Cyclists Need Protection From Reckless Driving, Not From Themselves

The 19th Precinct, on the Upper East Side, tickets more cyclists than almost any other precinct in the city. So it was fitting that the above tweet this morning came from the 19th. It encapsulates NYPD’s failure to recognize how dangerous driving behaviors, not cyclists’ own actions, are the big threat to people on bikes.

The riding tips are all well and good, but will they “help prevent most collisions,” as the precinct suggests? The evidence says otherwise.

Of the 14 cyclist fatalities in New York City this year, 12 involved drivers breaking the law, according to data compiled by Streetsblog and Transportation Alternatives.

Five of the fatal crashes were hit-and-runs. Of those, one was the result of a driver failing to yield to Olga Cook; in another a driver ran a red light and killed an unidentified 41-year-old man; and a third was caused by a driver who appeared to deliberately strike Matthew von Ohlen.

In three other cases, evidence suggests cyclists had the right of way and were killed by drivers who failed to yield. Three more fatalities involved drivers impaired by marijuana or alcohol. And 33-year-old James Gregg was killed by the driver of an oversized truck on Sixth Avenue in Brooklyn, a neighborhood street where trucks are prohibited.

Meanwhile, motorists have killed at least 12 pedestrians in the 19th Precinct in the last two years while cyclists have killed none. Yet the precinct’s officers have focused overwhelmingly on ticketing cyclists. According to NYPD data, the 19th Precinct ticketed just 22 speeding drivers this year as of the end of June. Meanwhile, officers gave out 100 tickets to cyclists during a single two-day blitz in May.

  • This reminds me of something that happened to me recently. It wasn’t on the Greenway; it wasn’t even in New York City, but just across the Nassau border.

    I was coming north on Tulip Avenue when I got to an unsignalised crosswalk. It took me by surprise; so I, not having a red light, rode right through. I then noticed that there were two people standing there waiting to cross.

    I realised that I had made a mistake. It was my responsibility to stop there. The fact that I didn’t stop, and the fact that I didn’t even conceive of the need to stop until I had already passed, show that I was not paying close enough attention to what I was doing.

    I felt (and still feel) embarassed about my carelessness. Worse, I felt (and still feel) guilty for having lowered the view of bicyclists in a couple of people’s eyes. One of those people is eventually going to get into a conversation about bicyclists, and that person is likely to say something along the lines of: “Those cyclists, they are assholes. One time I was waiting to cross at a crosswalk…”

    I thought about going back to apologise; but I worried that that would make me look too nutty. So I just continued with a heavy heart, promising myself to be more careful. (At least you got to shout “sorry”.)

    What I should have done is to remain aware of the responsibility that a crosswalk imposes. And you should have done the same thing. By your account you were going 22 miles an hour as you passed the crosswalk. That was your mistake.

    You should slow down to well below 10 miles per hour when approaching a crosswalk on the Greenway, even if you don’t see anyone there. In the incident you describe, should have slowed to a speed that would have allowed you to stop at the sudden notice of pedestrians waiting to cross.

    No one will ever be perfect; everyone makes mistakes. The best we can do is to learn from our mistakes and to try to do better the next time.

  • Joe R.

    The couple may have saw you coming and just decided to let you pass. Or they may not have intended to cross at all. This is exactly why the whole concept of yielding to a pedestrian who isn’t yet in the crosswalk doesn’t work outside of ivory tower discussions. You can’t guess at that person’s intent. If I happened to be standing on a corner just waiting for someone I would actually feel guilty if cars or bikes repeatedly stopped on my account, thinking I was about to cross. Point of fact I often wave turning cars through crosswalks simply because waiting for them to stop, then crossing in front of them, will delay me more than just momentarily breaking my stride to let them turn. I don’t care about who has the right-of-way. I care about doing the most efficient thing, which is often to let a car or bike go if you’re almost in the crosswalk instead of waiting while they stop for you.

    A more practical interpretation (and what I tend to do the rare times I encounter people crossing) is to use whether they’re actually moving as a criteria. If they’re not yet in the crosswalk, but moving towards it, and there’s going to be a conflict if I don’t change speeds, then I slow or stop as needed to avoid such a conflict (99% of the time this means slowing, not stopping). If the person is just standing there without moving, particularly if they had ample time to cross long before I got there, then I assume they have no intention to cross. I continue at my normal speed, but I’ll try to swing out away from the side they’re on just in case they suddenly decide to start crossing just as I get to the crosswalk (people actually do this with motor vehicles to start lawsuits).

    Of course when someone is actually in a crosswalk I give them the right-of-way. Again, this typically means changing speed or direction, not stopping. If a single person is crossing a wide street you have some idea where they’ll be in the crosswalk when you get there. I can often avoid changing speed altogether by just moving a lane or two over in either direction, traffic allowing, of course.

    A big reason for a lot of the bike hate is that bicycles really aren’t normalized in this country. Go to a place like Amsterdam where pedestrians are unfazed when bikes pass them one or two feet away. Contrast this to the US where people say “the stupid biker almost hit me” when the cyclist was 6 or 7 feet away. If bike use were more normalized here, people would realize yielding with a bike looks a lot different than yielding with a car.

