On a recent Friday morning, I crashed my bicycle into a fast-moving car on Prospect Street.My smash — which left my laptop looking like a pizza — got me thinking about New Haven’s bike problem and how flawed the attitude of the University and city is toward our cyclists. Over the past few years, dozens of Yalies have had similar altercations in the environs of this city, and most, though not all, were as lucky as I was.
This is a city that proudly labels itself one of America’s green cities, the Elm City. It claims urban renewal, initiative and regeneration. Yet for all of the hype on “new” New Haven, the city has only sponsored two “Bike to Work” days, both held during summer breaks when students have been away. Additionally, the cycle paths that do exist are too few, too narrow and rarely noticed by motorists or cyclists.
In the case of the city’s flagship cycle path, which runs down Science Hill from East Rock to downtown, University construction works beside the road in a way such that the path itself is eliminated altogether.
The city government has an astounding lack of imagination regarding possible provisions to encourage cyclists. Paris, which has suffered nearly seven years of socialist city administration, recently introduced a visionary cycle-rental scheme, initially piloted in Lyons, similar to the Zipcar scheme introduced by Yale this academic year. By the end of the year, it is hoped that Parisians will have access to 20,600 bicycles located every 250 yards around the city.
To me it is a scandal that during freshman orientation, when new Yalies are evangelized with puritan messages on alcohol and the arts of love that would leave a sybarite cold, hardly a word is uttered to exhort newly matriculated undergraduates to wear helmets as they cycle around the city.
Few student cyclists avail themselves of helmets, and New Haven has a dearth of signs drawing the attention of motorcar drivers to the angst-ridden, overworked and exhausted young men and women who valiantly but usually sleepily ride to school.
Yale seems to have no qualms about showering freshmen with contraceptive-prophylactic devices, but bicycle helmets seem a social faux pas. The city should show national leadership on the promotion of cycling, but as any pedestrian who has been crashed into by a bike traveling along a sidewalk knows, for cyclists, New Haven’s streets are not fit.
Everyone who spends time in New Haven has seen the forlorn sight of a naked bicycle frame chained to a lamppost, cycle rack or parking meter, missing a wheel, a seat or a handlebar.
Every Yalie knows someone who has had a bicycle stolen in New Haven. The city police are too busy chasing beer-swilling twenty-year-old adults to pay any attention, and the University collectively throws its hands in the air, shrugs and says something to the effect of “ride the bus.”
Yet local shops, such as College Street Cycles, persist in selling used cycle parts originating from what are at best “un-accredited sources.”
On the model of the S.T.O.P. Program, which provides a “license plate” for Yale computers, the city should introduce a scheme that licenses bike parts – seats, wheels, handlebars and frames. Stolen parts would then have to be transported elsewhere for resale, making casual theft less profitable and somewhat more cumbersome.
Yale and New Haven should be promoting cycling. It is cheap, good exercise, efficient and environmentally friendly. Yalies who cycle to class establish a habit of a lifetime, and what a tremendous thing it would be if Yale’s cohorts and legions of distinguished graduates were to set an example to our peers by cycling to work on the streets of America’s great cities.
This city, which dates from 1638, is America’s oldest planned community. The city and University deserve better.
In May of last year, a remarkable young man, Alexander Capelluto ’08, was tragically killed by a 10-wheel truck in West Haven while returning from crew practice. New Haven and Yale’s policies toward cyclists are at best negligent, and at the current rate of changing attitudes, we will have another tragedy.
F. E. E. Mocatta is a sophomore in Branford College.