The other evening a 40ish delivery man artfully rode his bicycle between another woman and myself who were walking on a Lexington Avenue sidewalk. The cyclist frightened us both but did not physically injure us. He was breaking the law that forbids anyone over the age of 14 from riding on the sidewalks, but no matter. The police were elsewhere — frisking doctors, lawyers, job-seekers and others who are guilty of having too much pigment in poorer neighborhoods. Even if the police department decided to make its presence visible in “safe” neighborhoods, police don’t enforce N.Y. ADC. LAW 19-176. Through the years on those rare occasions when I have seen uniformed policemen walking through Manhattan’s East Side, I have seen adult cyclists weave around them. The police have never broken stride.
Terrorizing pedestrians in New York City is not regarded as serious if the person doing the terrorizing is on a bicycle and does not seem to be an Arab. It doesn’t seem to matter much that cyclists cause serious injury to pedestrians. Each year more than 500 NYC residents are injured badly enough to be treated in area hospitals, according to data collected between 2007 and 2010.
The Stuart C. Gruskin Family Foundation is working on this, partly because Stuart C. Gruskin was slain in an incident involving a cyclist riding the wrong way up a Midtown street. (Could this indicate that cyclists disobeying laws are a threat to public safety?) The foundation works to promote safety for cyclists and pedestrians and as well. In fact all of us, whether we are walking, riding a bicycle or operating a motor vehicle are supposed to obey the law. The cyclists have defeated me: I now stop on red. When I have the right of way I for one feel safer in the path of an approaching truck than I do in the path of a bicycle. Opinions can differ, but I have learned that the trucker will at least try to stop.
So here’s how we get to Bill de Blasio, who happily is New York City’s incumbent Mayor and who has promised to look out for people who have felt ignored for the last dozen years or so. He has said that if elected he would expand bike lanes and the bike sharing CitiBike program, with a goal of raising the percentage of city trips taken by bike to 6 percent by 2020. Fine, but he has another shoe to drop before it is knocked off by a speeding cyclist. In addition, Mayor de Blasio, working with the City Council, needs to insure that all cyclists are subject to laws that govern commercial cyclists and he needs to insist that those laws are enforced. He also must see that even non-commercial cyclists are licensed.
Cyclists should be required to wear “a jacket, vest, or other wearing apparel” with a number printed in large type by which they can be identified. This number needs to link to CitiBike or to city records. If Citibank marketers have to create jobs and hire New Yorkers to issue licenses at their blue racks, so be it. Most cyclists already wear helmets, so let them sport license numbers as well. Motor vehicle drivers and dog owners need to buy licenses – why shouldn’t cyclists? Why does a toy poodle need to wear identification and not a human racing through red lights and over sidewalks? Such identification would help to apprehend those who do not properly follow city laws and it might even remind cyclists that they have responsibilities to others as well as to themselves. They seem to believe they are saving the planet…how about sparing pedestrians as well?
Outgoing Bloomberg Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, known to some as Bicycle Woman, spent tax dollars on education programs for cyclists – although you would think everyone everywhere knows that a red stop light or sign means stop and that enforcement of laws might have been the way to go. The next Transportation Commissioner, or whoever is supposed to be in charge, needs to put energy into making the privileged class that is cyclists responsible citizens as well. There is more to being responsible than donning a helmet for one’s own protection. No mention of bike lanes was made in this post — they have been good for CitiBike and Citibank, but I don’t see how they have helped pedestrians who use fewer public resources than cyclists when they are allowed to walk in safety.