  • Joe R.

    I agree here about drafting. I don’t see the why the hate for it exists, so long as the person you’re drafting seems to be OK with it. It’s also pretty safe, regardless of what you’re drafting. You can easily see around a bike you’re drafting in order to see any obstacles they (and you) would need to slow down for. Drafting a truck or bus is slightly different but just as safe. For starters, you don’t need to be on their bumper. You get a good draft keeping 20 or 30 feet back. These vehicles also have brake lights, plus they can’t stop all that fast, so you have ample warning when they’re slowing down.

  • Joe R.

    Yes, correct about the Greenway but this just underscores my point. If cyclists had a lot more infrastructure of the kind you describe, I feel they would be much better behaved in mixed use situations like the Greenway, and on local urban streets. It’s just human nature when you encounter repeated obstacles that you eventually get frustrated, and take short cuts, even to the point of seeming like a selfish jerk. That’s exactly why you see boorish behavior on the Greenway from both cyclists and pedestrians. Decent cycling (and pedestrian for that matter) infrastructure is in short supply in this city. Where it exists it tends to be so popular it’s overused. That’s why we need more of it—a lot more of it. If cyclists had a better commuting route, the Greenway would return primarily to its recreational use, which is really all it’s designed to handle.

    How can we as cyclists advocate for something like you suggest, namely adjacent bike lanes on highways facilitating safe, high-speed bike travel free of both motor vehicles and pedestrians? If we had that in this city on every limited access highway you could often do large parts of your trip in a nice, relaxed environment. You’ll be much calmer (and much more considerate) for the small portions you need to do on surface streets.

  • Joe R.

    Low visibility crosswalks are an epic failure in terms of infrastructure. We both know in a situation like on the Hudson River Greenway cyclists won’t slow down enough to reliably yield to crossing pedestrians in low-visibility crosswalks. This is true even if the crosswalk is signalized. There are already enough inherent hazards when large numbers of cyclists and pedestrians are in close proximity to each other. We shouldn’t compound it by having crosswalks with low visibility. These will entice people to cross in a place where it’s really not safe. Either fix the crosswalk, or if you can’t move it elsewhere. Failing that grade separate. That’s not as bad as it seems if we’re just talking cyclists and pedestrians. Maybe you need ~7 feet clearance under such a bridge. Have the cyclists go down 3.5 feet and the pedestrians go up 3.5 feet. That’s not horrible for either for something which neatly solves problems at high-volume crosswalks.

  • walks bikes drives

    Exactly.

  • walks bikes drives

    I have to agree with Joe here. In my case, even if I were travelling at 10mph, and the timing worked out the same, there would have been no difference. The pedestrians would have walled into the side of my bike, not like I would have plowed into them. But on the bike path, the signage is poorly done, except at the crosswalk on 70th at the Pier I Cafe. There, on a saw horse, is a sign saying cyclists must yield to pedestrians at all times. This is the only crosswalk on the Greenway where a sawhorse is appropriate. But more importantly, on both sides, in very large easy to read white letters, pedestrians are told to look both ways before crossing the bike path. Truth be told, my money says Pier I Cafe are the ones responsible for the pedestrian warning. It is remenicent of crossing streets in London. At every crosswalk on the Greenway, there should be clear signage to pedestrians to look both ways, just as there are signs to cyclists that they must yield to pedestrians IN the crosswalk.

    As for what Joe said below about intent, and I mentioned above as well, you cannot judge a person’s intent just by theor physical location, you need more. From a zoological perspective, when conducting research on animal behavior, a scientist will never consider an animal to be sleeping without physiological evidence, like a change in breathing patterns or neurological evidence. Without that, the animal will just be classified as resting. Think about the number of times you have put your head down and closed your eyes, and looked like you were sleeping, but you were wide awake. Proximity to a crosswalk, or even facing the crosswalk coupled with proximity does not clarify intention. I stood on the cornet of Amsterdam Ave and 96th street a whole bunch of times, in proximity to the crosswalk, but did not step into it because I had no desire to cross. I was timing the number of light cycles the cop sat there on the corner before he swung a U-turn and pulled a car over (highest number I ever saw was 3).

  • walks bikes drives

    I totally can’t process your comment. I am too busy ruminating where I even got those several MULES from.

  • HamTech87

    On avenues with protected lanes, we could really use a “Green Wave”.
    http://www.copenhagenize.com/2014/08/the-green-waves-of-copenhagen.html

  • HamTech87

    I’m another suburban cyclist, and I stop at ped crosswalks. But fwiw, I’m terrified of being rear-ended by a driver. Most drivers ignore the crosswalks, and the police rarely enforce them.

  • HamTech87

    The bell thing is fine for pedestrians, but not for drivers. Car cabins are designed to silence outside noise.

  • Joe R.

