Cyclists Throwing Selves Under Cars in Brooklyn

The Daily News reports that more cyclists are getting hit by cars in Williamsburg and Greenpoint — an increase of 38 percent and 188 percent, respectively, over last year.

While Transportation Alternatives cites dangerous conditions created by the lack of bike lanes, the News draws a different conclusion:

[T]he numbers don’t lie. Stats show that in most incidents, bicycles are to blame.

Out of 29 bicycle accidents in the 94th Precinct during May, June and July this year, the cyclist was found at fault in 17.

Numbers don’t lie? Traffic policing can be awfully subjective, particularly in a precinct that has made its bias perfectly clear as of late.


  • einars o

    i bet a few of those were hipsters not knowing how to ride on their new fixed gear bicycles… 😉

  • Steve

    The fact that a bicyclist was found “at fault” by police in 17 of 29 collisions does not allow a conclusion that bicyclists are responsible fo the collisions. Police investigating a collision often identify all possible causes. If a bicyclist hit by a motorist passing at an unsafe distance or speed does not have a horn or bell on the bike, the police will list the driver’s failure to exercise due care AND the bicyclists’ equipment violation as possible causes. So the Daily News’ take on these stats is pure distortion. Given the fact that motorists are required at all times to exercise due care to avoid hitting bicyclists I’d like to know how many of these 29 collisions were attributed to the cyclist only, and how many were attributed to motorists only. That would give a much better idea of relative fault, although it still would be distorted because police may “reach” to come up with a violation on the part of the bicyclist due to bias.

  • ddartley

    Here’s my own way of blaming cyclists:

    I’d bet that if more of those cyclists had asserted their right to space in the street, some of those collisions might have been avoided. Participating in our own marginalization by keeping to the edge (especially on relatively slow streets), makes us less visible and more vulnerable to collisions. When possible, don’t be so courteous to cars as to shoo yourself over into the narrow, hard-to-see-and-be-seen area at the edge. I’m NOT talking about “effective” or “vehicular” cycling. I’m talking about asserting your right to space on streets where it’s practicable to do so, and staying visible and alive. I mean, wouldn’t most motorists prefer to deal with the POTENTIAL (but by no means guaranteed) annoyance of being slowed down BRIEFLY by bikes in their path, instead of hitting a cyclist? See? Better for us AND them.

  • Eric

    I hope those faulty cyclists didn’t do too much property damage to all those cars they were running into. A cyclist’s face can put a $2000 dent in a Hummer with hardly any effort at all. Best for cars to stay out of Greenpoint-Williamsburg altogether, for their own safety.

  • Brooklyn

    Anecdotal, I know:

    Saturday afternoon, sitting on a bench outside Gorilla coffee on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, I watched easily a hundred cyclists ride by heading in both directions. Most seemed clueless with their street sense and ill-fitted to bikes that needed urgent maintenance. Riders didn’t know which way to look at the one way intersection, and stopped on bad brakes in a jerky, Mr. Bean-like movement that threw them onto their top tubes. Re-starting involved lots of wobbling and swerving as they struggled to find pedals and balance.

    I’d like to see those 17 reports where the police faulted the cyclist. I have a feeling at least a few of those cyclists would resemble the awkward rubes I saw on Saturday.

  • brent

    Go easy on the hipsters- people need to realize that when I put on the John Deere trucker cap and camouflage shorts, I deserve the same level of respect as any other street user. Back on topic- if you take a 30 lb vehicle that accelerates to 15 mph and a 3 ton vehicle that routinely accelerates to 60 mph on city streets, the burden of responsibility for safe driving must ALWAYS be with the latter. Period. This is written into law in the Netherlands resulting in pedestrian/ cyclist death rates that are far lower than here.

  • Steve

    I agree, Brent (though there may be a bit of hyperbole in “routinely accelerates to 60 MPH”–I’d change that 60 to 30+). And NYS Vehicle and Traffic Law Sec. 1146 makes the operator of a motor vehicle responsible for exercising due care to avoid hitting bicyclists–even when bicyclists are in the wrong–for exactly the reasons you describe.

  • psynick

    Just to play devil’s advocate ..

    My guess would be that bicycle delivery guys are represented proportionally in the accident stats (i.e., they ride the preponderance of miles and therefore make up the preponderance of bikes involved in crashes). I would guess that in the preponderance of their crashes, they were riding the wrong way and/or running red lights. I would bet that commuters, hipsters, and racers are small fraction of the milesage, and therefore crash population.

  • dood

    i am both a biker, and sometimes a driver.
    and in this case i would have to agree with [5].
    one night i was driving through Williamsburg, on a one way street, and right before an intersection bunch of “bikers” in to the street that i was driving on, right towards me, across entire with of the street.
    they need to be more responsible if they want to ride on the street.
    and please keep in mind that i say that as a big proponent of biking.

  • irresponsible

    I was hit by an NYPD tow truck while traveling straight in a class I bike lane. The tow truck was turning across the bike lane with me already in the intersection. The tow truck hit my back wheel. The police accident report only quoted the driver, who said I had hit him! The police officer drew a nice sketch of my back wheel jumping up to the side and slapping that tow truck bumper. That shows you what a bad, irresponsible biker I am.

