City Council Regresses on Street Safety, Weighs Fines for Cyclists

Less than a year ago, the City Council overwhelmingly passed a raft of bills designed to protect New Yorkers from reckless driving. Was it the beginning of a new era, where street safety is taken seriously by city legislators, or was it a fluke? The council could go either way, based on a transportation committee hearing today that considered a new bill to fight the phantom menace of cyclists on cell phones.

Council Member Mark Treyger, sponsor of the texting-while-biking bill.

Council Member Mark Treyger’s bill to ban handheld cell phone use while bicycling came up for a hearing today at the transportation committee. Texting while bicycling isn’t a safe choice, but neither has it been shown to be a significant factor in serious crashes. Most of the people testifying about the bill urged Treyger to either amend it or focus on dangers that are actually proven to kill and injure New Yorkers on the street.

“While cyclists would benefit from more safety education, drivers account for the overwhelming number of crashes that lead to fatalities or serious injuries on our streets,” testified DOT assistant commissioner Josh Benson. “The Council may want to consider ways to promote expanded safety education for drivers, which will go much farther in making our streets safer.”

Instead of taking the advice, Treyger seems intent on passing the bill after he saw a near-miss involving a texting cyclist in his district last year. But does one anecdote constitute a real problem?

Council Member Antonio Reynoso asked DOT how many pedestrian deaths are caused by cyclists on cell phones. “Zero per year,” Benson said. “We did not find any reports where texting was a factor in bike-related crashes.”

“It’s a piece of legislation that is bringing attention to an issue that doesn’t even exist,” Reynoso said. “It’s very dangerous to do that. ‘We should start asking pedestrians to start wearing reflectors when they cross the street, just in case, because they might be the problem next. The problems are not pedestrians, they are not cyclists. They are vehicles, and I just think that we are fooling ourselves with these pieces of legislation.”

Reynoso contrasted the texting legislation with another bill Treyger supports, which would exempt MTA bus drivers from the Right-of-Way Law. Last year, drivers killed 138 pedestrians in New York City, including nine struck by MTA bus drivers. In eight of those deaths, the bus driver failed to yield to someone with the right of way.

“We’re here talking about improving safety, when the real problem and the real concern are the extremely dangerous vehicles that we have in our streets that are causing deaths,” Reynoso said. “It makes no sense to me that we’re looking to enforce something that doesn’t exist and ignore something that is absolutely a problem.”

After the hearing, Streetsblog asked Treyger if he also supports a ban on texting while crossing the street. While he isn’t proposing a bill now, he didn’t rule it out.

Much of today’s hearing was spent chewing over Treyger’s texting bill, though the committee did vote on some legislation:

  • Using car-share to reduce the size of the city’s vehicle fleet: Intro 597-A, introduced by Council Member Ritchie Torres, would require the city to expand use of car-share technology, which has already reduced the city’s fleet by more than 450 vehicles, to further cut the size of its vehicle fleet by two percent a year through 2019 and by one percent in 2020. The bill, which passed 13-0, requires annual progress reports and exempts vehicles “used for emergency response, inspection or enforcement” in the city’s 26,000-vehicle fleet.
  • Codifying Bus Rapid Transit planning: Intro 211-A, a long-standing proposal from Council Member Brad Lander, would formalize the city’s BRT plans by requiring DOT to consult with the MTA in developing a BRT blueprint, including routing and cost estimates, with updates every two years. The bill passed 12-0, save for Council Member I. Daneek Miller, who cited his opposition to Select Bus Service between Flushing and Jamaica as the reason for his abstention.

The bills now advance to a vote before the full City Council tomorrow. Three other bills were also on today’s agenda, though they were not up for a vote:

  • Codifying Citi Bike data and financial reporting: A pair of bills, one from Lander and another from committee chair Ydanis Rodriguez, would require the city to post bike-share financial information and anonymized trip data online. This information is currently available on the Citi Bike website.
  • Civil penalties for bicycle and car theft: Another bill would establish civil penalties, in addition to criminal penalties, between $500 and $1,000 for stealing a bicycle and between $5,000 and $7,500 for stealing a motor vehicle. Bicycle thefts reported to NYPD have risen consistently: 2,894 in 2011, 3,503 in 2012, 4,249 in 2013, and 4,849 last year. So far this year, there have been 532 reported thefts. NYPD attributes the increase to the rising popularity of cycling.
  • Bike education courses instead of a fine for first-time bike offenses: Finally, a bill from Treyger would allow cyclists who receive their first traffic ticket to take a bike education course instead of paying a fine. NYPD was generally supportive of the bill, but requested minor changes to clarify that administrative law judges, and not police officers, are responsible for determining the appropriate punishment.
  • BBnet3000

    “It’s a piece of legislation that is bringing attention to an issue that doesn’t even exist,” Reynoso said. “It’s very dangerous to do that. ‘

    Thank you, thank you, thank you Council Member Reynoso for being a voice of reason against Treyger’s pointless anti-Vision Zero distraction.

