As spring makes its descent and we’re all met by its long-awaited warmth, there’s one thing that comes with it that isn’t so exciting: crowded bike lanes.
It’s not that having a lot of cyclists in the city isn’t a good thing—in fact, I think it’s amazing and a testament to the popularity of the activity. Commuting to work via bike helps the environment, gets you a dose of exercise, and puts you outside rather than underground. It also shows city officials that they should absolutely re-evaluate just how popular cycling is here and should push them to cities even more bike-friendly.
What sucks about crowded bike lanes are the inconsiderate riders that make your commute stressful rather than enjoyable. So here are some courtesies to keep in mind this season to make the bike lanes safer for both new and experienced commuters.
1. Don’t be an asshole.
Seems kinda obvious, huh?
If you’ve been in New York for longer than a day, you’ll probably hear at least one person talk about how much they can’t stand bikers, saying something along the lines of, “I hate cyclists. I almost got hit by one blowing through a red light last week!” Although this argument is the definition of stereotyping, by letting one person’s poor example mold your opinion of an entire group of people, I still hear this all the damn time.
As long as you try not to be that cyclist, you’re at least on the right track. This is probably easier said than done because you can slowly roll through a red light and someone will still look at you like you’re putting their life in danger, but this is just one of those situations where it’s the thought that counts most.
While riding, don’t put other’s lives at risk. The end. So try putting yourself in their shoes as a non-cyclist.
A lot of pedestrians are distracted when crossing the street—arguably the worst time to be distracted—particularly when they’re on their phones. They don’t always look both ways, especially when crossing a bike lane, which is pretty absurd to a cyclist who is hyper aware of every car, person, animal, and piece of trash that’s around them at all times. They also don’t necessarily understand the impracticality of not practicing the Idaho stop in New York (don’t even get me started…), and instead will see a cyclist coming at them through a red light as an immediate danger.
It’s not that this behavior shouldn’t be criticized, because it’s also dangerous and downright foolish, but the fact of the matter is that you’ll get more flack as a cyclist running a red light than a pedestrian glued their Facebook feed while crossing the street will.
I’m not even calling for cyclists to stop at every single red light. Just put your foot down when pedestrians are crossing and enjoy the brief pause rather than weaving in and out of people and traffic.
2. Stop yelling at everyone.
These are the same people who probably get really bad road rage when they’re driving so it just naturally transfers over to when they bike, too. And as ridiculous as you look when you’ve got road rage and are screaming at someone who probably has no idea you exist, you look equally as strange unclipping from your bike pedals and yelling at a driver while wearing a jersey and helmet.
The best reason I can think for not yelling at people is that you don’t know how that other person will react. What if you yell at the wrong cab driver—the type of person who would have no remorse about “accidentally” forcing you off the road because you yelled at them? Or if you scream at and flip off a grumpy driver who’s just trying to get home after a really bad day, and you just make their day worse because you’re mad that they cut you off.
This also goes for people who yell at other cyclists. Friends and I have been yelled at for a variety of things: Not wearing a helmet, going too slow, going too fast, yielding to a turning car, stopping at red lights. As annoying as it can be to watch people break a rule that you feel passionately about, it’s still not really any of your business, and you don’t have a place trying to change them. So shut your mouth and put them behind you—literally.
3. Use hand signals.
I get it. Not everyone remembers hand signals from driver’s ed—I sure as hell have forgotten them for the most part, too. But at the very least you can point to signify your intent to turn at an upcoming light.
While cycling, I try to signal my turns or when I’m stopping suddenly (pulling over to get something out of my bag, pulling over to park, stopping to answer my phone, etc.). Maybe someone will be annoyed at being inconvenienced and having to go around me, but they’d probably feel a lot worse crashing into me after not expecting me to slow down suddenly or change my riding pattern.
We get annoyed at drivers who don’t use signals to show that they’re making a turn. This should be no different.
4. Announce your damn presence.
Nothing makes me angrier than a cyclist coming out of my blind spot and weaving around me without letting me know they’re there. Not only is it incredibly dangerous to unexpectedly ride past someone like that, but you also put yourself at risk doing so if they decide to change course suddenly.
This happened to me a few weeks ago, in fact. I was riding along the 1st Avenue bike lane to work back when there were cement guardrails from construction still. I was riding close to the guardrail and moved closer to it to avoid a pothole when I heard a shout. A Citi Biker had crashed into the guardrail, and I had no idea he was even there because he was riding in my right blind spot in an area where there wasn’t that much room to pass. He made no attempt to ring his bell or let me know he was on my right, and when I changed course slightly, it threw him off and led to him crashing.
It’s as simple as saying, “On your left/right!” or ringing your bell to let someone know you’re passing. The other option is having to suddenly veer because the person whose blind spot you were in rode as if they didn’t know you were there.
5. Shoal no more.
Shoaling is the act of approaching a red light, and rather than waiting behind the other cyclists already at the light, you skip past them to be first to take off once the light turns green. Oftentimes this is when you’ll see cyclists sitting smack dab in the middle of the crosswalk, inconveniencing pedestrians (particularly those with strollers, wheelchairs, and furry friends on leashes) and annoying every other cyclist who was waiting there first. It’s the equivalent of cutting ahead of someone else at a grocery store because you were annoyed that they weren’t moving up when the line started to move.
Shoaling is obnoxious. Shoaling is rude. Shoaling is something that should stop happening immediately because we’re all sick of it.