“Modal Bias” on Brian Lehrer Today at 11:20 am

Streetsblog editor Aaron Naparstek will be talking with Brian and others about why motorists, cyclists and pedestrians don’t seem to get along too well these days. Feel free to call in. 93.9 FM. From the WNYC web site:

Why cyclists, drivers and pedestrians can’t just get along, with Aaron Naparstek, editor of Streetsblog, a blog that advocates for cycling issues, Robert Sinclair, manager of media relations for AAA New York, Harris Silver, founder of a pedestrian rights advocacy group called CityStreets.

  • nobody

    It’s good to have some dialogue on this issue. I hope the point will be made that this “not getting along” has more to do with automobile dominance rather than any artificial division between people riding bikes and people walking.

    As a side note, can anybody explain what CityStreets has actually ever done for pedestrians? They seem to promote Segways, which would seem to be counter to their mission.

  • “Streetsblog, a blog that advocates for cycling issues”

    Silly me, I always thought this place was for pedestrian issues! What is the difference, anyway? I guess I could “tune in” and hear about how a bunch of grumpy old men don’t like cyclists and how some cyclists don’t like them back. This is so 20th century.

  • CityStreets seems to have also stopped updating their website at the end of 2005…

    Charles Komanoff and Bette Dewing would have been much better pedestrian folks, or even a variety of folks from Transportation Alternative’s safe routes for seniors/schools, etc.

  • jon jon

    I can’t believe Aaron tried to justify why he rides on the sidewalk with his toddler. Essentially, it’s because the rodes feel too dangerous, so it’s okay for him to ride on the sidewalk? How about if it’s unsafe, you just walk?? The rationalization is simply a selfish one. Way to advocate!

  • jon jon

    roads, not rodes.

  • Frank

    Never heard of this group citystreets. They must be doing a really great job of speaking out for pedestrians. No wonder talk radio is such a wasteland. They get some unknown to represent pedestrians and ignore Transportation Alternatives which is in the papers seems like everyday for some kind of pedestrian friendly something.

  • I thought this blog advocated livable streets. Not Just cyclist issues… Seriously. It’s about livable streets and bikes are just one part of the picture right?

    I mean, if I was going to be selfish about it I’d be against congestion pricing for example, because *as a biker* I find that congestion really helps me move through intersections faster. The cars are all just stitting there not moving at all and I feel safer. It’s bad for my lungs though. They should just turn off their motors.

    But, we have to think about the whole city, not just the things that makes us happy as individuals, so that’s what I support that issue. It’s so that kids can breathe less fumes, and even so that people in cars can actually use them in an efficient way. The money for public transport will help peds. So, it’s better in the long run for everyone, even if I’ll miss those holland tunnel traffic jams… oh and the gridlock of 2nd ave at 9:30 *sniff* those were such fun times…

  • Astute Blancoponte


    most potential cyclists find traffic weaving unsafe and uncomfortable. as in london, pricing will free up street space so that the DOT can more easily punch in protected bike lanes.

  • I missed this. What did Sinclair have to say?

  • Astute Blancoponte: I know, I know… *sigh*

  • I’m sure I could have been clearer. I wasn’t advocating for riding a bike on the sidewalk. I was trying to say that we need better bike infrastructure to make it easier for parents hauling little kids, seniors, kids and other vulnerable users to travel more easily by bike on NYC streets. Until that day comes, I know that I’m going to be using sidewalks during part of morning trip to drop the kid at daycare (though, it should be noted that I’m mostly riding through the Gowanus section of Brooklyn and there are virtually no peds using the sidewalks at that time.)

    Also, Jon, don’t assume that option #2 would be to walk the kid to school. If we couldn’t make that bike trip we’d probaby use our car. Would that be less selfish?

  • The sidewalk on the south side of 11th street, block west of Broadway, is ruined by traffic for a garage and car rental place there. I’ve avoided the block entirely after an argument with an employee of the lot directing out-of-towners to cut me off with their rental cars in the sidewalk. Almost any time you look there’s a car driving through, or stopped, on that sidewalk. It’s a real life problem!

    But bicycles on the sidewalk? I notice about one a week, have never been hit, or even inconvenienced, and have been startled maybe once or twice in my life. Pedestrians whining about cyclists, who so rarely cause us any (actual) difficulty or danger, must be living in some other decade.

  • momos

    This bike/ped conflict drives me crazy. IT COMPLETELY MISSES THE POINT.

    There is only ONE reason cyclists ride on the sidewalk. It is because bicycles are displaced from the street by cars.

    Not because cyclists are selfish. Not because cyclists are antagonistic. Not because cyclists are morally bankrupt.

    No. It’s simple: because there is NO PLACE FOR BIKES on the streets of NYC.

    Pedestrians must understand that this is the inevitable outcome of a many decades-long institutional bias at DOT that favors moving more cars above all else.

    Understanding this means one thing. That pedestrians and cyclists have a common cause in reclaiming the streets from machines. Machines that suck fossil fuel, spew toxins, cause wars, and kill kids walking to school in less time than it takes to say “SUV.” Machines that have not one redeeming value in a city like New York.

    It’s shocking that this is even a debate.

  • td

    Aaron’s point came across as very “either/or”: either the streets are totally safe, or I have to ride with my kid on the sidewalk. I think the point the pedestrian advocate was trying to make was that he understood that the streets aren’t always safe for cyclists, but that doesn’t mean you should ride on the sidewalk. Aaron, no one is saying that you have to walk the entire commute, but during the moments when you don’t feel safe on the street, get off your bike and walk it on the sidewalk. Once it’s safe, get back on and ride on the street.

