Motorists labor under many misapprehensions, but the most dangerous is that cars confer upon their operators unfettered mobility and unlimited respect. Thanks to a century of auto-industry lobbying and marketing, the typical Hyundai lessee thinks his car keys not only start the engine but also part the seas of traffic and grant him irrevocable right-of-way. And when people have political and law enforcement connections and a car, well, it can seem like they drove through a radiation field and mutated into something unstoppable.
Consider New York State Senator Marty Golden of Brooklyn. A cyclist claims the Senator, pretending to be a cop and while driving in the bike lane, attempted to pull the rider over. Here's how it began, according to the cyclist Brian Howald:
I was biking to a community mtg. tonight when I saw multiple vehicles driving in the 3rd Ave. bike lane.
A man stuck his head out the window waving a non-NYPD placard, telling me to pull over, claiming to be a police officer.
When challenged, he hid the placard & his face.
The rest of the story unfolds in the Twitter thread, but here’s the executive summary of Howald's account:
Like Bigfoot fleeing toward the forest, Mystery Man’s driver proceeds to run multiple lights to avoid being photographed;
Cyclist eventually manages to snap a picture;
Mystery Man turns out to be Senator Golden.
So who is Marty Golden? Well, among other legislative accomplishments, he’s been instrumental in blocking the expansion of New York City’s speed-camera program. His license plate has been associated with over 30 traffic violations in the past four years, including ten for speeding in school zones—though a number of those have been "excused," as he told WNYC. "Listen, all those tickets are paid for and a lot of those tickets were excused," he said. "We're going in and out of events and we get placards so we can park in no parking zones and that's what we do."
Nevertheless, that's a spotty record by any standard, and it's amazing he's never hit anybody. (Oh wait, he did.)
For his part, Golden claims he never pretended to be a police officer, and that his driver was using the bike lane to avoid “blocking the box.” He also added that Brian Howald should “get a life,” even though it’s safe to assume that’s precisely what Howald was trying to retain by using the bike lane.
Shorty afterwards, Golden turned to Twitter, where he attempted to do whatever the bicyclist equivalent of slut-shaming is, with disastrous results:
In a review of Mr. Howald’s social media, it is evident that this is not the first time he has aggressively engaged a motorist on a New York City street. I do however hope that it will be his last.
Here is one of the milder replies:
Please resign so we can move NY State forward. You're a literal danger on our streets and in state government. #resignmarty #resign
This is not the first time Golden’s tone-deafness has elicited ire. Indeed, back in 2012, he promoted a class called “Posture, Deportment, and the Feminine Presence”:
The taxpayer funded-event has caused controversy after Golden’s website promised to teach attendees how to “Sit, stand, and walk like a model” and how to “walk up and down a stair elegantly.”
Whether this would have involved women walking around with books on their heads we’ll never know, for it was subsequently canceled after people pointed out the year was in fact 2012 and not 1812.
As for the matter of Golden’s own deportment when traveling by motor vehicle, it’s a perfect distillation of the problems facing New York City and so many other places when it comes to protecting people from deadly driving. Here’s an elected official blocking demonstrably life-saving legislation, triggering speed cameras, and using bike lanes to avoid traffic.
What’s next? A climate change denier in charge of the Environmental Protection...oh, right.
Meanwhile, people like to say cyclists are "entitled,” which is astounding. Their bikes cause negligible wear on the infrastructure, and all they really ask for is three feet of road space and for drivers not to kill them. Motorists, on the other hand, are truly entitled. See, if you're a cyclist in America, you've felt harassed by a motorist at one time or another, guaranteed. Maybe you were on the receiving end of an insult or a projectile. Maybe you were engulfed in a cloud of diesel smoke. Or maybe someone just plain ran you off the road and into a ditch.
In many ways, the incident with Golden was typical of what cyclists experience every day. The only real difference in this case was that the driver happened to be a senator, and the cyclist managed to get a photo. And fortunately when it comes to a media showdown between an “entitled” cyclist and a lying politician, most people are still inclined to side with the former.
But whatever the specifics, drivers harass cyclists for two reasons:
- They think they own the roads;
- They’re pretty confident they can get away with it.
Now that's entitlement, and until that changes not much else will.