    The key word here is approaching, as in clearly moving towards the crosswalk with the implied intention to cross the street. In those cases it’s incumbent upon the cyclist to judge whether or not a conflict would occur if they don’t change speeds, then to adjust speed accordingly to avoid such a conflict. If you see someone half a block away almost in the crosswalk, then there’s typically no need to slow down. The person will in the crosswalk and well clear of your path before you get there (of course, you continue watching them just to make sure). If you’re 50 or 100 feet short of a crosswalk someone is about to enter, then most likely you’ll need to at least slow down. If multiple people are about to cross, you’ll probably need to stop. Every situation is different.

    On the flip side, there’s no obligation to take any action if a person is standing on a corner but hasn’t moved for at least a few seconds. I’ve seen this also. I can usually see what’s happening at least a block away. If I see someone standing there, and they haven’t moved while I’m traveling towards them, I assume they have no intention of crossing. Indeed, had they intended to cross they easily could have completed crossing long before I arrived. I will however swing out away from the side of the street they’re on just in case they start moving when I’m almost on top of them. This is a reasonable precaution. Same thing when I see people walking dogs when I’m in a bike lane abutting the curb. I’ll swing out when passing their location just in case the dog suddenly bolts into my path.

    On a bike there are all sorts of preemptive actions you can take to avoid conflicts. 99.9% of them involve changing speed or direction rather than stopping. A stopped bike can’t maneuver at all. I’ve seen cyclists who fail to properly judge situations they easily could have avoided end up slamming on the brakes, often stopping right in a crosswalk blocking crossing pedestrians. This can’t be good for cyclist-pedestrian relations.

  • bolwerk

    Why the fuck would a cyclist use a bell on pedestrians? It’s one thing to use it to signal another cyclist, but pedestrians mostly aren’t going to know what it means. Hell, I’m not sure I know what it means when I get a bell sound directed at me. Are you signaling your presence? Warning me about impending danger? Trying to annoy me?

    Just say excuse me. Using a bell just seems to promote this idea that cyclists are separate and wildly different from pedestrians, which they’re not.

  • bolwerk

    Very deserving of a “Black in NYC?” parody. Doesn’t take much imagination to come up with material.

  • It has happened plenty of times that a person standing at a crosswalk is not actually intending to cross at that moment. Thinking of this scenario brings me to Anderson Avenue in Fort Lee and Cliffside Park, where it has occurred several times lately.

    Also, sometimes the person is crossing, but prefers to let me go first, and just waves me ahead. This happened last to me in Cranbury, New Jersey during my recent very long ride.

    So what? Standing on a street corner or waving me on is the other person’s prerogative. It in no way negates my (our) responsibility to yield to that person.

  • Andrew

    The clause I’m alluding to is New York City Traffic Rules, Section 4-03(a)(1)(i): “Vehicular traffic facing such [green] signals may proceed straight through or turn right or left unless a sign at such place prohibits any such movement. But vehicular traffic, including vehicles turning right or left, shall yield the right of way to other vehicles and to pedestrians lawfully within the intersection or an adjacent crosswalk at the time such signal is exhibited.”

    Do the words “within the intersection” serve to exclude other vehicles and pedestrians approaching but not yet in the intersection? Does this permit a motorist to turn left in front of an oncoming motorist who is just outside the intersection and who has to slam on the brake or swerve to avoid a collision? No, of course not. A motorist who does that has not yielded. The language “within the intersection” simply defines where the yielding is taking place.

    Similarly, if a sign instructs you to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk, the sign is telling you where you’re required to yield. It isn’t telling you that you don’t have to yield to pedestrians who haven’t already stepped directly in front of you. What you describe isn’t cyclists yielding to pedestrians – it’s pedestrians yielding to cyclists.

  • Andrew

    The key word here is approaching, as in clearly moving towards the crosswalk with the implied intention to cross the street.

    Or standing at the edge of the crosswalk, waiting for an opening, if the other cyclists (and/or motorists, if we’re not discussing an exclusive bicycle lane) are breaking the law and failing to yield.

    On the flip side, there’s no obligation to take any action if a person is standing on a corner but hasn’t moved for at least a few seconds.

    If a person is standing on the corner, waiting to cross, because nobody else is yielding, that doesn’t give you the right to fail to yield also.

    It’s not hard to distinguish someone who’s trying to cross the street from someone who’s just hanging out.

  • Nathan C Rhodes

    There are no signals at the crossings I’m talking about on the Greenway so I don’t see how that’s relevant. My point is essentially this: there are parts of the Greenway where it is clearly a bike path, other parts where going for a leisurely stroll dominates. In each place people should act accordingly. In the prior, pedestrians should let people on bikes pass. In the latter, people on bikes should go slow and even dismount if necessary.

    So, yes, at certain parts of the Hudson River Greenway, pedestrians should yield to cyclists, exactly. In others, it should be the other way.

    Lastly, in societies with rule of law we listen to the letter of the law, both negative and positive but always explicit. You don’t get to infer what the law isn’t telling you you don’t have to do as you did in your last paragraph. I respect your opinion about what those signs should mean, but that’s all it is: your opinion. Imagine if we all got to infer what we wanted from code and law. The only people who really have a right to judge the spirit of the law are, well, judges. For the rest of us, the letter is what’s important. It seema you should be advocating for a change in these codes because currently it simply doesn’t support your argument.

