Monday, August 06, 2012


Randy Cohen ("If Kant Were a  New York Cyclist", NY Times, Aug 5) makes what he claims is an ethical case.  "The rule-breaking cyclist that people decry: that’s me. I routinely run red lights, and so do you. I flout the law when I’m on my bike; you do it when you are on foot, at least if you are like most New Yorkers. My behavior vexes pedestrians, drivers and even some of my fellow cyclists. Similar conduct has stuck cyclists with tickets and court-ordered biking education classes. But although it is illegal, I believe it is ethical. ..."

Our cities and our traffic laws are geared to autos.  Everyone likes their cars, but many also feel a bit cowed.  The "green" and morally superior thing to do is walk or bike.  Cohen sees his acts as victimless and also superior and, hence, ethical.
Ethical arguments for law-breaking usually involve weightier issues.  Cohen must know that once there are enough law breakers like him, there could be real problems.

My first trip to China was in the early 1980s and I witnessed tremendous etiquette by large numbers of bicyclists who, not contending with many cars, but just each other, seemingly managed very well.  Pedestrians, even foreigners, once they got the hang of slowly wading across busy streets, had no problem.  The streams parted gently around you.      

But Manhattan is clearly not 1980s China. I worry when Cohen evokes Amsterdam and Copenhagen.  Manhattan does not come close to these either.