Treyger Defends Legislating by Anecdote at Bike-Texting Press Conference

Think there’s already too much media attention devoted to Council Member Mark Treyger’s bill to ban texting while bicycling? He’s just getting started. Joined by other council members and representatives of Bike New York, Treyger held a press conference on the steps of City Hall this morning to extoll the legislation’s importance, framing it as a component of Vision Zero.

With friends like these: Council Member Mark Treyger holds a press conference to tell the media that his texting-while-biking bill is part of Vision Zero. Photo: Stephen Miller
With friends like these: Council Member Mark Treyger holds a press conference to tell the media that his texting-while-biking bill is part of Vision Zero. Photo: Stephen Miller

Treyger introduced the bill after witnessing an incident near his district office on Stillwell Avenue. “A bicyclist was texting while riding his bike, veering into oncoming traffic, almost causing a multi-car crash,” he said. “If heaven forbid someone got hurt that day, the story would’ve been, ‘a motorist, you know, hurt the cyclist’… But the fact is, the cyclist was texting while he was biking, causing a major danger on the street.”

“That could’ve caused a multi-car crash, multiple fatalities,” Treyger said. “That’s why it’s dangerous.”

No doubt, texting and biking don’t mix, but is there any evidence that texting while bicycling has caused actual crashes? When asked for data that show the need for legislation, Treyger only produced stats showing that the number of crashes between cyclists and pedestrians rose from 2012 to 2013. He could not offer data on how often cell phone use by cyclists actually contributes to crashes.

“It is hard to pinpoint exact data,” he said. “Quite frankly, after what I saw, I don’t need to see data to know that was wrong and that was dangerous.”

Multiple times this morning, Treyger underscored that motorists bear the greatest responsibility on the roads. (Let’s see if that point seeps into any of the ensuing press coverage.) He also noted that his bill, which allows first-time offenders in cases where there is no personal injury or property damage to take a class instead of paying a $50 fine, is less punitive than similar texting-while-biking bans in California and Chicago.

Given the fact that there are hundreds of fatal crashes in NYC each year, but none have been attributed to texting while bicycling, I asked Treyger why this bill merits a press conference on the steps of City Hall. “Today we’re shedding light on this issue,” he said. “We’re shedding light on the fact that people have been spotted texting while biking.”

Dana Rubinstein of Capital New York asked Treyger if he thought pedestrians should also be banned from texting. He didn’t dismiss the idea. “That’s certainly taboo as well. It’s very unsafe. People should always be alert when they’re crossing the street,” he said.

While bicycle education non-profit Bike New York backs the bill, Transportation Alternatives questioned its usefulness. “It’s not like we’re in favor of texting cyclists, but there’s no evidence to say that distracted cycling or texting cyclists even register as a significant, or even insignificant, cause of injuries and fatalities on the street,” said TA Executive Director Paul Steely White. “It’s a shame that limited legislative bandwidth is being consumed by what’s really a distraction.”

Treyger was joined this morning by City Council members Vincent Gentile, Carlos Menchaca, and Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the transportation committee.

“Some people say that we’re focusing on the wrong things,” Menchaca said. “Many bike advocates are still talking about this piece of legislation, and we encourage that. We want people to come to the public hearing. We want to hear your thoughts.”

“Bikers really need to have the same responsibility as the rest of us to be safe on our streets,” said Vincent Gentile, whose recent legislative highlights include a bill to commemorate September 11 by suspending parking enforcement and another that would urge Congress to allow disabled veterans to drive solo in high-occupancy vehicle lanes. “It’s often told to me by senior citizens that they’re afraid, many times, because bicyclists they see are not paying attention… and many times it’s because they are texting while they’re biking.”

Treyger said he did not reach out to NYPD or DOT before proposing the bill, but looks forward to their input when it goes before the council. (Mayor Bill de Blasio has already expressed support for a ban on texting while biking.) A hearing seems likely to happen soon. “I know this legislation will have the support of the City Council,” Rodriguez said. “This is great legislation.”

