“I hate it when the guys on e-bikes zoom past me when I’m cycling up a bridge! It’s like cheating.”
I was talking about the absurdity of NYC’s electric-bike laws and its impact on delivery workers with a male NYC cyclist when he exclaimed his disgust with e-bike riders. Other bike activists have also told me that many male cyclists complain about e-bikes because they are “cheating” or not “real” cyclists.
It’s not hard to find this sentiment in the bicycling world. From Outside Magazine in 2014:
But the biggest flaws with e-bikes are physical and psychological. The bicycle is meant to be an endorphin-multiplier. In my mind, bike commuting’s big draw is burning calories on the way to your destination. Yes, an e-bike is better for the environment than your car, but in the end, you forgo a crucial part of the experience. You make yourself better, and stronger, when you ride a real bike.
By doing the hard work for you, e-bikes cheat people out of that accomplishment and ultimately make them lazier. They enable entitlement to motion and a sense of false accomplishment.
At the Biking Public Public’s focus group with the Chinese delivery workers union, a delivery worker told us, “Seeing the police, we should feel safe. Instead we panic.”
In our work, we have spoken to numerous food delivery cyclists who feel like they are being unfairly policed. Well, we’ve mapped NYPD data from 2007-2015 on criminal courts summonses/tickets issued for both commercial and non-commercial cycling infractions that you can see below. You can toggle between different map layers and see specific data for each NYPD precinct:
On a day like this, I find hope in the tumbleweed – more specifically the Rose of Jericho. Much of the following is taken from some writing I did for a chapter in the book, Incomplete Streets, where I imagined how ideas and resistance might persist and spread under oppressive conditions.
The Rose of Jericho as a tumbleweed. (Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Selaginella_lepidophylla.JPG)
The Rose of Jericho is a tumbleweed located in regions of harsh dry conditions in North Africa and the Middle East. When there is water, this plant grows into a bush with the height of six inches. When the water dries up, the plant curls up into a tight, brittle, dry ball with seeds laden in the sheltered interior and then, the tumbleweed lets go of the earth. At this point, the tumbleweed appears for all intents and purposes to be dead – a dried up shriveled ball of nothing alive. This tumbleweed gets blown by the desert winds in random directions and travels without a predetermined destination until the tumbleweed happens upon the life-supporting conditions of water. Upon discovery of water, the Rose of Jericho suddenly springs back into life and as the seemingly dead plant quickly soaks in the water to unfurl itself with lush green arms and scatters its seeds. These seeds blossom into new Roses of Jericho that then get blown into unknown directions.
The Rose of Jericho with water (Image source: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datei:Rose_von_jericho.jpg)
On a day like this, I understand what it means for our nation to elect a demagogue who revels in the domination of others and promises to eradicate the positive aspects of our nation’s first black president. That almost certainly, the next four years will be filled with heartache and hostile conditions for many of the values I cherish.
The Haunting of My Family
I know now that a ghost haunted my family’s dinner table. Growing up, my mom prepared sumptuous Korean meals and in response, my siblings and I told her daily that the meal was masisseoyo (맛있어요). But otherwise, silence ruled our meals as if an invisible dinner guest bound our tongues. Or perhaps instead the silence provided for a vacuum that the ghost filled. Perhaps it was a bit of both. As a result, I have only bits and scraps of the life stories of my parents and family. This silence is apparently not uncommon in many immigrant Korean families as Grace Cho writes:
The second [Korean] generation, however, having grown up in the United States with neither their parents’ storytelling nor a public discourse about the Korean War, told a collective oral history in which they felt affected by some inarticulate presence that had left its imprint on what seemed to be their normal everyday lives. One man said that because of his parents’ refusal to talk about their life experiences, their past acted on his present. “For me,” he said, “it is not the past. It carries forward into my life. It carries forward into my sisters’ lives… as a hole.” This experience of the children of Korean War survivors – having been haunted by silences that take the form of an “unhappy wind,” “a hole,” or some other intangible or invisible force – reflects the notion that an unresolved trauma in unconsciously passed from one generation to the next.
