2008-12-23- Clowning Around on Kent Avenue- Queens Ledger

Clowning Around on Kent Avenue
Queens Ledger
December 23, 2008
By Jeffrey Harmatz


Kent Avenue is one of the most serious battlegrounds for cycling enthusiasts, but one group has decided to approach the area from a comical standpoint. Members of Time’s Up, a green activism group, held a “Clown Ride” to draw attention to the need for the Kent Avenue bike lane and correct the behavior of those that abuse it.

Close to two dozen cyclists, decked out in full clown regalia and sporting horns, shouts, and a boombox, rode together from the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge down Kent Ave to South 10th Street and then back up Bedford Avenue as a way to promote not only cycling, but cycling specifically on Kent Avenue.

The roadway’s bike lane has come under fire from residents and business owners of Williamsburg, who say that the bike lanes on both sides of the streets have resulted in a significant loss of needed parking and places limits on business deliveries.

“We’re out here celebrating bike lanes,” said Benjamin Shepard, who organized the event. “We’re not against anybody, we’re just here to educate people about the importance of bike lanes.”

“We heard that they were people who opposed these bike lanes, and we wanted to come out and show that there is a large contingency of people who want them, and we want to make sure that they’re safe,” said Time’s Up organizer Barbara Ross.

As part of their ride, the clowns comically harangued drivers who had parked in the bike lanes by staging elaborate, domino-like crashes in their vehicles and handing out fake parking tickets to violators.

“We’re handing out copies of New York City parking tickets to teach drivers about laws regarding bike lanes,” said Shepherd. “When was the last time you saw a car actually ticketed for parking in one?”

Shepherd maintained that the clown costumes would help make their way of spreading a serious message less confrontational and more fun.

“We’ll be asking the people we ticket for blocking lanes to get out of their cars and join us,” he said.

On their ride, the red-nosed, brightly colored clowns encountered a number of lane-blockers, with predictably catastrophic results. The lead clown would fall, leading to a chain reaction that toppled all the riders. As the clowns spastically and comically tried to regain their balance, one of the riders would hand the driver a fake ticket and speak to them about blocking the bike lane.

The clowns’ exaggerated version of a car crash is not too far removed from fiction, and the danger stemming from blocked bike lanes is a very real one.

“You can get a much stronger reaction by using sugar than salt,” said Shepard, explaining why the bikers were dressed as clowns. “It’s a disarming technique. Nobody minds if a clown honks his horn at you.”

But behind their humorous approach to the issue, the cyclists had a very serious message behind their ride.

“Bike lanes can be a larger part of city transportation in way that won’t put your own life in your hands,” said Shepard. “Bike lanes can be part of the solution to New York City congestion.”

The ride is part of the group’s yearlong “Love Your Lanes” initiative, which will be sponsoring similarly themed rides throughout the city during 2009. A February 14th ride is scheduled for Grand Street.

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