Sunday, October 10, 2010

Talking Point Toward Responsible Cycling

By Jack Brown
Cycling in New York City is no longer regarded as something exclusively good and “green.” Many people are “mad as hell and not willing to take it anymore.” This refers, on the one hand, to the scofflaw riding and attitude on the part of rogue working, commuting and recreational cyclists. On the other hand, there is the hubris and fabrication of those who function like lobbyists and exert influence on the implementation of bicycle amenities. This is allegedly being done for our own good whether we like it or not. There is, we are informed, a morally and pragmatically superior approach at work here.
People are taking to the streets — not simply to ride for the sake of health and the environment, but to protest. At the First Annual Downtown Upright Bike Ride two weeks ago, The HUB’s proprietor, the pedicab visionary George Bliss, and actor Matthew Modine led the “upright” faction, which advocates a responsible, sensible, kinder, gentler approach to cycling. This group also hopes to ward off what it views as draconian measures resulting from a possibly anti-biking backlash.
Leslie Sicklick is organizing a demonstration on Fri., Oct. 15, at the corner of 14th St. and First Ave. The event’s purpose is to express dissatisfaction with a raft of bike culture phenomena, including rogue riding, bike lanes and reduced motor vehicle lanes.
On Sun., Sept. 19, The New York Times “Spokes” column, written by David Goodman, presented the point of view of those who advocate a more balanced approach to a responsible bike culture. This was a first. The New York Post — with a number of angry and bike-injured staffers — has produced a steady drumbeat of articles critical of the current style of management.
CBS News’s Tony Aiello produced a five-part series called “Bike Bedlam.” Aiello’s reporting presented a graphic picture of the often-anarchic practices of cyclists and the problems related to the bike lanes. Bedlam culminated with an acknowledgement by Department of Transportation spokesman Seth Solomonow that statistics ballyhooed in a “landmark” study of pedestrian safety in mid-August were inaccurate or fabricated. D.O.T. also apologized to reporter Aiello for accusing him of “inaccurate and irresponsible reporting.”
Clearly, there is turmoil in the streets and on the sidewalks. What then can be done to provide a balm in Gotham? What can be done to make the ride toward a responsible bike culture more reasonable and genuinely noble?
It is clear that this problem has been around for decades. It is also clear that it has been allowed to fester until it has become a public-safety crisis.
In 2003 the Rudin Center for Transportation at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service conducted a study, “Pedestrian and Bicycle Standards and Innovation in Central Cities.” This was done in conjunction with NACTO (National Association of City Transportation Officials). The study was inconclusive save one point: It concluded that a successful resolution to the problem would require a cooperative approach.
This concept can be translated into a task force. It would, at the core, bring together the Police Department, D.O.T., legislators, educators and possibly representatives of advocacy groups.
This group would meet to devise a strategy to achieve a responsible bike culture and meet as needed to see it through. It would be useful to have a respected transportation professional head the task force. Perhaps a George Mitchell type with negotiator skills.
It will take time to devise the necessary, balanced and comprehensive legislation and time to pass it in Albany and the City Council. Effective enforcement is the bottom line. There are some aggressive riders that will not otherwise comply with common sense and common decency. When the rules of the road fail, responsible enforcement promotes responsible cycling.
A more reliable method of gathering statistics on bike/pedestrian accidents needs to be devised. A functional 311 system could provide part of this. The use of aided reports by the Police Department would complement this. Hunter College is partnering with The Gruskin Family Foundation to gather hospital emergency room reports. This would add a third leg.
This writer recommends a shakeup in the Department of Transportation. Two deputy mayors have been assigned to supervise the wayward agency. D.O.T. both ignores hard data, such as Hunter College’s “Biking Behavior in Midtown,” and fabricates statistics to suit its own agenda. Replacing D.O.T. Commissioner Sadik-Khan with a seasoned transportation professional who is willing to listen to and take into consideration the expertise of other city departments and the needs of various communities would work to restore a sense of optimism and enthusiasm for a responsible bike culture.
The model cities for what is being done here now — Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Berlin — are less dense and often have wider streets. It takes time, cooperation and consistency to establish a responsible bike culture. If Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz can be paraphrased, New York City has been subjected to an exercise in zealotry. It’s time to slow down, calm down and use cooperation to work toward the public safety of pedestrians, cyclists and motorists alike.
Brown is the former owner of the Hi Ho Cyclery store, 165 Avenue A, and spokesperson, Coalition Against Rogue Riding

City must end this 'cycle' of violence


Last Updated: 7:35 AM, August 19, 2010

Posted: 3:35 AM, August 19, 2010

It's hell on wheels out there. Police say they're cracking down on demon bicyclists, papering lawless delivery men and two-wheeled street hogs with tickets like expensive confetti. But just 48 hours after the city announced it was handing hundreds of $50 summonses to assassin wannabes who ignore stop signs and dart giddily on sidewalks, terrorizing senior citizens and small animals, it was business as usual.

