CONTACTTRAFFICABOUT TOM VANDERBILTOTHER WRITING CONTACT ABOUT THE BOOK

Rage Against Your Machine

Back in November, I did an unusual bike commute with a guy named Joe Simonetti: I traveled from Northern Westchester County, to Joe’s office in midtown Manhattan (I then continued home to Brooklyn), via a carefully chosen, if not always evident, path that wound through bucolic gated communities in Greenwich, Ct., underneath the concrete underpasses of the city’s edges, to the delivery-truck laden warrens of the Bronx. I was admittedly intrigued by the unusual nature of the commute itself (for me, it was around 65 miles, one way) — in articulating a kind of “secret” way to get into the city it evoked, for me, John Cheever’s short story The Swimmer, whose narrator undertakes a quixotic journey to swim across his suburban county:

His life was not confining and the delight he took in this observation could not be explained by its suggestion of escape. He seemed to see, with a cartographer’s eye, that string of swimming pools, that quasi-subterranean stream that curved across the county. He had made a discovery, a contribution to modern geography; he would name the stream Lucinda after his wife. He was not a practical joker nor was he a fool but he was determinedly original and had a vague and modest idea of himself as a legendary figure. The day was beautiful and it seemed to him that a long swim might enlarge and celebrate its beauty.

But I also wanted the journey to serve as a kind of Ur-text for exploring the state of riding a bike in America today, to examine the mechanisms of the oft-cited “culture war” between drivers and cyclists. In any case, the story, headlined ‘Rage Against Your Machine,’ is out today, in the new issue of Outside magazine. As far as I know it’s not online yet (I imagine it will be eventually), but I would, of course, urge you to buy this or any other issue of Outside in print. In the meantime, a few handlebar shots of the sometimes beautiful, sometimes foreboding landscapes we traversed.

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This entry was posted on Monday, February 14th, 2011 at 11:52 am and is filed under Bicycles, Cities, Commuting. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

11 Responses to “Rage Against Your Machine”

  1. John Says:

    The idea of “secret” ways cyclists can use to get in, out and around cities figures in John Stilgoe’s 1998 book, “Outside Lies the Magic.” http://amzn.to/i4olYN

  2. D Says:

    Great ride… I did this the other way around years ago, riding back to my aunt and uncle’s place in Rye after an early morning race in Prospect Park. I still remember stopping on a bridge over the Harlem river to ask some bewildered kid how to get to the Boston Post road. Nearly everyone I asked for directions had the same disbelief. Fun, long, slow ride.

  3. PaulyG Says:

    Tom:

    I am a subscriber to Outside and read your excellent article last weekend. I am close to an ultra-commuter by bike as I do a round trip to my office in Greenwich CT from Westport CT during daylight savings time (about 20 miles each way) 3 to 5 days per week. I encounter the same levels of friendliness and hostility that you found during my own ride through a mixture of urban and suburban landscapes. The funny thing is that I find hostility is directly proportional to the wealth of the town (i.e. I find more hostility and aggressiveness in Greenwich, Darien and Westport than in less wealthy Norwalk and Stamford). I also had a similar hit and run experience to Mr. Simonetti’s in that the car that hit me also took off after the ambulance arrived.

    Clearly the lines have been draw between drivers and cyclists. Here is an example of the debate in my town: http://06880danwoog.com/2010/09/01/so-you-think-youre-lance-armstrong/ and http://06880danwoog.com/2010/10/17/lance-armstrong-wannabes-part-2/

    I am sure this is not unique. The real question is how to reduce the anger of both sides.

  4. Scott Says:

    “The funny thing is that I find hostility is directly proportional to the wealth of the town”

    I’ve always wondered if anyone else had noticed this.

    The most problems I’ve ever had with aggressive drivers are in Yarmouth and Falmouth, wealthy suburbs of Portland, Maine. I’ve had several people stop their vehicles and either get out and scream at me or shove me to the ground.

    Interestingly, the police departments of both towns are also the ones I’ve received the most harassment from, even though I ride in complete compliance with the law.

  5. Daniel Day Says:

    I have had my experience here in Texas. I can understand where he’s coming from and deal with similar stuff on a daily basis.
    Although I’m not worried about the long run on where cyclist are going to be. Take a look at this table by the the Dept of Energy Energy Information Admistration. Looks like more and more people will get on their bicycles. http://www.eia.doe.gov/aer/txt/ptb1105.html
    Also today, I saw $3 a gallon gas as I purchase some coffee there at my neighborhood Convience store. I did notice that my crossing the 6 lane broadway was alot easier today.