    Accident reports are obviously not accurate sources of information.

  • pa

    people don’t talk enough about the delivery guys on bikes. they ride on sidewalks, against traffic… in short they have zero respect for traffic laws and pedestrian safety. i think this is something that must be discussed more often. i barely hear any complaints about this yet i think it’s a serious issue.

  • Dave

    You barely hear any complaints about bike messengers and cyclists riding aginst traffic, pa? Then you must not be engaging in very many discussions about cycling in NYC because those issues come up every time. What I never hear come up, especially among the harpies who complain about these issues over and over and over, is why doesn’t NYC build bike facilities that would prevent wrong-way cycling on one-way avenues? You go to cities like Montreal, Berlin, Paris, Copenhagen — cities with a great regard for public space — and you see plenty of reverse-flow bike lanes on busy one-ways. Those cities don’t ask cyclists to go 1/4 mile out of their way to travel on the one-way avenue going in the right direction. NYC needs to get its act together and start experimenting with new street designs for cyclists.

  • A failed constituent

    Perhaps the posters should read the Daily News article.

    One cyclist was killed recently due to running a red light. No one to blame but the cyclist.

    How many other accident reports were the result of unlawful behavior?

    Perhaps is cyclists stopped at red lights – a rare event – the stats would be lower.

  • Fendergal

    If people don’t like the way delivery cyclists ride, then don’t order delivery takeout.

  • Steve

    #11 (pa), dave is right–the delivery folk come up in virtually every discussion of the “problem” of bicyclists in NYC. #14 (fendergal) puts her finger on it–part of the respnsibility lies with the people ordering the food. The people who order the food who care about how the delivery guys ride should print out and give them one of the fliers available at the link below, tell them you care about their safety, and ask them to follow the isntructiions on the flier (scroll down to second page):

    There are so many issues that go into each cyclists’ very personal decision about obeying traffic laws. pa and constitutuent, please spare me the pat conclusions that bicyclists “get what they deserve” until you at least attempt to address those issues:

    -the illegal strategies that NYC pedestrians routinely use (jaywalking/red light running) and NYC motorists routinely use (speeding) to make time. Why should bicyclists be prohibited from using these or other similar strategies?

    -whether the bicyclist is bicycling for a living (consider the amount of illegal parking and driving tolerated among delivery people with a truck).

    -the responsibility that the employers of bicycle delivery people bear for ensuring their employees’ education/training in traffic rules and safety (including education/training in a language they can understand), which has only in the last month or so been legally recognized.

    -the NY traffic laws, which put the same burden on motorists to avoid collisions with both pedestrians and bicyclists regardless of whether the pedestrian or bicyclists is obeying the traffic laws or not.

    -the systematic lack of respect and road space that bicyclists get from other road users.

  • pa

    i hear discussions about the messengers all the time but i never mentioned them in my comment. i mentioned the delivery guys from eateries. i should have been more specific. i really don’t read too many complaints about them.

  • Failed constituent, those of us that clicked through to that ridiculous story only had greater cause to be angry. One dead cyclist running a red light is your smoking gun? For that you get to chide all cyclists, and cluck at the dead ones? The story marginalizes the neighborhood’s cyclists in the first sentence (“hipster”), and pushes itself along with patronizing quotes from some disconnected old lady (“Apparently he didn’t look both ways… I just wish people would be more careful… Please, people, look around and be more careful.”) How about YOU be more careful too, lady, as the one operating the deadly vehicle. Thanks.

    Also, its use of statistics is abysmal. It reports numbers from one or the other precinct, or both, depending on what fits the thesis. What percentage of injured cyclists in the 90th were deemed at fault, we wonder? (Not that we have great confidence in the police reports.) Why do the periods of reporting change from one precinct to the other? How can the 90th see a “38% increase in bike injuries” while its “number of injuries in bike accidents remained steady”? And what ARE the fatality numbers, other than Mr. Red Light–are we avoiding talking about innocent dead cyclists? It’s good old cheery picking, topped off with the howler, “But the numbers don’t lie.”

    Underneath it all is that cycling in the area has increased, probably enough to explain the increased accidents (38%, 188%, one thousand billion or whatever DN wants to report) and undermine the whole patronizing story. But they had to run this so they could tell everyone that only half the cyclists mangled by autos in one precinct are police-certified innocent victims, so it’s okay–keep on truckin’ Daily News readers!

  • cyclist

    at [17] – Teresa Toro is not a “disconnected old lady.” In addition to being young, she is very connected – the nyc coordinator for the tri-state transportation campaign. She’s also pretty much the person responsible for getting the extra bike parking at the Bedford L, among many other enlightened transportation changes she’s advocated for.