As you can see at right, it isn't safe on two feet.

"There's a certain green superiority complex," said Village resident Margarita, 36, the victim of a near-miss. "They're obnoxious."

And lethal.

A visit to a new bicycle lane in the East Village yesterday, the brainchild of a mayor who can't stand cars except his own, revealed Dodge City. Bicycles zoomed the wrong way on a one-way path, ignoring traffic lights, helmet laws and decency.

Taking my life into my hands, I stopped deliveryman Ivan Zamora, 25, as he ignored signs and rode in the opposite direction of arrows painted on First Avenue. He removed his noise-blocking headphones.

"I think it's OK" to ride the wrong way, said Zamora. "The cops no give me a ticket."

Just then, I saw a policeman roaming the bike lane, and asked if he planned to write summonses for lawbreaking riders. The cop said no, explaining that he specialized in ticketing cars, not bikes.

From out of the blue, a bicycle sped around the corner, ignoring a red light, an intersection filled with pedestrians, the cop. And me.

It's official.

You see them coming from the corner of your eye, if you're lucky. Fearless bike riders, whom Mayor Bloomberg and his minions see as the green glory of New York, have morphed into what a police spokesman said was the Upper East Side's No. 1 quality-of-life menace. It goes further. You hear it in the close-call stories shared by every pedestrian ever to tread the sidewalks. You see it in the crutches borne by a colleague who survived a hit.

"It feels like civil war," declared Nancy Gruskin of New Jersey.

She should know.

Last year, Nancy's husband of 16 years, Stuart, an athletic 50, was run down in Midtown by a bike deliveryman riding the wrong way on a one-way street. Three days later, Stuart died of head injuries, leaving behind 12-year-old twins. The deliveryman faced no criminal charges.

Nancy has dedicated her life to making streets safer. It doesn't help that the government is in deep denial, plunking down some 200 bike lanes since Stuart was killed, and failing to enforce the law.

But while Nancy's research -- and reams of anecdotal evidence -- indicates things are increasingly desperate, the city says there's no problem. The Department of Transportation reports that last year, 49 pedestrians survived bike hits. The official number has decreased from 2001, when 130 bike-walker accidents were recorded.

The numbers belie a recent Hunter College study that found, among other outrages, that a whopping 37 percent of bike riders routinely blow through stop lights. More than 10 percent ride the wrong way. And helmets? A joke to two-thirds of cyclists.

But a spokesman for the bike group Transportation Alternatives, which bike-safety activists contend has achieved outsize influence over this administration, insists that cars are the real culprits.

"Bicyclists and pedestrians are fighting over the scraps given over to cars," said deputy director Noah Budnick.

Still, Nancy isn't the only one suspicious of the city's rosy bike picture.

Jack Brown once ran the Hi-Ho Cyclery bike shop. Now, he runs the Coalition Against Rogue Riding, an organization he founded after a 2005 epiphany. Walking four blocks in the rain through the East Village, "I nearly got clipped five times" by bikes, he said.

"It felt like I was in a bar fight -- you never know where it's going to come from next. I was shaking. I was in shock."

Bicycle riders who run roughshod over the city should face the law. If not, bike lanes must be painted over, criminals stopped.

Give us back our streets.

'Biker' brawl
Commish vs. Mike deputy
Last Updated: 6:28 AM, September 19, 2010

Posted: 2:14 AM, September 19, 2010

David Seifman

Transportation Commissioner Jan ette Sadik-Khan may finally have met her match when it comes to pushing for more bicycle lanes throughout the city.

His name is Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, her boss.

Sadik-Khan is an avid bicyclist and cycling advocate and has installed more bike lanes throughout the boroughs than any of her predecessors, sometimes over the objections of local residents.

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz went so far as to brand her a "zealot," after Sadik-Khan unveiled plans to set aside space for bikers on Prospect Park West.

Enter Goldsmith, the ex-Indianapolis mayor, who came on board in June and clearly isn't as imbued with bicycling fever as Sadik-Khan.

Two sources said the deputy mayor and the commissioner had some heated words recently, which Sadik-Khan's camp denies.

"The commissioner has not argued with the deputy mayor on any issue," declared a Transportation spokesman.

Goldsmith refuses to discuss the matter.

When asked about his views on bike lanes, he referred a reporter to an interview aired last month on National Public Radio, where he emphasized the need to "balance" the needs of bicyclists and motorists.

"Policies can literally and figuratively collide with automobiles and transportation policy," Goldsmith said on NPR."

Through spokesmen, Sadik-Khan and Goldsmith insisted they're both pedaling in the same direction.

But she no longer reports just to him.

In a move officials say was planned long before Goldsmith got here, oversight of the Transportation Department is being split between Goldsmith and Deputy Mayor Robert Steel, who's in charge of economic development.