I ride my bike pretty much everywhere I go here in New York City. This past year, while living and working in Austin, I pretty much subscribed to the same practice.
I got back to New York the first week of June and since then, have been using my bike as a primary mode of transporation but also, kissing the city I love so much. There's nothing like catching up with familiar sights up and downtown while pedaling from neighborhood to neighborhood each with distinct flavors and sounds. It's also easier to catch the city's waves of infectious street energy while pedaling past the walking masses on their way to meetings, lunch or maybe just the gym. Cyling is the best way to scope out new construction projects across town that could lead to potential new stories for a real estate reporter-like me. And, like a child in a candy store, I've had my I Phone with me everywhere, taking photos and showing them off-in real time- on facebook as well as other social media sites.
But- recent events have reminded me that I've been pedaling sans helmet again. My most recent excuse-fitting-you see, I have a large head. In Austin, it was the heat, oh it gets to hot under there. Then of course,pure vanity, my hair-or, oh at forty something- I'll look dorky? What's really stupid is the fact that the minimal protective armor a helmet provides has been shown to reduce the incidence of catastrophic injury that can occur when skull-bone- meets hard concrete or the steel frames of a moving tons heavy austomobile or truck.
Worth noting- cycling in New York City increased 8% between 2010 and 2011, 102% since 2007, and 289% compared to 2001. During the same time, safety increased for all road users. As recently as 2010-of the more than 6,000 New York City traffic accidents that involved cyclists, 36 people died, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles. Also in New York City- 92% of all bicyclist fatalities occurred as a result of crashes with motor vehicles, and 91% of bicyclists who died were male.
As part of my welcome home to New York City, I've had two close calls on my bike over the past 8 days. The first time-I was behaving foolishly-filming the sights of Times Square while riding on the bike lane. That behavior-despite being called out by a friend who'd spied me texting while riding my bike just days before. Although I was moving slow while obtaining my tourist footage, I wasn't looking ahead or paying full attention to my surroundings. Then suddenly-a cab door had swung open in my path- I hit it- and fell off my bike. That time I landed on my feet. It made for a silly You Tube video moment.
But then on Thursday June 15th at around 730, I was riding my bike along the Hudson west side bike path. At some point, around 105 st, perhaps I was distracted by the beautiful sunset or maybe my chain malfunctioned, as the EMS official later theorized. All I know is that I lost my footing and down I went. No cars, no other cyclist were involved at all-I'd gone against the statistics- this incident was just me and I was not wearing a helmet.
This time, as I flew down to kiss New York in a way I'd never intended, I had horrible and split second fatalistic thought that this was not good. Through the grace of God, I didn't hit my head or land in a way that compromised my upper spinal cord. Instead, my big chin took the brunt. Blood was gushing from my face, I felt the flap of flesh on my chin and rubbed my tounge on my teeth- they were all there.
Several people stopped, but two in particular stayed with me and waited until the EMS arrived to take me to the hospital. At St Luke's hospital, I was cleaned up- x-rayed and my chin was sewn up- 7 stitches. (Sweet folks in that ER.) Funny-but I look like Mike Tyson after a bad fight. Lessons learned- we are fragile creatures, eggshells on two wheels so NEVER ride without a helmet. Also, there are angels among us, like the two who stayed with me until help arrived. And friends like those who called and the one who came to get me and take me home- are to be treasured.
After these days of mishap and a painful but mild recovery but in fact-I'm accepting my vulnerability as a human being- I am only human. I only have one body, and one brain that is housed inside this shell called a skull. My spine allows me to walk and lift my arms and even scratch myself because it allows me to know, I have an itch.
Sometimes, accidents do happen regardless of how carefule we are, but it's probably best to to pay close attention to what I'm doing while riding a bike- and always-always wear a helmet. Otherwise, I may not be able to advocate for what I still believe is the most exhilarating, efficient and beautiful way to get around a city- esepcially the one I love most, New York.