The death of Devra Freelander, a young cyclist killed by a truck last week, spurred outrage among cyclists and demands for more bike lanes. So how do we prevent such tragedies from happening again?
We know one thing: A million miles of protected lanes wouldn’t have saved Freelander. She was killed at an intersection, having hurtled from the sidewalk through a red light in front of the oncoming truck, which wasn’t speeding and had the right of way.
The two things that might have prevented this horror — training and adherence to rules — are tellingly absent from the protesting cyclists’ list of demands. Not to put too fine a point on it, cyclists are frequently their own worst enemy, and their presence has made everyone less safe.
Of course, automobiles are more dangerous than bikes, but adding cyclists to the mix, many of whom refuse to obey traffic laws, has compounded that hazard.
When Mayor Mike Bloomberg began wedging bike lanes into our already crammed streets, it wasn’t to meet a demand — it was to create one. To promote cycling, he and then-DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, a bike enthusiast, threw caution to the wind and encouraged cyclists to hit the streets without so much as a helmet law, which might have deterred ridership, especially among the affluent, arrogant, scofflaw cyclists who want to use the city as their own personal racetrack.
Then came Citi Bike, offering up cumbersome, unwieldy and garishly colored bikes to inexperienced riders. Suddenly, without any training or education, thousands of New Yorkers were riding alongside hulking trucks and buses, whose blind spots are exacerbated by the speed and narrow silhouettes of bicycles.
It was a recipe for disaster, and the disproportionately influential, ceaselessly kvetching bicycle-advocacy groups capitalized on every heart-rending fatality to further their agenda.
Nobody elected the advocacy outfit Transportation Alternatives to speak for New Yorkers. It isn’t a safety organization, a cadre of seasoned city planners or even some impartial arbiter seeking what’s best for everyone; it’s a bunch of mainly upscale cyclists trying to make the city more navigable for themselves.
Yet for some reason they are permitted to dictate the configuration of our streets. The authorities have shoehorned more and more bike lanes into the gutters at their behest, even though the city wasn’t designed to safely accommodate both automobiles and bikes, making any unbroken route for cyclists physically impossible.
Many of our major thoroughfares now have one side of the street reserved for buses and the other for bicycles, leading to frequent and sudden bike-lane obstructions whenever vehicles need access to a curb or construction is underway. Even protected bike lanes are still subject to foot traffic, and everyone from joggers to skateboarders has adopted the lanes as their own.
Adding insult to injury, soon e-bikes, offering all the speed of a bicycle with none of the effort, will call the lanes home as well. What could possibly go wrong?
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Meanwhile, pedestrians have borne the brunt of the onslaught. While not all cyclists flout the rules, far too many exceed speed limits, obstruct crosswalks, run red lights, ride in the wrong direction and hop sidewalks without compunction, admonishment or penalty. Big Apple cyclists have earned their disrepute.
It’s not at all unusual to see them texting or riding hands-free as they careen through traffic. Close calls have become a daily occurrence, especially for the elderly and disabled, whose reflexes aren’t ideal for evading speeding cyclists.
Case in point, two months ago, 67-year-old Donna Sturm died after being mowed down by a cyclist who ran a red light in Midtown. If bicyclists can ride fast enough to kill, they ride too fast to enjoy exemption from the training, certification, insurance and identifiable licensing required for the use of every other vehicle on our streets.
Bike lanes haven’t made anyone any safer, but they have inarguably taken traffic congestion from bad to intolerable. The narrowing of our city’s critical arteries to accommodate a tiny minority whose vehicles are rendered impractical all winter and on rainy days seems to have been irrationally prioritized with regard to triage.
Buses, delivery trucks, taxis, emergency responders and sanitation vehicles, which provide essential services and transportation for millions, are needlessly delayed for one third of the year while the lanes lie dormant; and even during more meteorologically hospitable months the sheer disparity between the number of people who benefit from bike lanes and those for whom they are a hindrance begs redress.
The carnage we have seen this year is a direct result of the free ride and false sense of security given to cyclists by the mayor and his predecessor. New York City is not safe for bikes, and it never will be.
Gary Taustine is a writer who lives in New York City.
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