Treyger’s Texting-and-Biking Bill — a Big Distraction From Vision Zero

City Council Member Mark Treyger insists his bill to penalize cyclists for texting is well-intentioned, but there is no evidence to suggest that the behavior targeted by his proposal is a source of significant danger. Instead of focusing on the real deadly threats on NYC streets, Treyger has triggered a news cycle devoted to a minor transgression that doesn’t register in any serious accounting of traffic deaths and injuries.

Mark Treyger. Photo: NYC Council
Mark Treyger. Photo: NYC Council

Treyger plans to introduce legislation Thursday that would mandate a fine or a safety course for the first time someone is ticketed for texting while riding, with higher fines for subsequent violations. The bill, which Treyger says was inspired by an incident he witnessed outside his office, reportedly has the backing of Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the council transportation committee, and Mayor de Blasio has indicated he may support it.

As dumb as it may be to text and bike, Treyger hasn’t pointed to data on how many cyclists injure themselves and others while doing it. If such a data set exists, the city hasn’t made it public. But that didn’t stop the press from tossing out unrelated stats as if they were somehow indicative of a major problem.

The Times cited a report on statewide pedestrian injuries caused by cyclists that includes no data on texting, while DNAinfo noted that 118 pedestrians have been killed in NYC so far in 2014, though all but two of those victims were struck by operators of motor vehicles. Both stories cite the two pedestrians killed by cyclists in Central Park this year, though neither of those crashes reportedly involved texting.

“If you’re riding a bicycle and texting, you’re obviously not paying attention to where you’re going, and you could injure yourself or someone else,” Treyger told the Daily News. “If it’s reckless for drivers to do it — which it is — it’s just as irresponsible for cyclists.”

Treyger’s attempt to establish equivalence between texting-and-driving and texting-and-biking is in no way supported by what we know about traffic crashes. Nearly 13,000 crashes in NYC last year were attributed at least in part to driver distraction. Nationally, more than 3,000 people are killed each year in crashes that involve distracted driving, and about 400,000 are injured. Distracted biking, irresponsible as it may be, shouldn’t be mentioned as a comparable threat to public safety.

The City Council and Mayor de Blasio adopted a package of laws aimed at behavior that is hurting and killing people, but there is no indication that NYPD is putting those tools to use with any consistency. That’s a real problem. Passing laws based on speculation and anecdotes isn’t the way to make streets safer.

  • Patrick Miner

    Texting while biking was rampant in Amsterdam. I wonder if they have stats.

    I also wonder how many drivers and pedestrians who call out texting bikers text and drive/walk all the time.

    Everyone texts while they move. It is stupid for any street user – while in motion.

  • red_greenlight1

    Well then you must not cycle or walk very often. I see this at least two or three times a week sometimes in combination with salomining. And yes we ALL need to follow the rules that are there for our saftey.

  • Can’t say I’ve ever seen anyone texting while cycling, but I’m sure it happens.

    One of the things I like about Vision Zero is that it’s data driven. There’s factual data behind every facet of it. I don’t see any facts behind this other than that Mr. Treyger says he saw one person cycling recklessly while texting. He doesn’t even say his office receives a lot of complaints about the issue. So I don’t think it’s motive is public safety.

    I think it’s motive is to make drivers feel better, because many drivers will be overjoyed at the thought of spreading the “persecution” they think they endure over to those annoying cyclists. But frankly, a law against something that’s rare, and that furthermore is unlikely to be enforced meaningfully by the NYPD anyway, isn’t going to make life better or safer for any road users.

    I just hope they pass this pointless, distracting thing quickly and to work on more important issues.

  • red_greenlight1

    I see this quite a bit. I’m wondering if people really don’t. See it, aren’t paying attention or are refusing to see it. I honestly wouldn’t expect streetsblog to share data on this if it exists. This is actually, should be passed, one law I hope the NYPD enforces.

  • I also see this a lot, mainly on the Williamsburg Bridge, and principally during warm weather when most bicyclists are not wearing gloves.