  • Morris Zapp

    This raises a good point. This crash that Treyger “almost” saw happen: How would it have resulted “multiple fatalities” unless the drivers who were “almost” involved were speeding, inattentive, or both? What were the drivers doing that they didn’t see this allegedly suicidal cyclist and react accordingly, i.e. slow down?

    The whole thing reeks.

  • Alex

    So we should just sit back and let frivolous laws pass so as not to “waste our time”? If our city government actually spent the appropriate amount of time on the issues that actually are pressing, then maybe I wouldn’t mind as much. But when they spin their wheels on something silly and frivolous INSTEAD of tackling the issue of people being mowed down by cars without consequence, then it becomes all the more important to stand up and say, “Hey, this is silly. Stop pretending to address this issue with distractions and start doing things that will actually make a difference.” So no, I don’t think it’s a waste at all.

  • BikeTexter

    From what I can tell of his account of this terrible incident that prompted him to advance this legislation saving us all from the bike-texting menace (based on media reports linked by StreetBlog), driver A was attentive enough to stop prior to killing Distracted Cyclist. Driver B had to stop short. Fortunately for all involved it seems that Driver B was also paying attention. I’d argue that if Driver A and Distracted Cyclist collided it would seem to be at least partially Distracted Cyclists fault. Without more (made up?) details, it’s hard to assess an further.

    However, and to me this is a big hole in Treygrrrrz assessment of the situation, if Driver B collided with Driver A because driver A “stopped short”, this would be somewhere between 99 and 100% the fault of Driver B. The role of Distracted Cyclist in this scenario could have equally been played by ‘ball rolling into the street’, ‘garbage can being knocked over’, ‘driver A’s coffee spilling’, a pothole, etc., none of which excuse Driver B.

    If you hit the car in font of your car because it “stopped short” it’s your fault, not the fault of the person/thing that caused the driver of the fist car to stop – unless we’re talking about a ‘swoop and squat’, which I don’t think is alleged.

  • walks bikes drives

    So, in other words, you don’t want the law because you, personally, do the ticketable offense but think you are doing it safely. And the difference between that argument and the one given by drivers about speed cameras is what?

    Yes, I am Caucasian. No, I an not upper middle class. I do live in NYC and I ride daily for my commute because it saves me time and money over using the subway, two things I can definitely use more of.

  • JudenChino

    Yes, I might look at my phone while riding on the empty streets of NYC in the middle of the night and you believe that’s something I should be ticketed for even though it harms nobody and I wouldn’t engage in such conduct if it could possibly harm someone. Like, when I’m riding 5 mph on wall street/pine street at 3 am. You are a piece of work

  • walks bikes drives

    Um, yeah, riding at 5mph hour, right. But that’s not the point.

    In your first post, you said you were aware of your surroundings 110%. What percentage would you put that at when looking down at your phone? Eyes focused on a point about 3 feet away, periferal vision doesny work well at that focal distance.

    I text my wife all the time on my commutes. When I am stopped at a traffic light, for instance. There are enough lights you can stop at to check your phone.

    And its nice to see a post from you without the word Fuck every couple of sentences. I’m assuming you were just really mad at something yesterday.

  • walks bikes drives

    I might be more inclined to agree if the first offense didn’t result in just a class, rather than a fine. I don’t know that that is such a bad idea…

  • JudenChino

    Yes, our elected pols want to crack down on bikes and call it visionzero. We suffer because of that. I’ve personally suffered when I received a ticket for idaho stopping at a red and jayriding parallel to jaywalking pedestrians, which ticket has a penalty in excess of that received by driver who ran over that 3 year old Chinese girl in Queens who was holding the hand of her grandmother in a crosswalk. The problem is our elected pols focus. But you’re cool with it because you’re privileged or the one cyclist who’s never run a red so you do not worry about getting bullshit tix. Well, must be nice to be you.

