Kenneth Podziba: Cycling offers the antithesis of the fear terror attacks are meant to promote
The best response is to be unafraid and applaud a government that supports the brave act of riding a bike on city streets
Editor’s Note: Kenneth Podziba is the president and CEO of Bike New York, a nonprofit organization dedicated to transforming lives and communities through bicycling. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
One of the most popular quotes associated with bicycles is attributed to H.G. Wells: “Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.”
On Tuesday, a terrorist attempted to sink us into despair by choosing to drive a truck into dozens of innocent people enjoying the Hudson River Bikeway, the crown jewel of New York’s bicycling infrastructure, on a clear, crisp fall day. It was a most cowardly choice of target whose symbolism should not be ignored, if, like Wells, we are to overcome despair and move forward.
Acknowledging that there’s nothing quite so smug-sounding as some cyclists explaining why they ride, the undeniable truth remains that a bicycle, whether its primary purpose is for transportation, recreation or wellness, is inherently liberating.
A bicycle is a human-powered machine weighing next to nothing that can travel easily at 10-15 mph, needs only a surface on which to move, is not limited to transit schedules or beholden to fuel prices, does not pollute the environment or require large parking spaces, has demonstrable benefits to the health of individuals and the strength of economies, is easily repaired, costs nothing to operate, and is, above all, really, really fun to use.
For educators, advocates and urban planners, trying to persuade someone to ride a bike is like asking them to eat their vegetables – if those vegetables tasted like banana splits and they were served on unlimited roller-coaster rides. (When asked by a reporter why he rides, the late actor/comedian – and cycling fanatic – Robin Williams, himself no stranger to despair, replied, “Riding a bike is the closest you can get to flying.”)
No wonder we sound preachy, and no wonder Bike New York’s free education programs continue to increase in enrollment; why the TD Five Boro Bike Tour – the largest bike ride in the country – sells out every year; why the efforts of advocacy groups demanding safe and sensible infrastructure to keep cyclists and pedestrians safe are being acknowledged and heeded by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, and agencies here and in other cities and towns around the country; and why so many people, from tourists to commuters to recreational riders, flock to the Hudson River Bikeway, the busiest bike path in the country.
In a world full of complicated problems, bicycling is a simple solution: freedom on two wheels. Unfortunately, this made it a simple target.
In the weeks to come there will be conversations, as there have in the past and as there should be, about what can and must be done to make our public spaces safer for pedestrians and cyclists (thin steel bollards, for example, which prevented the recent attack in Times Square from being much worse, would have prevented the truck from accessing the path), but for now, the best response from all of us, whether you’re a New Yorker, a cyclist, or both, is to remain unafraid, and to applaud and encourage a government that acknowledges and supports the brave act of riding a bike on city streets and pathways.
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With the city’s help, ridership numbers continue to increase.
While the event remains undeniably tragic and shocking, especially for those of us who lost a friend or loved one in the attack, we will – we must – remain undeterred.
The mayor has responded, as mayors have before, by asking New Yorkers to show that we will not be moved by terror.
To do that, we will keep riding.