  • Joe R.

    To use your vehicle making a left turn analogy, you only yield when making a left turn to vehicles approaching the intersection which will be in conflict with you if you don’t yield. You don’t yield to parked vehicles because those don’t present a potential conflict. A person standing at a corner, but not in motion, is analogous to a parked vehicle.

    If a person is standing on the corner, waiting to cross, because nobody else is yielding, that doesn’t give you the right to fail to yield also.

    I never, ever encounter such a situation. It’s rare for me to ride at times when there are so many vehicles on the streets that a person crossing might be standing there waiting for an opening. It’s even rarer for me to encounter people crossing in an uncontrolled crosswalk. Those are actually pretty rare in NYC. Hypothetically if such a thing were to occur, remember that I’m riding to the right of traffic. If the cars are refusing to yield to the person crossing, practically speaking it makes no difference whether I do the same. Were I to stop to let them cross, I’ll basically be sitting there until the drivers in the adjacent lane finally decide to, which in NYC is never.

    It’s not hard to distinguish someone who’s trying to cross the street from someone who’s just hanging out.

    My criteria for this is easy. If a person arrives at the corner, it’s clear to cross long before I get there, then I assume they’re not crossing. I’ll still exercise due caution by swinging away from them when I arrive at the corner in case they change their mind but I’m not stopping or slowing.

    If we want to look at this practically, about the only time any of this becomes an issue is when a crossing pedestrian happens to reach the corner when a cyclist is perhaps 50 to 100 feet away. In that case, yes, the cyclist needs to change speed or direction to avoid hitting the person. If the cyclist is closer to the corner than perhaps 50 feet, then the clause “no pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impossible for the operator to yield” applies. If the cyclist is further away than about 100 feet, then the pedestrian can easily cross without conflicting with the cyclist. Basically then, we’re talking a very narrow set of conditions. I almost never see pedestrians the times I ride anyway. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I ride when I do—to avoid pedestrians and especially large numbers of motor vehicles.

  • walks bikes drives

    In this discussion, no one has really spoken about body language, or any of the many other clues, especially on city streets, that we use to infer a pedestrian’s intentions. I can honestly say that Joe, Ferdinand, and I all aim to not inconvenience a pedestrian in the least, including never causing them.to break stride, if at all we can help it. What got the subject started was me basically complaining that there are a large number of cyclists who do not yield for pedestrians in crosswalks on the Greenway. My point is exactly what you said, about wanting pedestrians on our side as well, and the image problem it presents from these “bad actors.” Many cyclists tend to make excuses for the “bad actors” that, if infrastructure were improved, behavior would improve, which I am calling out as bullshit at worst, and counterproductive at least. We need to stop making excuses for poor cyclist behavior and work to stop it. This conversation, arguing minutia within the law, is all well and good, but it doesn’t matter when you have cyclists blowing through crowded crosswalks against the light. It doesn’t matter at what point a conscientious rider yields when you have riders screaming at pedestrians who are in the middle of the crosswalk which would inconvenience the cyclist. Once we stop the blatant disregard for pedestrians’ right of way, we can then hammer out the minutia that this discussion was focused on.

  • Kevin Love

    “…if infrastructure were improved, behavior would improve, which I am calling out as bullshit at worst, and counterproductive at least.”

    What alternative do you propose? A certain percentage of the population are going to be obnoxious jerks no matter what their mode of transportation. But we can have infrastructure that ensures there is no incentive to engage in bad behaviors.

    For example, the bike lanes on PPW sharply reduced sidewalk cycling. That is an infra solution that worked. In general, Dutch-standard infra makes things better for all road users. Not because the Dutch are saintly people; they are not. But because the infra removes the incentive for bad behavior.

  • walks bikes drives

    I am not making an either or argument. I fully support bike infrastructure. I use it myself when I can. I pushed hard for the Amsterdam lane within my community. All I am saying is how to deal with poor cyclist behavior that impacts the perception of all cyclists. I call cyclists out on it, especially when I’m on my bike, where I feel it will make more of a difference, being chastised by “one of their own.” But when membees of the community, who are non cyclists, stand up and argue for enforcement against cyclist behavior, the popular refrain is that if we build it, they will be better. What we as cyclists need to do is stop that refrain and embrace the community’s call for enforcement, on a precinct by precinct level, by sitting down with the decision makers of the precinct of how to effectively enforce the law. The cops want people to stop complaining about bikes, but they have no idea how to stop it because I highly doubt they are putting any thought into it. So they send cops out where they are visible to shoot fish in a barrel. If we, as a cycling community, also worked with the cops, we could get them to focus on the bad behaviors and leave the rest of us alone. A lot of people are unjustly against bikes because of this one incident they witnessed, or that one. We are limping along with getting infrastructure at this pace because we are fighting out own community while doing it. Let’s get the community on our sides so it is purely seen as a safety issue for cyclists. Way too many people are very vocally against us because of some very unsafe behavior. It will take forever to get full on public perception on our side the way we are going. And frankly, there is a lot of behavior out there by cyclists that do warrant a summons or two or four. Think about what we could get done if the public at large supported everything we asked for!

