The City and the Cyclists
June 27th, 2006

The day after a 23-year old cyclist was run over by a truck in the Village, Diana Kuan in Metroblog wonders why New York police continue to go after cyclists. Focusing on the continued police effort against the monthly Critical Mass bike ride, she writes With gas prices skyrocketing, and the United States going to war because of our foreign oil addiction, there is no worse time to squelch a movement that promotes energy-efficient transportation.

And cyclists may be more likely to be victims of law breaking by others than law breakers themselves. The Village cyclist, Derek Lake, apparently fell from his bicycle… as he was attempting to ride over or around a metal street plate that protruded from a construction site, the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives said. The group charged the plate was in violation of Department of Transportation rules and called upon the city to ensure that all street construction is performed in a lawful manner.

Another bicyclist, 57-year-old Henry Nacht, died Sunday of injuries he suffered when a tow truck struck him as he bicycled on the West Side bike path Thursday. (Nacht was not wearing a helmet.) His wife, Mary Beth Kelly, told the New York Times that the tow truck unexpectedly turned into the bike lane and did not slow down. ”We thought because we were on a bike path, we were safe,” she said.

But, Gothamist notes, The unfortunate thing, as many recent biking accidents have shown us, there is no such thing as safe. Let’s hope the city will embark on campaigns to improve driver education about bikers’ rights in the city – as well as reminding bikers of tactics they need to take.

By on June 27, 2006, 7:56 am
In category: Environment,Gotham City,Transportation | 27 Comments »

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27 Responses to “The City and the Cyclists”

  1. JDawg Says:
    June 27th, 2006 at 8:10 am

    As much as I’d like to agree with this posting, the simple fact of the matter is if you’re going to ride a bicycle in a bustling metropolis, then you have to accept the fact that its REALLY dangerous.

    The same can be said for motorcyclists and mo-ped drivers.

  2. Mike Says:
    June 27th, 2006 at 11:09 am

    I think the previous poster needs to modify his assertion a bit: “if you’re going to ride a bicycle in THIS bustling metropolis, you have to accept the fact that it’s REALLY dangerous.”

    Biking in New York City is more dangerous than in other bustling metropolises because of conscious, active policy and enforcement decisions made by the city, most specifically its Department of Transportation and Police Department. It is NOT a given that bicycling has to be dangerous and treacherous in every major city, and in fact other cities (most notably Chicago in the USA and others in Europe) prove this.

  3. Daniel Millstone Says:
    June 27th, 2006 at 3:05 pm

    I agree with Mike. The reason NYC streets are dangerous for walkers and cyclists is policy not accident. Those of us who cycle know there are risks but those risks are augemented by design, planning and enforcement practices which encourage and facilitate motor traffic but harm others.

    Vast areas of our streets are given over to parking. Traffic is not detered at peak periods by congestion pricing. Street repair standards — the metal plates at street construction sites, for example –are designed to accommodate trucks and autos, not pedestrians, bikes, strollers and wheel chairs.

    These policies are not part of human nature, but of a culture. We can change that culture

  4. Larry Littlefield Says:
    June 27th, 2006 at 3:12 pm

    A trip to Italy changed my mind about this issue. There, bicycles, scooters, motorcycles, pedestrians, cars and trucks all share narrow rights of way. But the traffic moves slower, and the cars and trucks actually stop when you cross the street. There are crosswalks where there is no stoplight. You just go, and the traffic stops. And, of course, the cars aren’t much bigger than the scooters.

    Even compared with New York, Italy is a bad place to drive a car off the highways, but a better place to get around otherwise.

  5. Glenn Says:
    June 27th, 2006 at 3:23 pm

    The only way to make cycling safe is for the city to install a network of separated, buffered and protected bike lanes like you can find in almost every major European city. For instance, here is a picture of a lane in Copenhagen:

    That’s a real bike lane that offers cyclist real protection.

    You can see more here:

  6. JDawg Says:
    June 28th, 2006 at 8:36 am

    All of you are completely unrealistic. That would never work in a city as crowded as New York.

    Even IF the City were to implement stricter laws regarding bike safety (god only knows how to enforce them), biking through New York would still be a terribly dangerous and risky undertaking.

    Plus, 50% of all traffic related bike accidents are the fault of the bike rider anyway.

