Sunday, July 24, 2011
Last Updated: 6:20 AM, December 21, 2010
Posted: 1:13 AM, December 21, 2010
Somebody hit the brakes!
There's been an alarming 16 percent spike in vehicle and bicycle collisions over the past year that investigators blame in large part on rogue cyclists who have turned city streets into demolition derbies.
There have been 3,830 accidents involving bicycles, including 12 fatal ones, so far this year, compared to 3,294 in 2009, city statistics show. The East Village and Downtown Brooklyn have the most accident-prone intersections.
"This was a catastrophe in the making as soon as they put those bike lanes up around the city," said a cop in the East Village, the epicenter of collisions even with several bike-only lanes.
CRASH PEST DUMMY: A cyclist cuts in front of a car yesterday near Union Square, as bike accidents mounted for the year.
Other danger spots include both sides of the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges.
"It's crazy. The volume of traffic, careless bicyclists and too many turns in too many directions is a recipe for disaster," said a traffic-accident investigator. "Most times they don't obey [laws] and that leads to chaos."
Commercial drivers say they live in fear of hitting bikers.
"Man, it's a pain because they truly think they can just do whatever they want to do," said Manny Sosa, a UPS driver for 15 years.
Some 17,500 people commute daily by bike -- up from 8,500 in 2006, according to the Department of Transportation.
"We have too many bicyclists that are bad actors, so to speak. Too many bicyclists don't obey the rules," said Councilman Jimmy Vacca (D-Bronx), chairman of the Transportation Committee. "If they don't, they deserve a ticket just like any driver."
Cops handed cyclists 29,545 tickets in 2010, compared to 27,555 last year.
Bikers, however, blamed drivers for the rise in accidents.
"I get hit in some fashion probably every couple of weeks," said Chris Gewecke, a bike messenger. "I'll get 'doored' or something by someone getting out of a cab or a truck. They just don't see you sometimes, or they don't care."
Additional reporting by Chuck Bennett
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."
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.
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.
March 4, 2011 NYT
ON a balmy night last June, the city’s Congressional delegation gathered for dinner at Gracie Mansion. Representative Anthony D. Weiner, who aspires to live in the mansion someday, knew he would have only a few minutes with the host, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. So he brought up the hottest topic he could think of: bicycle lanes, and the transportation commissioner who had nearly doubled the number of them, Janette Sadik-Khan.
“When I become mayor, you know what I’m going to spend my first year doing?” Mr. Weiner said to Mr. Bloomberg, as tablemates listened. “I’m going to have a bunch of ribbon-cuttings tearing out your [expletive] bike lanes.”
Mr. Weiner, a brash Democrat from Queens, had expected a bit of banter with his longtime adversary. Instead, Mr. Bloomberg adopted an exasperated, welcome-to-my-world expression. “His answer was, ‘Tell me about it,’ ” said a person who was there, one of two who recounted the tale. The mayor, some guests said, made it clear that Ms. Sadik-Khan was off on her own.
The memo (pdf), written by Howard Wolfson, the city’s deputy mayor in charge of communications and government affairs, uses statistics to demonstrate improved traffic safety and cites community-based support for the lanes, which have sprouted up under the supervision of Janette Sadik-Khan, the city’s transportation commissioner.
Mr. Wolfson wrote that his memo had been prompted by a cover story in this week’s New York magazine detailing the recent civic controversy, which has now spilled into court after a group of Brooklyn residents filed a lawsuit calling on the city to remove a lane along Prospect Park West.
Some advocates have portrayed bicycle lanes as a way to nudge New Yorkers toward a more progressive, European-influenced version of city life, but Mr. Wolfson’s memo focuses more on concrete safety gains recorded by its traffic engineers.
He wrote, for instance, that injuries to drivers, pedestrians and cyclists typically drop by at least 40 percent and sometimes drop more than 50 percent along streets where physically separated bicycle lanes are installed. The memo notes that the number of bicycle crashes that lead to injuries or deaths has fallen in the last four years, even as cycling’s popularity grows.
The memo also points to a Quinnipiac University poll released last week thatfound that 54 percent of New Yorkers agreed with a statement that the lanes are a positive development “because it’s greener and healthier for people to ride their bicycles.”
