The Indignity of Commuting by Bicycle: Barrelling Along

Firstly, I'd like to sincerely thank everybody who made a suggestion for a BRA stop yesterday. Not only was I deeply flattered by the invitations, but I also learned of many strange and exotic places I never even knew existed. For example, did you know there's a Portland in Maine? I didn't. Did you know that the capital of the United States is Washington, DC and not Wall Street? I didn't. Did you know that Mississippi and Missouri are two entirely different states? I certainly didn't, I just thought a surprising number of Mississippians (Mississippippians?) didn't know how to spell. Really, it's amazing what Americans can learn from each other when we actually communicate instead of just wearing headphones, eating sour cream and onion-flavored Pringles, and shooting at one another.

Anyway, now that you've shared the places where you live, I'd like to share a little bit about the place where I live, which is a small town called Brooklyn, USA. There are 2.5 millionses of people here, which is a lot. That's over 24,000 times more people than there are in Fucking, Austria:

Though it's only a third of the population of fucking Austria:

(Duuude, fucking Austria looks nice!)

To be perfectly honest, my feelings towards Brooklyn vacillate like a tourist on one of those rent-a-bikes. Sure, sometimes I don't like it here, but the times when I actively hate it more than make up for this. Here's just one of the many profoundly annoying things that are going on in Brooklyn right now:

First of all, if you're not familiar with Brooklyn, here's a little background on Prospect Park: it's a park. That's all you really need to know. Well, that and the fact that, as one of the New York City's most beautiful and popular public parks, it is open to motor vehicle traffic some of the time, and the rest of the time people just drive through it anyway. Sure, there are people lobbying to have cars banned from the park, but naturally we can't let this happen, since if people aren't allowed to drive through the precious few spaces we have in which to do things like walk and teach our children how to walk then before you know it we'll all get spoiled and start expecting people not to run us over when we're outside of the park, too. Obviously this notion is absurd.

Anyway, lots of people also ride bikes in Prospect Park, and yes, a not-insignificant number of these people are idiots who do things like don mankinis practice their time-trialling on busy summer Saturday afternoons, or who egregiously "salmon" while dragging some dimwitted dog along with them. Some of them even suck your wheel in the night. Others of these riders are not idiots at all, but are merely conscientious people enjoying a public space in an unobtrusive fashion. Either way, once in a great while, whether it's their fault or not, one of these cyclists runs into a pedestrian.

We're funny in America. When a person gets hit by a car, which happens roughly all the time, we generally place it in the same category as bear attacks and people who fall of their roofs because they were wearing roller skates while trying to install a satellite dish: basically, we blame the victim. If the victim was a pedestrian, he or she should have been more careful. If the victim was a cyclist, he or she should have been more careful and should also have been wearing a helmet. Motor vehicle traffic and the concomitant carnage is an inevitablity. A force of nature. An act of god that is completely out of our control.

On the other hand, when a person on a bicycle hits somebody, we react in the same way that we do to shootings: we're outraged, and we call for stricter laws. It's just the way we are. Faced by something that's just too daunting (cars) we instead prefer to beat up on the little guy (bikes).

In any case, there were some bike-related pedestrian injuries in the park recently, and somebody sued the city, and so there was a little mini bike crackdown in the park, and the Department of Transportation ultimately moved to solve it by harnessing the awesome power of orange barrels:

In Portland, the joke is that they "put a bird on it." However, in New York when it comes to traffic-related issues we prefer to "put a cone on it"--or, if this doesn't solve the problem, we bring out the heavy artillery and use the dreaded barrels. As you can see, the idea here is to force traffic into this extremely well-designed funneling system, and as you can imagine, it does no good whatsoever.

When I first saw the barrels, I thought, "Holy crap! Roadwork! They're actually fixing something." When I saw them again awhile later, I thought, "Huh, whatever it is is still broke." Then I learned that it wasn't roadwork at all, and that this was somehow supposed to keep me from riding into people.

Of course, in practice the barrels are merely confusing. Do you ride between the cones? Outside the cones in the bike lane that's right next to them? Or do we just play slalom through them? But to worry about these things is to miss the point, which is that the barrels aren't barrels of safety. The barrels are Barrels of Shame. They're great big dunce caps for the cyclists of Brooklyn to remind us of how hated we are.

So what are we supposed to do? Sometimes it feels like there are metaphorical barrels everywhere, and the goal is to funnel us all into Portland. But Portland isn't my home. This is my home, for better or worse. Do I really have to leave? Meanwhile, in the same paper as the above article, I also saw this:

Yes, it's synchronized swimming, the ideal nostalgic activity for the person looking for something that splits the difference between tweed rides and roller derby:

The amateur duo began moonlighting as urban mermaids in 2010 after meeting a ballerina in Paris who made them nostalgic for the swim and dance classes of their youth. Today, they’ve turned the Brooklyn Peaches into a creative project: Salm and Sciarrillo teach a class at the Dodge YMCA in Boerum Hill and the Brooklyn Peaches have appeared at an arts festival in the Rockaways, a winter pool party at a Park Avenue hotel, and an indie rock show at the Midtown Holiday Inn.

As well as for the enterprising fellow who figured this would be a great way to pick up chicks:

Roy Auty, a 35-year-old from Fort Greene and the only male in the class, said he’s always dreamed of learning synchronized swimming — but he likes the company more than the workouts themselves.

Sure, I could have Mr. Auty all wrong, but I can't help imagining him just spending the entire workout standing stock-still in the pool and leering.

Either way, given the sheer abundance of increasingly arcane pursuits in Brooklyn it often feels like we're turning into Portland anyway. And with the orange barrels and the synchronized swimming and the artisanal mayo all closing in, what choice does one really have? Why stay in the big, crowded new Portland that hates bikes? Maybe all the cyclists of Brooklyn should decamp for the real Portland where we can ruin their town instead.

Then, we could all get sponsorships from Giant:

"Why do sports companies only ever sponsor these guys?," asks the narrator:

"Why not sponsor him?"

Well, it's a good question, but if I had to guess I'd say that, given the route of the 2012 Tour de France, he's got little shot at the overall and is likely to win a only a transitional stage at best.

Then again, if Cadel Evans could do it maybe anyone can.

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