Queens Pol Who Said Cyclists Are the ‘Most Dangerous’ Doubles Down

Council Member Bob Holden. Photo: NYC Council.
Council Member Bob Holden. Photo: NYC Council.

The Queens pol who earned brickbats from livable streets activist when he said last week that bikes are “the most dangerous” vehicles on the streets these days doubled down on his callous remarks — made in a year with 18 dead cyclists. 

Council Member Bob Holden, who represents swaths of car-entitled Queens, including Maspeth, Middle Village, Ridgewood, and Woodside, did not disavow his comments in a broad-ranging discussion with Streetsblog — in fact, he reiterated that his impression of cycling as dangerous was informed by his wife, who works in Manhattan, and his own personal experience seeing cyclist break “the rules” of the road.

If you haven’t seen that, you’re “living in a bubble,” Holden told Streetsblog. (The bubble may also be covering Holden, who disputed statistics showing that cyclist-on-pedestrian crashes cause a minuscule number of reported injuries.)

Holden is not the only Queens public servant making disturbing remarks about pedestrians or cyclists. Queens Community Board 7 member Kim Ohanian, who also works for the Department of Environmental Protection, said that pedestrians “deserve to get run over” if they cross the street while looking at their phones. She also called Vision Zero a “joke.” Even Holden said through a spokesman on Tuesday that “her comments were irresponsible and mean-spirited, and she should be removed.”

Here’s our interview with the Queens lawmaker. It offers stunning insights into the mind of a street safety opponent — but one who does acknowledge that protected bike lanes make roadways safer for all users. This interview has been edited only for length and clarity:

Julianne Cuba: How do you justify saying that cyclists are the most dangerous? Streetsblog has reported that just 230 of the 11,115 pedestrians hurt in last year’s 45,775 collisions with vehicles were struck and hurt by a biker. The remaining 10,920 were hurt by motorists. Since 2014, three people have been struck and killed by bikers in the city, compared to the hundreds killed by reckless drivers. And just this year, at least 118 people, including 18 cyclists, have been killed by a driver — an 18-percent increase in fatalities compared to the same time period last year, according to NYPD data. One person — Donna Sturm — was hit and killed by a biker this year. She died from her injuries on May 4, a few weeks after a biker hit her in a Manhattan crosswalk. She became the first pedestrian killed by someone riding a bike in New York City since 2017. 

Bob Holden: My wife says that she has to watch out for cyclists more than motorists — they’re both bad, let’s put it that way. Some cyclists, especially in Manhattan and all over the city, I would say the vast majority, I see don’t observe traffic etiquette, endangering pedestrians and endangering themselves. Of course, dealing with a 4,000-pound vehicle versus someone on a bike, there’s no doubt about it. But I think everyone needs to observe traffic rules. Don’t argue that bikers are obeying the laws because they’re not. In Downtown Brooklyn, a bike hit my car coming down Jay Street, and I had a bike hit me almost three or four times within one week — they come flying down Jay Street, go through lights, don’t care about pedestrians.

JC: But what about motorists who break traffic rules, like the one yesterday who illegally opened his door into cyclist Em Samolewicz, who was then killed after a tractor-trailer ran over. 

BH: No cyclists were at fault if they got hit? Motorists aren’t taught, even cyclists aren’t taught the proper way to ride a bike, especially in NYC. We need some education. The Dutch Reach is smart, I’m gonna start doing that. 

JC: Why did you vote against Council Member Carlos Menchaca’s bill to allow cyclists to proceed at traffic signals at the same time that pedestrians get the go-ahead?

BH: If cyclists all obeyed the rules I may be for that, but they don’t. My wife complains to me and I witness it in Manhattan. The most dangerous place to be is in a crosswalk, now throw in cyclists — now you have a bigger problem in my opinion. 

JC: But do you really think that a bike who breaks the rules can cause as much damage as a car? In just one year, since last June, in your district, there have been a total of 4,780 crashes resulting in 1,271 total injuries, including 162 to pedestrians and 83 to cyclists. 

