Remembering Danny Lieberman, a Gentle Force for Better New York Cycling

Before Streetsblog, there was “ebikes.” Since the early 1990s, this listserv has been a digital village square for New York-area bicycle riders — the place where cyclists share info on routes, gear, events and politics — and an incubator for change as well.

Danny Lieberman with Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan at this year's Five Boro Bike Tour.

Danny Lieberman, the listserv’s beloved founder, moderator and guiding spirit, and a mainstay of the 5 Borough Bike Club, died last Friday. He was 52. Danny was diagnosed with leukemia two years ago and hung in as long as he could. Two fellow 5BBC’ers, Ed Pino and Liz Baum, helped care for Danny in his last weeks, and many of us got to see him before the end.

Danny and ebikes were a perfect pair: unglamorous, talkative, ecumenical, workmanlike … and essential. I’d guess that the number of list-members over the years has totaled at least a thousand. Each of us has a happy story — or a hundred — about routes learned, repairs accomplished, rides taken and alliances formed as a direct result of one posting or another. Each of us drew from the list the encouragement and courage to get back on the bike, and stay on, in the face of the indignities and adversities this city throws at everyone who traverses it on two wheels.

Right Of Way, the activist collective I helped form in the mid-1990s, probably owes its existence to ebikes. Through posts on the listserv, individuals who could no longer abide the recurring slaughter of NYC pedestrians and cyclists saw that we were not alone and started to band together. The Street Memorial Project, which ultimately stenciled body outlines of 250 victims of reckless driving throughout the city and gave rise to the groundbreaking study “Killed By Automobile” [PDF], was the result. Danny came on many of the memorial rides and shouldered his share of data entry and coding.

Unlike blogs, listservs require posters to include their names and emails, yet are off-limits to the larger public. These features allowed ebikes to build a “moral ecosystem” of trust, honesty, and clashing viewpoints, noted Carol Wood, another cycle activist engaged with the list. “Ebikes changed the quality of my life in New York and brought me into contact with many people, ideas, and events I now take for granted,” Wood said, attributing the project’s success to Danny’s “generosity and goodwill.”

Danny’s contributions transcended shepherding ebikes. He was an active ride leader for the 5BBC, a dedicated volunteer for Transportation Alternatives, and a faithful marshal and ride organizer at the Montauk Century and Bike New York. Danny was also unfailingly good-natured and upbeat — a mensch for sure, but even more gentle and nurturing. “Listmom,” he once termed his job at ebikes, and it stuck.

Like so many who devote themselves to advancing cycling, Danny wasn’t celebrated, but he left an indelible impact. As ebikers consoled each other over the weekend, list member Michael Smith quoted W.H. Auden:

When there are so many we shall have to mourn … of whom shall we speak?
For every day they die among us, those who were doing us some good,
who knew it was never enough but hoped to improve a little by living.

Michael’s was one of a few dozen posts in ebikes digest #3256. I did the math, and came up with 80,000 posts to date — ten a day since Danny cast ebikes upon the waters. They’ve made a lot of ripples — way more than enough to reach from Danny’s Lower East Side apartment to Montauk and back again.

Ebikes continues. Thanks Danny. You’ll always be with us.