Put the brakes on rogue bicycle riding

By Jack Brown

Residents are increasingly concerned about the epidemic of scofflaw cycling plaguing the city’s streets and sidewalks. The prevailing anarchy creates an ongoing sense of jeopardy for many that deprives us of peace of mind and jacks up the stress level in an already high-stress environment. 

The Coalition Against Rogue Riding (CARR) was formed by a number of neighborhood organizations — including the Greenwich Village Block Associations and Soho Alliance — to focus on calming the streets and sidewalks through better traffic management. CARR advocates an increase of an evenhanded enforcement of the vehicular laws. 

In May the results a rigorous study conducted in April by the departments of sociology and urban affairs of Hunter College was issued. “Biking Behavior in Midtown” observed 5,275 cyclists at 45 intersections between 14th St. and 59th Sts. and First and Tenth Aves. It was found that nearly 38 percent of observed cyclists did not stop at red lights. Nearly a third did not use a designated bike lane. More than 17 percent were either riding the wrong way, or at various times both with and against traffic. 

This hard data gives a representative portrait of what causes the sense of anarchy. However, it does not portray the multitude of hits and nears misses that have gone unreported over the years and that activate the adrenalin of the fight-or-flight mechanism and challenge peace of mind. It does not indicate the deaths. Professor Peter Tuckel is the principal investigator. To locate the study, go to the blog site “Commuter Outrage” and find “Academic Study,” where a direct link can be found. 

On June 18, after addressing the Village Alliance (Eighth St.) business improvement district, featured speaker Janette Sadik-Khan, commissioner of the Department of Transportation, was given a copy of the study. Despite a D.O.T. representative’s assurance that the department would have a response to the study by the next day, none was forthcoming. Previously, in a phone message, an agency representative said that “enforcement” was the responsibility of the Police Department.

On July 19, the New York Daily News ran a piece about the death of Stuart Gruskin. Gruskin was a well-liked senior V.P. of Valuation Research. He grew up in New York and was a graduate of N.Y.U. Stern School of Business. On April 28 he was knocked down by a delivery rider cycling the wrong way on W. 43rd St. Three days later he died in Weill Cornell Hospital of head trauma. The bike had no brakes. The rider wore no helmet. The bike was without horn or bell. Rogue rider Alfredo Geraldo was hit with three violations. No criminal charges were filed. Geraldo has disappeared. 

A $20 million lawsuit has been filed against the Call Cuisine Catering Company. Gruskin’s widow says that businesses that offer incentives for rush delivery bear a big responsibility. She says that the lawsuit is filed to draw attention to the need for regulation, responsibility and bicycle safety. The Gruskin family is also establishing a foundation to address this problem. Ironically, the suit was filed on July 8. This was the day that Commissioner Sadik-Khan declared that New York was the “bike capital of the world” after completing 200 miles of bike lanes.

The traffic safety department of the Manhattan South police command, which encompasses the area of the study, was informed of the findings. A plan was developed with Manhattan South precinct chiefs for a “sustained step-up in an evenhanded enforcement” of the vehicular laws. After two weeks, there were no measurable results. 

Chief James Tuller was recently promoted from Manhattan South to head Transportation at One Police Plaza headquarters. CARR provided a copy of the Hunter College study. A request was communicated to Chief Tuller that he take the Gruskin tragedy into account and declare rogue riding a “quality of life” issue and “refocus” enforcement of the vehicular laws throughout the five boroughs. The response from Chief Tuller’s office was a suggestion that CARR work through Manhattan South. 

The offices of state Senator Liz Krueger, Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh and Councilmember Jessica Lappin responded to CARR’s request for action. Kavanagh and Krueger undertook the revision of S7851, which had been introduced in 2002 by Krueger. The Vicarious Liability Bill makes a business owner financially responsible for the actions of a delievery agent. Councilmember Lappin is the chief sponsor of Intro No. 624, a similar bill that has been in limbo in the Transportation Committee, headed by Councilmember John Liu. Liu and Speaker Christine Quinn are responsible for bringing it to the floor for a hearing. If a version of this bill had been law and enforced, the tragic death of Stuart Gruskin might have been avoided. 

There are places, such as Denmark and Berlin, where cycling is a well-established, lawful way of life. Transportation Alternatives — the pedestrian and bicycle advocacy organization that has promoted bike lanes, bike racks, indoor parking and other amenities — says it wants to double the number of commuter cyclists, currently 185,000, according to T.A., in the next two years. D.O.T.’s focus is on the establishment of bike lanes, which are causing controversy, and encouraging people to lounge in lawn chairs in Times Square. The neglect of enforcement toward a standard of traffic safety seriously calls the priorities of this administration into question. 

The elderly are virtually housebound. Parents of young children are deeply concerned for their safety. Animal companions are in peril. The atmosphere of the sidewalks and streets resembles the Coney Island boardwalk carnival live-target paintball game “Shoot The Freak” — and we, the people, are the freak. It is a version of homegrown terrorism. 

In a recent paper, “A Mayoral Directive,” Transportation Alternatives calls for the establishment of an “Office of Traffic Safety” by December 2010. Given the ongoing crisis, such an office would be appropriate. However, zCARR recommends, in the near term, that the “moving violations unit” be restarted. This would not require legislation. The resulting enforcement would require will, commitment and common decency.

Jack Brown is a founder of Coalition Against Rogue Riding and a former owner of The Hi Ho Cyclery bike shop, at 165 Avenue A.