Bike Riders Put Themselves and the Rest of Us at Risk
…but how do we fix it without PSD?
Bicycle riders at risk is a weekly theme in New York City where deaths increased dramatically in the past year. Debates follow. Who’s at fault, reckless drivers or careless riders? But people are dying, and here on Roosevelt Island, enforcement of existing laws is non-existent.
by David Stone
New York City statistics for 2018 showed decreases in overall traffic deaths, but increases in some categories raised alarms. Pedestrian deaths were up, and negligent car and truck drivers were blamed.
But 2019, the story changed, and it turned to bicycle fatalities. The death rate was roughly one per week, a statistic that has not improved so far this year.
Bicycle riders are at risk, no question, but why are the hazards increasing?
Related: Governor Cuomo eBike Bill as Unsafe
Bikes in city streets…
When Donna Sturm died in April, CBS News carried a quote from her family, describing her as
…a vibrant, energetic and wonderful woman who died as a result of carelessness and negligence. She died because a bicyclist completely disregarded the law. She was crossing a street, in the crosswalk, with the light in her favor when she was struck.CBS News Report
Dameon Doward was charged with reckless endangerment, months later. His defense? His brakes weren’t working.
Bicycle advocates, always quick to blame drivers, rushed to his defense.
What’s going on here?
Are bicycle riders at risk at least partly because of their own behavior? And is the lack of enforcement putting all of us at greater risk?
Bicycle Riders at Risk: Observations
When I talked with Roosevelt Island Public Safety Chief Kevin Brown about bad bicycle behavior on his watch, his answer was revealing.
See also: Roosevelt Island Bike Chaos
“You see that on any intersection in Manhattan,” he said.
A lesson learned in childhood — two wrongs don’t make a right — came to mind.
Brown referred to bike riders running stop signs, a practice so common that, when one pauses at all, it’s a surprise. And the presence of PSD’s uniformed officers has little or no effect.
As we talked, an eBike rider cruised straight through a stop sign in front of us, talking on a cell phone, oblivious to the busy crosswalk. Commercial cyclists, that is, messengers and delivery riders, are also required to wear helmets but, like the guy coasting past Chief Brown and me, rarely do.
Brown was right, but he was also wrong.
Increasing ridership is a factor in the death toll, but so is rampant violation of traffic laws. And the failure to enforce laws is official behavior at least as reprehensible.
Bicycle riders are at risk, but they need to accept some of the blame. And so do police and public safety officers.
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One of the first things I learned when I got behind the wheel of a car was making sure other drivers knew your intentions. That was critical to safety.
Using turn signals, for example, made the streets safer.
If bike riders ever learned that lesson, most have forgotten it.
Where Chief Brown was right was in saying reckless bicycling is a constant on New York City streets.
Even the outgoing police commissioner complained about it.
On a walk along Sixth Avenue, near 23rd Street, where at least one bicycle death happened last year, the evidence was in plain view.
Bike riders race up the bike lane and weave through pedestrians at crosswalks, against the light. Illegal turns down one way streets are common.
The problem isn’t simply bad behavior, it’s the chaos. Drivers and pedestrians don’t know what to expect.
I barely think twice about crossing a street when the WALK sign lights… except when there’s a bike lane. Then, I never know what the hell’s going to happen. I’ve been buzzed by bicycle riders enough times to know I can’t trust them.
I’m sure that goes for many others walking around town.
But the worst part of the story is that bicyclists are even more at risks than anyone else when their behavior creates unpredictability.
Bicycle Riders At Risk: Conclusion
Where Chief Brown was wrong — and he’s far from alone — was in letting his observation be the last word. Accepting the status quo puts everyone at risk, especially bicycle riders.
Education and enforcement must increase.
Usually, I take a deep breath and keep going, but sometimes, I ask bicycle riders what they’re doing gliding down sidewalks and weaving through crosswalks.
Their responses range from surprise that anyone objects to confrontation.
“Chill,” was the answer I got from a middle-aged rider on a Roosevelt Island sidewalk.
Yeah, tell it to Donna Sturm’s family.
And, yes, car and truck drivers are as careless as ever in New York. No question, but do you really want to add to all that by asserting an entitlement to be just as bad?