Mr. Wolfson also noted that major bike lanes, like those on Columbus Avenue in Manhattan and Prospect Park West, had been approved by the local community board, and that the Transportation Department has held dozens of public meetings on the projects.
“Bike lanes are part of the city’s future,” Mr. Wolfson said in a telephone interview. “Will these save lives in the next year? You bet.”
Critics of the lanes have lodged a range of complaints, from lost parking spots to increasingly difficult driving conditions, aesthetic problems, and a risk to pedestrians from bicyclists who disobey traffic laws.
Some opponents have also faulted the Transportation Department for withholding or selectively disclosing traffic data related to bike lanes; the Brooklyn lawsuit accuses the city of deceptive practices in installing the lanes.
John Marshall Mantel for The New York Times“Bike policy is all about trade-offs,” said James Vacca, the City Council’s transportation committee chairman, at a hearing on Thursday.
The battle of the bike lanes, a civic discussion that has turned increasingly contentious and common at community boards and dinner tables throughout New York, made its way to the City Council on Thursday. The theatrics seemed to survive the transition.
Dueling protests, vicious invective from both sides and good old New York-style kvetching have been hallmarks of the bicycle debate since the Bloomberg administration began installing hundreds of miles of bicycle-only lanes throughout the city.
Thursday’s oversight hearing was the first time that Janette Sadik-Khan, the city’s transportation commissioner, sat for formal questioning from city politicians about the implementation and enforcement of the ambitious new cycling network she has been overseeing.
“Nobody disagrees that using more bicycles is a good thing, but in a city where traffic is horrendous and finding a parking space is difficult, bike policy is all about trade-offs,” said James Vacca, the chairman of the Council’s transportation committee, as he introduced the hearing.
But Ms. Sadik-Khan firmly defended her department’s actions, countering a barrage of questions from council members who were irritated and enraged about the subject.
“While there are inevitable growing pains as cycling moves from the margins to the mainstream, its growth in New York is already delivering substantial safety, mobility and health dividends,” Ms. Sadik-Khan said. “The city’s bicycle program, with your assistance and support, is a huge success.”
The discussion touched on topics like the proper regulation of conduct on the road (Ms. Sadik-Khan said she planned a major advertising campaign featuring celebrities who would warn cyclists “to stop riding like jerks”) and whether the city had sufficiently solicited the views of people in communities where bicycle lanes have been installed (the commissioner said yes; several council members said no).
Advocates argued that the lanes encourage a safer, more environmentally friendly mode of transportation while making the city safer for pedestrians. “You’ve got to lay the tracks before you run the train,” said Noah Budnick, a deputy director at Transportation Alternatives, a cycling and pedestrian advocacy group.
Opponents lamented the loss of parking spaces and traveling lanes for automobiles, as well as complaining about what they labeled an imperious approach by city officials.
Jessica Lappin, a councilwoman from the Upper East Side, has introduced a bill that would require the Transportation Department to release detailed information about traffic accidents, including a count of those involving bicycles. Transportation officials have said the Police Department keeps the data, and Ms. Sadik-Khan testified that she had not yet read the bill, an assertion that Ms. Lappin seemed to doubt.
“I will tell my staff that despite our negotiations, I guess the top of the agency is not engaged,” Ms. Lappin said after her questioning of Ms. Sadik-Khan.
In her remarks, Ms. Sadik-Khan emphasized that she believed bicycle lanes provided significant improvements to street safety, and offered statistics showing fewer pedestrian injuries and a slower flow of traffic where lanes had been installed.
But when asked by Mr. Vacca how many people in the city ride bicycles every day, Ms. Sadik-Khan could not immediately produce an absolute number. Mr. Vacca said he was surprised that the city would engage in a large-scale change to the city’s roads without a more precise count of how many New Yorkers might use it.
“We don’t have the number of cars in the street, either,” Ms. Sadik-Khan replied.
Mr. Vacca responded: “Maybe we should have those numbers, too.”
(Officials later cited a survey from 2007 that showed about 500,000 New Yorkers identified themselves as regular cyclists.)
A version of this article appeared in print on December 10, 2010, on page A30 of the New York edition.