Bicycling concerns all of us Op-ED

| 07 Sep 2016 | 02:47


Since I was first elected to the State Senate, my office has received a litany of complaints regarding the uptick of cyclists on our streets. My staff and I regularly hear from frustrated residents who are fed up with the behavior of some bicyclists that puts pedestrians at risk: riding the wrong way on a street or in bike lanes, riding on the sidewalk, failing to yield and simply not obeying the law — either because they don’t know it, or they don’t care. Most cyclists do use their bicycles safely and obey appropriate traffic laws, but as they say, it only takes a few rotten apples ...

Cyclists who do not obey traffic laws do harm to the reputation of all bikers and put pedestrians at risk of serious injury or even death. But it is important to place these dangers in context — cars and trucks cause far more injuries and fatalities. For instance, in New York City in 2014, vehicle crashes killed 136 pedestrians and 20 bicyclists, while bike crashes killed three pedestrians and one bicyclist. And while total pedestrian fatalities have fortunately declined in recent years, cyclist deaths are on the rise this year. There have been 15 cyclist fatalities to date this year, already one more than the total for all of last year.

One ubiquitous concern among pedestrians is the dangerous ways in which some commercial/delivery cyclists operate their bikes, many times disobeying traffic laws and riding on the sidewalks in order to make deliveries as quickly as possible. I sponsor legislation in the Senate (S.4640) that would combat this dangerous problem by establishing liability on the part of the business owner who employs the delivery cyclist: if the cyclist gets a ticket, so does the business owner. This removes the incentive to pressure employees to make deliveries faster, instead encouraging them to avoid tickets by riding more safely. New York City has passed legislation mandating that commercial bicyclists wear retro-reflective upper-body apparel with a three-digit ID number and the business name on the back.

Laws passed are only as effective as the level of law enforcement employed to implement them. Over the years I have put pressure on the NYPD to ramp up enforcement of the traffic laws for cyclists, and will continue to do so. More police officers on bikes, stationed at problematic intersections, are the best tools we have to make sure that cyclists follow the law, and that violators are issued summonses.

Many constituents who contact me about these issues are surprised to learn that bicycles are obligated to follow the same traffic laws as motor vehicles — stopping at red lights, riding in the street or bike lane, yielding to pedestrians while making turns and wearing the appropriate safety gear. And to answer the endless questions: electric bicycles are not legal to ride on streets or sidewalks. If you want to ride a motorcycle, get a driver’s license and register it with the DMV — and stay out of the bike lanes!

I also believe that as Citi Bike expands, it is important to make sure new cyclists and tourists who may not be familiar with our traffic laws are informed of their responsibilities as cyclists. I have recently written to the city Department of Transportation, which oversees the Citi Bike program, urging them to add better signage at Citi Bike docking stations outlining the rules and responsibilities of each rider.

While I understand the concerns of many regarding the increased number of bicycles on the road, I also believe that environmentally-friendly modes of transportation like cycling are overall a net-positive for a city that is gridlocked by motor vehicle traffic and a mass transit system bursting at the seams. Fewer cars on the road also means safer streets for pedestrians in our walking city. The fact is, growing numbers of New Yorkers are using a bicycle as their primary way of commuting, and those numbers will continue to grow. Citi Bike membership has soared to upwards of 160,000 annual subscribers in 2016, and the city’s implementation of a network of bicycle lanes have made cycling more efficient, safe and appealing. We need to make sure that riders are aware of the laws and that those laws are enforced, but we also need to ensure that the needs of the growing number of bicyclists are met, so that they can safely use city streets

I often describe Manhattan as the “head of a pin that everyone wants to balance on ... and many keep falling off.” Because of the density of pedestrians, cyclists and drivers alike we must all be aware of the traffic laws and follow them. The Department of Transportation has helpful information and resources available on its website, including a complete list of New York City bike rules. Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group focused on pedestrians, bikes and mass transit, is also a good resource for both bikers and walkers. At the end of the day, everyone who uses our streets should take a cue from the name of the DOT’s bike safety campaign — “Don’t Be A Jerk”!

State Sen. Liz Krueger represents 28th District, which comprises much of the Upper East Side.