    You folks need to start thinking in terms of rational solutions.

  7. eric Says:
    June 28th, 2006 at 8:43 am

    OK… agreed that NYC needs MUCH better bike lanes if is will ever be a safe place to ride–and, ultimately, travel. That said, of the 2 recent fatalities, one was riding without a helmet (this guy supposedly had been riding his bike to work for years) and the other was on Houston St., which–considering existing traffic patterns–is really an awful way to try and cross town in the morning. I’m happy that these incidents can spark discussion about upgrading NYC’s bike network and about ways the City can make the street safer for bicyclists–this is a discussion that is SORELY needed. But bicylists bear some responsibility for their own actions as well, and (as the Gothamisst post suggests) this conversation needs to encompass the steps we should take to safely navigate the streets as they CURRENTLY exist. Streets with bike lanes are still safer than major thoroughfare streets or avenues, even if they are a few blocks out of the way… and since we agree that the streets aren’t entirely safe as is, there is no excuse for riding without a helmet. Unlike automobile drivers, the state doesn’t require you get a license to ride your bicycle… so it is ultimately incumbent upon cyclists to educate themselves on the rules of the road and how best to safely navigate it.

  8. Carol Says:
    June 28th, 2006 at 9:08 am

    I think it’s absolutely outrageous that riding a bike in NYC is so hazardous. Having ridden in many European cities, it boggles the mind that New York is so bike unfriendly. Those of us who live and work in the city are left to wonder why city policies overlook us. I can’t think of a logical reason why the city wouldn’t create buffered bike lanes if it cares about its residents. As a bike commuter I ride in the streets all the time. Bike lanes are routinely overlooked or ignored by cars and trucks. I ride wearing a bright yellow vest, putting my faith in the adage that to ‘be seen’ is half the battle.

  9. M Says:
    June 28th, 2006 at 10:19 am

    Simular situation in Jersey City, where the distance to PATH trains to NYC is longer than walk to subways, to much high speed automobile traffic, and not enough Bike Lanes. However, the PATH stations have bike racks, something you don’t see in manhattan.

  10. Adam Piontek Says:
    June 28th, 2006 at 10:48 am

    We don’t just need buffered bike lanes, we need a full-fledged updated Bike Master Plan, with a real timetable, to fully incorporate bicycles into the city’s transportation design and encourage their use. There’s no need people should think they need a car just to move around Manhattan. Add to that improving the bus & subway system and we can start using our streets for people again instead of cars…

    Cars are great for some things, but we’ve really become obscenely dependent on them. There’s no reason every single street in the city needs to be lined with them…

  11. Wendy Brawer Says:
    June 28th, 2006 at 11:12 am

    There are literally hundreds of motor vehicle accidents in NYC each day – in 2004, there were 287 people killed in motor vehicle accidents in NYC. says: Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of preventable death for New York City children between the ages of 5 and 14 years old. In addition, more than 2,200 children in this age group were injured as pedestrians on NYC streets in 2003…

    Across the US, motor vehicle accidents killed over 40,000 that year- that’s more than a dozen World Trade tragedies, and it happens every year. Sounds to me like motor vehicles are the true weapons of mass destruction – yet the hardy folks who bicycle are being blamed here for creating unsafe situations for themselves.

    How many of the drivers in NYC were penalized for hitting cyclists and pedestrians? Virtually none, because the NYPD currently must witness these accidents in order to summons drivers (though that’s not the case for other kinds of manslaughter). So there’s not much incentive to watch for nor share the road with people using pedal power to get around. In other countries, drivers know that hitting people is a punishable offense – they go slower (and save lives and gas at the same time). Studies in Denmark have shown that we can survive being hit at 18 mph – why not lower our citywide street speed limit to 15-20 mph?

    There’s also the negative health impacts of motor vehicles – air quality impacts, noise, vibration and alienation – we all pay the price for this. Future generations will be paying the really heavy price for our current mobility and infrastructure development choices – the full costs of the US oil war in Iraq, climate change and related disasters, social inequity, asthma & obesity — the reasons to build safer bike infrastructure now go on and on.

