TA’s “Biking Rules” Campaign Takes the High Route


Transportation Alternatives yesterday launched an ambitious new campaign to change how cyclists are perceived — and how they perceive themselves — in New York City. 

At its core, "Biking Rules" is, as TA puts it, "aimed at promoting civic riding and easing bike-pedestrian friction." But the campaign, embodied in a new cyclist handbook and tricked-out website, is not intended as a vehicle for lecturing riders on the Idaho stop. Rather, says TA’s Caroline Samponaro, it’s about "giving people the information they need" to be safe and courteous travelers in dense urban environs — and establishing the cyclist as no less than a role model in what TA (and all livable streets advocates) hope will be a new, people-first hierarchy on 21st-century city streets.

To that end, there’s the Biking Rules 50-page handbook, with city cycling tips, rules, a summary of cyclists’ rights on the road, bike shop locations and more. Info on how to order, as well as a PDF edition, will be on the website soon, but there’s plenty to keep you busy until then. Among the site’s features:

  • personal "safest route" mapping (in partnership with Ride the City), allowing those with user accounts to create, store and share multiple routes;
  • Twitter feeds with updated bridge condition reports and the latest community board-level bike lane news;
  • a "Dear BR" page for users to submit questions on city cycling;
  • photo, video and event sharing (Flickr and YouTube tag functions are pending);
  • links to much of the information found in Biking Rules handbook.

In June, TA will launch a contest for cyclists to submit their own safe cycling public service shorts, to be featured at a public screening.

Just as the space-hogging, speeding automobile has shaped public
over the better part of the last 100 years, Samponaro says
Biking Rules is out to establish street-level civility as the
"contagious behavior" of the future. Cyclists, she says, can set
the tone by turning what has become an undeniable, if largely unfair, image problem on its

"Let’s not let other people shape the public image of cycling," says Samponaro. "Cyclists should shape the public image of cycling."

  • Fifty pages? I don’t think the NYS driver’s manual is 50 pages. Maybe that’s why so many drivers have accidents.

  • I said last year that I’m going to sacrifice my own riding preferences and USE the poorly-conceived bike lane that runs through the ped-plaza areas between Times Square and Herald Squares, if only to show the many many peds who (understandably!) meander into my path in the bike lane that at least some cyclists out there are polite even when you infringe on their space (all with the purpose of reducing bike-ped friction, as mentioned above).

    And after about a year, I’ve found I prefer riding in that slower, friction-heavy area to zipping along in the car lanes.

  • The Great Drivini

    I want the unwritten rules. Here are my bike commuting rules (my park slope to wall street commute takes about 18 minutes). They are basically “NYPD” donut rules:

    Always wear a helmet, light and something florescent
    Yield at stop signs
    Stop-look-and-go at red lights (right or left on red ok)
    Avoid occupying the center of a vehicle lane
    Left turn on two-way from center
    No wrong way down a one-way even in a bike lane (except getting on the manhattan and brooklyn bridges – there really is no other practical way for me)
    No riding on the sidewalk
    Always yield to pedestrians no matter what
    No yelling – bike commuting should be zen

    Please no lectures. This is new york city (where i was born and raised in the 1970s before bike lanes were invented). NYC is based on a lot of unwritten rules that can create a more efficient and civil way of life even if some laws are broken. This is my approach.

  • > Avoid occupying the center of a vehicle lane

    Gotta strongly disagree here. If you’re going to take a car lane, then riding anywhere but the center indicates to dudes behind you that they should pass you unsafely, leaving you no room to maneuver around a surprise pothole, guaranteeing you’ll be maimed if you hit one while he’s going around you.

    Either get out of the car lanes entirely, or stay smack in the center of the rightmost one, and do your best not to slow the traffic down behind you.

  • Man, also the pedestrians one. Pedestrians /simply do not always have the right of way/. Pedestrians who are walking in a bike lane, for instance, deserve whatever they get (use your bell); same with ones who jaywalk against the light without looking (use your bell and try to avoid them).

    If they make you stop, they’ve pulled a dick move; being on your feet doesn’t mean the time-division of the road doesn’t apply to you.

    I see TA also calls this one wrong.

  • Geck

    I’m pretty much with The Great Drivini.

  • I’m posting three in a row. I’m sorry about this, I’ll concatenate my posts better in the future.

    Question for Streetsblog, tell me why I’m wrong:

    Why do you all think pedestrians are a privileged class?

    Forget the law for a minute, because laws are flawed and made by men. Let’s talk about the law of nature.

    Roads are used by peds, cycles, and cars, in incompatible ways. Should the problem not be solved by time-division? Should peds be exempt from due care and caution, from self-preservation instincts?

    I’d suggest the cardinal rule for /all/ modes of transportation, uber alles, is:

    Be predictable.

