STREETSBLOG INTERVIEW: Sean Avery Loves Saying ‘Fuck You’ to People Blocking Bike Lanes
3:16 PM PDT on September 9, 2019
Sean Avery, the rambunctious former New York Ranger who fashions himself the "poster boy" for bike lanes, tools around the city on one of his electric or fold-up bikes or scooters (he has a stable of them, including the Super 73 above) with the same bad-boy bravado he brought to hockey: The 5-foot-10, 195-pound left wing's ice-top aggression was so "in your face" that it prompted the National Hockey League to create an eponymous rule, making it illegal for a player to wave his or her stick in front of a goalie.
Avery — who rose to fame among cyclists after he was arrested for allegedly smashing a car blocking a bike lane with his scooter — has a checkered history with the cycling movement. Some safe-streets advocates dubbed him a "bike hero" after he released a series of self-filmed videos in which he berated motorists for parking in bike lanes. The superlative, however, was short-lived.
After Avery also loosed some controversial comments about cyclists — including telling Streetsblog during this interview that the July 9 “die-in” protesting the deaths of the then-15 cyclists that had been killed was "a waste of time" — some cyclists wondered whether he's really the best person to lead their charge.
But Avery cops to the fact that people see him as a jerk — he's OK with that, so why change now? The 38-year-old says most of his 196,000 Instagram followers (including Billy Bush, of “Access Hollywood”-tape fame) appreciate his finger-in-your-eye attitude. Others in his life are less enthusiastic about his bike advocacy, though. Avery's wife, supermodel Hilary Rhoda, "bikes every day" but "she does not find my crusade for Freedom entertaining,” he told us in a text.
Avery sat down with Streetsblog on Sept. 4 at a diner in the West Village for his first full-length interview about his bike-lane advocacy — although some of his answers leaned anti-bike to our ears. Wearing denim cut-offs and a fitted gray T-shirt, Avery spoke to us for about 45 minutes. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
Julianne Cuba: When did you start biking in New York, and why?
Sean Avery: Once I retired from playing hockey, I started biking because my schedule completely changed, and I was all over the city over the course of a day. I hate taxis; I don’t like Ubers; I like the subway but I can't take the subway because I can’t, like, turn a blind eye to incidents — like if there’s anything from a homeless guy not getting up, letting a woman with a baby sit down, to kids blasting music. I don’t have the ability to just turn my headphones on and mind my own business.
JC: Did you ever get into fights?
SA: Yeah, nothing that’s ever been filmed, thank God.
JC: Where does your yelling at people in bike lanes shtick come from?
SA: I think generally my whole Instagram bit with bikes lanes comes from two places: It comes from a place of humor, because I’m creating content, and also comes from a place of frustration and anger about people’s total lack of regard for a major transportation option for people in the city.
And there’s also a safety issue that comes with that — they just completely disregard the fact that people get up in the morning and decide they're going to ride their bike to work. They don't actually decide; they have to ride their bike to work, or a parent taking his two kids to school, that’s maybe their only option — so when people just have complete disregard for that, it makes me crazy.
When I’m approaching, and I see the bike lane blocked, I can survey the street pretty quickly. If it’s a situation where the driver has no option, then me yelling at them isn't going to make good content, because then I look like a jerk. But if I can see the other side of the street is completely wide open, but the guy didn't want to have to cross the street, because maybe he had to walk another 10 feet down — that’s like a perfect scenario for me to be able to create a moment of friction that is funny and some [has] education behind it. I think if I address the situation, I think I might have this person think twice the next time they're just gonna lazily park in the bike lane.
JC: What reactions do you get?
SA: I think people love seeing someone say ‘fuck you’ to the man. It’s just a natural thing. Other people have these thoughts but don’t have the courage to say it and seeing someone say it makes them very happy. People have called me a jerk or ass my whole entire life; the last thing that’s gonna happen is me being intimidated by that. I haven’t had anyone come up to me on the street and say, 'you're an asshole' yet.