    I love NYC and want to see it become the GREEN APPLE – a healthy and sustainable community for all – it’s time to put the brakes on unsafe policies and bad habits. Let’s have one less lane of parking on every street, and wider sidewalks with safer crosswalks and bike lanes everywhere. NYC has great mass transit options, reducing the need for many of the motor vehicles that clog our streets and lungs each day. I want to see more walkers and riders of all ages get the respect they deserve from the City and from those that operate motor vehicles here immediately.

  12. steveo Says:
    June 30th, 2006 at 9:32 am

    JDawg said, “Plus, 50% of all traffic related bike accidents are the fault of the bike rider anyway.”

    Wrong! “Driver misconduct was thus the principal cause in 57% of the cases [of bicycle fatalities studied] and a contributory factor in 78%.”


  13. Lavi Soloway Says:
    June 30th, 2006 at 10:09 pm

    Let’s start with congestion pricing to deter traffic, increase taxes, tolls, parking expenses and take all that money and make the city into a vespa, bike, etc. friendly environment. Get parking off the street and you will have a 12-foot wide bike lane! Take city owned property and create reasonable alternatives for parking away from the congested core. Invest in public transportation along the east and west sides of Manhattan and build parking lots there. Get those motorists out of their cars. Levy a tax on taxis (they are too cheap and they compete with public transportation). Every time a car doesn’t get on the road I don’t have to inhale that exhaust. Let’s give all citizens a tax deduction for bike purchase, maintainance and storage. Let’s give tax breaks to employers, retailers, office buildings who create free or low cost “bike” parking. I say we should have a helmet law, too. And we should have automatic suspension of driver’s licenses for those who cross into the bike lane. Let’s get real: we need more people on bikes, and we need to keep them safe. There can be no compromise. Let’s spend money on a bike police force. They can enforce laws against bikers AND motorists. Don’t fool yourselves, though. It’s the motorists who cause dangerous conditions for cyclists, and if the law was enforced against them 5% of the time it would have a palpabale effect. Bikers are the heroes of today’s wasteful, polluting society. We should treat them that way. The loss of Dr. Henry Nacht a few days ago was a tragedy of enormous proportion, a tremendous loss to all the citizens of New York. It is hard to comprehend how we are not more motivated by the last few fatalities, ESPECIALLY one that took place ON a dedicted, protected bike lane!

  14. Kerri Says:
    July 1st, 2006 at 5:33 pm

    Derek Lake, the 23 year old cyclist, was an amazingly talented writer, as well as a brilliant filmmaker.

    You can view the trailers to Derek Lake’s films here:

    Derek received notification last week that his film Sans Pertinence was accepted into HollyShorts, a short film festival which is taking place at Cinespace August 11-13 in Hollywood, CA.

    I know it’s not relevant to the above thread, however, he is a large part of the story and I know that some people are interested in his life. Thank you.

  15. aldente Says:
    July 5th, 2006 at 7:50 am

    we all mourn the recent deaths of bikers but sharing the streets with drivers is a two way street. let the police crack down on rule violating bikers—those who weave in between cars, ride in the wrong direction and refuse to stop on red, also those who ride on sidewalks. how many have they injured or killed? most streets now have a bike lane which adds to traffic congestion because it takes a lane of traffic away.
    bikers should use them. obey the rules of the road like the rest of us!

  16. Glenn Says:
    July 5th, 2006 at 8:02 am

    aldente – Unfortunately you are incorrect in stating that most streets have bike lanes. In my neighborhood (Yorkville) there are no bike lanes going east, west or south and only one solitary 4 foot wide lane on First Avenue going North starting out of nowhere on 72nd street. Sadly, because of the lack of even this basic infrastructure, it is too dangerous to bike in my neighborhood except for early mornings on the weekend.

    Furthermore these bike lanes are continuously blocked by double parked cars, trucks and yes even “Traffic Enforcement Agents” patroling for unpaid meters…

    Real separated bike lanes are the answer to the constant friction between cyclists and motorist and pedestrians. And it would help if the city government started to engage in more direct conversations with the cyclist community to improve policy solutions to transportation issues.

    The current DOT approach to cyclists is clearly not working.

  17. Pat Guida Says:
    July 5th, 2006 at 12:01 pm

    One of the reasons that cycling is so dangerous in NY is that cyclists don’t obey the traffic laws. They are supposed to obey all the laws that drivers do. They go through red lights all the time. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been almost knocked over by a cyclist who ignored the light. I’ve also seen several cyclists narrowly avoid getting hit by cars as they whizzed past red signals.