BH: I just said the car is the most dangerous, that’s not debatable. If you’re saying pedestrians don’t have to look out for cyclists in Manhattan than you’re wrong or living in a bubble.

JC: What do you think of Mayor de Blasio’s new Green Wave plan, which calls for removing thousands of parking spots in order to put in 30 miles of protected bike lanes each year? Portions of your district, like Maspeth, are identified as Bike Priority Districts, meaning they comprise a disproportionately high rate of cyclist fatalities. 

BH: I welcome protected lanes. I want the community to have input, there’s going to be opinions. We have a low percentage of cyclists in this area. If you think everybody rides bikes you’re mistaken. A lot of people in my district, I have a lot of seniors, they can’t. There are other solutions, other designs where we don’t have to lose parking, that’s always a problem. I welcome proposals, I want the community to have input, I don’t want things shoved down people’s throats. A protected bike lane is safer for everybody — that’s a better way to go, it’s a lot of capital, a lot of money, a lot of planning. This conversation should have been started years ago. 

JC: Do you support the idea of breaking the city’s car culture?

BH: If the mayor wants to invest in more public transit to get us out of cars, I welcome that. I’m not for that unless I get public transportation, viable options.

  • Joe R.

    Most perfect example of circular reasoning I’ve ever seen:

    “If cyclists all obeyed the rules I may be for that, but they don’t. My wife complains to me and I witness it in Manhattan.”

    Basically, he’s saying he won’t consider new rules which let cyclists do things which are currently against the law unless they start obeying the law as written now, even though the reason for disobeying current traffic rules is because they make little sense when applied to cyclists (or pedestrians for that matter).

    It’s the usual setting the bar to an unattainable standard, then using not reaching that standard as an excuse to continue to treat a certain group of people as second-class citizens.

  • look, i’ve pilloried this guy repeatedly on social media for being an a-hole, but nothing in this interview suggests he’s some kind of monster. he’s just a) looking out for his constituents (in a way that doesn’t look out for other of his constituents, but that’s called….politics, and seniors vote more than younger people) and b) repeating the same crap we hear from everyone about cyclists breaking the laws in manhattan, which, yeah, we do. because the law is made to kill us, make us third class citizens, and make our cycling experience terrible. oh, and c) his point about public transportation…yes!!!! he’s 100% right! we need to couple our bike lanes with better public transport every time we can!! so the characterization you’ve put on social media about this interview is huff post level clickbait, false, and beneath you. delete.

  • Resident

    “If cyclists all obeyed the rules I may be for that, but they don’t.”

    So what law for drivers should be repealed because drivers don’t obey the rules? What a moron.

    Also, the fact that so many cyclists disobey the rules = which everyone agrees on! – but yet so few people are seriously injured or killed by cyclists ought to tell people that the stakes of most cyclist rule-breaking are very low. Not that people shouldn’t be considerate, but come on. Holden’s brain is utterly broken.

  • Resident

    Also:

    “If the mayor wants to invest in more public transit to get us out of cars, I welcome that. I’m not for that unless I get public transportation, viable options.”

    Didn’t Holden just oppose a bus lane in his district? This guy is full of it.

  • Isaac B

    Discussions with bike-haters follow a set pattern. It just takes a few rounds for the truth to come out:

    1. Hater: Cyclists break the laws and hurt people. May give example.
    2. Advocate: Points out that hater is wrong about law. Motorists also break laws and hurt way more people. Gives examples.
    3. Hater: Gives “common sense” reason why motorists should be allowed to drive as they do.
    4. Advocate: “Didn’t we start with the law? Why are we talking “common sense”?
    5. Hater: Your rights don’t matter, we can kill you.
    6. Advocate: “That sounds like bullying to me”.
    7. Hater: “Streets are for cars, not cyclists”.
    8. Advocate: “Streets are for people. Driving is a privilege.”
    9. Hater: “I HATE CYCLISTS!!!”

  • Resident

    “he’s 100% right! we need to couple our bike lanes with better public transport every time we can!!”

    he’s BS’er. He says this, which sounds reasonable, but he opposes a bus lane in his district. par for the course. guys like him like to say that the city doesn’t care about their districts, but when the city comes in and tries to do something they claim they don’t need it.

    don’t fall for it.

