With the recent tragic spate of cyclists’ deaths, once again the city’s bike culture — and its car and truck culture, as well — are under the spotlight, as we all try to make sense of what’s going on and figure out what must be done to make our city safe and livable for all.
After the most recent cyclist’s death, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a three-week enforcement blitz, including cracking down on vehicles parked in bike lanes. Obviously, blocking bike lanes and double-parking create dangerous conditions, forcing cyclists to veer out into car traffic. This kind of enforcement is long overdue.
However, as others have commented, we need more than just a few weeks of focus: This is a problem that needs constant monitoring. It’s not going to go away after a little police attention.
Meanwhile, sadly, in some cases, cyclists who were killed were somewhat at fault for making bad moves — such as riding off a curb into traffic or veering out of a crowded bike lane and into heavy-duty vehicle traffic.
Admittedly, New York City’s bike lanes can be pretty narrow. Not everyone rides with the speed and skill of a bike messenger. Yes, it can be frustrating to be stuck behind a clump of slow cyclists when you want — or need, perhaps because it’s your job — to go faster.
It all happens so fast on the streets: One false move… . It is still a dangerous city for cycling. The recent deaths show us that.
Ideally, the city’s bike lanes are widened. That would be a start, and would help ensure that more cyclists, for their own good, stay in the protected lanes.
At the same time, there’s a lot of talk — and critical op-eds being penned — arguing that New York City is “not Europe,” has bigger streets, faster and meaner traffic, and that we will never have a Continental bike culture here. In other words, Gotham will never be a bike nirvana like Copenhagen.
Frankly, that’s nonsense. If we have proper bike infrastructure and if both drivers and cyclists are educated about street conditions and show respect for each other, it will work.
One thing that is not constructive, however, is the level of hostility and intensity involved right now. Bike activists proclaim that every time a new bike lane is blocked, it means climate extinction is just one step closer. Meanwhile, many local residents — such as in the Village and Chelsea, the Upper West Side and Upper East Side — complain too many cyclists are rogue riders, with no consideration of pedestrians or the rules of the road. Many older New Yorkers, especially, whose reflexes, quickness and balance are diminished, really fear the thought of cyclists bearing down on them. One bad fall can be a death sentence for a fragile senior.
There’s the sad recent example of Steve Cannon, the head of A Gathering of the Tribes art and literary salon in the East Village. He died earlier this month at 84 after falling in his house two months earlier and breaking a hip.
And let’s face it. We all know what’s causing all the traffic in our city. It’s not the bike lanes. It’s all the app-hail cars, the Ubers, Lyfts, etc. The city let it get out of control. Now Council Speaker Corey Johnson declares we must “break the car culture” in New York City. How about if we didn’t let for-hire-vehicles break things to begin with? In fairness, Johnson is now at least trying to keep F.H.V.’s in check.
The younger generation wants a bike-friendly city, and, no question, we are heading that way. If we all tone down the intolerance, we might reach some solutions on how to get there, while also making the streets safer for everyone.