    Also, people say fuck. People say shit. Somethings warrant outrage and our self-serving stupid pols patting themselves on the back for this stupid shit deserve a whole lot of fucks. I refuse to accept that bicyclists are a primary source of the problem with road violence as their limited mass and velocity literally makes it extremely less likely to cause serious harm to others. I can’t stand the scowflaws who Salmon, ride on sidewalks, buzz pedestrians, go too fast in crowded places . . . tix away; but we must maintain some sense of perspective of an environment of zero tolerance for bicyclists (stings at T intersections less than 3 blocks from where a woman was killed by an SUV in the crosswalk) while we have impunity for negligent vehicular homicide.

    Probably 95% of the time I’m stopped when I look at my phone. But there are times, where it may actually be safe to do so and I have an external carrier for my phone so it’s easily accessible. Do you deny that’s possible at all? Have you played out every single permutation upon which a bicyclist may briefly look at their phone? I don’t think you have regardless of whatever ocular jargon you may employ. But yes, I’m just like the scowflaws bombing down the hills in Central Park on crowded sunny weekends. I’m part of the problem. You win. I deserve a tix for that conduct. No wait, I don’t and am not part of the problem.

    I wouldn’t ever fly down a greenway while texting someone, but I might look for half a second to see who’s calling before I click yes on my single ear bud and then engage in a phone conversation (which is currently legal provided I only use one ear bud). I’m not playing angrybirds and riding.

  • walks bikes drives

    I agree with the vast majority of your comments.

    I have been stopped and ticketed for running a red light- making a right on red after a full, complete stop, through an empty intersection. $190 gone, for no legitimate reason. So I have stopped running red lights – when NYPD are around. So I think the red light law needs a change, yes. Do I agree with the one earphone law? Wholeheartedly.

    And your argument about all permututions when a rider might look at their phone – that’s not the issue. It is texting. Looking at the phone, on a handlebar mount, for example, when someone is calling is not much different than me toggling between distance and time on my computer, and to my understanding, is treated as such. Looking at the time, answering a call (on a headsest) etc. are all legal in cars and I would expect would be the same thing on bikes. It is actively texting.

    This is the state legislations definition of using a mobile device: (b) “Using” shall mean holding a portable electronic device while viewing, taking or transmitting images, playing games, or, for the purpose of present or future communication: performing a command or request to access a world wide web page, composing, sending, reading, viewing, accessing, browsing, transmitting, saving or retrieving e-mail, text messages, instant messages, or other electronic data.

    So, most of what you say you are doing does not fall under this statute if written similarly. So, the few things that yoy do do that would be in violation, just stop before you do them.

    Honestly, the state should just change the wording in the statute to say vehicles instead of motor vehicles.

  • Cold Shoaler

    The NYPD/DOT run safety class is far worse than any fine. Go that route and bike licenses and mandatory helmet laws won’t be far behind.

  • NYer

    Yes!

    The whole f’ing thing is a huge waste of time, energy, resources and bandwidth.

    The thing I resent most is that these assholes have made it necessary for advocates to spend time discussing and arguing against this. We need to be spending our time discussing real issues and arguing for meaningful change.

    This is why I am, frankly, furious at Carlos Menchaca for lending his name and credibility to this effort. He promised to be one of the guys who did the meaningful change-agent work. Instead, he is wasting our time.

  • neroden

    Add Rodriguez, Treyger, Gentile, and Menchaca to the list of worthless deadweight on the City Council. Along with worthless de Blasio.

    Geez.

  • Jimbo from Malibu

    Agree. More than half the complaints I read about this potential law reek of “do as I want, not as I do.”

    I will depart from many of my cycling brethren and say that I think this law is a good idea. If nothing else, it’ll give the cops something legitimate to focus on.

  • Jimbo from Malibu

    I think some of them are w/Bike NY

  • Tyson White

    What a waste of public resources 🙁

  • jt

    “And the difference between that argument and the one given by drivers about speed cameras is what?”

    Cars kill lots of people – several every week in our city.

    Bikes don’t.

    The end.

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