Conflict between cyclists and pedestrians spurs calls for action in New York
Something must be done to reduce collisions between cyclists and pedestrians, activists in New York insist. But what should it be?
Cyclists who disobey traffic laws are the No. 1 complaint among residents of Manhattan's Upper East Side, police say. New York City raised its fine for riding on the sidewalk to $100 from $40 in 1996, but violations remain common across the city, according to the "Spokes" column in the Sept. 19 New York Times, available here.
"Right now, the bikes are running amok," said Jack Brown of the Coalition Against Rogue Riding, a group formed last year to try to reduce objectionable cyclist behavior. The Times reported that New York police issued 15,957 tickets to cyclists in the first half of this year, 13,632 of them for riding on the sidewalk.
Bike-riding delivery personnel for restaurants are the biggest problem on the sidewalks, many say. Cyclists who "salmon" — ride the wrong way on the street, against the flow of traffic — are also frequently cited as a danger.
Spokes columnist J. David Goodman said no one seems to keep reliable statistics on bicycle-pedestrian collisions, but he reported that two Hunter College researchers, Peter Tuckel and William Milezarski, analyzed data from 100 hospital emergency rooms across the US and found evidence of at least 38,000 such collisions between 1980 and 2009.
To put that figure in perspective, Goodman noted that automobile accidents kill about 38,000 people in the US each year. Aggressive cyclists are certainly a menace, but aggressive or careless motorists are a threat to everyone.
Some degree of noncompliance by cyclists may be inevitable. In a recent phone interview with New Urban Network, Jim Charlier of Charlier Associates planning consultants in Boulder, Colorado, observed that in dense urban centers, "all kinds of improvised behavior are going on." Pedestrians jaywalk. Cyclists go up on sidewalks. If it's "low-speed behavior," Charlier said, the danger is less than it might otherwise be. In some instances, the design of the built environment can alleviate the problem. Boulder and some other cities have installed "contra-flow" bike lanes on some one-way streets so that cyclists can ride legally and safely in the opposite direction of motor vehicles.
The conflict between cyclists and pedestrians can be a matter of life and death. The Times told the story of Nancy Gruskin, whose husband — a pedestrian — was killed last year in a collision with a cyclist riding the wrong way on a street in Midtown Manhattan. She and the Hunter College researchers were to meet on Monday, Sept. 20, with Janette Sadik-Khan, the city's transportation commissioner, to urge Sadik-Khan to track bicycle-pedestrian accidents more carefully.
More targeted action is also being considered. A bill pending in the New York state legislature would make a restaurant liable if a bike delivery person working for the restaurant rides on the sidewalk or the wrong way in the street.
Randy Cohen, a cyclist who writes "The Ethicist" column in The New York Times Magazine, suggested that the only solution is peer pressure. "I believe," he said, "it is a duty of every cyclist to speak up — gently, nonconfrontationally — in such situations."