Last summer, several friends and I were recruited to appear as extras, principal riders stunt bikers for Columbia Pictures newest release, Premium Rush, due to hit theaters in January. Considered the season which makes or breaks a courier due to the work volume in the harshest weather conditions, winter starts off the urban bike year with much expectation to the summers swell of new riders on the streets of New York City. Yet with the anticipated increase comes concern about the congestion of cyclists on the road. I’ve heard some say that they prefer there to be fewer lanes because there would be less room on the road if everyone got on their bike. That’s seems a natural corollary, true indeed. However the other concern is that, because of the wanna be Euro city approach to urban planning – especially with the main thoroughfare plazas and outdoor seating/dining arrangements like the Flatiron and Herald Square area – there would be less freedom for cyclists to maneuver. An equally valid argument, assuming a few factors.
Before one can reasonably discuss this, there must be some distinction in the class of riders and a thorough, personal performance assessment approach by law enforcement and an honest self-assessment by cyclists. But since a nuanced, sensitive approach by the NYPD is not forthcoming, it is incumbent on every cyclist to follow and consider basic rules of traffic engagement immutable, at least in terms of what is intended. This doesn’t mean the laws cannot change, but rather the intention behind its codification must reflect flexibility in personal responsibility and the execution of enforcement.
Would it be better to ticket red light runners and folks who ride outside of the lane? In terms of effectiveness, would it not be better to single out violent bikers who hit without remorse or regard for pedestrians? The umbrella, blanket or dragnet approach to policing cyclists is killing the clean transportation movement and it is also causing those with warrants – many of which are for non-violent misdemeanors such as open container or other minor infractions – to choose more desperate maneuvers to avoid ticketing and arrest. This leads to dodge and scramble situations wherein an increase in potential injuries is mathematically inevitable.
Which brings me to Premium Rush and the need to put in a word for safety in the most clear and general terms, the specifics of which must be directly experienced by the rookie and veteran rider alike. Newbies, pay attention.
There is a professional way to run a red light. Do it as if you were in a hurry and don’t look back. No eye contact. Or, make eye contact and go at a slow, walking pace if foot traffic is already crossing an intersection. Many cops won’t care, but not all. Personally, I’m fast enough to catch up with traffic stopping at every light. Patience prevails; it’s not worth $270 to get a red light ticket.
Check for cops ahead of time with the goal of stopping several car lengths ahead. If you’re on a track bike with no brakes, you are already a potential target. They can be hard on you if you run a red light and even tougher for giving them lip when you have no brakes or bell, or lights; a helmet is mandatory if you deliver. Technically, a plate and ID of your delivery service or restaurant must be visible on you and/or your bike. Even non- working cyclists should wear helmets, but the law only requires riders under the age of 14 to wear one.
Beyond the intentions of riders and the people who love and hate them for whatever reason, there are a few other safety protocols to follow which will reduce the overall anxiety of city riding. Like the rules of boxing, “protect yourself at all times.” This translates to, “be aware at all times.” Use the reflections off of all surfaces, look through rear windshields, and slow down in anticipation of people who jut through stopped or slowed traffic. It only takes a tap or nudge to knock you into traffic, or to knock them down with a serious or possibly even fatal head injury, particularly if they are older or frailer in build.
Another tactic is to look at the wheels of the car ahead of you when they turn. And are you directly behind that cab? Try to be on 5 or 7 o’ clock of either the rear right or left wheel. This will give you more space and time to pull off into traffic if they slow down. In addition, pay attention to the pressure and wear of your tires, brake pads and wheel alignment, cables, and chain tension. Check your straps or cleats for wear, especially track riders who use them to slow down and stop. Simple maintenance puts that extra focus on what you’re doing, not what needs to be done.
And for those with a temper: get over it, fast. It doesn’t matter who did what. You never know who’s pulling out what. Apologize, and keep it moving. If you’re so important, be about the road, and don’t quarrel with empty threats, causing a scene. It’s also a big turnoff as it only makes both parties look like a blowhard.
What is it worth risking your life to shave down a few minutes or seconds? A lot can happen in a New York minute, and even more in a second. There’s a way to ride out here without feeling you’re in, as Homer Simpson said, “an Urban Death Maze.”