January 21, 2006 by Sarah Ferguson
Call them the bike-lane liberation front. On Saturday afternoon in Manhattan, about 30 cyclists donned rubber noses and clown gear and set off from Washington Square Park in search of vehicles parked in bike lanes.
“Nothing can shame a driver into moving out of the bike lane more than a pack of cheerful clowns on bikes,” read the flyer distributed to puzzled bystanders as the parade of masked and bewigged bikers made their way up Sixth Avenue, accompanied by a sound truck blasting James Brown and Beastie Boys tunes. Most drivers did scoot when they saw the clowns coming. Those who didn’t, including the driver of an idling Brinks truck, received mock tickets for violating Section 4-08(e) of the city’s traffic rules, which explicitly prohibits stopping, standing, or parking within a bike lane, and which carries a fine of up to $115.
The clown ride is a monthly event organized by the bicycle advocacy group Times Up! “Most people don’t even know it’s illegal to park in a bike lane,” notes bike clown Ben Shepard, in large part because the NYPD rarely tickets for the offense. “We want to inform people that it’s really dangerous for bikers who are forced into heavy traffic. But our philosophy is to keep it playful and humorous, with the idea that you catch more flies with sugar than with salt.”
But some drivers didn’t find the antics funny at all. A guy double-parked in the bike lane outside Barnes and Noble on Fifth Avenue refused to budge, then blared his horn at the riders when they gave up and pedaled past him. “I’m just giving you a taste of your own medicine!” he shouted, following close behind. A few blocks later, another driver double-parked outside a ritzy residence insisted he had the right to be in the bike lane because he was picking someone up. “Talk to the horn, baby!” an angry clown shouted, honking his toy horn in the driver’s face. The driver snatched the horn and broke it, and the angry clown struck him in the face.
The other clowns were horrified. “We’re supposed to be peaceful gnome clowns and keep our sense of humor,” moaned Monica Hunken, a 24-year-old special needs educator from Brooklyn, sporting full face paint and a mini traffic cone on her head. “That’s totally antithetical to what this ride is all about. Next time we’re definitely going to have rules for bike clowns and maybe broadcast them from our sound truck before we leave.”
Even for bike clowns, it seems, New York City traffic is no laughing matter.