There are seven hundred ninety-three bridges and tunnels throughout New York or two thousand, depending on your news source and how good of a Googler you are. Of these, twenty connect the isle of Manhattan and the various boroughs with one that connects Roosevelt Island to Queens, but one has to take the tramway in order to reach that crossing. Some of these spans are nothing more than a walkway, a span that crosses some drainage ditch unnoticed by the thousands who pass over the sleeping CHUD, while others are immense edifices and feats of engineering that attract visitors and gawkers from all over the world. Walk these, at your own risk.
From the iconic Brooklyn Bridge with the gothic-inspired piers to the iron spires and decoration of the Queensborough Bridge and some that are nothing more than platforms devoid of all character or are strictly utilitarian. Each bridge has its own complex story, contribution to the history and development of the city, and in many ways has informed the construction of similar spans across the nation.
Any pathway that is shared with cyclists is a dangerous and unpleasant one. Unfettered by motorized vehicles, the only known predator of the cyclist, the rage and aggression is unleashed on people of all ages. This anger is unleashed on rollerbladers, dog walkers, joggers, accompanied and unaccompanied minors, and others who are riding bicycles – lumbering cruisers from a bygone era that apparently don’t belong in these cyclist lanes. On more than one occasion I have had a desperate ringing from behind me. As cyclists come charging past me in the opposite direction someone behind want me to yield, to make off into the grass and gravel to allow passage then, not having to wait for the opposing traffic to subside as is typical when motorized vehicles pass one another during the period of broken yellow lines.
It is the yearly endeavor of a certain group of urban explorers to try to cross as many as possible in a single day, each year rerouting the journey so as to cover different areas, neighborhoods, and maintain a spice of adventure. Often these routes take us through places as individuals we may personally fear to tread.
The first bridge walk several years ago was quite ambitious. The treck started at City Hall on the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge, by brunch, our group had traversed three significant bridges and were ready for more. Each bridge has a distinct character that it is remarkable that these exist almost on top of one another when looking at a map. In regions of this Great and Storied Nation, one may have to drive tens of miles between large spans, such as those that cross the Hudson River where a span exists but every twenty or thirty miles. Here in New York City there exist three massive structures in the space of a mile, and you can cross them by car, bus, subway, foot, and bicycle.
The Brooklyn Bridge, made famous by Woody Allen, exists no less of a fundamental icon than the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, or Times Square. Hence, most New Yorkers avoid it altogether. I lived almost fifteen years in the city before attempting to cross this span. There are several good reasons why.
The first and foremost is not the tourists. Tourists the city over do not know how to walk, exist in stumbling idiotic assortments given to stopping based on petty passions and today the plague of the selfie. A New Yorker knows how to deal with and avoid these clots of clodhoppers as they do muttering homeless, stumbling bumble-drunks, and muggers. However, on the Brooklyn Bridge, and others, there exists a threat to the safety and mirthful enjoyment worst than anything else. This plague to limb and bone are known as ‘cyclists.’
There was a time when I was young when people rode bicycles. These were simple means of mechanical transportation descended from those old velocipedes of the late 19th century. A bike is a two-wheeled human-powered form of transportation and some amount of exercise and divertissement. Our bikes of youth had streamers on the handlebars. There was a chain that often jumped off the single gear. We had to stand up and push hard to go up the most meager hill. Maybe a fender or two to prevent one from getting soaked from riding through a puddle but in those days riding through a puddle was to get wet and messy and fenders were often removed. We oiled our bikes with 3in1 Oil, old motor oil, or cooking oil. We didn’t have kickstands and when over to someone’s house, the bikes were tossed in a pile and more often than not one would get stuck to another with the pedal woven through the spokes as if handspun, and two children would be late to dinner and inevitably punished because of this.
In years later, the bicycle and all its simplicity was replaced by the ‘cycle.’ This device appears the same, but these are not the same machines. A cycle has many gears with to endure all sorts of terrain. A ‘cycle’ is made out of metals that did not exist when I was a child and perhaps come from other planets. A cycle requires a number of other additional items such as special shoes, special gloves, an ergonomic seat for your custom ass, and of course a holder for your device that tracks your time, temperature, heart rate, and the Wealth of Nations. Cycles are not just a piece of equipment; it is a way of life.
A cycle is ridden wearing special attire. Typically, this involves stuffing a body into a skintight leotard of sorts with many numbers and little emblems denoting esoteric knowledge of ‘cycle culture.’ The cycle requires the use of a special helmet since it is ridden at a single speed – fast. Because of the intense speed, the uniform is fitted for airflow as if each roid-raging lunatic were a jet engine being tested in an alien lab. These devices appear not to have any breaks since cyclists never want to slow down.
