Everyone wants safe streets—but too many people refuse to see things from the other vehicle's perspective.
On the other hand, some of the tension bicyclists face isn’t from drivers; it’s from their unwheeled peers who walk or use public transit. This is part of the cyclist’s no-win scenario: Pedestrians don’t want bikes inconveniencing them, either.
Take Melanie from Mt. Airy. On a recent afternoon, while riding home on SEPTA, she was told to get out of the way by a cyclist. See, trains have designated seats for bicycles, and if a bicyclist gets on the train with his or her ride, you can bet three people will have to get up to make room for it.
It’s happened more in recent months, and at this point, she can’t take it anymore. So much so, she took to Facebook one day to vent her frustration about getting out of her seat for a bike.
“Bikers, we’ve had this conversation already,” she posted. “You not being able to ride your $1000 bike home after riding it into the city DOES NOT constitute an emergency and therefore require me to move so you can park it on the seat I pay $180/mth to sit my fat azz in on the regional rail.”
When contacted by PW, she was a bit more subdued. “I love that people are getting their fitness on and all that, but this was a situation where three people had to move,” she says. “If you’re not sure you’re able to get home the way you got to work, maybe you should do something else.”
One person in Philadelphia has dedicated himself to documenting the two-wheeled causes of the conflict: Daily News columnist Stu Bykofsky. The curmudgeonly writer has penned numerous columns about bicycling in recent years, and he regularly gets heat for them.
Those columns are often similar in nature: He grabs police statistics, Bicycle Coalition statistics, interviews a cyclist or two—most recently, he spoke with former Mayor John Street, who admits to going through red lights—then jams his own anti-bike culture opinion down the reader’s throat. He’s just about the only prominent voice on the issue in this politically liberal city. And unlike a lot of writers out there, he’s willing to feed the trolls.
Over drinks in Center City—I stuck to cola, since I had to bike home—he tells me exactly what he thinks about becoming the most notorious anti-bike voice in Philadelphia. For starters, he’s not impressed with the arguments he’s gotten “My critics are assholes,” he says. “They’re dissemblers, they’re illogical, they don’t know how to read, they don’t know how to digest facts.”
Bykofsky recently appeared on Radio Times during a bicycle program as the counter-point to the Bicycle Coalition’s Sarah Clark Stuart. During that conversation—and during the one he and I had—he noted that he’s not necessarily against bicycles or bicyclists, as many have pegged him to be.
“I am anti- two things,” he says. “I am anti-bike lane. I don’t think they’re necessary. I think—I know—they slow traffic. Not I think. I know because while I don’t own a car, I have Philly Car Share and I drive in the city. So, I don’t think the bicycle lanes are necessary.”
(Bykofsky, it should be noted, does not accept bicycle advocates’ premise that slower driving on city streets is a good thing that should be celebrated.)
He’s also against bicyclists’ demonstrated behavior; he argues that virtually all of us break laws and deny it. “When you talk to, I will say, 99.5 percent of bicyclists … only .5 percent will admit going through red lights without an excuse,” he says, then mockingly adds his impression of bicyclists at red lights: “‘I don’t care. I’m doing it.’”
Moreover, he’s sick of the city going out of its way to throw money at ideas proposed by city planners, social engineers and the Bicycle Coalition while SEPTA too often gets the short end of the stick. Philadelphia’s plan, he and others have noted, is to have as much as 5 percent of the city commuting via bicycle by 2020—which, while a lofty goal, he notes, is still just 5 percent.
Bykofsky claims his columns are taken out of context by critics in his comments section and on bike-friendly blogs. “Almost every column [I write] is studded—filled—with facts which come from the Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia,” he says. “I use their own facts and figures, I put it in the paper, I call up the police about tickets…everything I write is documented, and these morons just accuse me of pulling it out of my ass.”
Of course, sometimes Bykofsky bases his arguments on assertions that can’t be proven—like his seat-of-the-pants guess that over 90 percent of bicyclists go through red lights, and the other mentioned earlier, that 99.5 percent of bicyclists are big fucking liars.
Still, I have to acknowledge that most cyclists I meet while researching this story either don’t know there are real traffic laws governing bicycle behavior, or admit that they don’t follow them. And while running intersections may be the most obvious offense they commit, it’s not the worst.
Earlier in August, an allegedly drunk bicyclist sent himself and a woman to the hospital after plowing into her on a weeknight in South Philadelphia, at Broad and Ellsworth. The cyclist is likely facing charges in the incident; DUIs aren’t just for driving cars, after all.
Few bicyclists will admit to drinking and biking. One I spoke with under provision of anonymity, though, did allow that he rides drunk sometimes. He’s not that ashamed of it, either—even as he admits it probably led to him getting into an accident with a driver.
“I got hit a while ago,” he says. “I was kind of drunk, so I didn’t… it’s probably… they came out and asked if I was OK and everything, so it wasn’t…”
PW's Holiday Guide 2014