Volume 81, Number 5 | June 30 - July 6, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


Wham, bam, thank you, mam

By Nancy Koan

One Sunday last month, about midnight, I exited the R train and was preparing to cross Ninth St. at Broadway.

The cars had slowed down ready to stop at the preceding light and I was looking in their direction: north. Nothing is supposed to have been happening south. Like most guide dogs I’ve trained, I usually do look both directions, and having just recently returned from London, am particularly careful to keep a wide visual arc. But I had looked south after climbing the subway steps and was confident that it was my light.

No sooner had I stepped off the curb and into the bus lane than I heard a horrendous thump. I felt myself spinning like a top, my shoulder purse acting like a fulcrum, and was thrown into the middle of Broadway.

I heard people screaming and the parked cars now starting up and moving in my direction. Being myopic in the extreme, it was all like a Joshua Light show at the old Fillmore East as my glasses had gone sailing off my face and were somewhere near the east side of Broadway.

My birthday was in two days, and though no fan of getting older, I didn’t want to go this way… . As an occasional actor, I have already died on Off Broadway and once is enough. Though in semi-shock, I gathered my body parts together, dragged myself over to where I hoped my glasses might be and somehow made it back to the west side of the street where a crowd of onlookers were looking as white as the full moon. Moon aside, there is no doubt that the real guilty party was the completely irresponsible biker going north at what felt like 75 miles an hour on a southbound street.

He, too, was on the ground, but probably being used to such acrobatics, got up without too much effort. I was too confused to talk to him at that point, and can only hope that the firemen or someone took his name, though he probably has no insurance and, at that time of night, was not working for a messenger service.

The E.M.S. medics treated me like a criminal taking up their time for insisting on going to the E.R. in case I had a concussion or something. If I were an older version of me, I would clearly have had a broken hip, but luckily there were no breaks, though I find walking and moving my arms and feet very painful and still have a headache.

Yes, biking is green and it’s important to encourage a move away from cars and oil. But biking by testosterone-driven guys who think they’re Lance Armstrong is something else. When I think of cycling in a town or city, it’s like the easygoing bikers in an English village — baskets on the bike’s front to carry food items and a gentle pace through the town streets; not this “We now rule the road” attitude that so many bikers have recently adopted.

After the requisite amount of sympathy at my birthday dinner, two women friends shared that they too had been hit by bicyclists in New York. A day later, I heard about two more New York females who were downed by bikers. I’m sure that men have been hit, too if they were to admit it.

This is a tough, busy city and should be treated with the caution it demands. Closed lanes in Central Park are for speeding, and why don’t these riders let off their steam on out-of-town roads?

The bicyclists should obey the same rules as automobiles, since they’re at risk as well and truly quite fragile — many have been hurt and killed by drivers. Even one light kick from an angry pedestrian could knock the whole outfit down.

Drivers, cyclists and pedestrians know they need to respect each other and not do harm. But often I see bikers quite angry at the slow walker, whistles blowing and throwing out an air of superiority. Drivers have traditionally behaved this way. Until being hit last month, I had always treated bikers with fondness, celebrating their position in the air and giving them a wide berth. Sadly, I don’t feel as sanguine anymore.

One wonders if the risks they take are due in part to the fact that they are not forced to have insurance. So it’s the Wild Wild West with no recompense for the victim. I called one lawyer who asked me if the biker had home owner’s insurance. Funny idea, as I’m still trying to find the biker’s name from a police report that, as of this writing, still hadn’t been filed. Was the incident not important enough to write up?

Today I will wear a helmet when I go out to do the groceries. I’m also in the market for football pads to wear underneath my clothes to buffer the fall.

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