  6. Paul D. From Vancouver/Portland Says:

    I’ve just seen the pictures, and think I recognize one path. I ride from Nassau County suburbs in and out of Manhattan and around Long Island, Queens and Brooklyn while I visit family every summer.

    The way isn’t entirely secret but not too many are in on the info. I find a few others every year. When people realize what I am doing they are genuinely amazed that it can be done. I myself am actually amazed at how easy it really is once the routes are sorted out. I actually find a 17 mile commute into Manhattan from Nassau to be mostly a pleasure and a lot of the riding is no more stressful or dangerous than riding in Portland, OR.

    My favorite secret though is riding to La Guardia. It is AMAZINGLY easy to ride right to the terminal at LGA. What is impossible is finding a place to lock your bike. I ended up just taking it into the terminal which was met with no objection.

    I met my parents at baggage claim, took my bike on the shuttle bus with them to Enterprise rental car. It was a slow time at the rental office and 2 of the employees lived in the neighborhood I had started from. They were excited to see that it could be done and wanted to know the route. I ended up giving them maps and showing them how to ride to work. I hope they have done it. If they have tried it, I think they will do it regularly at least in nicer weather.

  7. Paul D. From Vancouver/Portland Says:

    Sorry, that shouldn’t be 17 miles Nassau to Manhattan – I can’t find my route maps online to remember the exact distance, but depending on the route I think it is in the 25-32 range usually. My starting point is usually about 4 miles past the Queens border.

  8. John Brooking Says:

    Another interesting thing I’ve found about motorist behavior towards me is that many times, it is based on what they *think* I should be doing, rather than what I am, or what they think my options are. Specifically, I’m more likely to get honked at while legally, calmly, and predictably controlling a narrow lane on a multilane road (stopping for red lights, signaling turns and lane changes), by people who have one or two same-way lanes to their left to pass me in, and sometimes even by people going the other way, whom I’m not obstructing at all! To me, it’s plainly a territorial thing: What the hell are you doing riding your bike on roads like this, in a car lane yet?

    Sometimes there’s a shoulder (not legally required to be used here in Maine), sometimes not, sometimes a sidewalk (illegal in this town), sometimes not. No doubt they’d prefer to use either of those facilities were THEY foolish enough to try to ride a bike in this car-centric area, so why aren’t I? They don’t understand my reasons for riding in the travel lane, and they don’t know that I’m legally allowed to, so they just assume I’m an idiot out rudely obstructing their important progress with my two-wheeled toy. Actually, I’m usually on my way to or from work myself, or out getting lunch.

  9. Mitch Says:

    Paul D.,

    I’m totally blown away that you’ve cycled to LGA. I live in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I could do that! It never occurred to me to just ride across Queens I guess. Do you recall the route? Or more generally, do you know any good resources for finding suitable cycling routes outside of NYC? I’d be much obliged.

  10. Paul D From Vancouver / Portland Says:

    Mitch,

    As far as riding to LGA – I can’t believe how easy it was. I came across Crown Heights on Jewel Avenue and then jumped down into Flushing Meadows park. At Roosevelt I went over to 108th and the north across the Grand Central and onto the Flushing Meadows Bay Promenade. Later I discovered you can access the Promenade from the park directly, but I can’t describe how to do it from memory. Once on the Promenade LGA was a breeze. I rode towards the end of the promenade figuring I’d have to cross back over the Grand Central and then take surface streets to the airport, but I found an informal path that goes straight over the median and into the LGA parking loop directly from the Promenade. Traffic in the loop was actually not a problem which surprised me. I’ve also found that access off of 94th by surface streets from Queens really isn’t a problem either.

    I did see too local pizza shops delivering pizza to LGA workers by bike. I was a little concerned that security or the Parking attendants might have a problem with me, but the just smiled and ignored me.

    Past the queens boundary getting cycling info is pretty difficult. When I started this 5 years ago, I used Bikely.com and later MapMyRide.com to search for other peoples routes. Most routes I find are either short commutes or long club rides designed for Saturday / Sunday mornings so often they didn’t help much but at least gave me a few ideas of where to go. I then used Google Street view and Satellite view to try to sort out what intersections and streets looked too dangerous. Ultimately I found that more areas than I would have thought. For some reason I can’t find most of my maps online right now, but will try again tonight.

  11. Mitch Says:

    Paul D.,

    That’s totally awesome. Thanks for following up!

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

Please send tips, news, research papers, links, photos (bad road signs, outrageous bumper stickers, spectacularly awful acts of driving or parking or anything traffic-related), or ideas for my Slate.com Transport column to me at: info@howwedrive.com.

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