Sunday, September 27, 2009

I got a death threat yesterday

I got a death threat yesterday.
This one was unlike any of the others in that it was given to me by a pedestrian. A pedestrian walking with his wife and daughter in the bike lane. I was coming down between Times Square and Herald Square in the new protected bike lane, which everyone loves, including pedestrians, who seem to figure it's OK to walk in it, since bikes can't kill them the way cars can.

I had picked up two Danish women at Paley Park on 53rd Street and was taking them down to the Pennsylvania, on Seventh across from Penn Station.
Paley Park is a little hole in the wall, a little space probably about 50' x 80' or 90'. Its side walls are lined with ivy vines and a waterfall forms the back wall. All these features combine to refract -- rather than reflect -- street noises in all directions, especially away from the ears of those seated within the park.
The children of Bill Paley commissioned the park. Bill Paley was the founder and longtime head of the Columbia Broadcasting System, now just called CBS. He died, I think, in the early 1970s. Frank Langella played him in the 2007 film, Goodnight And Good Luck. Blackrock, the CBS headquarters building, stands a block west and a half-block south at 52nd and Sixth. According to Justin Ferate, the guide who gave me the fam tour of the area, Paley's grown kids periodically visit the park, making sure it's clean and being maintained properly.

Perhaps I should have saved a block of biking by biking my passengers straight down Seventh Avenue. But, until it becomes illegal to do so, I'm going to choose that bike lane. And I'm going to call ahead to the pedestrians, "Please don't walk in the bike lane! Please share the bike lane!" And so on.

This guy stepped aside, saw what I was driving and said -- yelled -- "That's not a BIKE! You don't belong in the bike lane!" I quoted NYS law to him, that a bike is defined as "any two- or three-wheeled vehicle deriving power from a chain drive..." etc., but he was adamant. "That's a tricycle! You get out of the bike lane!"
"So you three can walk in it?"
"You don't belong in it!" He wasn't admitting that he didn't belong in it.
"I need it for my passengers' safety. You should either walk in the pedestrian zone or the sidewalk. Don't take the only path open to me."
"Tell you what, I drive a big truck on Sixth Avenue, and you guys always get in front of me. You get in the bike lane on Sixth, because I'm gonna come looking for you. When I see you I'm gonna run you over and KILL you!!"
"You hit me and you'll just lose your license and your truck."
"I'm gonna kill you!" --In front of my passengers, who could easily be witnesses.
I was getting pretty shaken up. I couldn't make a coherent reply and keep going. This guy wanted to rattle me. I wasn't scared, but I was worried for the time being that he really would come looking for me. It wouldn't be impossible to kill a cyclist with a truck, and get away with it.

Usually, motorists threaten to kill cyclists and then charge off in a cloud of diesel smoke. But there was the case of road rage earlier this year wherein an SUV driver struck and killed a cyclist after arguing with him. That guy's in jail, because there were witnesses to the argument.
So I went on, verbally defeated and very angry. This guy takes something that others need and he doesn't, then threatens to kill them when they take it back from him. He's an asshole.

It has taken me a day to stop being scared. There's a 50-50 chance he doesn't drive a truck. There's a 1-in-700 chance he can recognize my pedicab from behind, unless he just starts running over every pedicab in sight. And he was probably just mouthing off, saving face.
But I wish I'd been recording him, or that a cop had been in earshot, because when someone threatens to kill me, I want him caught and punished. What are my legal rights concerning a death threat? I've no idea.

This idiot is probably the tenth person to say he'd kill me for driving a pedicab. I got countless more death threats from motorists in the 1980s, when I was commuting from Brooklyn to Manhattan, 18 miles a day. Motorists would honk, lean on the horn, rev the engine behind me at lights, do whatever it took to try and intimidate me into getting out of "their" way, even though I'd usually just pass them at the next light. I would taunt them then, too. Not a good idea, but I was younger then.

There was nothing I could do to this guy. I wanted to fight him, but I promised myself and my wife, that I wasn't going to fight anymore. So I asked, "What's your name, brave guy?" and went on.

A block later I pointed out a "ghost bike" chained to a pole at the corner of 36th and Broadway in honor of Alvaro Olsen, 54, who had been run down and killed by a truck as he delivered food by bike. I had come upon the scene a few minutes after they took his crushed and bloody body away. Cops and firemen were standing there, arms crossed, stroking their necks or faces, each alone in his thoughts about the poor cyclist. A four-inch-wide rivulet of blood led from the scene, down to the gutter.

I told my passengers that this protected bike lane had been in the planning, but was not put in until two months after Olsen's death. And we went on.

And pedestrians continue to take the lane from cyclists. Some family is walking in it right now, thinking what a liberating thing it is to walk in the street.

I bring this story up because a rule in the new pedicab law will soon make it illegal for me to use the bike lane, or any bike lane in the city. That means all 700 pedicabs will be forced to either bike in front of all the trucks, or face a fine and jail time. While a truck parked in the bike lane will get a fine of $115, the first fine for a pedicab will be $250. The fourth fine for a pedicab is $10,000 and two weeks in jail. The guy who threatened my life can park his truck in the bike lane and laugh at cyclists while pedicab drivers go to jail.

Now we are faced with a life decision: do we risk a $10,000 fine and jail, or stay in the traffic lanes and risk injury or death? Each year in New York City, roughly 20 cyclists are killed by cars. And all of us have been threatened by drivers, either through revving and horns, or outright verbal threats. The AAA announced in June of 2009 that New York drivers are the worst in the nation, and the rudest. A new rule that will force pedicabs to drive at 6 MPH right in front of the nation's worst drivers is a bad rule.

What I've decided to do is fight the rule. It's going to get pedicab drivers and passengers killed. I'm going to the media before November, when the entire law becomes enforced. I'm going to invite reporters to sit on the pedicab in car traffic, and then in the bike lane, and see which they prefer.


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