  • I was recently in Maspeth twice for dental procedures. I was quite amazed how many cyclists there were, was not expecting that, especially during midday – both appointments were at 11am. Grand Street and near the park had many. Yet I did bike down neighborhood streets where I didn’t see cars for a minute at a time. Would he say there aren’t drivers using those roads?

    Of course there aren’t pelotons of bikes, but there certainly is a good number in his district. He just chooses not to see them. Just the numbers of people/families on bikes on their way to or from Juniper Park is a healthy number to make the streets safer.

  • also, if i had to choose between this guy or “progressive” arthur schwartz, or the 25 CPW “progressives” ummmm, i’d take this guy. every time.

  • Seymour Butz

    well if his wife says all bikers are bad it must be true, I’m honestly surprised he even lets her out of the house, better off bare foot and pregnant in the kitchen

  • CJ

    So he wants “viable public transportation options,” but is actively trying to block a bus lane on the route of the slowest bus in his district. What a goddamn pathetic hypocrite.

  • 8FH

    > In
    Downtown Brooklyn, a bike hit my car coming down Jay Street, and I had a
    bike hit me almost three or four times within one week

    Is he failing to properly yield to cyclists? I can see no other way this would happen. Cyclists don’t just run into cars, because that would hurt.

  • Simon Phearson

    The underlying logic is simply that these people want cyclists to die. I wish we could be better about calling them out on this.

    Drivers view bike infrastructure – even apparently something that comes at no cost to them or any other road user, like permission to proceed on an LPI – as some kind of amenity or favor to cyclists, which they (as a group) must earn by achieving levels of legal compliance not expected of any other road users. That, of course, is not what bike infrastructure is. Instead, it is just a way to manage traffic of different kinds. We should give cyclists a LPI for the same reason we give them to pedestrians – to increase visibility to drivers and avoid crashes.

    So, when drivers oppose even these immaterial (to them) improvements, they simply lay bare the belief that they think cyclists should wait in standing traffic, with them, where they are more vulnerable and liable to be killed or injured.

  • I believe this person is truly terrified by bicycles. I mean just look at him. He probably clutches his chest whenever someone rolls within a few yards.

  • AMH

    “230 of the 11,115 pedestrians hurt in last year’s 45,775 collisions with vehicles were struck and hurt by a biker”

    I’m actually surprised the number is that high. That’s about 2% of pedestrian injuries caused by cyclists. What percentage of vehicles on the street are bicycles?

  • PDiddy

    This guy is like Megan McCain. “My wife my wife my wife”.

    MF, do you have an opinion that is based in reality and not on your geriatric wife’s delusions?

  • PDiddy

    I am skeptical that he is an advocate for public transit. You should be as well.

  • vnm

    I truly don’t think they want cyclists to die, which is a bit extreme. I think they get annoyed at having to tap the brake pedal now and then, and having to concentrate on driving when they would rather be zoning out behind the wheel.

  • djx

    Getting hit by a bike is no joke, especially if you’re elderly or small child.

    But that doesn’t change the facts that cars are way more dangerous.

  • Isaac B

    …I had a bike hit me almost three or four times…

    The same bike. Someone must be pissed.

  • Isaac B

    Like those Staten Island pols that talk about transit, but block anything substantive. Recall the pol who stopped the flashing blue lights on Select Bus?

  • Isaac B

    Years ago, I was biking solo along a quiet road in Illinois. It has a wide shoulder marked as a bike lane. Minding my own business. A car comes by. I am not in their way by any stretch of the imagination. I’m following traffic law to the letter. Somehow, all that warranted having a drink cup thrown at me.

    The issue is not what rules we follow or not. It’s not whether we are holding anyone up. It’s “how dare we” not be like them.

  • Joe R.

    He’s probably one of these “pedestrians always have the right-of-way” people who’ll just walk right into a bike lane without looking, thinking everyone has to stop for him by law.

  • Joe R.

