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Posted by on Jan 14, 2011 in Bicycle Culture, General | 7 comments

“They’ll Do It Every Time”*

I’m not anti-bike, but

followed by some cockamamie statistic and then some dreadful interpretation of the motor vehicle laws.

It’s a pattern we have all seen far too many times. And here it is again, all in one paragraph, from a fellow applauding the new NYPD crackdown on cyclists. But in a way, his complaint about cyclists not riding on streets that have bike lanes makes perfect sense . . .  it is another logical conclusion to painting lines and requiring cyclists to stay on one side of the painted line.

*thanks, with a tip of the hat, to Jimmy Hatlo

When people ask me why I’m for the NYPD’s new bicycle safety enforcement initiative that’s poised to start, I have a very straightforward answer for them: It’s going to save lives, period.

As president of the 84th Precinct Community Council, I talk to cops all the time. Just the other day I was asked to come over to the station house on Gold Street to address the 20 new cops we’ve received. I told these young officers flat out that they shouldn’t be shy about giving out tickets, because sanctioning people with tickets will ultimately save someone’s life.

I’m not anti-bike, but I follow police statistics: About 90 percent of the bicyclists killed in this city died, in part, because they were not following the rules of the road. Obviously, these deaths were tragedies and they never should have happened. But in many of these cases the bicyclists were violating the rules in some way. They were either on roads without bike lanes, going through a red light or riding the wrong way down the street. The “ghost bikes” you see in the different neighborhoods that honor these fallen bicyclists only tell half the story.

When a cop pulls a car over and gives a motorist a ticket for driving while holding his cellphone to his ear, the cop’s not being petty or cruel. He or she probably saved that person’s life because the driver won’t be so fast to talk on a cellphone the next time he or she gets behind the wheel.

The same thing pertains to bicyclists. A neighbor of mine once complained to me that he got a ticket for riding his bicycle on the sidewalk on his own block. All I could tell him was, “I don’t think you’re going to do that again.”

And it was true, he had already taken the lesson to heart — he walked his bike down the street to complain to me about the ticket!

Every single day, I drive to Borough Hall and every single day I see both motorists and bicyclists breaking one rule or another.

Often I see a bicyclist with three toddlers sitting on the back of his bike. Now, when the light is red, he waits at the crosswalk, but as soon as he feels that he’s not going to get squashed, he zips into the street — with three little babies in tow! If that’s not playing with fire, I don’t know what is.

But I bet if he got a ticket, he would think twice about jumping the light again. That’s because in the end, proper enforcement saves lives, no matter if you’re a bicyclist, a motorist or a pedestrian.

Leslie Lewis is president of the 84th Precinct Community Council.

EDITOR’S NOTE: It is not illegal to cycle on a road without a bike lane, but we made a conscious decision not to alter Lewis’s opinion piece.

7 Comments

  1. “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity. And I’m not 100% sure about the universe.” – Albert Einstein

    Let’s see… How many car drivers were killed by cyclists last year? That number would be zero. Unfortunately, the same isn’t true the other way around.

    Policing resources are limited and should be allocated in accordance with the risk to the public presented by the criminal. Even in the gun-crazy USA, criminals kill far, far more people with cars than with guns.

  2. NYC is a different world to be sure. i don’t jump queues, but i think if i had to commute in such heavy traffic it would not make any sense to wait in an endless line of cars just to get stuck at the next light. in that context i understand the thinking of cyclists who break laws designed to keep motorists in line. the bicycle really is a different class of vehicle, and it’s pretty dumb to expect cyclists to follow the same rules and in many cases completely negate a major advantage to biking in the first place. true, it can be dangerous to jump queues and ride wrong way, but i think most cyclists are well aware of this danger and take appropriate caution. those that don’t won’t make it very far. i think most of the general population and legislators fail to understand the personal responsibility the cyclist takes for their own safety when they head out in traffic. that’s a concept that i believe is lost in our culture of fear.

  3. Bencott,

    It is my impression that it is legal in New York to “jump queues” (but NOT ride the wrong way!). It certainly is in Toronto, and is a major reason why it is much faster, easier and more convenient to cycle than to drive a car.

    While the cars are stuck in a car traffic jam and going nowhere not very fast, all the cyclists just cruise on by in the bike lanes.

    In my opinion, the safest car is one that is not moving. A lot of my advocacy work is designed to enable more cars to achieve that status on a long-term basis. For example, see:

    http://www.worldcarfree.net/conference/presentations/FranzSkala+GuenterEmberger-CarfreeAreas.pdf

    • by jumping the queue, i mean squeezing by stacked cars in a single lane of travel. i’ll pass cars while using a bike lane anytime, but i know that motorist in front of me probably won’t see me if they decide to turn right, so i use extra caution in that situation. that’s what i mean by cyclists taking personal responsibility for their own safety. there is no law, infrastructure or improvement to my vehicle that can keep me safe. it’s up to me and the decisions that i make.

      • Yes, that is perfectly legal here, and I presume in New York as well. However, I’ll only do it if the cars are stopped. If they are moving slowly and there’s no bike lane I’ll just dawdle along in primary with the cars.

  4. The worst part is including “riding on roads without bike lanes” in the part where he discusses violating the rules of the road, along with the with true examples of running reds and riding the wrong way. Way to reinforce the taboo against mixing with traffic and the myth of bike lane safety. That’s not doing us any favors.

  5. “I told these young officers flat out that they shouldn’t be shy about giving out tickets, because sanctioning people with tickets will ultimately save someone’s life.”

    Sure, because we know those tickets will be for really dangerous stuff, like not having a bell on the bike, or for turning right on red, or for neglecting to put a foot down and count to three at a stop sign. If we can stamp out these reckless practices, everyone will be safer.