Right to Bike

07/30/2008 12:00 AM |

By now you’ve probably seen the video of Patrick Pogan, rookie cop, knocking Christopher Long, ret. US Army, off his bicycle in the most recent Critical Mass bike ride, on July 25th. It’s a shocking scene, made even more distressing by Pogan’s fabricated report on the incident. Had the video never surfaced, Long might have been convicted of assaulting a cop, and Critical Mass would have received yet another undeserved black mark.

The murmur of anti-Critical Mass and anti-bike sentiment heard in the wake of this disgrace is puzzling. A New York Post columnist used the event as an excuse not to discuss issues of police brutality or falsification, but to trot out the shocking news that “Arrogant Cyclists are Hell on Wheels” — according to Andrea Peyser, one person a year is killed in a collision with a cyclist. And that’s why “It’s murder out there if you like to walk.”

Well, Andrea, don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining. According to a city report on bike accidents, 11 people were killed by bikes between 1997 and 2005, and three of them were “identified as disregarding traffic controls” — i.e. crossing against the light. Which leaves what? Eight people in ten years, who weren’t at fault and might have been obeying the law when they were hit?

On the other hand, 170 pedestrians were killed by cars in NYC in 2006, down from the 298 killed in 2004. The reason some experts believe traffic fatalities have declined slightly (between 1980 and 1987 an average of around 300 pedestrians were killed every year, down from a high of 500 in 1970) is that more congestion has slowed traffic down. In other words, the much-maligned cyclist, blamed for blocking traffic, may just be doing us all a favor.

Some thanks they get — in the city report, titled “Bicyclist Fatalities and Serious Injuries 1996-2005” assembled by the Parks Department and the Police Department, and, ironically, signed by Police Commish Ray Kelly himself, the official stance is that “Bicycling is good for New York City! The city is committed to improving bicycle and traffic safety for all New Yorkers.” That’s why Kelly’s turned Critical Mass into a training ground for crowd-control exercises, spending millions on choppers and extra cops: while the Mayor talks about more bike lanes and the possibility of a municipal bike rental system, the real attitude toward cyclists is one of suspicion, hatred and blame.

In the ten years covered by the report, an average of 23 cyclists died in traffic accidents every year, and 1,944 pedestrians were killed. 12,412 pedestrians and 3,462 cyclists were seriously injured by cars. Bicycles are not the problem. This is the simple message that Critical Mass has been trying to get across for years. Bikes don’t kill people — cars kill people, and cars kill people on bikes. Cars also kill people with pollution — do we need to go into childhood asthma rates in this city?

The pro-bike side of the Bloomberg administration is right — bicycling is good for New York City. Period. With zero emissions, zero noise pollution and virtually no wear and tear on infrastructure, the bicycle may be our best bet for a livable future here. With subways packed at all hours of the day, the MTA isn’t going to be much help as the city grows, and there isn’t any more room for cars, taxis or buses on the roads. Even if the sight of those skinny-panted, Italian bike-capped diehards fills you with revulsion (the animosity being expressed in the media reminds me of the cranks back in the 1970s and ‘80s who seriously imagined kids with spiky green hair were going to be the downfall of civilization), it’s time to grow up.

Encourage bikers to bike. Admit that the automobile dominates the streets of New York City 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. And please, let’s be honest and admit that the hour and a half that a group of bikers spend every month trying to ride with pleasure instead of fear, trying to show ALL New Yorkers what a good, essential thing biking is, is not an inconvenience or a threat. Come to the next Critical Mass yourself, and see how much fun it really is.

And while you’re at it, send an email to Mayor Bloomberg and Ray Kelly (at NYC.gov), and tell them you’ve had it with lying, brutalizing cops. If Pogan was this bad after three weeks on the job, what’ll he be like when he’s been there for years? We deserve better than bullies and thugs “protecting” us. Even if you don’t like bikes, there’s no reason to attack, then attempt to frame, a young veteran just trying to enjoy a peaceful ride. Really.