Sept. 29 (Bloomberg) — Jean-Pierre Prusack, a portfolio manager, had cycled in New York’s Central Park for seven years.
Jill Tarlov’s death halted his rounds.
“Let’s just stop going to do laps at this point. I’m done,” he recalled telling his riding partner after the Sept.
18 incident, when Tarlov, a 58-year-old mother of two from Connecticut, was struck by a cyclist while crossing the West Drive. She died four days later.
The accident is sparking soul-searching on online bicycle forums and renewing public debate about whether a sport born on the open road can co-exist with millions of cars, trucks, yellow taxis, pedicabs, runners, skaters, dogs straining at extended leashes, gaping tourists and oblivious pedestrians transfixed by smartphones.
The U.S. bicycle industry has remained stable since 2003, according to the National Bicycle Dealers Association, with $5.8 billion in sales last year. Yet for people in the financial industry, the sport is more popular than ever. Cycling and triathlons are a natural fit in a field that thrives on competition and that prizes speed and numbers. Two wheels can also provide an escape.
“They go riding now instead of going to play golf,” said Nelson Gutierrez, owner of Strictly Bicycles in Fort Lee, New Jersey, a store near U.S. Route 9W, a popular route for New York cyclists. Weekends see herds of brightly attired lycra-clad athletes streaming over the George Washington Bridge and north toward Nyack like a rolling rainbow.
A Wall Street salary can fund an expensive hobby. Four of the world’s fastest triathlon bikes tested by Inside Triathlon magazine last year ranged in price from $5,500 to $12,000.
Component manufacturers rank their cycle parts in tiers, providing near-infinite opportunities to upgrade and shave precious grams.
“Like anything else, if you’re passionate about a hobby, whether it’s cars or wine, you can spend a lot of money on it,”
said Brian Lee, 42, a high-yield bond salesman at Morgan Stanley who has competed in 15 triathlons, including two Ironman events, which include a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and a marathon.
Prusack, who now trains outside the city, rides a Parlee Z5, whose carbon-fiber frame costs $4,900. The decision to avoid Central Park came easily for him.
“It’s a beautiful place,” said Prusack, a 33-year-old Greenwich Village resident who works at the First National Bank of Long Island in Garden City. “It’s just not for me. It may be tempting, but I prefer to ride farther out, away from the people and away from the cars.”
Tarlov’s death was the second fatality involving a pedestrian hit by a cyclist in Central Park in less than two months. It happened weeks after police finished a cycle-safety initiative under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to eliminate pedestrian traffic deaths. Officers cited thousands of cyclists for infractions including failing to stop at red lights or yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk. Police have since increased their presence in the park.
A day after the collision, Valentina Marletta, 35, walked with her two young children and husband as cyclists cruised by.
“They don’t stop,” she said. “Even with the stroller and the kids, they don’t stop.”
Tarlov’s death was meat for the city’s tabloids. The New York Post put the story on its front page for four days, with headlines including “Cycle of ’Death’” and “Speed Demons.”
“They’re terrorists on wheels,” columnist Andrea Peyser wrote on Sept. 19. “Assassins in Spandex. The bicycle menaces must be stopped. It’s already too late.”
Cyclists say they’re being vilified and that a city of 8.4 million people should be able to accommodate all forms of responsible recreation. New York is criss-crossed each day not only by part-time athletes, but also commuters on blue shared bikes and people delivering documents, goods and a movable feast of ethnic cuisine.
“We’re not all the same, and I hope that doesn’t somehow all get lost in the mix,” said Gibson Lawrence, a banker at Mortgage Master Inc. in Manhattan who’s ridden with Jason Marshall, the cyclist who struck Tarlov. “I hope that there can be some rationality brought into this dialogue.”
Marshall, who posted his Central Park cycling times online, hasn’t been charged and his speed couldn’t be determined, according to police. The bicycle speed limit in Central Park is
25 miles per hour (40 kilometers per hour).
Like Lawrence, Marshall was a member of the New York Cycle Club, the city’s largest, with more than 2,000 members. Two days after the accident, on the club’s online message board, a fellow member proposed a moratorium on club rides in the park. Veteran cyclist Hank Schiffman responded by calling the collision a statistical outlier.
“This was ’man bites dog,’” wrote Schiffman, a 65-year- old Manhattan endodontist and 17-year cycle club member, who is also an award-winning runner. “As tragic as it is, in no way does it reflect cycling being unsafe in the numbers and miles cycled in New York City.”
From 2006 to 2013, there were four pedestrian deaths from cyclists, according to the city’s Transportation Department. By comparison, last year alone 168 pedestrians and 11 cyclists were killed by motorists, according to police statistics.
New York officials have encouraged cycling and helped to expand its popularity by installing hundreds of miles of bike lanes and introducing Citi Bike, the sharing program that supplements the public-transportation network.
Lee, the Morgan Stanley bond trader, refuses to train in the city. There’s a higher risk of becoming the victim of an accident than causing one, he said.
“It’s flat-out dangerous,” said Lee. “You can’t control the environment — there’s cars, people, gravel, sand, glass.
Bad things can happen. It’s not a question of if you’ll get hit by a car, but when.”
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—With assistance from Allyson Versprille in New York and Chris Dolmetsch in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan.