  • AlexWithAK

    Treyger’s push for a texting while cycling law while simultaneously supporting exempting bus drivers from punishment for running people over would be comical if people’s lives weren’t at stake. It’s almost like something out of Parks and Rec and Reynoso is Leslie Knope.

    I’m still deeply disappointed that Carlos Menchaca got on board with Treyger’s silly bill. It really hurt his otherwise strong street safety credibility. I will say I like the idea of letting cyclists take a safety course for a first time violation, but that’s a small consolation for everything else.

  • Voter

    “NYPD was generally supportive of the bill, but requested minor changes to clarify that administrative law judges, and not police officers, are responsible for determining the appropriate punishment.”

    Serious question: does this mean that if you get a ticket while riding a bicycle, you’d have to go to court, have a hearing, and then, if the judge approves, attend a bike safety course of yet-to-be-determined duration? If so, it seems like a heck of a lot of time and red tape all for say, running a red light at a T intersection on Flushing Avenue.

  • AlexWithAK

    On the up side, it would reduce the easy revenue incentive of that kind of BS sting. Although I’m sure the NYPD would happily do it out of spite for cyclists.

    Also, couldn’t they just amend the law to state that the punishment for a first offense is a safety class?

  • JudenChino

    It’s shit like this that seriously makes me want to leave NYC. Fuck this little schmuck Trayger. What the fuck is his problem? Let’s exempt bus drivers when they’re negligent and such negligence leaves to death or serious injury but let’s fine bikes for when they look at their phone while riding, which leads to serious injury almost never.

    And yes, I not infrequently look at my phone while riding and I sometimes even talk with one headphone in. Like, when I ride home, with lights on, at a slow speed, along the empty ass greenway, after midnight; I’m not bothering anyone if I click to the next tunein radio station or switch to the Dodgers game (like I did last night). But, if some hyper vigiliant cop sees me, I could get a $200 tix? WTF. Seriously, what a little schmuck.

  • Voter

    To be blunt, texting cyclists and dead pedestrians don’t give campaign donations, but the TWU does. Treyger’s fact-free politicking is disgusting. It has real-world consequences for New Yorkers who care more about crossing the street safely than whether or not some guy from Brooklyn gets a few extra bucks for his re-election campaign. It’s shameful.

  • Andrew
  • ddartley

    If Treyger’s texting bill passes, here’s what it will accomplish: more people who already see the worst in cyclists will just get angrier, knowing that the unwise behavior they happen to witness now and then now actually IS illegal. So they’ll get all steamed that some cyclists STILL text even though it’s now illegal; they’ll go to Precinct Community Council meetings, they’ll either bitch at or extol the cops about enforcement, precincts here and there will conduct one or two crackdowns over the course of 2 or 3 years and write some tickets to some people who weren’t likely to hurt anyone anyway; those cyclists will get angry and then, unfortunately, become for a time the one and only visible, audible representation in NYC of cyclists and bike advocates. Then the crackdowns will fade away, and bike-haters will still fume. So the bill will make no one safer, and everyone angrier.

  • Tyson White

    Just to keep things in perspective: It is still legal for motorists to text if using a mounted device. I’d like to see that banned first before we move on to Treyger’s bill.

  • Ian Dutton

    No kidding! Can you believe that the baby in the stroller wasn’t required to wear a helmet and be covered in reflective paint? WHERE ARE THE LAWS?

  • JudenChino

    To say nothing of the fancy computers that double as radios in the dash nowadays. I end up spending 5 minutes trying to sync my phone with blue tooth. That shit is distracting . . .

  • HamTech87

    Is this true? fwiw, I have occasionally seen people on bikes looking at map directions while cycling, but I see drivers do this every day.

  • Joe R.

    Yet another proposal by the City Council to solve yet another nonexistent problem. Now I may find texting cyclists and pedestrians annoying at times but dangerous? Maybe to themselves but that’s it. Seriously, most of the texting cyclists I see are going at walking pace. It’s really next to impossible to text and ride a bike at a clip where it might be dangerous to bystanders. Chances are great a person attempting this will be on the ground in half a block after hitting a pothole he/she didn’t see. This would all be funny except for the fact so many of our existing laws passed by the City Council have accomplished just about nothing except to give the police free reign to harass people who are largely not dangerous. Just off the top of my head:

    1) Closing parks at night and giving fines for being in a closed park

    2) Citiwide prohibitions on sidewalk cycling instead of targeted prohibitions only in areas with crowded sidewalks.

