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Cars, Bicycles And You: A Primer

The DOT's "Don't Be a Jerk" campaign is more than just an empty slogan.

The name of this column is Happy Cycling because, in general, it’s accurate. It's hard to be in a bad mood when biking because frankly, there's just too much else to worry about it. (It's also a song from a band that I like.)

That said, there are some occasions when a more appropriate name might be “Enraged Cycling” or “If You Try to Run Me Off the Road One More Time I am Going to Launch a Missile Right Through Your Passenger Side Window Cycling.” Had I named the column this Saturday, it would have been “Thanks for Opening Your Car Door on Me While I was in the Bike Lane, You (Expletive). Cycling.”

What happened was this: I was tooling around Long Island City, reveling in the false sense of security one always gets from bike lanes: as if a couple of painted lines can actually stop a car, which, unlike some strips of white paint, happen to be three dimensional and weigh thousands of pounds. 

So I was in the bike lane, carefully minding the driver’s side doors parked along the street to my right. I was minding so carefully, in fact, that I apparently failed to appreciate the black SUV parked to my left. There was plenty of room between the parked cars and this SUV, so I was sailing between the two when –

BAM.

“Bam,” may not be exactly right. It may have been “crunch” or “splat,” but either way, it was the sound of heavy SUV door being swung open squarely onto a moving bike, which happened to have a person on it.

The sound that came next I remember far more vividly: A veritable symphony of profanity poured out of my mouth, but at a decibel more reminiscent of a rock concert. It was colorful, varied, and alarming even to me.

Translated from blind rage into actual English, it would have probably sounded like this: "Excuse me sir, I understand that you were in a tremendous hurry to exit your sizable SUV, but I wonder if it wouldn’t behoove you to make sure there were no passing cyclists? This is a bike lane, after all! You wouldn’t just swing your car doors willy-nilly into traffic, would you?”

Luckily, I walked away relatively unscathed. A bruise both the color and general shape of an unripe banana is stamped across my left ribcage, and my knee is well, black. But it could have been much, much worse for everyone involved.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently selected a company responsible for implementing the largest-scale bikeshare program in the country: Some 600 stations will provide 10,000 bicycles to anyone who wants to use them, meaning there are going to be as many as 10,000 more cyclists wobbling nervously down city streets. Many drivers may not like cyclists, but the fact of the matter is, they're going to have to get used to them.

In preparation for this day, here are a few pointers on the basic do's and don'ts of driving near people on bikes:

1) Lay off your horn.

Honking is as characteristic of New York life as yellow cabs and mutant rats, but getting honked at on a bike is a great deal more frightening than it is when swaddled in the warm cocoon of a car. On more than one occasion I've been so rattled by the sound of a horn that I have very nearly fallen into the road. Cyclists may be inconvenient, but manslaughter charges are even moreso. 

2) Share the road.

This sounds awfully kumbaya, but it’s true. Cyclists have the same rights to the road as you -- with some notable exceptions, like highways. Yes, cyclists can be obnoxious and unsafe, but a lot of us are just trying to get from Point A to B with as few brushes with death as possible. Intentionally bullying a cyclist who is otherwise obeying the law serves no purpose, and even less so if the cyclist get injured or killed because of it. 

3) Watch your doors.

You don’t haphazardly swing your doors open if there’s a risk of them getting lobbed off by a passing truck, do you? Looking to make sure there's nothing - car, bike, submarine, whatever - zipping toward you is an excellent use of your five seconds. Once again: You know what's takes longer than glancing out your window? A lawsuit.

Of course, all of these fall under the basic umbrella of "Don't be a jerk." If you're already a jerk, there's probably precious little anyone can tell you to encourage you to stop.

But if you are a jerk -- why? Should road be reserved exclusively for cars? Do you think honking will make bikes just go away?

Whether you're a cyclist or a driver, we want to know your thoughts on bikes, and their increasing prevalence around the city. Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

BRADY September 25, 2012 at 09:42 PM
Lauren,i tell you i'm not a fan of bike riders ,i, like you have had an incident much the same,no not with a car ,a bike ,and as a pedestrian,not to mention trying to enjoy Prospect Park (its easy just avoid any area that flat and smooth i.e.roadways ,pathways, entrances)but F.Y.I.its illegal to open a vehicle door into oncomming traffic not that it helps you for this incident but for future ones especially with an injury (P.S. i dont know the exact VTL code but it,s there)

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