    (Of course, the main problem on the Williamsburg Bridge doesn’t have to do with bicyclists at all but with pedestrians who insist on walking or running on the bicycle side, despite there being a whole other side reserved only for them. Some of this is from ignorance, because of the lack of signs at the Brooklyn bicycle entry directing pedestrians to their entry. But most of it is the result of the same “who gives a shit?” attitude that is evinced by red-light-running cyclists, the kind of behaviour that threatens to get all of our Bloomberg/Sadik-Khan-era infrastructure rolled back. Better signage — and a little enforcement, please! — would be welcome on this. But, this is a whole other story.)

  • red_greenlight1

    I see it a lot on the Brooklyn Bridge. People are both texting and taking selfies. I also see it on 1st and 2nd aves and occasionally on the Manhattan bridge. SO it might very well be a fair weather cyclist and tourist behavior.

    I’ve only taken the Williamsburg Bridge a handful of times but agree its ignorance and lack of concern that causes pedestrians to venture on to the wrong side. However, I’ve noticed that every surface on that bridge seems to be covered in stickers and art of varying quality including the signs saying what side you should be on. I blame hipsters.

  • Igor Stravinsky

    This

  • walks bikes drives

    I’m on a compact set, so in running 50/11 for my highest combo. I only use the 34 chain ring for steep climbs. I used to go 50/11 for all level or downgrades, but lately, following conventional wisdom, have been more 50/13, which is giving me the slower speed.

  • Or pedicabs… actually it would violate the rights of vision-impaired tandem stokers (people on the back…)

  • So maybe its in bad taste, it doesn’t make it not satire, and calling someone to delete a comment is fundamentally absurd.

  • On the phone is one thing, but do you want to restrict texting, reading the newspaper, all the millions of other things we do on the devices that we still anachronistically refer to as phones today.

  • Maybe I’m too busy watching where I’m going to notice this behavior. But I manage to notice the many cyclists that go the wrong way in bike lanes and streets, I notice them ignoring traffic signals and stop signs, and the ones on the sidewalks stick out like sore thumbs. But texting while cycling? Just question if it’s the problem people are making it out to be.

    Oh well, whether it passes or not I hope the council doesn’t waste much time debating it. I’m sure the NYPD isn’t going to waste much time enforcing it.

  • walks bikes drives

    Uh, that’s not what I said.

  • dr2chase

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone texting on a bicycle. I tried it once myself on a segregated path just to see how distracting it would be, and it was pretty damn hard. I do see people taking cell phone calls on their bikes and have done it myself, but that’s not texting.

    So, since my data is better (because it’s mine and I’m me) that means it’s not a problem.

    Or we could actually try to measure the behavior and resulting harm before we go off half-cocked and pass a bunch of laws that might not actually help.

  • dr2chase

    If I have my phone out and I am punching the buttons, but it’s turned off, am I still texting? Might as well troll the NYPD.

  • BBnet3000

    Aren’t these cyclists already running a red light if youre dodging them?

  • Tyler Pelletier

    I agree biking and texting is wrong but can’t I listen to a podcast without headphones so I can listen for traffic as well? or have it ready to snap a video or picture of a dangerous driver?

  • Tyler Pelletier

    How about a ban on all seat warmers, radios , GPS units, on star basically anything that takes a driver attention fro driving!

  • Interceptor III

    I see a fair bit of distracted cycling on the bridges and other places where pedestrians and cyclists are segregated from cars but not entirely from each other. I do recognize that there is a certain about of hazard there. Two things I do not see are 1) that phones, texting, whatever device are the main source of distraction [I almost got take out by an oncoming cyclist fiddling with his back pack for instance.] or 2) that cyclists are the greatest hazard either in quantity or kind. [joggers, pedestrians taking pictures, etc. are far more numerous and equally dangerous].

    Another thing I am highly confident is stating is that the NYPD is the least qualified (or interested) party to take any action against the existing danger. All they’d do is park their f’ing golf carts in the bike path, eat and LOOK AT THEIR PHONES. Go the the Brooklyn Bridge right now, you’ll see what I mean.

  • No, but blocking cellular signal on roadways would achieve both ends. That’s what this comment thread was about. My point was that the most common use for phones today is not for phoning people. If you simply wanted to rant about people using the phone on the bus, then fine.

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