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Bloodied State Senator: I Will Not Stop Biking … But It Needs to be Safer

9:42 AM EST on December 31, 2019

State Senator John Liu was bloodied in a bike crash on Northern Boulevard after hitting a huge piece of debris on a dark path. Photo: John Liu

He's bloodied, but unbowed.

State Senator John Liu, one of the few public officials who bikes regularly, was scraped up in a crash on Friday with a huge piece of truck debris that had been carelessly discarded on a Northern Boulevard bike lane — but says nothing will get him to stop riding.

But it does need to be safer.

"My incident isn't the wake-up call [for the need for more protection for cyclists] — this entire year has been a wake-up call," Liu told Streetsblog. "This has been a horrific, horrific year for cyclists. Polly [Trottenberg] and the DOT are making advances — it is safer, absolutely, to bike in New York City than it was in the past. But these kinds of crashes happen every day, and most don't get reported."

Here's what State Senator John Liu hit. Photo: John Liu
Here's what State Senator John Liu hit. Photo: John Liu

Liu had spent a large portion of Dec. 27 on his bike, first peddling from his home in his Eastern Queens district to City Hall via the Queensboro Bridge and the Second Avenue bike lane (which he likes as a "direct and fast" route downtown). By the time he started his return trip in the late afternoon, darknesses was descending over the metropolitan area.

He headed over the Williamsburg and Pulaski bridges into Queens — "I'm a creature of habit and I haven't worked out how to get to and from the Kosciuszko Bridge yet," he said — but by the time he got to the narrow Northern Boulevard bridge over Flushing Creek, it was fully nighttime.

"I was in a protected lane, but sometimes debris collects like a bathtub," he said. "I was a mile from home. I've taken that crossing many many times. It's pretty crappy, but it's short.

"This time, I think a couple of street lamps were out, and even with my halogen light, it was dark. Plus you have the oncoming headlights from the cars."

In short, he didn't see what appeared to be a massive oil pan lying directly in his path. He hit it, lost control of the bike and landed on his face.

"It's just a flesh wound," Liu joked. But there's nothing comical about what he hit. "It was a 20- to 40-pound piece of metal. But you only see it in the photo because of my flash. Whoever put it there should have moved it aside."

Of course, there's a larger issue beyond some scratches on the face of Flushing's most high-profile cyclist. Liu, like all cyclists, has heard the whispers and sometimes the open contempt of his colleagues and friends: "How can you bike long distances in New York? You must be crazy!" It's the icy hand of the car culture: The roads are for automobiles and anyone who wants to use that public space in a more efficient and cleaner manner should not be accommodated.

"You must be crazy!" is shorthand for, "Don't expect me to help you."

"Yes, people do have this perception that cycling is dangerous," said Liu, who bikes three times per week. "If that's the perception, that's why we have to do more and more to encourage it, to make it safer and safer and change that perception."

And that starts with the state senator from Flushing.

"Of course I'm going to keep riding," he said.

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