  • Joe R.

    What you’re asking for, which is basically for the NYPD to stop letter-of-the-law enforcement while focusing only on dangerous actions, is something I feel they’re unable to do. All they know is summons quotas. Their laziness encourages them to meet these quotas in the easiest way possible, which is why we have these useless cyclist stings which do nothing but turn decent cyclists against the police (and probably discourage many from continuing to ride altogether). It would be nice if we could effect such a sea change in NYPD culture but I just don’t see it happening.

    I propose something a little different:

    1) Repeal all the laws the police currently use to nab cyclists.

    2) Replace them with sane laws which are only as restrictive as necessary for safety and not one bit more. For example, stop signs and most red lights could be yields. Some red lights might need to be stop and proceed if visibility is poor. Once that’s done, strictly enforce the “yield” part. This will hopefully let the police focus on the boorish behavior we all hate but not penalize cyclists who don’t antagonize pedestrians.

    3) Start building a lot more bike infrastructure which minimizes, or better yet eliminates, potential bike-pedestrian conflicts altogether. The best infrastructure is indeed self-enforcing. So long as this infrastructure is more attractive to cyclists than riding elsewhere, it will be used.

    4) Let’s stop trying to do things on the cheap when implementing #3. That’s really what hurts us in the long run. It may be a good sound bite saying you adding bike infrastructure with only paint but typically such infrastructure is garbage. We need to implement it in steel and concrete so it can’t easily be taken away. Build whatever is needed to ensure major trunk cycling routes don’t conflict with pedestrians or motor vehicles AT ALL. If it takes overpasses, underpasses, even full blown viaducts miles long so be it. In the end it’ll probably still not cost more than a few percent of what we spend on motor vehicles but it could transform the city.

    Note this is an approach which uses selective enforcement to keep cyclists in line for the inevitable times they have to use shared space but at the same time builds infrastructure so that this shared space ends up playing a “last mile” role, not being used for all of a cyclist’s trip. By radically reducing the chances for negative interactions, such infrastructure will improve people’s opinions of cyclists at the same time it also makes trips faster, safer, and much more pleasant.

  • walks bikes drives

    Right. Think about what we could get done with the public on our side. As it is right now, there is not a chance in hell of getting any one of your suggestions to become reality. But imagine a world where we could! I realize that there is low likelyhood that NYPD would change their tune, but the point is that so many people believe there is this all powerful bike lobby that they have to fight against. But what if the bike lobby was on their side? What if Transportation Alternatives and every other bike friendly and cycling group out there said “yes, there is a problem with bad cyclists.” And instead of just saying the way to make them better is to build better infrastructure, they instead said we are on your side and we want it to stop and we denounce all those who do it and would like to see the book thrown at them and will work with you, the community, and the police to make it happen. Now, public perception stays against the rogue cyclists, but they are actually seen as rogue in the first place. Our PR issue is that rogue cyclists are seen as mainstream cyclists. And we are doing nothing to fix that.

  • Andrew

    There are no signals at the crossings I’m talking about on the Greenway so I don’t see how that’s relevant.

    Nor do cyclists qualify as “vehicular traffic.” I wasn’t presenting a rule that applies in your scenario. I was presenting analogous language. Motorists making turns are required to “yield the right of way to other vehicles and to pedestrians lawfully within the intersection or an adjacent crosswalk” – but that doesn’t mean that they’re entitled to cut off vehicles and pedestrians not yet within the intersection/crosswalk when they decide to turn.

    A motorist who turns left as an oncoming vehicle approaches the intersection has not yielded if the oncoming motorist has to brake or swerve to avoid a collision. Similarly, a cyclist who passes through a crosswalk as a pedestrian approaches has not yielded if the pedestrian has to wait or divert course to avoid a collision.

    Lastly, in societies with rule of law we listen to the letter of the law, both negative and positive but always explicit. You don’t get to infer what the law isn’t telling you you don’t have to do as you did in your last paragraph. I respect your opinion about what those signs should mean, but that’s all it is: your opinion. Imagine if we all got to infer what we wanted from code and law. The only people who really have a right to judge the spirit of the law are, well, judges. For the rest of us, the letter is what’s important.

    And the letter of the law is that, in a crosswalk, you need to yield to pedestrians. If pedestrians can’t even enter the crosswalk when you’re approaching, you haven’t yielded to them in the crosswalk.

    It seema you should be advocating for a change in these codes because currently it simply doesn’t support your argument.

    I’m not advocating for a change in anything. I’m merely pointing out that “yield to pedestrians” and “don’t yield to pedestrians” mean different things.

  • Andrew

    To use your vehicle making a left turn analogy, you only yield when making a left turn to vehicles approaching the intersection which will be in conflict with you if you don’t yield. You don’t yield to parked vehicles because those don’t present a potential conflict. A person standing at a corner, but not in motion, is analogous to a parked vehicle.

