BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | They say necessity is the mother of invention… .
Clayton Patterson isn’t fazed by much. In 1988, with a then-novel handheld video camera — long before today’s era of ubiquitous cell-phone cameras — he covered the hours-long Tompkins Square Park riot. He was later arrested by police more than once, had teeth knocked out scuffling with them. He claims the arrests were retaliation for exposing cops’ violence during the riot.
Turned off by the elitism of the art scene in Soho, where the Canadian immigrant had first landed, he moved instead to the hardscrabble Lower East Side in the 1980s amid burned-out buildings and open-air drug dens. In the midst of all the mayhem, he felt at home.
A survivor, Patterson, 73, has stuck it out in the ’hood — though the ’hood has since morphed around him into a Vegas-style nightlife hotspot.
“These people are just drinking and smoking weed,” he said of the area’s nightlife scene. “Everyone’s imported. It’s not like they’re coming down here to read poetry like in the ’60s. The only culture is drinking.”
At any rate, still sporting his signature baseball cap with an embroidered skull on it, he remains industrious as always, working on art projects, editing anthologies and more. When he leaves his building, he’s immediately greeted by people he knows. He’s totally at home in his world.
But there’s one thing today that does make him worried, something that he also experiences when he steps out onto the sidewalk — deliverypersons speeding along the pavement on e-bikes racing to drop off their next orders.
Patterson lives on Essex Street, between Stanton and Houston Streets, in a two-story building that once housed a dress shop on its ground floor. While the street was actually often quiet back in the ’80s, since the drug dealers didn’t want to attract attention — “It was like a dirt road,” Patterson said, “You could sleep in the street” — now on weekend nights there is a constant parade of young revelers strolling past his storefront window on their way to the latest bars and lounges.
Patterson isn’t concerned about the foot traffic but is concerned about traffic of another kind, the e-bike and motorcycle deliverypersons — who are supposed to use the street not the sidewalk. With the advent of apps like Grubhub, Uber Eats, DoorDash and Caviar, to name just a few, the delivery riders’ numbers have exploded. Meanwhile, though, there seems to be little to any enforcement against the streaking scofflaws.
“They don’t make any noise,” Patterson said of the heavy, fast-moving bikes. “I could step out of my door and ‘boom!’ They go 20 miles per hour or more, they weigh 80 pounds, and when you walk out of your building you are not expecting to be hit by a bicycle.”
As a result, two months ago, Patterson installed a solid, welded-steel barrier in front of his building. He contracted a local, Domincan-owned company to build it. Painted like a bumblebee in black and yellow bands, it extends about 4 1/2 feet out onto the sidewalk. As a result, e-bike and moped deliverpersons can no longer blithely zip right by his front door but must swerve away from his building to avoid crashing into the barrier. So far, no one has slammed into the clearly marked structure.
“C’mon,” Patterson scoffed, “you’d have to be an idiot not to see it.”
He positioned the fence right in front of the sidewalk gate to his basement since the bikes zooming over the metal door had also been creating a constant racket, like cars driving over steel plates on the street.
Patterson’s stretch of Essex Street admittedly does not have many residential buildings, which might partly explain why the e-deliverpersons ride on the sidewalk there so overtly. Next to him is an M.T.A. substation, followed by an open-air parking lot, a restaurant and then an old savings bank on the corner that has been variously used as a dance club and strip club. To the south of him are a beauty salon and a corner deli, the latter which is a takeoff spot for e-delivery bikers.
The gruff documentarian isn’t afraid to say he’s concerned about the “e-bikes gone wild.”
“Would I want a car driving down the f—in’ sidewalk?” he said, indignantly, his voice rising. “There’s people here coming out of the beauty salon who are sometimes older women, sometimes with little kids. It’s f—in’ stupid and it’s dangerous.
“They don’t have insurance,” he said of the delivery bikers. “There’s no responsibility anywhere — you’re just injured.”
Luckily, he hasn’t been hit, though the new barrier now makes that happening less likely.
Eight years ago, Patterson had been thinking of relocating to Austria, where he participates in the annual WildStyle tattoo and freak show. He had even announced it, as reported in The New York Times. This past Saturday evening, he had just recently returned from WildStyle, noting he was still feeling some jet lag.
But he ultimately decided against pulling up stakes after his wife, Elsa Rensaa, started experiencing health problems. And he also realized how difficult it would be to move all his belongings, including his voluminous photo and documentary archives.
