Change has again gained the upper hand in America. The vested interests of the old order are being put down -- and with a thud. Why are Andy Young and the other recent champions of change not singing? Are they your simple mossbacks?
New York's Mayor Edward Koch is no mossback. Last week he responded to the desires of the vast majority of his constituents and look on one of the old order's most articulate interest group, New York's powerful cyclist lobby.
Last summer the cyclists, acting no doubt in concert with the joggers, the heliotherapists and those remaining 1970s hypochondriacs who have yet to poison or otherwise immobilize themselves, prevailed on the mayor to turn the curbside lanes of some of Manhattan's busiest streets into bicycle only lanes. Last week the mayor admitted hie error and expressed a willingness to eliminate these menaces. They have already cost the citizens $290,000 in construction costs. The personal misery is incalculable.
Millions of trucks, buses, taxis and privately owned vehicles have been squeezed into narrowed streets. Months have been sliced from the lives of drivers and passengers; a drive from 30th Street to Central Park South is now five to 10 minutes longer -- God knows how much longer it is if one begins in Greenwich Village. Access to nearby shops is more difficult, and neighborhood dogs, answering nature's call, are terrified to venture toward the curb. In fact, millions of pedestrians, standing at cross-walks, have experienced real terror, exposed as they now are to the mercy and moderation of bicycle riders, people whose lawlessness and viciousness are a matter of record. Not even General Assembly meetings at the United Nations have caused so much misery for New Yorkers, and when the U.N. meets, thousands of foreign diplomats swarm all over town and drink wine.
Close observers of the mayor say he got the idea for his cycling lanes while visiting the People's Republic of China. There he saw crowds of smiling Mao-men peddling the streets, and he came home convinced that bicycles would be just the right therapy to put smiles on the faces of his irascible constituents. Apparently it never occured to him that those smiling Chinese faces would smile even more resplendently were they looking out from the lush seats of Oldsmobiles. Nor did he weigh the anxiety that might be caused in cramped Manhattan offices when clammy cyclists arrived for a day's work. The mayor foresaw a city of happy, healthy cyclists and looked no further.
Well, he is now a wiser man, and the political message of Nov. 4 has freed him from the coils of such cyclist organizations as Transportation Alternatives, a cycling lobby whose very name suggests its perverse political purpose. The cyclists' hold on city hall has been broken, and when the mayor's workmen get around to ripping up those cycling lanes, I hope they move on and haul away those ghastly bicycle racks. Cycling in congested cities is not to be encouraged.
Not only are bicycles dangerous; they are as antiquated a form of transportation as the rickshaw. The urban cyclist is generally a crank, either profoundly antisocial or hopelessly narcissistic and following the strenuous life in hope of achieving immortality or a legendary sex life. When you encounter him, give him wide berth and never turn your back to him.
Bicycles are unstable and dangerous. Consumerists would have spoken out against them ages ago were it not for the consumerists' great passion against the alternative to the bicycle, the automobile. Here we have a passion inspired in part by the consumerists' hatred of modern life ad their even greater hatred of corporations. Yet I have no doubt that if General Motors had a profitable bicycle division, consumerists all over the country would be hauling GM into court.
Bicycles provide no protection whatever to their riders. Their handlebars are an ever present menace to the soft, vulnerable parts of those Homo sapiens reckless enough to ride them, and I know of no bicycle whose brakes are as reliable as those of the old Model T. Moreover, the things are weirdly silent. A bolt from the blue gives more warning than a bicycle whizzing along the Avenue of the Americas.
Mayor Koch's incipient move against these hellish devices is but one more commendable move against the excesses of the 1970s. I salute him for his courage even as I sing to myself a few favorite passages from "The Times They Are A'Changin.'"