New Yorkers need to learn to share streets

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Cyclists use the bike lane near Stuy Town  correctly, which author Susan Turchin would like to see happen more often. (Photo by Susan Turchin)

Cyclists use the bike lane near Stuy Town correctly, which author Susan Turchin would like to see happen more often. (Photo by Susan Turchin)

By Susan Turchin

We have an unspoken and somewhat unconscious agreement with each other. As pedestrians, when we step off the curb to cross the street and we have the green light, we expect and trust that traffic will stop and we will safely cross to the other side. But now, with increased bike traffic, this unspoken agreement is null and void. When our fabulous new bike lanes came into being all bets were off.

We need a crash course in how to share our streets. I have just returned from Europe, Vienna and Budapest. Two cities where bikes, pedestrians and cars share the roads with ease and respect. Bikes obey the traffic lights and actually stop when the light is red. Pedestrians do the same.  No jay-walking. No bikes going down one way street in the opposite direction. Everyone obeys the rules and everyone safely shares the streets.

Case in point. Tonight I rode my bike home from work. A pleasant evening. The right temperature and Ninth Avenue has a nice down slope so the ride was easy. But…

There were pedestrians walking in the bike path all over Ninth Avenue for no apparent reason, since the sidewalks were clear. And there were countless food delivery guys on their motorized bikes riding up Ninth Avenue in the wrong direction on the one-way street. Pedestrians were crossing the streets in the crosswalks against the red light and also jay-walking in the middle of the block crossing into the bike lane without looking or right to be there. Ringing my trusty bicycle bell did not deter them.

To complicate matters even further, there were the other bikers cursing at me each time I stopped for a red light at an intersection, and many times these other bikers decided to swerve onto the sidewalk rather than stop along with me.

Moving onto 18th Street to go crosstown from Ninth Avenue I saw a biker down on the ground, his head cracked open, bleeding on the street. He had been riding his small folding bicycle without any helmet. Not sure what happened but he did not look well.

On the other end of the spectrum, a few months ago, as a pedestrian using our streets, I was run down by a morning biker going really rapidly the wrong way on a one-way street. She went flying off her bike and I crashed down to the pavement as she ran into me. I had looked for traffic in the direction of the one-way street not expecting traffic from the wrong way.  We both we left wounded and bleeding.

So here we are. Pedestrians, bikers, cars – all sharing the same streets. New Yorkers. Used to jay-walking. Used to crossing any street at any time. Used to biking on one-way streets in the wrong direction and biking on sidewalks.

I am so disappointed and concerned that the public did not have a crash course in how to share our streets before another 6,000 bicycles were let loose on the roads of Manhattan. The launch of this wonderful bike share program and bike lanes seems to go un-thought through. Something needs to be done. We need education and we needed it before the bike paths went into use months ago. And we need it more now.

Please do something before there are more guys and gals lying in the street bloody each night of the week.

Susan Turchin is a concerned bike rider and resident of Stuyvesant Town.

8 thoughts on “New Yorkers need to learn to share streets

  1. Transportation Alternatives is an organization that has repeatedly offered to help the city with more on-street bicycle education activities. And Bike New York (I believe they’re a CitiBike partner) offers bike training classes to the public.

    The main city agencies in charge of street safety are NYC DOT and the NYPD; both are very well aware of the issues that can arise as cycling becomes more popular, yet both agencies seem wholly unprepared to spread helpful information about the changing streetscape. NYPD goes as far as to set up ticketing stings at traffic lights that DOT has intentionally set to turn red earlier than the other traffic light – this gives the appearance that someone is doing something, but it’s clearly not helping very much.

  2. Yes Susan, and as you can see from the response from the Transportation Alternatives zealots, they’re being victimized by those nasty red lights that the NYPD has so selfishly changed from green to red.

    You’re dealing with a generation that’s expecting to be entitled to do what they please, without rules, regulations or consequences. Why on earth the Bloomberg administration courted this group of millennials to New York is beyond me. They can’t afford to rent their own apartments and insist on riding their training wheel free bicycles like maniacs through the streets. NYC has simply become a modern urban disaster, stripped of its soul, its humanity, its character, old world charm, perseverance, respect for its citizenry and its institutional memory. Those of us with any sort of self determination and the means, have fled.

    It was fun while it lasted, and I miss Ed Koch.

    • Unfortunately, a large number of cyclists don’t seem to think (as if they could think) that traffic laws are for them. CitiBike needs to EDUCATE, not just permit any jackass to rent a bike. Apology to jackasses and to cyclists who do obey the Traffic laws.

      • The thing about cyclists that obey the law (and, more importantly, watch out for fellow road users) is that we don’t want apologies for slips in the discourse – we want a society that is invested in our well-being. This is not some fringe movement. There are far more people living in Manhattan who bike to/for work in Manhattan than there are people living in Manhattan who drive to work in Manhattan. (And obviously a majority slice of the pie that relies on transit) Everybody should be able to get around safely and harassment-free. There’s still a lot to address (particularly with a city that clings to 1950’s notions of street usage, including all this low-cost parking around for the first takers) but we don’t get a good start to that conversation when others lead with “ALL CYCLISTS ARE ILLEGAL, I’VE NEVER SEEN ONE STOP FOR A RED LIGHT”. That is not just an absurdity of fact but a way of making someone’s commute and someone’s safety disposable from the outset… and it immediately pollutes the conversation with the notion that cyclists need to prove their worth. It’s just so much easier to start with, “You are worth something & we will make sure you are treated that way, but non-threatening behavior is what we need to see from you, too”.

        (There is another thread here about how endangering behavior doesn’t necessarily correlate with the law for bicycles since the infrastructure & regulations are automobile-oriented, that not all strictly illegal uses are unsafe + plenty of legal behavior is risky and endangering, but that’s a discussion for another time. The central concern is that bicyclists preserve the safety of bystanders, not just cover their butts against citations)

  3. Susan, you forgot to mention the cyclists who stop in the crosswalks and refuse to move, even when they’re asked or told. You forgot to mention that older citizens may not have necks that are flexible enough to swivel in all directions at lightning speed to check for bikers. You didn’t mention the cyclists who ride through the designated traffic signals for them when they’re red. I have nearly been hit so many times, I’m lucky to be alive and uninjured (so far). And I have yet to see any cop in any precinct do anything about this hazard. But I read about lots of bikers complaining about why the streets are unsafe for them (talking to you, Transportation Alternatives. And why don’t you launch your own education offensive?).

  4. Transportation Alternatives is a quasi terrorist organization that has threatened politicians to get their way. Period! Jerks like Garodnick have succumbed to their will repeatedly.

  5. Unfortunately, a large number of cyclists don’t seem to think (as if they could think) that traffic laws are for them. CitiBike needs to EDUCATE, not just permit any jackass to rent a bike. Apology to jackasses and to cyclists who do obey the Traffic laws.

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