    I think your insistence that you have to ride on the sidewalk – which is really how it came across – did harm to your cause and looped you in with delivery guys, bike messengers, and others with much less respect for pedestrians and shared space than you actually have.

    I’m a big advocate for cycling and livable streets and absolutely hate car-culture, but I actually thought the guy from AAA came across as the most reasonable of the three guests.

  • momos


    I agree the guy from AAA acquitted himself well. He was reasonable and expressed support for all of the various traffic/pedestrian management suggestions made.

    But Aaron and the pedestrian guy missed an opportunity to call him out.

    AAA-New York has been aggressively lobbying the state legislature against congestion pricing. I know this because I spent an hour on the phone with their legislative director. (A stubborn and poorly informed lady, though I give her credit for engaging in a debate.)

    AAA-New York is also opposed to higher bridge & highway tolls. They are opposed to using road toll revenue as a dedicated funding source for public transit. They are opposed to higher gasoline taxes. And on and on.

    But they can make themselves palatable to an urban audience by endorsing what amounts to marginal traffic law reform.

    When it comes to any measure that would significantly reduce auto use? Forget it. Don’t let the smooth PR mouthpiece for automobiles fool you.

    Lesson to the bicycle and pedestrian advocates: next time put aside the petty ped/bike conflict and test how willing the car guy REALLY is to relinquish the car’s status as king of NYC’s streets.

  • J:Lai

    I bike regularly in NYC, Manhattan as well as other boroughs. I am also a frequent pedestrian, walking or running, all over the city as well.

    While I couldn’t agree more that bikers, pedestrians, and even people on those dumb little kick scooters all have a common interest in opposing the car-centric way things work . . . I can’t help but get extremely annoyed at what I find is a common attitude among bikers.

    You are not any more entitled to ride on the sidewalk, or the wrong way on a one-way street, or to ride through a red light or stop sign, than an automobile. Yes, I have done all of those things and will likely continue to do so, but I recognize that I am in the wrong. I get very pissed off when someone is riding their bike going the wrong way down a street, and they refuse to get out of my way when I am going the right way. Being displaced by car traffic is not an excuse for acting like a dumbass.

    Yes, it is true that lack of bike infrastructure sometimes (often) forces us to violate traffic rules as a practical matter, but that doesn’t make it ok. If we want a real bike infrastructure, we have to be willing to stop for red lights and obey other traffic laws. You can’t have it both ways. It doesn’t make a bit of difference if your mode of transportation is less polluting, or if it takes you more effort to stop and then start again. Nobody cares.

    There is a real conflict between bikers and pedestrians, most noticable on heavily traffic shared-use routes like the brooklyn and williamsburg bridges. Deciding that you will flaunt traffic rules becaue you are marginalized by the transportation infrastructure is a personal decision, but riding like an a–hole is still riding like an a–hole.

    I know that the majority of cyclists are fairly respectful, but there are enough who aren’t to make this an issue. Telling pedestrians “you should be on my side against the cars” isn’t enough, you have to act like you mean it.

  • Steve

    The most irritating part was the idiotic parting shot of Harris Silver that he doesn’t want to face “bicyclists riding at 30 MPH on sidewalks,” something which is almost homicidal by definitiion and has probably never occurred. It is a shame that Silver, who has no apparent standing in the transportation advocacy community apart from this radio appearance, felt the need to attack bicyclists in this way in order to posture as a pedestrian advocate.

    Aaron’s comment about riding on the sidewalk was intended to demonstrate that bicyclists have no place on most roadways. Silver’s basic response was, tough sh*t, take your chances in the road or walk your bike on the sidewalk, bicycling is only for “zealots or advocates” anyway. Just another attempt to objectify and marginalize bicyclists.

    I do agree with J:Lai, and there is a difference between incremental cheating and outright brazen disregard for the rules. In the former category, motorists and pedestrians routinely run red lights when it is safe to do so; bicyclists should not be subject to a different rule. On the other hand, I can’t think of any excuse for riding counter to the flow of traffic. Yet every time I ride down the bike lane on Second Ave., I am confronted by a bicyclists riding north, even though there is an uptown lane two blocks over on Lafayette. Same thing with southbound riders on the CPW bike path, who could just as easily take the west loop road in the park (its more dangerous on CPW because the lane is not buffered, so one or the other bicylist is forced out into traffic).

    Riding counterflow is an invitation to objectify bicyclists as idiots who don’t belong on the road, and does more damage to the cause of bicycling than anything that might be said on some radio show.

  • James Rosar

    Just because you can ride a bike doesn’t mean that you know how to ride a bike.

    As a society, we could all benefit from learning the `rules of the road’ via the bicycle before ever getting behind the wheel. It’s called “Bicycle Driving”, and it would put all road users on the same page. Its’ a better set of rules that applies to everyone on wheels inversely to their energy and bulk, and provides everyone with their best defense: predictability.

    All prospective drivers should be learning these rules. How many lives could be saved, and how much are they worth? Those who believe autos have priority to our surface roads are demonstrably criminals, and badly need ‘correction’!

    With greater power comes greater responsibility, and that traffic in front of you pretty much owns that portion of roadway; you cannot pass until it is clearly safe for your bulk to do so. A bicycle that gives up its’ lane to allow an auto to pass is providing a courtesy, and the auto is obligated to pass safely.

    With common acceptance of rules such as these, the existing roadways become adequate for all users, and a bit slower (and safer!) much of the time.

    It is the violation of expectation that causes the majority of collisions in traffic. With so many differing expectations out there of what bicycles are “supposed” to be doing, it is a wonder that more aren’t injured and killed, and little wonder why so few of us are brave enough to try.

    There are rules for walking, too, but the right-of-way of pedestrians trumps all others.

    Safe Journeys!


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