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The Pedicab Experience
Waiting for service. Photo by Nate Baird.

Waiting for service. Photo by Nate Baird.

While TheCityFix has made the case for the pedicab before, it’s always good (but rare) to see a writer from the “mainstream media” lauding the three-wheeled transport option. The Times’ Ariel Kaminar’s sensitive and experiential inquiry provides helpful insight into, and light-hearted goodwill towards, the New York City pedicab scene.

Unfortunately, her exploration of the chauffeured trikes was inspired by titillating Fox News coverage of a brawl that broke out between two traffic impaired men (one had been driving a taxi; the other, a pedicab, both behaving like idiots), and a subsequent City Council ruling to begin regulating the smaller vehicles.  Kaminar, thankfully, gamely decided to investigate pedicabs further when a City Council member carped on the humble vehicles with a little too much vitriol to the New York Post: “Pedicabs have been for too long acting like they rule the streets ahead of any other mode of transportation.”  Questioning whether their three wheels could be so bad, Kaminar then set out then to gain actual on-the-streets experience of pedicabs in NYC, which grounds her story substantially.

Details of a pedicab mural. Photo by Nate Baird.

Details of a pedicab mural. Photo by Nate Baird.

The whole sequence of events marks how far we have to go before the pedicab is taken seriously as a transportation mode.  While regulation is a necessary step in the right direction, it needs to be done wisely instead of fearfully, and media coverage typically hasn’t been up to the task of presenting pedicabs in a balanced enough light to judge them squarely.

In Los Angeles a few months back, where an instigating brawl didn’t inspire media outlets, LA Times coverage of the development of pedicab regulations was limited to a link to local blog coverage. (Though, the local blog coverage was quite good.  See Gary Kavanagh’s take on the absurd pedicab rules that were under consideration, followed by a similar appraisal by Eric Richardson, which was linked by the LA Times, as well as LA Streetsblog coverage.) Slightly better, I guess, than the scant context they did provide of San Diego’s regulation developments, where they failed to describe whether pedicabs function any more deeply than as a scam attracting “foreign college students” to cheap jobs.

Part of this lack, I suspect, is due to the continuing disconnect between the “mainstream” view of bicycling generally (as an adult male sport for fitness freaks and weirdly clad adventurers) and the growing movement of folks who make use of the bicycle an inspired mode of transport.  See my friend Josef’s blog post (he’s a bicycle shop owner) on how this plays out at bike retailers.  Until this disconnect is addressed, bicycling, and pedicabs, remain quaint forms of getting around.

Need more pedicab links?

  • Late July coverage of New York City Council’s adoption of pedicab rules in the New York Times
  • And in the New York Post
  • And then there’s the documentary film “The Third Wheel”, which does cover the NYC pedicab scene in some depth, and which I sadly missed at the Bicycle Film Festival’s scheduled showing in Los Angeles.  The trailer is still available, though.
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