Cars ≠ Bicycles ≠ Mass Transit

Background Reading

NYC Cycling Interveiw from Shelly Mossey on Vimeo.


Shelly Mossey is a longtime recumbent cyclist who lives in New York and has ridden there much of his adult life.


During the course of the video two themes that are often cited when reading or listening to Urban Cyclists come up:

  • Why do motorists hate cyclists?
  • Why do cyclists dislike Mass Transit (and its pedestrian users)?

Shelly claims that the split between motorists who tolerate cyclists and those who hate them is about 50-50. What he however does not explain is the almost universal dislike that cyclists (both here in Chicago and most certainly in New York) have for Mass Transit and its riders.

The Chicago Bicycle Federation changed its name a few years ago. I spoke with one former employee who has since moved north and he finds it difficult to reconcile the new name change. I agree. But not for the same reasons.

When you take on a name that implies that the transportation you support is ‘active‘ that probably implies that your constituents are either riding a bicycle or walking between rides on mass transit vehicles. Otherwise a person driving a delivery van or a beer truck would most certainly quality as ‘active‘.

Shelly says in the video that he feels that a weeks worth of riding in the streets of New York would be enough to get most folks to ditch their cars on a permanent basis. But he also includes in the ‘ditch scenarioMass Transit vehicles, especially buses.

So near as I can figure it bicyclists are essentially (in terms of their allies) all alone. They frankly despise public transportation and have a fear and loathing thing going on with motorists. This does not sound like a very welcome proposition to ‘ride your bike in traffic‘.

Cyclists Need A Change Of Heart

Seriously, we sound more like misfits than we even realize. Why keep trying to carve out a niche on the roadways where you actually believe that 50 percent of the vehicle operators are ‘out to get you‘? How is it that a cabbie can run you over and nobody in the local precinct wants to take your statement and the passenger of the cab that tried to crush you leaves without offering any information?

Many cyclists would not recognize this as a troublesome situation in terms of the views offered up by the cyclist. But it bothers me, to no end. We cannot continue to live in what is essentially a cauldron of death and mayhem and keep coming back for more. And why on earth would you want to invite someone else to join you in this lifestyle?

Do we really think that motorists are ‘envious‘ of us? As a cyclist I can honest say that when I am behind the wheel of my automobile I have generally two emotions:

  • In really horrid weather I wonder why anyone bothers riding home on a bike. I figure that they dislike buses so much that they avoid them like the plague.
  • Cyclists are horribly impatient drivers and take out their aggressions most often on pedestrians.

I have in fact yet to see many cyclists routinely yield the right-of-way to pedestrians in the crosswalk. The force their way between them at less than 3-Feet and seem oblivious to the fact that this looks bad coming from the same group that wants a 3-Feet Law enforced for automobiles.

But after reading a quote from a participant on the Chicago ‘Whine and Jeez Club’ Cycling Forum the other day it would seem that many cyclists are still laboring under the delusion that to kill a pedestrians you need to be driving a 2 ton car and going 30 miles-per-hour. You don’t.

You can ‘seriously injure a pedestrian at very low stall out speeds‘! So why has this message not gotten through to the vast majority of cyclists? I am guessing for the same reason that people have a difficult time imagining that they could be part of the problem with pedestrian mortality rates while riding a bicycle. We do not want to have ourselves dislodged as the ‘victims‘ of the roadway.

We need to get the chip off our shoulders and start paying attention to the more vulnerable users of the roadway. Despite all the hand wringing that we do our mortality rate has always been lower than that of pedestrians. And yet we seem to be the ones who are getting all the new infrastructure. Why is that?

We Want To Get Across Town Safer Not Necessarily Faster

New York is a beast of a city. Everyone there is in some sort of ‘speed coma‘. I hate to drive in the city of New York because drivers take chances that are stomach churning. But the drivers of bicycles are no exception. They give as good as they get. The only difference is that you can break far more laws with impunity on a bicycle than you ever could in a car.

No car could drive across Manhattan while running every single red light and not attract unwanted attention. You would have a very hard time running a road rally like the AlleyCat Races on streets during the middle of the day without drawing police attention. But most important is that all of this is made possible for cyclists by the mere fact that they have no license plates tying them to a database owned by the city or state.

Bicyclists are anonymous and want to stay that way. Otherwise they might start showing up on red light cameras and that would be expensive.

So while I love the bike Shelly rides I am not a fan of the mentality that both New York and Chicago riders have. We need to be better than that.