    If that person is simply standing there, displaying no interest in proceeding across the street or bike path, then, yes, that person is analogous to a parked vehicle.

    If that person is clearly waiting for an opening after having been cut off by one or more cyclists who refuse to yield, that’s analogous to a motorist who had to slam on the brakes to avoid being hit by an oncoming motorist who cut him off by making a left turn without yielding. If you’re the following motorist, you don’t get to also cut him off by claiming he was “parked.”

    In real life, it’s not hard to tell them apart.

  • Andrew

    Thank you. As a non-cyclist, I appreciate the discussion.

    I’m very much in favor of improved cyclist infrastructure, even if I don’t use it myself. And I’m happy to defend cyclists, as a whole, against accusations that they’re lawless no-goodniks. But there are definitely some cyclists out there who make me question that stance. I usually get over it the next time a motorist tries to run me over, but not everybody is so quick to forget.

  • Joe R.

    Unfortunately, in the real world you have additional complications. I’ve already mentioned the problems of stopping when those in the adjacent lane aren’t. A second problem is a cyclist or motorist needs to be concerned about vehicles following them. Stopping too rapidly risks getting rear-ended. For a cyclist this can easily be fatal. It’s also a concern for motorists. If everyone kept a safe following distance then this wouldn’t be an issue but people rarely do. Moreover, it’s totally out of my control whether or not the vehicle behind me chooses to follow at a safe distance. So unfortunately in the real world there will be times when the only choice is to not stop or slow down.

    As an example of the above, there was one time I was riding on Union Turnpike eastbound during the evening rush hour in winter. I had a bright headlight which can easily be seen a few blocks away. In case you’re unfamiliar, the parking lane on Union Turnpike really isn’t wide enough for a cyclist to ride there. I usually take the right lane. Late nights this is no problem since there’s seldom much motor traffic. Motor traffic was heavy since I was riding much earlier than usual that evening. I therefore needed to keep pace with it or risk being run off the road. This isn’t hard since rush hour motor traffic on Union Turnpike typically moves at 20 to 30 mph. Usually catching the draft off the vehicle in front is enough to keep pace without killing myself. Right after I passed the intersection with Utopia Parkway a woman suddenly comes out from behind a parked truck when I was nearly on top of her. I don’t know why she deemed it was safe to cross. She was well in the middle of the block, and there was a vehicle in front of me. Perhaps she thought I was further away and/or going a lot more slowly. In any case, all I had time to do was jerk my handlebars. Fortunately I choose left and she jumped back. I probably missed her by a few inches. At my speed of 33 mph on the slight downgrade, which was simply prevailing traffic speed, it would have been ugly for both of us had I hit her. I can’t say there was anything I should or could have done differently in this situation. Even if I had anticipated this potential blind spot, slowing down when the following car was perhaps 20 feet off my rear wheel wasn’t an option at all. Neither was moving to the left lane, which is what I usually do in similar situations. Anyway, I’ll grant this situation isn’t analogous to waiting at a legal crosswalk, but my point is even if she had been in an uncontrolled crosswalk waiting for an opening, and everything else was exactly the same, I would have been exquisitely dangerous for me to try to yield to her unless the other vehicles were doing the same.

    Note however in the context of the Hudson River Greenway the signs say “YIELD TO PEDESTRIANS IN CROSSWALK“. Your discussion is more applicable to uncontrolled crosswalks on regular city streets, not to the specific situation of the greenway.

  • Andrew

    If you have a problem with other cyclists riding unsafely and endangering your life, don’t take it out on pedestrians by endangering theirs.

  • Joe R.

    You were talking here about when people haven’t yet entered the crosswalk. Failing to yield in that case isn’t endangering anyone. I’ll grant that it’s inconveniencing them, but it’s not endangering them.

    I invariably stop, slow down, or change direction for people already in the crosswalk regardless of what other cyclists are doing. A great example is when some cyclists choose to blow red lights through a crowded crosswalk. I can’t stop them, but I’m certainly not going to do the same thing. I’ll try to yield to people who look like they’re waiting to cross, even midblock where it’s technically illegal. 99% of the time I can, but there are rare circumstances like I described where I just can’t for my own safety.

    My issue is with cyclists who can safely yield without endangering themselves but choose not to because it might represent a few seconds delay. Those cyclists are in the minority even if public perception is otherwise. I’m certainly not one of them. In fact, I’m frequently dismayed when I yield to pedestrians while turning only to see motorists turning with me who fail to do so. And yet the public would castigate me if I failed to yield in that situation, but not the motorists doing the same.

  • walks bikes drives

    Sadly, most people who are not cyclists don’t seem to realize that cycling infrastructure actually benefits them immensely. It is just a change from the status quo, where the status quo is the known evil. But thanks for being on our side, and sorry for those assholes, both behind the wheel and on a bike.

  • Andrew

    You were talking here about when people haven’t yet entered the crosswalk. Failing to yield in that case isn’t endangering anyone.

