By MATT FLEGENHEIMER
Published: May 6, 2013
If a taxi’s window is down, listen for the sound of a receipt being printed. It means a door is about to open.
Ride with the flow of traffic, the teacher said, or be prepared to “spend the rest of your day in the hospital and the rest of your year filling out insurance paperwork.”
And always live up to these buzzwords, even when fellow travelers do not: predictable, visible, assertive, alert and courteous.
“Can you talk about ‘assertive’ a little bit?” one attendee asked.
“Oh, yeah,” the instructor said. “We’re going to get into that.”
These were among the lessons delivered recently at a bike shop in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, perhaps the city’s only classroom space that serves Pabst Blue Ribbon and iced coffee, where residents gathered for a seminar on a topic many assumed they had mastered years ago: riding a bike.
But there is riding a bike, of course, and there is riding a bike in today’s New York City — amid the 13,000 yellow taxis (and 52,000 taxi doors), pedestrians who often view traffic signals as ignorable suggestions, and by the end of the month, a bike share program, Citi Bike, that will introduce thousands of new bicycles to the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn.
The session last week was among several organized this spring by bike share representatives and Bike New York, a nonprofit group that provides free cycling classes across the city tailored specifically to New York City riding. The class seemed to vacillate between public awareness campaign and a pep talk for those who might be skittish about riding in traffic.
“I ride every day, and I have for 14 years in New York,” said Emilia Crotty, the group’s instructor, who is the education and outreach manager for New York City Bike Share. “And I’m still here to tell you about riding in the city.”
Her lesson featured a lengthy slide show, a video clip and a brief bit of theater that cast an attendee in the role of parked car.
Shining a laser pointer on a pull-down projection screen, Ms. Crotty reminded the students that it was legal to ride with one headphone in, but not both (“there’s so much on the street that you want to hear”), and that riders must always yield to pedestrians (“even when they’re crossing against the light and being super annoying”).
An appropriately assertive rider, according to the presentation, does not hesitate to ride in the center of a narrow traffic lane if no bike lane is available. Then again, Ms. Crotty cautioned, choosing a favorable route was more important than taking shortcuts (“if you’re not super-comfy on a bike, don’t get onto Northern Boulevard in Queens and ride in the middle lane”).
Students at the bike shop — where wall adornments include bike frames and a photograph from the 1922 Tour de France — ranged from experienced to semi-mortified riders.
Charisse Sutherland, 26, from Crown Heights, said she had ridden recently on some of the city’s protected paths but “wimped out” by largely avoiding the street.
Though her neighborhood is not included in the earliest collection of bike share stations, Ms. Sutherland said she planned to take up cycling both because “the transit system in general is just disgusting” and because she failed two drivers’ tests last year.
“I’m going to try again,” she added, “but I want as many options as possible.”
Sabenah Casey, 49, who lives in Irvington, N.J., and works in Lower Manhattan, said she would most likely curb her car use once the program began. She plans to take the PATH train to the World Trade Center or a bus to the Port Authority, before using bike share for the final leg of her commute.
“I’ve always seen things from the point of view of a frustrated driver,” she said after the class. “Now I’m seeing it as a biker.”
Attempts at rider-driver peacekeeping were a theme of Ms. Crotty’s presentation, despite one aside in which she extolled the “8,000 reasons why riding a bike is superior to driving a car.”
Proper signaling as a cyclist, she said, was a sign of respect to drivers, a way of “giving them the info they need” to avoid a crash and demonstrating that they should respect cyclists in kind.
“There are drivers in all of these cars,” Ms. Crotty said. “They’re people, too.”