The shattering window rips the air with a violent, high pitched crack, sounding almost like a shocked cry, perhaps maybe a desperate plea – “don’t shoot!”
The window is placed and designed to divide them and us. Through the window, we can see them and they can see us. But the window segregates us from them so that we become foreign, even a threat, because the window is also a looking glass of power and privilege. So they sit behind their windows waiting for us. Walking in the street, ringing a doorbell for help after a car accident, selling cigarettes and CDs, not speaking English, reaching in our pockets, standing around, sitting on a public bench, carrying a legal gun, and numerous other everyday actions become twisted and menacing through these glass walls crafted with fear. Through the looking glass, we who are poor, we who have brown skin, we who are homeless, we who are not able-bodied, we who were not born in America, and many others are seen by them as muddying their perfect white picket fences.
The gross distortion of our small everyday moments becomes the excuse by which many of us are marked as “bad” guys who must be punished. To punish requires contact and these windows between us and them have been constructed by our society to be broken only through violence. Thus the windows are broken with shocking thunder. In the moment of shattering glass, we finally come into deadly contact with them. And after the window is broken, all that remains are the shards of broken and all too often black and brown bodies on the ground. The broken glass strewn on the street is not a sign of immoral disorder, but is instead a stigma of system that terrorizes and breaks marginalized bodies.
When the window is shattered, the glass shards fly out to grievously slash all those around it – we who bear witness, our local and national communities, and even me sitting at my desk typing this in New York. As we tend to our wounds, we can let the shards be swept away and the window replaced just to be broken all over again. Or we can leave this window broken and begin instead to repair the contact between them and us.
The traffic cop screamed angrily at me, “Get your bike off the street!”
I had stopped at the middle of an intersection trying to make a left like a car in Manhattan as oncoming traffic streamed to my left and cars in my direction passed on my right. How I was supposed to get my bike off the street safely with cars moving on either side of me, I had no clue. I look back at the cop and said simply, “I’m just trying to make a left turn.” The traffic cop just glared back at me with contempt and fury.
Logically, I had no safe way to immediately comply with the cop’s demand until there was a gap in the oncoming traffic where I could take the left safely. So it wasn’t actually a reasonable and actionable demand, but rather the underlying meaning of the cop’s words was an assertion that I as a bicyclist do not belong in the street. Continue reading
Mr. Liu at a Biking Public Project focus group of Chinese food delivery cyclists. Photo: Argenis Apolinario (http://www.argenisphoto.com/)
“We feel as if the police are picking on us,” said Mr. Liu, the President of the Chinese Delivery Workers Union. Mr. Liu was telling Xiaodeng, Dustin, and I about the challenges encountered by many Chinese and other delivery cyclists who use electric bikes in NYC.
A NYC ordinance prohibits electric bikes (or motorized scooters) as seen below in an excerpt from NYC Administrative Code 19-176.2:
NYC delivery cyclist. Photo courtesy of the Biking Public Project.
“I’m just too tired,” a Chinese deliveryman told Xiaodeng.
Xiaodeng and I were in Chinatown recently trying to recruit Chinese food delivery cyclists to participate in an upcoming focus group about their opinions on street and bike safety. Xiaodeng went to talk to this Chinese deliveryman as he glided up to his restaurant on an e-bike. Since I don’t speak Chinese Mandarin, I relied on Xiaodeng to tell me what happened after a ten minute conversation, an eternity for a delivery cyclist during the dinner rush.
Afterward, Xiaodeng told me that the delivery guy was interested and had a lot to share, but that he was simply to exhausted from his delivery work to take any time to participate in our focus group. However, at the moment we stopped him to talk, the deliveryman had a lot to say to Xiaodeng about street safety. He told us about the prevalence of street danger for him, both from cars and from other people. The deliveryman had been robbed and assaulted multiple times on deliveries, customers occasionally gave him counterfeit money, and the police once confiscated his e-bike and gave him a $500 ticket for it. He thought the focus group that we’re trying to do is important, but that he is just too tired from work to participate. He recommended we try to find younger deliverymen with more energy. He looked about 50 years old to me, but Xiaodeng thought he looked more like 60 years old. Mostly, we caught a glimpse of pain. Continue reading