Tipping Points- Look for it in the Little Things

Sometimes when you’re looking for signs of progress towards a healthy cycling ‘culture’, it’s the little things that indicate we’re on the right track. In places where cycling for transportation is as normal as getting out of bed in the morning, no one would blink an eye at the sight of someone walking their dog by bicycle.

Doggie Walking

In NYC, it’s still an anomaly, but twice in one week, I spotted two different individuals doing just that- and by Citibike no less.

Citibike Your Dog Walk

Citibike is in the news again because the company that manages the system, Alta is in serious financial trouble and by proxy, so is Citibike. We’re all hopeful that a solution will be worked out and I like Doug Gordon of BrooklynSpoke’s argument that it should be granted public subsidies. All our other public transportation systems receive subsidies, why not Citibike?

Financial woes aside, Citibike has been a great success for NYC’s residents- adding nearly 100,000 people (via annual memberships) on bicycles to our streets. If NYC had a complete network of cycling infrastructure that felt safe and enjoyable to everyone at any age, I’d wager those numbers would be much greater.

If we look at the behavior of people on bicycles in NYC, there’s definitely been a shift since Citibike was introduced. I’m seeing more social cycling. I’m also seeing more ‘types’ of people on bicycles that beforehand wouldn’t have chosen a bicycle for transportation. Overall, there’s a more relaxed attitude towards cycling from A to B than there was a year  ago.

Vivien en Brutus

Previous to Citibike, there was only one person I ever witnessed walking their dog by bicycle. I ran into her over the years on the streets, in Central Park and on the West Side Greenway. We always exchanged a friendly ‘hello’. Her name was Vivien and her dog’s name was Brutus.

Vivian & Brutus

It was always such a treat for me whenever I spotted them- a spot of Dutch cycling culture inserted into the NYC urban landscape. Over time, I discovered she was the wife to the then current (and now former) Dutch Ambassador.

Once I was lucky to spot her husband, the Ambassador himself, out cycling Brutus for a walk. Walking the Dog

Vivien, her husband and Brutus have retired and returned to the Netherlands. I have no idea if the new ambassador cycles for transportation here- whether with a dog or not.

But it’s a small sign of hope that other regular New Yorkers- not of Dutch origin and who might not even own a bicycle- would choose to hop on a bicycle and go for a walk with their dogs. The photos of Vivien, her husband and Brutus were taken uptown- where we have minimal safe cycling infrastructure (don’t worry, advocates are working on that) and   no Citibike stations as of yet.  Downtown, where the other photos were taken, we do have a decent network of cycling infrastructure and Citibike stations galore. Naturally, this is where the most people just look ‘normal’ when cycling and going about their daily business.

Citibike Your Dog WalkPeople walking dogs by bicycle is a small sign of progress. When we see an even split between men and women cycling from A to B, then we’re really starting to get somewhere. The end measure for the success of cycling in NYC? When it’s normal to see kids cycling independently from A to B. To achieve that- we need to keep fighting for and implementing more and better infrastructure. It’s a long haul, but I’m optimistic we’ll get there.

Where will we be in 10 years? Hopefully at a better place overall. Ten years ago, even though I wished for it, I could have never predicted the first on-street protected bike lane (established in 2009) or the existence of Citibike (2013). Hell, six months ago, advocates were worried that with the departure of Bloomberg that the safe streets movement might ground to a halt. Yet here we are now with Vision Zero as a promise and a reality. The political fight going forward isn’t going to be quick or easy- but now more than ever we have people in our NYC government who see the value of safer streets (and more people on bicycles).

In the meantime, noticing these little things is like sighting the first robin of spring. A sign of hope.



About bikepeacenyc

Just another NYer who is happier when on a bike. Gezellig fietsen. Advocate for Liveable Complete Streets.
This entry was posted in advocacy, begrimed, bikenyc, cycle chic, Normalization, social cycling and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Tipping Points- Look for it in the Little Things

  1. D. says:

    i’m sorry but I disagree. Whilst I like that people are just doing *stuff* on their bikes, I think that walking a dog by bike is kind of dumb – you do not have the same ability to react when/if your dog does something a bit random…

    • Fido, NO! says:

      Agreed. I appreciate the sentiment of this post, but I find it rude to “walk” your dog by bike it the areas of streets and parks designated for bicycles. Unless you have a dog that needs to be seriously run, you should be able to walk your dog by WALKING. Lazy. If your dog needs to run, there are off-leash amenities in the city. Also, it looks like one of your subjects is a salmon. That being said, I guess I don’t see biking your dog in the bike lane to be worse than walking it there, which I see plenty.

  2. bikepeacenyc says:

    Cycling from A to B isn’t a normal part of our culture in the US yet, so I understand that walking a dog by bicycle might seem ‘dumb’ or ‘rude’ to certain people. However, when utility cycling IS a normal part of our daily fabric, this and other behaviors that might seem out of place to your eyes will become just -normal. Just take a look at this post by aseasyasridingabike about cycling in the Netherlands.


    For the record, there are no pictures of salmon or any other type of fish in my post- merely ordinary NYC residents getting from A to B on two wheels. (Yes, I know you are referring to ‘wrong-way’ riding. The top photo was taken on a two way street, FYI and hence- no ‘rules’ are being broken.)

  3. Fido, NO! says:

    Okay, I get your “vehicular cycling” is so ‘merican rebuttal, and your desire to find this behaviour as charming, Maybe cycling from A to B isn’t a normal part of our culture, but it is a normal part of my everyday existence in NYC; commuting, errands, etc.

    There are bike lanes. Many bike lanes have adjacent walking amenities. In many of these bike lanes two-abreast cyclists are not a significant obstacle, but there are places where that behaviour is ‘dumb’ and ‘rude’ (just as four-abreast slow walking is ‘dumb’ and ‘rude’ on some sidewalks in the city). When there are nearby footpaths, riding your bike with a dog on a tether (usually at 5′ – 10′ when I see it), which is the circumstance in which I most often encounter it, is rude.

    Ultimately, I think seeing this as a ‘tipping point’ is like seeing sidewalk riding as a good thing. It’s not. Things that don’t belong in bike lanes/cycle paths (mixed-use paths may be different): parked cars (including non-emergency police, taxi, postal, livery, etc.), hotdog carts, hand trucks, oblivious pedestrians, dogs (on or off leash, with or without cyclist), bags of garbage, police officers standing around leaning into the window of a a cruiser, etc.

    Re: salmon. Good for those guys: take the lane.They’ve got moxie.

    What “other behaviors” can I look forward to moving from the “out of place” to “normal” category? Leaving dog poop in the bike lane instead of just the sidewalk? Oh, wait. That’s already pretty common, especially when it snows, though not ‘normal’, yet.

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