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.”

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