The campaign to extend the use of bicycles in New York sounds like a good idea. But, unfortunately, there are enough cyclists disobeying the law to cause accidents, injuries and deaths.
Bike riders are supposed to wait for red lights. They are supposed to signal when they’re stopping or turning. They are required basically to conform to the same laws and regulations as automobiles.
But, instead, the behavior of some bicyclists is totally irresponsible. I have seen them often riding the wrong way on streets with heavy traffic. I have seen them riding on the sidewalk, barely dodging pedestrians in their path. Janette Sadik-Khan, the city’s transportation commissioner, with Mayor Bloomberg’s support, has worked tirelessly to promote the use of bicycles. She has nearly doubled the number of bike lanes to about 500. She is launching a bike-sharing program calling for 600 rental stations and 10,000 bicycles.
But chaotic conditions often cause accidents. A study conducted by two Hunter College professors shows that, in three years, about 2,200 New Yorkers had to go to hospitals after being hit by bicycles.
One of the professors said: “We don’t know how many people are injured and just go home.” In the same three-year program, 4,121 pedestrians statewide went to the hospital after being struck by a bicycle.
One political consultant said the idea of expanding the use of bicycles was foolhardy. Hank Sheinkopf told me: “This isn’t Amsterdam. We have many narrow streets and a great number of cars and trucks. “
He reminded me of former Mayor Lindsay, who hired a traffic commissioner named Henry Barnes to transform traffic in New York. Barnes initiated what he called the Barnes dance, a maneuver that, when there was a light, stopped traffic in all directions and allowed pedestrians to cross the street in all directions.
Sheinkopf recalled: “That failed. You can’t restrain vehicle traffic that much without producing chaos. We should enforce that law for bicycles, pedestrians and cars.”
The NYPD is hard-pressed to meet all its needs with a much reduced police force. How can it spare more officers to tame the errant bicycle riders? One possible way would be to give that authority to traffic agents. That might stir an angry reaction from the cyclists but, at least, it could make an impression that, in the long run, would help the cause of enforcement.
The hazard to bicycle riders is as great as the danger to pedestrians. It would be beneficial to the riders if the law was properly enforced. There’s a need for law and order even on the traffic-clogged streets of the city.
After a laudatory article appeared in the Times about the joys of bike riding, one angry citizen wrote to the editor. “How many times have I seen bicyclists going through red lights, riding the wrong way on one-way streets, riding on the sidewalks and otherwise endangering pedestrians? A few nights ago I was shocked to notice cyclists riding in the dark, without lights or reflectors, wearing dark clothes so they were almost unseen.
“Ever since my best friend died as a result of being hit by a bicycle, I have been particularly aware of this disregard for safety and courtesy.”
So should we all be. To have lawlessness prevail on the bike lanes of the city can be harmful to riders, pedestrians and motorists alike. I’s time that City Hall took more positive action to correct the problem.
The co-author of the study, Professor Bill Milczarski, told me: “There are rogue cyclists and rogue pedestrians and they have to learn to get along. We need to educate both groups.”
The physical and psychological benefits of bike riding are great. It seems a simple matter to enforce the rules.
You have to be plain dumb to ignore them.