    Of course it is. Threatening to injure any pedestrian who dares to cross the street (as they are entitled to do by law) most certainly endangers the pedestrian. That most pedestrians see the imminent danger and opt to wait doesn’t change the fact that the only reason they waited was to avoid a danger.

    I’ll grant that it’s inconveniencing them, but it’s not endangering them.

    If I hold a gun to your head in order to persuade you to relinquish the contents of your wallet, am I “inconveniencing” you? No, I am endangering you and stealing your money.

    By the same token, if you cycle through a crosswalk where pedestrians legally have the right-of-way with no intention of slowing down to allow pedestrians to cross, you are endangering those pedestrians and stealing their time. (And, no, you don’t get to decide that your time is more valuable than theirs.)

  • Andrew

    No need to apologize for others, and thank you for engaging in the discussion.

  • Joe R.

    You do know you’re talking about a highly limited set of circumstances here? First you need to have an uncontrolled crosswalk. Those are rare enough in NYC. Most crosswalks are controlled by stop signs (pedestrian always has the right-of-way) or traffic signals (pedestrian has the right-of-way when you have a red light). Then you need to have someone waiting at such an uncontrolled crossing for a gap in traffic. That’s not all that common, either, as most busy crossings are already signal controlled.

    Second, as I said, I’m more than happy to yield to anyone who looks like they want to cross, even if others aren’t doing so, provided I can do so without endangering myself. If a car or bike is following me so closely that I can’t safely slow down or stop, then I just can’t yield. Such circumstances rarely occur, but they do. As a pedestrian myself, I understand where you’re coming from but at the same time I expect you to recognize that we can’t always do as the law prescribes. Often the reason we can’t is because other people aren’t abiding by the law. In this case it would be because they’re following too closely. I can’t control what other cyclists or drivers do. I can only react to it as needed to stay alive.

    Third, since you’re not a cyclist you’re probably unfamiliar with the mental workload needed to ride on NYC streets without getting killed, particularly during peak hours. A cyclist not only needs to do what drivers must do, which is watch out for other street users, but they need to watch out for street defects, doors suddenly swinging open, litter on the streets which could potentially be hard objects, etc. Given this, it’s entirely plausible that sometimes a cyclist might not even notice a pedestrian standing on the curb waiting to cross. You typically direct your focus to what is directly ahead. You generally only notice things in your peripheral vision if they’re moving (which is why a pedestrian walking towards the crosswalk is much more likely to be noticed by a cyclist than one standing on the curb). This is why I honestly feel in practice a cyclist should only be expected to yield to pedestrians either in the crosswalk or approaching it. If they yield to those waiting for gap in traffic, consider it a bonus. I’m honestly not sure if your interpretation would even hold up in a court of law, anyway.

    How about instead of these ivory tower discussions we focus instead on getting cyclists to reliably yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk when they’re supposed to? I see lots of room for improvement just by doing that. And while we’re at it, let’s also start having discussions about who should have the legal right-of-way and when. I honestly feel on the few major bike thoroughfares without cars like the Hudson River Greenway the general rule should be yield to bikes before crossing. It’s much easier to stop and start from 3 mph than from 20 to 25 mph. Everywhere else in the city yield to pedestrians should be the rule but let’s at least let cyclists have a few places where they get priority in the interests of fairness. If I had my way we would have bike viaducts along major throughfares where bikes wouldn’t even encounter pedestrians, let along need to yield to them. For now though those are pipe dreams.

  • Joe R.

    Ideally, really good bike infrastructure also seeks to minimize conflicts with motorists and pedestrians in the first place. This is another reason to support it. Yes, you’re right to complain about cyclists who fail to yield to pedestrians when they’re legally supposed to. However, suppose we had good infrastructure which eliminates the conflicts at these busy crossings altogether? On the greenway we could grade separate. It’s not as onerous as it seems. If we’re only talking bikes, then you just need about 7 feet of clearance from the road to a bridge over it. Add another foot for the bridge structure. That’s 8 feet. If you split the difference then cyclists go down 4 feet and pedestrians crossing go up 4 feet. That’s not onerous for either group. Of it possible you can keep the crossing level and have bikes go down the full 8 feet. Again, not onerous. Cyclists use the speed gained going down to come back up the other side.

    Yes, this costs more than paint, but good bike infrastructure is more about eliminating conflicts than trying to get cyclists (or pedestrians) to change their behavior.

  • Andrew

    I’m talking about any circumstances in which pedestrians have legal priority over cyclists (and, typically, motorists, unless we’re discussing a bicycle-only facility): uncontrolled intersections, stop-sign-controlled intersections (both perpendicular and parallel to traffic controlled by the stop sign), signalized intersections across turning cyclists, and signalized intersections across cyclists who don’t stop for red lights.

    In other words, I’m talking about pretty much everything except pedestrians crossing against the light and pedestrians crossing mid-block where there is no crosswalk.

    Hardly a “limited set of circumstances.”

    You don’t get to endanger a pedestrian in exchange for a danger that somebody else is imposing on you. If your often find yourself in the situation of having to threaten a pedestrian’s life because of a motorist behind you, you’re doing something wrong.