    3) The electric bike ban.

    4) Not allowing adults without children to sit in playgrounds (guess granny can’t feed the squirrels any more while watching the kids play).

    5) Open container laws (i.e. you can arrest unruly drunks under disorderly conduct laws — no need to harass those who might be having a beer on a park bench bothering nobody).

    6) Locking up spray paint in stores. Hey, that’s really stopped graffiti — NOT!

    7) Highly restrictive gun control laws. Yes, keep guns out of the hands of criminals, the mentally ill, and require training. Don’t have a virtual prohibition on carry permits for all but the politically connected. Then again, the parking placard system reeks of the same elitism.

    Please feel free to add to the list. If Treyger’s silly bill passes, he’ll doubtless be in some “illustrious” company.

  • Joe R.

    Of course if that had been a bike instead of a car all hell would be breaking loose. Honestly, I’m in disbelief at the sheer numbers of people killed/injured by cars in this city while on sidewalks. A sidewalk is one place where a person should reasonably expect to never be hit by a car no matter how little attention they’re paying to the world around them.

  • These guys are all about personal responsibility until they or someone they know might have to be responsible.

    https://twitter.com/IDaneekMiller/status/588503945930092544

  • BBnet3000

    That’s right around the corner from City Hall. What kind of car does Treyger drive? He probably doesn’t take the subway into work and he sure as hell doesn’t bike.

  • AnoNYC

    Perfect example of why more street trees and planters are beneficial to the city. They double as effective bollards. I see none on that street.

  • Andres Dee

    “Bicyclers are all scofflaws, all riding the wrong way and running lights and stuff. Let’s pass laws to keep them under control. Let’s spray them with glow paint. Pede(de)strians are all scofflaws, with their phones and their earbuds. Let’s pass laws to control them. And give them some crosswalk flags (when you’re out of flags, you’re out of luck).”

  • Mathew Smithburger

    How about the NYC City Council consider a congestion tax on 5,000 lb truckcars?

  • Larry Littlefield

    If it passes, I’d bet tickets for texting while cycling to cyclists who are not texting while cycling will exceed tickets for those actually texting while cycling by 1000-fold.

    The punishment for not texting while cycling during a period when the police are seeking to make quota will be either the loss of a day off or a fine.

    Are not cyclists already required to keep one hand on the steering wheel? How do you text while cycling anyway?

  • joe shabadoo
  • qrt145

    I read somewhere that the bill won’t apply to state VTL violations, such as running red lights. It would only apply to violations invented by the city council, such as using cell phones while riding.

  • stairbob

    I’m screwed; my bike doesn’t have a steering wheel.

  • JoshNY

    “A car mounted the sidewalk…”

    Tell me more about this miraculous driverless car!

  • Joe R.

    I’m wondering about that myself. I’m a pretty competent bike handler but I can’t for the life of me figure out how I would be able to text and ride at the same time without doing a faceplant in short order. Maybe these habitual cycling texters should consider joining the circus. Their acrobatics are at least on par with anything I’ve seen in a circus.

  • ddartley

    The bill doesn’t apply only to texting. I said “texting” as shorthand but the bill is broader than that.

  • Miles Bader

    Come to Japan you can see bicyclists browsing the web with one hand, holding an umbrella with their other hand, smoking a cigarette with their other hand, and somehow managing to steer the bike through crowds of pedestrians with whatever appendages are left. Luckily they can hang the bags of groceries from the handlebars, so they don’t interfere…too much…. oO;

  • Miles Bader

    Hmmm, they say the damage to the roadway is proportional to the cube of the weight or something like that…. So how about making the tax similar?

  • Tyson White

    I’m actually not 100% certain on this one. I was once pulled over several years ago while driving upstate on a highway, and told the cop I was trying to use the GPS navigation on my phone and asked him what the rule is about that. He said it’s ok if it’s mounted and then he let me go.

    In hindsight, he should have ticketed me. Just warning drivers and letting them go is a waste of time and public resources. I understand cops want to be nice and not punish people, but being extracted from a car with a hurst tool while you’re bleeding to death because another driver was texting isn’t nice either. But I digress.

    I was trying to read the NYS law online to learn if texting on a mounted phone is legal. The legalese is not easy to read. Any help would be appreciated!

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