  18. se Says:
    July 5th, 2006 at 12:12 pm

    Somehow, Tokyo manages to integrate cyclists in with cars easily and not face the same level of cyclist fatalities as there are in New York, so the excuse of the city being crowded is moot.

    New York manages its cyclists and pedestrians as second class citizens to cars. In a city this crowded, it’s inexcusable.

  19. Louisaida cyclist Says:
    July 5th, 2006 at 2:28 pm

    Who designed the manhattan side of the (not so) newly expanded 8-lane Williamsburg bridge? It is the worst place, and the least pedestrain/cyclist friendly spot I’ve ever had the displeasure of setting foot or wheel upon.

    First, it is nearly impossible to cross the street anywhere on Delancey street between Clinton and Essex.

    Second, I drove across the williamsburg bridge into manhattan a few days ago, looked at my speedometer and I was going 55 with the flow of traffic. The posted speed limit is 30. I slowed it down to 40 and cars were honking at me and crowding up behind me. Traffic doesn’t slow down when it enters manhattan. And traffic onto the bridge speeds past pedestrians at 50-60mph. WE THE PEOPLE OF NEW YORK NEED MORE TRAFFIC CALMING, AND POLICE ENFORCEMENT OF TRAFFIC LAWS!

    NYC is getting worse and worse for pedestrains and cyclists. I’m moving to Chicago.

  20. Glenn Says:
    July 5th, 2006 at 3:40 pm

    The basic issue is that the city Department of Transportation (DOT) is managing a system that does not work as it is currently designed. It needs an overhaul. I hope Ms. Weinshall (head of the NYC DOT) is fired by Mr. Doctoroff and replaced by someone who will put pedestrians and cyclists first.

  21. Jace Says:
    July 5th, 2006 at 3:52 pm

    Bike safety can’t be legislated in – safety ultimately depends on both bikers and drivers respecting each other’s space on the road. You could do this with more paths – helpful but unless they’re completely separated they offer a false sense of security or you could do this by how you ride/drive. I know all too well how bad drivers can be in the city but I also know there are a whole lot of people riding in NY who just don’t know how to ride in traffic, who don’t know the ‘unwritten’ rules of the road. Maybe what’s needed is more biker education about these rules – especially for those new in town and those that must have a fixed gear bike.

  22. Gotham Gazette - The Wonkster » Blog Archive » Congestion Relief? Says:
    July 10th, 2006 at 12:10 pm

    […] Following the outcry over recent bicycle deaths (extensively commented on in The Wonkster), Transportation Commission Iris Weinshall is coming under attack. […]

  23. StreetsBlog » Today’s Headlines Says:
    July 11th, 2006 at 10:23 am

    […] The City and the Cyclists (Gotham Gazette) […]

  24. Larry Robinson Says:
    September 14th, 2006 at 1:35 pm

    I live in a university town, and 90 percent of the bicycle accidents with motor vehicles are caused by the bicycle rider breaking the law.

    In most of these cases, the bicycle was illegally on the sidewalk instead of in the traffic lane where he belonged. He then suddenly (and illegally) apppeared at speed into traffic and was hit.

    In most of the other cases, the bicycle disregarded a STOP sign or traffic light, was going the wrong way on a one-way street, or had no lights at night.

    Real accidents from our area:

    – A delivery truck making a turn on red hit a bicycle going the wrong way on the one-way intersecting street. Fatal. It is interesting that the right rear of the truck hit the bicycle.

    – A car making a turn on red hit a bicycle riding on the sidewalk in the wrong direction for the intersecting one-way street. Again, the rear of the car hit the bicycle. The bumper hooked the front wheel of the bicycle, turning the bike over and throwing the rider’s leg under the car wheels. The cyclist claims he had a green light, but no vehicle signals face the direction he came from (it’s a one-way street).

    – A bicycle passed a semitrailer truck on the right on the shoulder and then entered the intersection without obeying the STOP sign the truck stopped for. A car with the right-of-way on the cross street hit the bike before its driver had time to brake.

    – A car turning left into a one-way street from a STOP sign hit a bike going the wrong way on the one-way street.

