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.

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