    I’ve had stuff thrown at me a number of times for no reason at all. Because of this, I think once we have autonomous vehicles the windows should lock closed whenever the vehicle is in the vicinity of a cyclist. Even if the vehicle is programmed to not hit cyclists, the passengers would still be able to throw stuff at them unless they couldn’t open the window.

  • Joe R.

    Lost on drivers is the fact that good bicycle infrastructure, along with laws tailored to cyclists, radically decreases the instances of law-breaking. When the built environment and laws compel you stop every 500 feet for 30 seconds or more, the law will be widely ignored. When you have infrastructure which rarely requires cyclists to stop, they will be much more likely to do so when it’s required for safety.

  • Joe R.

    I would be more interested in the severity of those injuries. I’ll bet most of the 230 injuries could be treated on an outpatient basis. Most likely they were scrapes and cuts. Maybe there were a few broken bones. Probably a large percentage of the 11,115 people hurt by cars required either hospitalization or extensive rehab.

  • Toby Sheppard Bloch

    Bob isn’t acting in good faith here. I served beside him for several years on CB5 until he was elected my council member. I was a vocal advocate for better mass transit, bike and pedestrian infrastructure as co-chair of the transportation committee, with a strong attendance record and frequent participation in the full board meetings, reporting out the work of the transportation committee. For reasons that were not shared with me, I was not reappointed after Bob was elected Council Member, and his staff blocked me on social media after I took issue with some content shared to his official page.

    You can’t say no bike lanes unless better mass transit then oppose SBS and bus lanes and still be taken seriously.

  • William Lawson

    Exactly. Two reasons why injuries caused by cyclists are significantly less serious than those caused by motor vehicles:

    1) The physics. Size, weight and speed. No comparison here. An SUV could kill someone by rolling over them at 0.5mph. They’re incredibly dangerous objects, massively heavy and destructive, and reach speeds far in excess of a bicycle. If all collisions were between pedestrians and cyclists, the number of deaths would be considerably lower and the severity of injuries would be far less. Considerably fewer amputations and other life changing injuries.

    2) Psychology. Motorists are protected by layers of reinforced steel and other protective measures. They have seatbelts and airbags. They’re insulated from the outside world. Collisions with pedestrians and cyclists are likely to be absorbed without serious injury, if there is any injury at all (I know there are rare exceptions to this). Drivers have an inherent awareness of being in a protected bubble, one in which collisions with people or small objects aren’t going to hurt. Cyclists are unprotected and vulnerable. They feel exposed, that any kind of collision is going to hurt. They are afraid of falling from their bicycle. Even a minor bump is enough to throw a cyclist off balance. And collisions hurt. No seatbelts, no airbags, very possibly a painful roll in the road. Cyclists still take risks, but they’re far more measured and mindful. This is why I generally don’t fear cyclists whizzing by me on crosswalks. They’ve got skin in the game. I trust them not to hit me. A car blowing a red through pedestrians, that’s an entirely different matter. No comparison.

  • Joe R.

    I’ll also add that one of the common mechanisms of death by collision with a motor vehicle, namely blunt force trauma to major organs, is virtually impossible in a collision with a bike. Maybe it could happen if a bike hits a person while going 50 or 60 mph, but in all likelihood the cyclist would be killed in such a collision also. On top of that, NYC doesn’t have any long, steep descents where a cyclist could easily reach those kinds of speeds. The few times I got over 50 mph in NYC, I had a combination of a downgrade at least several blocks long, plus a very strong tailwind. Most cyclists don’t get much over 30 mph on hills in NYC, if that.

    Deaths caused by cyclists seem to entirely a matter of bad luck, where the person who was hit falls, hits their head, and sustains fatal brain trauma. This could happen whether the bike was going 30 mph or 5 mph. Still, such deaths are a statistical anomaly. If we had no large motor vehicles in the city, the number of pedestrian deaths would likely be in the low single digits.

    As a cyclist myself, I don’t fear other cyclists going by me either. I know in the very unlikely event they misjudge things and hit me, I probably won’t be seriously hurt, if I’m hurt at all. However, I also know that in the cycling world getting passed at 6 inches doesn’t quality as a near miss. Generally brushing against my clothes does.

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