Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Modes of transport

-Is it really a faux pas, when jogging, not to nod hello to fellow joggers? As in, not people you know, just other people who also happen to jog on the same path? Writes Matt Kurton:

If you see someone running towards you, as long as they haven't recently committed a robbery or escaped from prison, nod a quick hello. Enjoy a fleeting moment of shared humanity. Acknowledge each other's travails. Cyclists manage it without any bother, but in many places runners respond to a smile with an irritated frown, or by pretending not to notice. Come on people, share a little love. What's the harm?
I read this, had not yet seen the byline, but immediately realized this just had to have been written by a man. Women - young women especially - are not always such fans of being told to smile. Kurton's advice, though gender-neutral, would, if directed at a woman, seem of a piece with the broader message that women owe male passersby their loveliest selves.

My point isn't that the author wants women to especially to smile at him, but that he's missing why women might not go for this advice. Although the another of the author's "commandments" - that men need to wear shirts while jogging - might make readers suspect heterosexuality. (I have never known straight women or gay men to complain about this phenomenon. Straight men, however...) I mean, maybe he does want smiles from women in particular, maybe he doesn't, but that's not the issue.

Also! When a woman is jogging and a man passes her by and grins at her, she can't know what kind of grin it is, and what sort of response smiling back would inspire. We live in a world where consensual romances often begin with smiles of that nature, esp. when everyone involved (men as well as women) is scantily-clad, sweaty, and in a remote locale, so a really efficient way to demonstrate not interested, just to be on the safe side. I know that sometimes a phrase like "rape culture" is over- or misused, but this seems like a case where it's rather literally applicable. When I'm jogging, I acknowledge passersby if I know them, which I often enough do, but otherwise? I'm hoping they're not ax murderers. But then again, I grew up in pre-Giuliani New York.

-It is obvious very wrong-side-of-history to question the new NYC bike-share program. Not living in the city, I'm not too worked up about it either way, but I do have one question about it, which is what it's supposed to do. Normally, as I understand it, the idea with bike-sharing, and bike-encouragement more generally, is that bikes replace cars. People who would drive everywhere will now only drive to the big supermarket on the edge of town. Which makes sense in a Philadelphia or a Heidelberg - a city where you don't necessarily need a car, but you probably have one. Biking is better for the environment, and gets some exercise in. All things equal, I am pro-biking, and I probably do now know how to drive well enough that I can no longer justify driving to town (to avoid those two big hills) as "practice."

In New York, though, certainly in the areas where these stands are appearing, is biking replacing driving? I can't imagine it would be. It seems unlikely to replace subway-riding, nor should it - the ability to get from one part of the city to another relatively quickly, relatively safely, at all hours, is one of the best things about the place. And you will still get some exercise, what with all the stairs, and the long platforms.

Will it replace taxis? Not for the stiletto contingent and its male equivalent. Walking? Perhaps, but that's just fine for the environment and arguably better for you, and given NYC traffic, newish bike riders may find walking is quicker. It's definitely not replacing the driving wealthy New Yorkers do on weekends, to get to their second (or tenth) homes.

Buses are the only plausible transportation biking would replace, crosstown especially. But as anyone who's ever been on one of those buses knows, the people on them are not people about to switch to bikes: families or caregivers with young children, the not-so-mobile who require a bus to get from 7th Avenue to 8th, etc.

Am I missing something? Is the Manhattan depicted on "Seinfeld," where everyone middle-class drives everywhere, actually the real deal, and my 10,000 years experience of the place some kind of mirage?


Ponder Stibbons said...

Where do you think the demand for the bikes is coming from, then? (6050 trips logged on the first day.) Some of the modes you mention must be getting fewer users. Alternatively, people might be making extra trips on bike that they wouldn't make otherwise, and that seems like a good thing, if it's enhancing mobility.

Maybe demand will fall off after the initial novelty? But I suspect not, judging from what happened in Paris and other bike-share cities.

Phoebe said...

It's a city of millions of people. The % of those who are in it for the novelty of it, I couldn't say. Lots of people may have gotten around by bike where they lived previously, but may not have brought their bike. That's where I'd guess the demand is coming from.

My feeling isn't that it's bad for there to be a bike-sharing program, only that the usual justification - it replaces cars - doesn't add up. But you may be right re: people taking trips they wouldn't otherwise, now that the bikes are right there.

caryatis said...

"Cyclists manage it without any bother, but in many places runners respond to a smile with an irritated frown, or by pretending not to notice."

Bullshit, cyclists don't greet each other either. It's ridiculous to assert some sort of duty to be friendly to strangers, especially given the safety concerns you cite. But even if I weren't worried about safety, it rubs me the wrong way when strangers talk to me unnecessarily.

Phoebe, I would think bikeshare could replace shorter subway trips--it's probably cheaper and eliminates the need to wait for a train and be squeezed into a small space with strangers. But no need to listen to my speculation when you could read some of the extensive research that has been done on the impact of bikeshare in DC. WABA, Streetsblog DC and Greater Greater Washington all cover the topic.