The direct messages I get on Instagram, I would say 80 percent are positive. People are now telling me I’m being too nice. If you ride a bike in New York City, you have thought the things I’ve said. I don’t care if you are the most conservative, religious person on the planet, you’ve had these thoughts. I’ve had some of the most random people I’ve become friends with on Instagram, celebrities somehow started following me because the bike-lane stuff, like Billy Bush. I’ve never met Billy Bush before.
JC: Do you drive, or have a car? Where do you park it?
SA: As little as possible. When I was playing for the Rangers, a guy that owns like 26 lots in New York City, we made a deal I came to his son’s bar mitzvah and he gave me free parking for life, in one of his 26 lots. So he owns a lot in NoHo, that’s where I park.
JC: What do you think of biking in New York City now, especially after the now 21 cyclists who have been killed this year?
SA: My biggest issue with the whole biking situation is there’s zero enforcement. The city could probably make a lot more money just enforcing bikers — if a biker runs a red light you should give them a ticket. The messengers in New York City are totally out of control the majority of bikers are out of control. They run red lights, they go the wrong way down streets. I see hundreds of infractions a day.
JC: That response makes you come across more anti-bike than it does a bike advocate. We don't advocate for bikers to break the law but I’m sure you're aware of the amount of damage a reckless driver in a car can do versus a reckless biker on two wheels — you can kill someone with a car. Don’t you also see drivers breaking the rules?
SA: I see more bikers break rules than drivers. I think drivers have more discipline than bikers. Bikers that wear helmets and then they run red lights, I laugh at them. These messengers, they all do these dies-in. They're a bunch of whiny, hypocritical babies because they are the worst offenders in New York City, they don't follow any rules.
JC: You don’t ever break biking rules?
SA: I challenge somebody to find me running a red light. I stop and it’s painstaking some times. I know all it takes is one person filming and I’m done; all my credibility goes out the window. What people don't understand is that if you're a commuter in the city, a bike is the best way to live, especially all the options from an electric standpoint. You’re not sweaty when you get to work; it’s the fastest most economical way to travel. If the mayor and NYPD started enforcing biking, more people would start to embrace it.
I’m slowly starting to make the transition to exposing bikers that break the rules, because I’m tired of it. There’s zero enforcement in this city. I could ride naked on my bike, running red lights, driving on the sidewalk day-in and day-out, and I’m not sure I would get a ticket. If someone wants to pay me to do that, that I may consider.
JC: But running through a red light or breaking rules doesn't justify getting hit and killed by a car.
SA: If you run a red light and get hit by a car, what do you think is gonna happen?
JC: What’s going on with your court case? You just had your third court appearance after allegedly hitting a car parked in a Manhattan bike lane with your scooter and being charged with criminal mischief, and you’ve been offered a plea deal that you’ve turned down. Why not just pay the fine?
SA: It’s just mind boggling. I have no idea what even happened. I have been hit by cars numerous times. What I can tell you is that I didn't pick up my scooter and smash it into a car, that I can guarantee. So we will run the course, waste everyone's time, slog through the justice system and, at some point, I’ll win. And it’ll get dismissed and we will move on with our lives.
JC: What do you think about placard abuse when cars park in bike lanes?
SA: I also see cops parked in bike lanes to go to Starbucks, which is ridiculous. If I had more time I’d start an Instagram page that just literally exposes cops that park in bike lanes who go to Starbucks but I don’t have time. I should start weaving it in.
JC: Do you think the mayor should ride a bike?
SA: Absolutely. I’d take him on a ride. He’s so out of touch with reality. He should ride a bike in the city — and whoever is in charge of deciding where they are putting bike lanes [should, too].
JC: Do you consider yourself a bike hero? Do you have any last parting words for the bike NYC community?
SA: 'Hero' is a strong word. I’m an entertainer that I guess is fighting for a good cause: Follow the rules of the road, just be respectful. The rules are pretty clear: We have to stop at lights, stop signs, pedestrian crosswalks — you’re not going to save time in the big picture, just be respectful and follow the rules. It will make the city much more enjoyable.
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