    This is not an ivory tower discussion. I don’t take kindly to having my life deliberately threatened by someone who doesn’t feel like yielding to me when the law requires. To be sure, the lion’s share of the blame falls on the shoulders of motorists, in both number and in degree of threat. But that doesn’t relieve cyclists of the duty to yield when yielding is required.

  • Joe R.

    Just to clarify, you were talking about yielding to a person not in the crosswalk who wanted to cross. Now let’s go through all your scenarios. If that person is at a signalized intersection and doesn’t have a walk signal, there is no legal requirement to yield to them if they might want to cross because they don’t have the legal right-of-way. If there’s a stop sign, you’re supposed to stop regardless, even if nobody is there, so I can assume this meets your definition of yielding to a person waiting to cross. If there’s a red light, you’re also supposed to stop regardless. The law is pretty clear cut in all of these scenarios.

    The only time when your scenario of not yielding to someone waiting to cross gets into a legal gray zone is at uncontrolled crosswalks, which are few and far between in this city. There is no legal requirement to yield to someone who is not in the crosswalk as much as you feel otherwise. Nobody using a public street has time to play guessing games as to whether a person standing on a corner wants to cross or not. Note the operative words “standing” and “on a corner”. To me if a person is walking towards a crosswalk but still on the sidewalk, it’s pretty obvious to anyone with half a brain this person is crossing. No guessing involved. I’m happy to yield to them. And if someone is standing but is in the part of the crosswalk near the curb, again, pretty obvious to me they’re crossing, and again I yield. Is it so hard to put at least one foot off the curb if you’re waiting to cross? That puts an end to guessing games and makes your intention very clear. I can’t read your mind but I can read your body language. Someone standing on a corner could be waiting for someone, could be a hooker, etc.

    If your often find yourself in the situation of having to threaten a pedestrian’s life because of a motorist behind you, you’re doing something wrong.

    I found myself in that situation exactly once, and the person crossing was midblock, not waiting at an uncontrolled crosswalk. I merely mentioned a plausible scenario where it just might not be feasible for a cyclist to yield so you don’t get all angry if such a thing actually happens to you. To be sure such things rarely happen but they do once in a blue moon.

    To be sure, the lion’s share of the blame falls on the shoulders of motorists, in both number and in degree of threat.

    We can certainly agree on that. I’m not looking to absolve reckless cyclists, either. I tend to respect pedestrians more than the vast majority of motorists even though I’m far less of a threat.

  • Cynara2

    Are you really this dumb? You think they are standing there for amusement? Pedestrians do not cross when cyclists are coming because none if you behave like humans. You all fly right through and can kill us. You are just forcing them to stand there or be killed or crippled.

  • Joe R.

    No offense but when I read your idiotic comments regarding bikes I feel like I’m reading stuff from the flat Earth society. Your posts of full of hyberbole, anecdotes, and outright lies. If bikes were really as dangerous as you make them out to be, thousands of people would be getting killed by them every single day. Sorry, but the statistics don’t agree with the venom you’re spouting. If you expect to be taken seriously here, stop trolling.

  • Cynara2

    Liar. You absolutely intended to offend. I am telling you the facts. FACT…Cyclists killed the wife of the planning commisioner here and were immediately BANNED. The idaho stop was vetoed here. FACT…the community has demanded a crack down and six new officers have been hired to stop cyclists from tormenting pedestrians. Some of you are just too dumb to get it.

  • Joe R.

    Where would this be? I haven’t heard of bikes being banned from roads anywhere in the US, with the exception of limited access highways where they’re not allowed for obvious reasons.

    Tormenting pedestrians? What are we talking about here, the Spanish Inquistion? Motor vehicles kill, injure, and frighten far more pedestrians than bicycles. The statistics are a few pedestrians killed nationally each year by cyclists, about 5000 by motorists. Any idiot can see which is more dangerous by the numbers.

    FACT…the community has demanded a crack down and six new officers have been hired to stop cyclists from tormenting pedestrians.

    FACT: The community is a bunch of morons and the police are criminally negligent for misappropriating police resources on something which is not statistically a public danger. Law enforcement should be based on statistics, not on community complaints. I’ve found there are few people who complain about bikes, but those few tend to be VERY loud and as a result their opinions are given excessive weight instead of being dismissed. Maybe somebody should sue your city for a disproportionate crackdown on cyclists when the statistics don’t support it.

    Some of you are just too dumb to get it.

    Like you. It seems despite a bunch of people refuting your baseless claims over and over you continue to post the same drivel. Stick to posting on the religious sites you usually do. At least you’re in good company with people just as dense to facts as you apparently are.

  • Cynara2

    You are a terrible cyclist ambassador.

  • Joe R.

    Why? If you bothered to read my other posts you’ll see I’m always respectful of pedestrians. I never hit a pedestrian in my life, in fact.

  • Cynara2

    That law exists to protect pedestrians…not to give irresponsible cyclists an out.

  • Cynara2

    They are banned in p arts of Silicon Valley. Specifically because they kill pedestrians. Get it through your head. Your craze will end if you do not.

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