Volume 21, Number 30 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | DECEMBER 5 - 11, 2008
Bikes and the city: An unsexy tale
By Dara Lehon
I am one of an estimated 131,000 group of people who ride a bicycle in New York City. Sometimes I’ll ride 3.4 miles to work; other times I’ll ride 70 miles to the beach and back.
This past year, I’ve accumulated new scars doing so: one on my shoulder, two on my hands, and one on my right elbow. At some point, my ribs were bruised so badly I couldn’t stand straight, and for a while my hands my hands tingled because I had damaged a nerve.
But my most recent tale of woe is one for humanity as a whole. See, I almost died after a van knocked me off of my bike, then dragged me up Third Ave. And, while I was getting medical attention, someone stole my vintage bike.
It went something like this: while peacefully pedaling up Third Ave. to work, a big white van à la O.J. Simpson somehow managed to hook its broken mirror onto my bike. It dragged me about three feet on my side half on my bike; the other half on the road. Eventually, I managed to break free and to avoid the FedEx truck double parked to my right while also, thankfully, avoiding the van’s wheels which were all-too-close to my head and other body parts. I was tossed to the side, near a bus stop. The contents of my bag were splattered in the street. I landed half on my knees, half on my side.
This is 29th St. at 8:40 a.m. Good Samaritans stood above me, cell phones in hand, asking whether or not I was okay and if I needed to call 911. I was a little frazzled. But I thought I was fine.
“I just need to get to work,” I said. I wiggled my body parts, shook my head a little, and assessed that I would live. At least, I thought, I wasn’t a ghost bike.
I grabbed some of my scattered items and hobbled over to the bus stop, where Gene, the driver, met me. He was apologetic. He felt badly. He was nervous. I felt bad that he felt bad. But my body was starting to feel worse.
Gene said he, too, was trying to avoid an even larger truck to his left. It’s entirely possible. The streets present a daily battle for anyone who uses them cars, pedestrians, cyclists, pigeons alike. The problem was that he decided it was better to edge me out instead of crashing his bosses’ van.
So now I’m a little ticked about the fall and about being late for work, and my left elbow and knee are starting to hurt. But I remain calm certainly calmer than the time I got up and expletives I never knew flew out of my mouth on Avenue C after a woman pulled over without looking, driving straight into me and landing me, oh, under the car, and in a gutter.
At this point, I’m mostly perhaps adrenaline-driven concerned that I needed to get to my office (my organization works in India, and it’d been a busy few days). But, as the pain in my limbs got stronger, I decided it was a good idea to call 911. Just in case.
Now a note about my bike, which had been picked up and placed on the side by one of the good Samaritans: It’s a classic burgundy San Remo Bianchi. It was a gift that had had some work done with some brilliant blue handlebar tape and some new wheels. It’s a special, special bike, which makes me happy to ride. It’s sturdy, and cool, and awesome. And, it seemed to have withstood the accident well much better than my racing bike, which would have cracked immediately upon collision.
Also note that I keep my huge Kryptonite lock on my bike. The chain makes the bike much heavier than it needs to be. But I’ve told myself that it was worth the investment both in weight and dollars.
. So the ambulance came fairly quickly along with the fire department. Once in the ambulance, I laughed off the pain (that adrenaline again) with the relatively young, amicable E.M.T. guys. Together, we discovered more and more scrapes and bruises and aches; we talked about my cool bike and my reconstructed knee; about the fact that they first thought I was Sarah Jessica Parker (clearly they didn’t notice that I’m about four times her size).
As we’re cutting through my stockings to find another abrasion, a shady looking character wearing a cap pops up his head in the (closed) back window of the ambulance. He sees me being treated and sleuths away. We look at each other curiously. I’m a little hazy, but I ask about my bike, which was outside in the bus stop between the ambulance, the van that hit me, and the FedEx truck. I’m glad I had grabbed my belongings inside the ambulance.
“The bike’s okay,” says Bryan, a stocky, built-looking E.M.T. with Ray Ban shades.
Indeed, I see my Bianchi through the ambulance window. It’s fine. After all, it’s perfectly manicured Murray Hill. It’s morning. But, it had been a while, and 45 minutes after the ambulance had arrived, the police were still M.I.A.
The E.M.T.s radio the call again, and Bryan goes outside to check on the bike and for the cops. Bike’s there. Cops aren’t.
Minutes later, as I’m filling out more forms, Bryan throws open the ambulance doors. He’s visibly pissed. I look outside.
Cops still M.I.A. My bike is gone. GONE.
Now, I cuss. A lot.
It’s enough that I’m physically beat up. Now, I’m morally wounded. And I don’t care how much of an urban jungle we are, this is like picking a wallet off a nearly-dead guy while he’s still breathing.
Now, I know that people have their bikes stolen in this city everyday. It’s why I bought my heavy, $100 bike lock and why I don’t ever park my fancy bike on the street. And although I’ve been hit and pissed off more than once, I still advocate biking in the city wholeheartedly. It’s great that the cycling community is growing daily, that we expect 200 miles of bike lanes by the end of 2009, that showers will be required in buildings, and that, cool new bike racks are popping up all over the place.
And I hope someday we can be like Amsterdam or Copenhagen where you can leave your bike unlocked no less and return to it.
But after all my near-misses, and too many scars, this was it.
I am reminded of my city of yore: When I was growing up Downtown, I threw down my umbrella during a temper tantrum on Grand St. Minutes later, someone ran by, and stole it. That was the early ’80s and it was on the Lower East Side. Not Murray Hill, 9 a.m., 2008.
Now, I want sympathy for my and countless other cyclists’ pains. But mostly, I want vindication (and my bike back). Because here’s the best part: I hobbled over to say goodbye to Gene, who apologized again, and wished me well. When I told him about my bike being stolen, he was so outraged that he couldn’t look me in the eye.
Then, he pointed to his windshield. A big orange letter was tucked beneath his wipers. He had gotten a parking ticket when he stepped out of his van to check on me.
Dara Lehon is a freelance writer on hiatus from biking in Lower Manhattan.