Because of this apparent inability to slow or – g/G/o/d/s forbid stop – the cyclist must make others aware of their presence through a series of utterances, signals, and idiophone percussion instruments.
Whether an articulated truck or a little old lady on the sidewalk, each will receive the ire and unfortunate rage of the cyclist. DINGDINGDING! On most all cycles there is a bright flashing light on the front to induce epilepsy, and the weakest of red lights on the back that is often occluded by a dangling fanny pack, large testes, or some sort of emergency kit in the event the cycle becomes broken or not running at optimum (and high) speed. Oakley sunglasses are issued to most cyclists because it is always sunny, if at least in their mind’s eye. Cyclists yell a lot either naming the device they are ridding upon as their moniker or yelling some angry vitriol spewing out sexual frustration and lack of agency elsewhere in their lives and directing it on some unsuspecting slob who chooses a pedestrian life.
In the city, this activity is not without real and sustained risk. I have known a number of friends who “were lucky” in that they were only run over a little by some taxi driven by an overly eager driver. Cyclists place monuments to those who have fallen and indeed it is sad to see that in the city there are many of these. These monuments, often an old bicycle painted white, remind many of the dangers of riding in the streets, the tangle of traffic, and how drivers of cars and trucks careen down the small clogged roads with impunity. Nevertheless, cyclists in fighting for their right of via have long ago passed that point of firm activism and now many form a militant core that seems to derive pleasure of flouting the basic structure of urban road transport. Lights mean nothing. Crosswalks are just hunting grounds. One way streets do not exist other than in the perverted minds of city planners.
These shock troops have been augmented by the shared cycle programs that allow any ninny with the requisite number of legs the ability to also join in the fun. Too many times I have personally almost been a victim of some raging hard on speeding down the street with no regard for the rules of engagement. Truly a guerrilla army springing from the shadows to threaten and then vanish. Some of these are delivery men. Cigarettes dangling from the lip, a motorized scooter covered in plastic bags, the operator distracted by his iDevice as he attempts to get Mindy and Dante their lunch order on time and correctly in order to earn a meager sliver of the American Dream. More often than not, these speed demons appear native-born, at least in the accent they pronounce “WHATTHEFUCKMAN!” seems of the tongue of their parentage.
You know, I proposed, I have as much right to this lane as you. She replied that her frantic ringing of the bell was to ensure I was not “run over.” I informed her that she should try applying the brakes to slow down rather than the bell since that is what brakes were invented to do. She was not pleased with my response. But I am sure she was able to find some dog, child, or helpless bird to take her anger out on at a later time. On a cycle trail, there is much yelling and jostling for position in perhaps a race I am wholly unaware of and if the additional “lane” is not armored cars, woe to those who think a Sunday stroll on the West Side Highway is anything but fraught with danger.
Of all these “shared” spaces, none is more notorious than the Brooklyn Bridge. In the center of the bridge is a walkway that is split between the hoards of undisciplined tourists high on life and the fumes of vacation, and the serious, stern, cyclist commuters attempting to beat their time according to whatever app they have installed on their devices or internalized within. The walkway is wood, I assume some way to maintain the historic nature of the structure, but this leads to an even more ominous characteristic as many of the loose boards clack and does so with increased volume as the cyclists approach. Even the slightest elbow over the line to the realm of the cyclists will be an infraction of clashing cultures. An offensive act against cyclist culture far more offensive than any word that is today only hinted at by its first letter. Any pedestrian transgression must be punished with obscenities and rebel yells. ARGLE-BARGLE goes the latest cyclist as he whizzes by at top speed to spite the many elderly tourists snapping pictures and wandering bewildered. The Brooklyn Bridge is truly a dangerous place to walk at any hour least one be flattened by these peddle power people.
While using the device known as the bicycle is of great advantage for both health and perhaps to reduce some pollution, it is unfortunately replaced by a similar device used in a dramatically different way. The issue is that the culture of our society is such that any activity has become a power play for dominance, a political statement of purity and an ego-sport of dramatic and commercial proportions. Perhaps we will change our ways and again, ride bikes with silly baskets, streamers, and leave them in a pile in front of whatever house we are visiting.
Editor’s Note: Learn more about NYC’s Vision Zero (road safety for bikes and pedestrians) https://www1.nyc.gov/site/visionzero/index.page