Bicycle Riders At Risk

But who’s at fault and how do we fix it?

Bicycle riders at risk is a weekly theme in New York City where deaths increased dramatically, this year. Debates follow over who’s at fault, reckless drivers or careless riders? But people are dying, and no one has convincing answers on how to stop it.

Bicycle riders at risk
Bike riding advocates are quick to blame car and truck drivers, but many cyclists have little regard for safety, for themselves or others. We see, on Roosevelt Island, that lack of knowledge and enforcement leads to chaos.

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 this year, although statistics aren’t final, the story is certain to be about bicycle fatalities. The death rate is nearly one per week.

Bicycle riders are at risk, no question, but why are the hazards increasing?

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?

Bicycle Riders at Risk: Observations

When I approached Roosevelt Island Public Safety Chief Kevin Brown about bad bicycle behavior on his watch, his answer was revealing.

“You see that on any intersection in Manhattan,” he said.

He was referring to riders running stop signs, a practice so common that, when a bike rider pauses at all, it gets your attention.

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.

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.

Bicycle riders are at risk, but they need to accept some of the blame.

Lessons forgotten

One of the first things I was taught when I learned to drive a car was that making sure other drivers knew your intentions was critical to safety.

That is, using turn signals and driving predictably made the streets safer.

If bike riders ever learned that lesson, many have forgotten it.

Where Chief Brown was right was in saying reckless bicycling is a constant on New York City streets. A walk on Sixth Avenue, near 23rd Street, where at least one bicycle death happened this year, the evidence is in plain view.

Bike riders race up the bike lane and weave through pedestrians at crosswalks, against the light. Illegal turns taking them the wrong way 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 risky 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 their 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 entitlement to be just as bad?

Or worse?


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