  • Kaja’s response to

    >> Avoid occupying the center of a vehicle lane


    >Gotta strongly disagree here. If you’re going to take a car lane, then >riding anywhere but the center indicates to dudes behind you that they >should pass you unsafely


    He’s also right as hell about “be predictable.”

    And Great Drivini: I can’t give specific details, but I saw a picture of a NYC Avenune from the 1970s–and I THINK it was the early 70s–with an unbuffered class 2 bike lane, exactly the kind that you commonly see around town even now. I wish I could remember where/why I saw that picture, but I can’t.

  • With a quick Google, I found these refs to NYTimes archive articles (which could have been written yesterday):

    Sep 26, 1971 – “We need safe bike lanes,” not a booklet on safety,” Miss Green told Mr. Skloot. “How many more bikers do we have to lose before we get a safe bike lane?” The bicyclists drew support for their cause from Representative Edward I. Koch, a Manhattan Democrat…

    May 28, 1976 – Of course, if there were bike Lanes and safe places to park, more people would probably bicycle to work, but one wonders how many. … The only time I have ever fallen off a bicycle in New York was when I was knocked down by a taxi passenger who opened a door without looking.

    Jul 7, 1977 – New York City’s long-delayed alternative air-pollution-control plan, based on tougher enforcement of existing parking regulations and relying on … Reserved bike lanes. The plan requires that special bike lanes be included in all,” future highway construction…

    Aug 7, 1978 – The cyclists using bike lane on Avenue of Americas are meeting with mixed success, as man far left, being detoured by parked cab, illustrates.

  • The first rule in TA’s Biking Rules Street Code reads:
    “Pedestrians always have the right of way. PERIOD.”

    No way. As Kaja asked – “Should peds be exempt from due care and caution, from self-preservation instincts?” The answer is no. There are situations where ped overflow into bike lanes is totally understandable (as ddartley pointed out, in Times Square or Harold Square).

    But I often encounter people stepping off of uncrowded sidewalks to stand in bike lanes, or in walking out into an intersection while waiting for the light to change. In this situation, the TA rule is wrong — no right of way for these peds. I do not stop — I always yell a warning, and I never slow down (in ten years, I have only knocked one person down. No regrets).

  • JJM 63

    Would TA be willing to share their website coding with sister organizations in other cities? There was a thread on the Albany (NY) Bike Coalition recently about collaborative safe route mapping.

  • Congrats, Caroline, Mike, Ali and everyone at TA! The site is looking really good – I know you guys put tons of work into this, and it came out great.

    @JJM 63 – The Open Planning Project (producers of Streetsblog) is also working on a few collaborative bike routing projects, including for Safe Routes to Schools, and would be happy to advise and/or help out. Feel free to contact me at nickyg [at] openplans [dot] org

  • John Deere

    I have to laugh and be a little amused. The title of this article could be “TA discovers that cyclists are governed by traffic law”. After a couple of years of hearing TA tell the press that “following traffic rules isn’t that important”, they discover that:
    1. Cyclists, their base constituency, piss off the rest of the public by blowing off traffic rules and then whining that traffic is so dangerous.
    2. Cyclists might actually get injured or killed when running that red light at night with no bike lights, while riding the wrong way. Ya think? After years of blaming motorists for every possible thing that might conceivably happen to a cyclist (a mentality which still seems to come through loud and clear in “biking rules”) they suddenly discover that cyclist might actually have some control over their own safety, rather than being the perpetual victim of what motorists may or may not do.
    3. The repeated claim that this is “new.” Hey. have any of the folks at TA (or Streetsblog, for that matter), read Bob Mionske’s awesome book, Bicycling and the Law?. This stuff has been around since 1887, and TA didn’t invent it. A little trivia: in 1887, NY became the first state to include cyclists as part of traffic law, giving them a statewide right to use the roads, and responsibility to follow traffic rules. For all of you who have swallowed the oft-repeated Streetsblog fiction that traffic laws are written for cars, 1887 was pre-car. All other 49 states followed suit, and the bicyles basic position in traffic law hasn’t change much.
    4. Following up on #3, TA’s old website used to have archives from their early years. I don’t know if the new website still does that, but studying early, pre-1998 TA web stuff, there was a lot more emphasis on cyclist behavior as an important part of the bike safety mix. So even for TA, this “biking rules” stuff isn’t that new. Maybe only for the new staff who’ve suddenly discovered that cyclists aren’t always victims, but that cyclist’s self-inflicted poor public image is actually a major advocacy problem.
    5. It’s nice to see that TA is acknowledging that bike safety is more than just building more bike facilities. It isn’t just the hardware that counts, it’s the software too. Too bad Streetsblog hasn’t caught up with that idea yet.
    6. It would be nice if “biking rules” would acknowledge that there are some traffic laws that apply to pedestrians. Check out NYVTL. It does demand some things from pedestrians. Hey, that neck allows your head to swivel and see what’s coming, especially if you decide to ignore the “red hand”.

