New York City’s bike culture has undergone a massive change in the last ten years or so, thanks in part to an increase in attention from City Hall. Of course, just because we have Citi Bike and bike lanes and bike-friendly policies doesn’t mean the argument about cycling in the city is over. Not by a long shot. Spoke, a new short documentary from Heather Quinlan, manages to synthesize every argument over cycling in the city into one 15 minute documentary, all while providing some sweet Google Glass first-person views of what it’s like to ride a bike in New York right now.
Quinlan captures the irrational (bikes are for North Koreans! I have to be a more cautious driver now!) and rational (cyclists should respect pedestrians, Citi Bike is way too expensive) while talking to people from both sides of the debate dealing with whether or not bikes are good for the city.
Quinlan manages to give a human face to both bike extremists like the hilariously brusque Bill Weinberg, who describes cars in a fashion after our own hearts by calling them “toxic-belching death machines” and bike lane opponents like Dennis Hamill of the Daily News, who sees the bike lanes as a symptom of a changing New York. Of course, she also manages to find someone who seems to make the case that cars are a more efficient system of getting around in a city of 8 million people.
And Quinlan does capture, it should be said, plenty of cyclists behaving badly, salmoning, yelling at pedestrians and otherwise being jerks. Which you shouldn’t do. But in going down the hierarchy of what can kill you, one interview subject phrases it perfectly: “A pedestrian is a pedestrian, a bicyclist has equipment that can hit somebody, a car has much bigger equipment that can hit bicyclists and pedestrians.” So it’s a good thing the NYPD takes speeding so darn seriously, huh?