    And she has a point! As an avid cyclist – both as a commuter for the 2 years I lived in Greenpoint, and now mostly for fun/going back to GP – I have to say the responsibility lies both ways. I was this close to getting hit in Park Slope by a car backing up 100 ft across 3 lanes of traffic to grab a parking space, then the guy had the nerve to yell at me when I slapped the back of his car to make sure he knew how close he’d come. So yeah, car drivers can be assholes and irresponsible.

    But at the same time, cycling will get a lot more respect as a viable mode of transportation when cyclists take a little more care, and honestly, just use common sense. Every time I see someone on a fixed gear with no brakes speeding through a red light (I’m not even asking you to come to a complete stop, but at least slow down), it makes me shudder.

    Are most accidents the fault of drivers? No doubt. Are there some (not all) that could have been avoided with more care by cyclists (even when the driver is still at least partly at fault)? There are. I am in no way trying to excuse the attitude of most drivers, or the attitude of the city toward cycling, but neither do their attitudes excuse ours.

  • A failed constituent

    HI Doc Barnet,

    For one who chides me for my correct and factual statement, as well as chiding the news story for allegedly , in your opinion, marginalizing people (their use of ‘hipster’, which is hardly marginalizing), you have no problem marginalizing a much larger segment of the population: older adults, viz. your use of ” some disconnected old lady”, do you?

    Actually, you are not marginalizing. Instead you are sounding pretty ageist and sexist and stereotypical.

    Btw, is your mother a “disconnected old lady”?

    As far as ‘deadly vehicles’, I saw a cyclist on Sixth Avenue in the Village this week hit a young lady, she fell, cracked her skull, got taken away by an ambulance, and the creep cyclist just rode off.

    ANY vehicle can be deadly, 2 wheels or 4 wheels.

    So, don’t get so self righteous.

  • irresponsible

    to A Failed Constituent,

    I’m curious if you ride a bike in the neighborhood?

  • Apparently Teresa is young and connected, so my hyperbole was just wrong. (But yes my mother is disconnected and old, and I doubt her opinions on cycling in NYC would be helpful.) Even so I don’t believe that Teresa had a good point. Or if she did it was misrepresented in that crappy article, where she came off putting responsibility largely on cyclists to not be killed by cars. Sorry, but responsibility lies primarily with those operating the only commonly deadly vehicles on our streets: automobiles.

    Convenient recently witnessed bike crashes notwithstanding, autos kill hundreds of pedestrians a year in NYC; when a cyclist kills one every decade or so it is big news. (It is hard to make those numbers lie, so you don’t hear about them much from publications that serve motorists.) It’s like blaming hikers for being killed by careless hunters, or even average hunters making “honest” mistakes. Intuitively and rationally, the responsibility for force lies with those wielding it, not those in its path. The turning of traditional responsibility on its head is a vestige of car culture, influenced by the cruel view that pedestrians and others not in cars are the poor, or the other (hipsters, racers, messengers). It will not last in a city where (though the limitations of physical space if nothing else) personal driving is becoming increasingly uncommon. You can only look the other way, and upside down, for so long.

  • Rachel

    Undoubtedly some of these accidents are caused by, or influenced by, careless cyclists — the people who fly by me on my commute are testament to that. However, undoubtedly many if not most are due to the dangerous conditions on many Williamsburg streets and lack of bike lanes. Grand Street out past the BQE, for example, is extremely dangerous during rush hour. Cars treat it like a 4-lane highway, and the double parking and u-turns don’t help. Of course, there’s rarely a cop in sight, and when there is, they rarely do anything. It’s a wonder there aren’t more accidents, really.

  • steve

    Doc, I agree with you but I think the ped fatality rate for NYC bicyclist-ped collisions is about 1 per year. That’s from the ten-year study released last fall. Still a very low rate, and the report notes that high proportion of fatalities occur at the perimeter of parks, suggesting that fitness cyclists not hipsters may have a major role. But I still wish all bicyclists would follow the basic rules like riding with traffic, keeping off the sidewalk, and using due care to avoid hitting peds.

  • “That’s from the ten-year study released last fall”

    Would love to have a link, if you’ve got it. I looked for the number a few months ago and couldn’t find anything other than scattered fatalities over the years. One a year is too high; we should definitely work on the problem areas you mention once we do something about the two-ton elephant in the room.

  • Steve
  • Thanks! There’s also some ten year city-wide data on contributing factors in there, if anyone’s interested in more than the three month single precinct snapshot picked for the article.

  • Steve

    Yes, and note the “contributing factor” format of these NYPD determinationss. As far as I know, NYPD is free to list as many potential contributing causes as there may be.

    The article is written to obscure this fact by asserting: “Out of 29 bicycle accidents in the 94th Precinct during May, June and July this year, the cyclist was found at fault in 17.”
    My guess is the NYPD records would show that the motorists were “at fault” in ~28 of the 29.

  • chris

    Never-mind how cyclist drive or how pedestrians cross streets, there are a lot of frustrated car and truck drivers out there just wanting to let loose and car’s no match to a bike or a pedestrain. Be they ignorant of the law, busy on cell phones or just blind, we ought to find a way to report reckless drivers by listing their license plates on a dedicated website.