  • Pursuant

    John Deere – You sir are a greater curmudgeon than I. Lighten up Francis.

    I think the Hunter College study on bicycling needed to be addressed and this is a great start. David K is a perfect example of the kind of behavior that is dangerous and needlessly puts people in harms way because of his self-righteousness. If a car approaching a crosswalk filled with people didn’t slow down but merely honked and continued at full speed there isn’t one person on this board who wouldn’t be appalled.

    David, you are a prime example of why the Post and company get to spew venom at cyclists. Because in your wake you’ve left ten or twelve pedestrians thinking,

    – “Did you see that guy, he nearly knocked her over”
    – “The police should do something about that”


  • Imagine if David K had been driving a car instead of riding a bike:

    no right of way for these peds. I do not stop — I always yell a warning, and I never slow down (in ten years, I have only knocked one person down. No regrets)

    would have been:

    no right of way for these peds. I do not stop — I always [honk], and I never slow down (in ten years, I have only [run over and killed] one person. No regrets)

  • Eric and Pursuant,

    I hear you both. I do not bike aggressively all the time (I said that in my post above, but probably didn’t make it clear enough). I cannot prove this, but it’s my experience that people behave differently in midtown than on quieter streets in NYC. Namely, as soon as a street/avenue is clear of cars, people tend to step right out in front on cyclists to cross against the light. In these cases, I swerve or yell. I do not weave through peds crossing with the light. I always respect peds when they have the right of way. And in touristy spots like the Brooklyn Bridge I always give way to peds, even when they are in the bike lane.

    Pursuant, you’re right that this is self-righteous behavior, yet I’m not riding around with a chip on my shoulder (at least, I don’t feel that way. I feel pretty relaxed and happy on a bike, not filled with attitude). And I know I’m not alone in the way I deal with peds who ignore cyclists. I obviously cannot provide any stats, but I think my behavior is more the norm than not.

    My point about is that the TA Rule (“Pedestrians always have the right of way. PERIOD.”) is a bad one. It means that peds can do whatever the hell they want to, whenever. Is that the way you’d want to teach your 5-year old to cross the street? Why shouldn’t peds yield to cyclists when cyclists have the light? (And yes, cyclists should definitely do the same to peds who have the light). What is the difference between peds blocking a bike lane (when there is space on the sidewalk) and a SUV stopped in a bike lane?

  • gecko

    If pedestrians and cyclists are mashed together, pedestrians should have the right of way. If they are separated then pedestrians should stay off and bicycles on bike paths, bike lanes, etc. should prevail like on the narrow bike path in front of Chelsea Piers in which they are advised to stay off (but, often don’t). They can be nicely informed that they do not belong on a bikes-only path, or otherwise; but, nice is a lot better; like on the Brooklyn Bridge. It definitely not correct to threaten or attempt to intimidate them with the possibility of bodily injury.

    Cyclists are essentially pedestrians with wheels and about four times faster. Cyclists and pedestrians should not be lumped together (but often are) since they have different needs. In mixed-use areas pedestrians should definitely have the right of way. On bikes-only bike lanes and paths pedestrians should be strongly encouraged to stay off; the best way being by design. Pedestrians would have no place on an elevated veloway.

    In a sense, it is great that these conflicts arise because it means that car-free public spaces are being well used. Next steps will be to allocate the resources — which are minimal — and design them correctly.

    A proper behavior rule book is nice, but really? It is up to DoT to design these places correctly which probably needs enough “wins” and a large enough cycling population to be able to justify the required resources. The reasons why large numbers of people are not cycling is not because of pedestrian conflicts. Safety and practicality are the main issues.

  • gecko

    It is also important that cyclists know the correct safety practices and what is really considered bad form.

    It has been reported that a young child riding in a cycling carrier had her arm broken a day or so ago while riding on the West Side bike path which is much too small for amount of use.

    There were a bunch of Stuyvesant students on the path and the mother driving the child carrier was going around the students when a cyclist — going too fast — knocked over the carrier, injuring the child.

    When disaster strikes it is usually because of a confluence of problems. In this case, there were pedestrians on the path, the path is too small, and the cyclist was going too fast.

    This is pretty much the high-level view why about 250 people get killed by cars, trucks, and buses in this city. The transportation system is not designed correctly. The current practice is let the individuals fight it out which is wrong and ultimately negligent. With proper design, mortality will drop precipitously.

  • gecko

    . . . And, the West Side bike path is even more dangerous for skaters who fall more than cyclists, require more space, greater stopping distances, better road surfaces, etc.

    Having faux cobblestones at crosswalks is absolutely negligent and I’m sure many skaters have fallen on them.

    Haven’t skated on the West Side bike path for several years — which is flat and really quite nice at sunrise — and opt for the roads in NYC’s Central and Prospect parks where high speeds achieved by going down the hills can be dangerous especially, since most of them lead to blind turns at the fastest points in Central Park; they are still a lot safer.


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