Phoebe said...


But in D.C., people do drive. NYC is the weird place in the country where that's not the case. NYC's not strange in that there is public transportation, only in that that's how everyone gets around all the time. Thus all the native New Yorkers learning to drive as adults. (It's not just me, I assure.)

As for cost, if you have an unlimited metrocard, then it wouldn't be cheaper, but if you can somehow avoid that, perhaps?

caryatis said...

People take a lot of taxis in NYC, right? Replacing some of those taxis with bike rides could save them money and reduce congestion--and yes, people do bike in business or party clothes in DC although I don't quite see why.

caryatis said...

Also, for the record, only old rich people west of the park drive in DC.

caryatis said...

Plus those who commute in from elsewhere.

Phoebe said...

My understanding of DC was that middle-class families have cars. Kids growing up in DC know how to drive. Young professionals in DC might not own cars, but it just seems more plausible to me that cars would be replaced, or made less appealing, if bikes were readily available.

As for who takes cabs in NYC, they're often very spur-of-the-moment or urgent for those who don't often take them. Or it'll be, like, to the airport. For those who take them all the time, well, I don't see that population all of a sudden pondering the environment and switching over. But it's not impossible.

Again, my concern isn't that there shouldn't be these bikes, but that what they add isn't particularly "green," as is generally the justification.

Petey said...

"Again, my concern isn't that there shouldn't be these bikes..."

I'm opposed to the bikeshare. It threatens to cause bicycle traffic jams, and thus delay restaurant delivery. Why did God invent Manhattan, if not to provide ultra-prompt restaurant delivery via bicycle not impeded by the gawking masses?

"Is it really a faux pas, when jogging, not to nod hello to fellow joggers? ... Am I missing something? Is the Manhattan depicted on "Seinfeld..."

There's actually an entire episode of Seinfeld where Jerry refuses to nod hello to fellow joggers and ends up getting ostracized from society.

Jeff said...

I happen to be in NYC this week and am seeing these CitiBikes for the first time. (I assume that's what we're talking about here!) In midtown I saw a few people who didn't look terribly comfortable on bikes getting on. I walked down 9th Ave thru Chelsea and into West Village. There, the same sorts of uncomfortable types were parking the bikes.

So yes, at the moment, anecdotally, this seems to have temporarily replaced the C train for a few 9 to 5 types around the island.

Now, 9th Ave has a dedicated bike lane, which has a little concrete barrier and some dedicated bike street lights and all. I don't know how prevalent this is around the city, but for those who haven't done it, riding a bike around arbitrary routes in NYC is not for the pure amateur. Not thrilled with the idea of releasing a bunch of amateurs around the island on bikes.

fourtinefork said...

I just had a conversation about the bikes with a friend at lunch!

He thought the bikes might be good for getting from Grand Central to the Chelsea, on the far west side, on the weekend, when otherwise it can take up to 45 minutes with multiple transfer, non-arriving buses, and the like.

I had a similar thought that I'd be inclined to use them to get to places where the subway doesn't go (again, far west or far east side), which are also basically served by slow and unreliable buses.

My friend's concern was that it might not be cost effective to pay for the Citibikes on top of an unlimited Metrocard. Plus, unless you buy a membership, it seems like it's not all that cheap, and my friend was thinking you might as well just hop in a cab for short distances. But I haven't looked at the prices yet, so I don't know how accurate that is.

fourtinefork said...

Oops! Sorry, just "Chelsea," not "the Chelsea." Whatever that might be...

Ponder Stibbons said...

I mentioned Paris precisely because you wanted an example of a bike-share city where people don't usually drive.

BTW, as a tourist in DC I used the bikeshare because the Metro is not that extensive and there were places I wanted to get to that would have taken annoying long to get to if I was restricted to Metro+bus. I think the cost also worked out in my favour.

Phoebe said...

Ponder Stibbons,

I'm not sure if non-driving is as prevalent in Paris as NYC, though. I really can't think of another city where people from the place will grow up and never learn this skill, which suggests... either that I have a not-so-representative sample of Parisians, or that families living in Paris own cars. It could be exactly the same, though. I certainly didn't drive when I lived there!

Anyway, my question really isn't whether New Yorkers (or visitors) will use the bikes, but whether the bikes are doing anything particular for the environment, i.e. stopping people from driving. The bike-share program in NYC could well be an immense success as in people could well take to it, without this replacing many cars on the road.

Ainslee said...

Re: smiling while jogging, as an asthmatic I can barely manage not to audibly pant while passing other joggers, let alone smile! It's an impractical (+ gross) demand.

WPB said...

For what it's worth:

Most people I know in DC who regularly use the bikeshare use it to replace public-transit and walking-- not private car usage.

My amateur internet research suggests that while NYC has some of the highest car non-ownership in the country, it still has a lot of drivers, in absolute numbers. Suppose we look only at commuters who drive alone -- This source suggests that as much as 5-10% drive alone to work. That's tens or even a hundred thousand people in Manhattan.