    – A truck turning left into a one-way street from a STOP sign hit a bike going the wrong way on the left sidewalk on the one-way street.

    – A bicycle moving at 15 mph on a sidewalk smashed into a car door which was opened to let a worker out onto the sidewalk at his job.

    – A driver entered an intersection from a STOP sign at night and hit a bicycle without lights on the other street (which does not have to stop). The rider thought he was safe with only a reflector on the front of his bike. But reflectors don’t work unless headlights actually strike them. Headlights don’t bend around corners.

    – A car came around a sharp curve and hit a bicycle headed toward it in its own lane.

    – A bicycle on a 4-lane street suddenly changed lanes in front of a van, and then immediately stopped to turn left into a grocery store. The van was unable to stop in time, and bent the rear wheel of the bike double.

    – A bicycle came off the sidewalk at one corner of an intersection, and tried to cross the intersection diagonally to enter a sidewalk on the diagonally opposite corner. A car going the same direction hit it.

    – A school bus making a right turn at an ALL WAY STOP hit a bicycle which was illegally passing it on the right.

    – A cop had just stopped this bicycle rider for riding on the sidewalk. As soon as he rode away after the cop finished with him, he was hit by a van which was making a right turn at an ALL WAY STOP. He had tried to pass the van on the right and also ran the STOP sign. The van was clearly signaling a right turn when he passed it on the right..

    – The bicycle ran the red light. Two cars with the green light swerved to avoid the bike and ran into each other.

    – A bicycle came out of an alley at speed and was hit by a car on the street. Buildings hide the alley except for the last 8 feet. The law requires a stop when entering a street from an alley, whether or not a sign is posted.

    In each case, the bicycle rider was hit because he broke the law. In many cases, the rider made claims to “rights” he didn’t have.


    – A bike can NOT go when the WALK sign comes on. It must wait for a GREEN light.

    – A turning vehicle does NOT have to yield to a bike going straight ahead. If there is a bike lane, it must merge with the vehicle lane well before the intersection.

    – A bicycle on the sidewalk has NO right-of-way at all. They must stop and wait for a gap before entering the street.

    – Nobody is allowed to ride on the sidewalk except a child under 8 years old. That child can not ride in the street.

    – Bicycles must use the same lanes they would use if driving a car. They must not ride against traffic.

    – A bicycle may not pass a line of stopped cars on the right or between lanes. It must join the line.

    – A bicycle may not enter private property to bypass a traffic signal or stop sign.

    – Bicycle riders must use the standard hand signals. All hand signals are made with the left hand. It is illegal to make up your own signals.

    – Bicycle riders must signal stops and slowing down with hand signals. Bicycles don’t have brake lights.

    – Bicycles must have headLIGHTS and red rear reflectors.

    – In my state, it is a crime for a parent to teach a child to ride a bicycle in any manner other than the legally correct way.

  25. Larry Robinson Says:
    September 14th, 2006 at 1:43 pm

    Clarification: The car going around the sharp turn was in the corrct lane. The bicycle was on the wrong side of the road.

  26. Les B. Littlemind Says:
    October 7th, 2006 at 9:24 pm

    New Yorkers are unfairly generalized for acting in a lot of ways- “know it all” or “center of universe”mentality … I read these blogs and it is all so clear, why can’t we move on? Let’s face it- the smog and air pollution is a part of the city. There will always be things out of our power- violence, corruption, traffic… the police monitor, its what we pay taxes for, no? For example, why go for an evening ride after finishing rounds at a hospital (not to mention endagering the life of his wife and co- rider) on a city bike path?? That tow truck couldn’t see the lights of both the riders, and bicycle traffic signals along with vehicle lights? What will they pay for next..oh, and no helmets? Well, making a turn at high speed means the city driver musta been getting their job done with dedication and efficiency. I bet if the doctor had known the benefits of helmets, it totally woulda saved him from the fatal blow that sent him into a coma instantaneously. So- wear helmets, ride cars, and take pride in the city of new york by expressing complacency. Dr. Nacht was beloved, a tremendous loss- he went out of his way to reach everyone he could, going far beyond his duties. But, more taxes, tolls..what are people thinking, its just not our duty nor responsibility.

  27. Laverne Weik Says:
    October 5th, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    I just love reading through your article, it is so interesting!

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