To contact the reporter on this story:
Esme E. Deprez in New York at +1-212-617-1739 or email@example.com To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Originally conducted by psychologist Walter Mischel in the late 1960s, the Stanford marshmallow test has become a touchstone of developmental psychology. Children at Stanford’s Bing Nursery School, aged four to six, were placed in a room furnished only with a table and chair. A single treat, selected by the child, was placed on the table. (In addition to marshmallows, the researchers also offered Oreo cookies and pretzel sticks.) Each child was told if they waited for 15 minutes before eating the treat, they would be given a second treat. Then they were left alone in the room.
Follow-up studies with the children later in adolescence showed a correlation between an ability to wait long enough to obtain a second treat and various forms of life success, such as higher SAT scores. And a 2011 fMRI study conducted on 59 original participants-now in their 40s-by Cornell’s B.J. Casey showed higher levels of brain activity in the prefrontal cortex among those participants who delayed immediate gratification in favor of a greater reward later on. This finding strikes me as particularly important because of the research that’s emerged over the last two decades on the critical role played by the prefrontal cortex in directing our attention and managing our emotions.
As adults we face a version of the marshmallow test nearly every waking minute of every day. We’re not tempted by sugary treats, but by our browser tabs, phones, tablets, and (soon) our watches-all the devices that connect us to the global delivery system for those blips of information that do to us what marshmallows do to preschoolers.
Sugary treats tempt us into unhealthy eating habits because the agricultural and commercial systems that meet our nutritional needs today are so vastly different from the environment in which we evolved as a species. Early humans lived in a calorie-poor world, and something like a piece of fruit was both rare and valuable. Our brains developed a response mechanism to these treats that reflected their value-a surge of interest and excitement, a feeling of reward and satisfaction-which we find tremendously pleasurable. But as we’ve reshaped the world around us, radically diminishing the cost and effort involved in obtaining calories, we still have the same brains we evolved thousands of years ago, and this mismatch is at the heart of why so many of us struggle to resist tempting foods that we know we shouldn’t eat.
A similar process is at work in our response to information. Our formative environment as a species was information-poor as well as calorie-poor. The features of that environment-and specifically the members of our immediate community and our interactions with them-typically changed rarely and gradually. New information in the form of new community members or new ways of interacting were unusual and notable events that typically signified something of great importance. Just as our brains developed a response mechanism that prized sugary treats, we evolved to pay close attention to new information about the people around us and our interactions with them.
But just as the development of industrial agriculture and mass commerce has profoundly altered our caloric environment, global connectivity has profoundly altered our information environment. We are now ceaselessly bombarded with new information about the people around us-and the definition of “people around us” has fundamentally changed, putting us in touch with more people in an hour than early humans met in their entire lives. All of this poses a critical challenge to our brains-the adult version of the marshmallow test.
Not only are we constantly interrupted by alerts, alarms, beeps, and buzzes that tell us some new information has arrived, we constantly interrupt ourselves to seek out new information. We pull out our phones while we’re in the middle of a conversation with someone. We check our email while we’re engaged in a complex task that requires our full concentration. We scan our feeds even though we just checked them a minute ago. There’s increasing evidence suggesting that these disruptions make it difficult to do our best work, diminish our productivity, and contribute to a feeling of overwhelm.
It doesn’t help matters that trillion-dollar industries are dedicating some of their brightest minds and untold resources to come up with newer and better ways to capitalize on this mismatch between our neurological response to new information and our current information-rich environment. We are at the mercy of tremendously powerful and well-designed systems crafted with the express purpose of interrupting us and capturing our attention.
The agricultural and commercial revolutions were clearly net gains for humanity, making it possible for more people to live better lives than ever before, and it would be both wrongheaded and fruitless to suggest that we should somehow turn back the clock on these advances. Similarly, the information revolution is helping us to make great strides as a species, and I’m tremendously grateful for it.
But just as we need to be more thoughtful about our caloric consumption, delaying gratification of our impulsive urges in order to eat more nutritiously, we need to be more thoughtful about our information consumption, resisting the allure of the mental equivalent of “junk food” in order to allocate our time and attention most effectively. So what can we do?
* Recognize the issue. Awareness is rarely sufficient to drive change, but it’s always the necessary first step. How often do you check your phone? Does this get in the way of other interactions? How often do you interrupt focused work to look at your inbox? Does this break your concentration or affect how long it takes to accomplish these tasks? How often do you scan various feeds? Does this result in wasted time? We face the marshmallow test constantly-are you passing or failing?
* See the tools around us and exert some control over them. These interruptions are deliberately provoked by the designers of the tools we use. The best tools we use come to feel like features of the landscape or even extensions of our own body; we ultimately fail to see them as tools. What tools are you using? How are they interrupting you? How do they make it easy for you to interrupt yourself? What alarms and alerts might you disable? What limits might you place on the “convenient” features that contribute to these interruptions?
* Manage our emotions and cultivate our capacity for mindfulness. No technical interventions will be enough unless we’re also willing to work on ourselves. Emotions are at the heart of this dynamic-the excitement and anxiety generated by new information are the fuel that drives us to interrupt ourselves over and over again, and any changes we seek to make will be contingent on our ability to access, understand and leverage these emotions rather than being impulsively driven by them. As I’ve written before, there’s no simple prescription for emotion management, but there are steps we can take: Regular physical activity and sufficient sleep are critical. Reflecting on our experiences through journaling or coaching conversations can help us understand and make sense of our emotional responses. And perhaps most importantly, even just a few minutes of meditation each day has been shown to have a powerful impact on our ability to sense our emotions and focus our attention.