Meanwhile, critics say the city’s streets and sidewalks have turned into a “Wild West” of lawless e-bikes, mopeds and motorcycles — that there is no enforcement.
“What can you do about it?” Patterson said, fatalistically. “Nothing.”
As he spoke, he stroked and braided his long gray beard, starting weaving it together from the top in three strands.
“The only way something will happen is when someone important gets hurt,” he offered.
Indeed, Mayor Eric Adams seems more concerned about random youths popping wheelies on ATVs on the street than doing anything about the army of e-bikes and mopeds riding the wrong way and on sidewalks, putting pedestrians, especially older ones, at risk.
So Patterson has taken matters into his own hands.
This is great. Tactical urbanism!
Old age sucks and us old-timers gotta protect ourselves, so more power to Clayton for doing this. I do feel sympathy for the poor delivery people [an Asian one was just murdered in NYC in a dispute with a white man over duck sauce] who have to take this dangerous job to survive. I do take exception to the Vegas camparison since it is illegal to smoke weed in public here and not a lot of people do that except on the strip. I will say, however, that I will take delivery-bike danger over open heroin- and coke-dealing dealer shootouts, like the Avenue D one that killed a dealer, any day. In Clayton’s case, they all know him because he has been around so long he is most likely given old-timer protection from getting shot.
“Adults may smoke or vape cannabis wherever smoking tobacco is allowed under the smoke-free air laws, with a few exceptions.”
Some years ago, when I was lobbying Albany for legalization of electric bikes, we formed Cyclists Urging Responsible Biking at the Chinese Staff and Workers Association to try to create better conditions for those working in the industry and change the laws to make them legal and not subject to seizures and other punishment. When it was decided to emphasize their utility to older folks and others in order to get past the NYS Legislature and avoid all of the nasty editorials from the NY Post etc., the effort was dropped. Requiring bikes to be pedal-activated would have helped, especially since almost all of the bikes were made by one shop, which agreed, for no cost, to turn on the pedal-activization mechanism that was already built into the bike. Without requiring pedaling, these are mopeds, much less desirable for crowded urban spaces. But here we are.
It’s time to bring CURB back and begin a program to influence deliverers to behave in a more respectful-of-pedestrians way. It might not be easy but it can happen. It requires a degree of organization and help from the restaurant industry too. When speed is essential, corners will be rounded swiftly, but it does not need to be at the expense of innocent bystanders. Sidewalks belong to pedestrians and that must involve better regulation and enforcement, as well as some understanding among workers that respect for others is a key part of the package.
Yeah, I think fixed objects could be dangerous. Maybe he should post a sign to indicate “ICE Headquarters” or “CCP Embassy”?
Not my issue. It is time pot is legal. My point is all my community represents is pot stores and bars. We have lost the culture. Pot used to have a culture connected to it. Stoned drunks is not culture.
Moving objects are more dangerous.
I sympathize with the idea behind his barrier. However, that makes it more likely that a slow, disabled senior like me will be hit on what remains of the unobstructed sidewalk. I think forcing enforcement is a job for City Council people and of Community Bds. As individuals there’s little hope and it’s not the Police Dept.’s priority at all.
And these morons on the motorized Citibikes now. This DOT and city is nuts now. The amount of the corporate Citibike stations is wild too.
A lot of people have been knocked over and really hurt in scooter accidents (which is what these motorised bikes are — scooters, not really bikes) and Clayton’s solution is brilliant and also a sad demonstration that it has come to this. Our city has no urban planning. Pedestrians and citizens are left to fend for ourselves in so many ways. From the sheds to the scooters to the wanton destruction of our green space to the constant building of luxury housing that results in displacement — at no point in any of these things are the residents of this city considered. We are at the bottom of the list of priorities, if we are on it at all.
Urban planning in NYC consists of new luxury high-rise buildings for very privileged one-percenters and their supplicants.
Wait til you start getting drive-by shootings on those little scooterbikes or whatever they’re called. Here in Columbus, a group of teen thugs on them rolled up to a 16-year-old sitting on a bench outside the Ohio Statehouse and gunned him down. Sped off, and ditched the bikes (and they are ditched — wherever — by those who ride them, creating yet another urban public nuisance), and jumped into a waiting vehicle. At the Statehouse, controlled by the most rabid of right-wing Republican Christofascits: Crickets.
I’ve been knocked down by a bike delivery worker myself, but I keep it in perspective. They are exploited workers pressured by the app (patrón fantasma) to go faster, and FAR more peeps are mowed down to deadlier effect by MOTORISTS in NYC annually….