Sunday, January 28, 2007

Police Department Confirms New 50 Rule




January 26, 2007--The city's police department confirmed that they have passed new rules governing the definition of parade, and when New Yorkers will be required to obtain a permit to hold one--when they consist of 50 or more people traveling together on the street.

That new rule clearly will now apply to Critical Mass, the monthly bicycle ride that often starts at Union Square and 17th St., and travels around the city. The CM is an effort by cyclists to show physically that they are traffic.


Happier Times, Oct. 2004

The new rule also was endorsed by City Council head Christine Quinn who is now getting the thumbs down from many cyclists in the city as out of touch and succumbing to police demands. Some are hypothesizing that she is being given the good old "this is good for security speech" by the NYPD.

That argument always seems to scare the daylights out of city officials no matter how illogical or irrational (cyclists can't get out of the way of traffic faster than a traffic jam of cars? Yup, that's what they say, word for word). It scares them because if, IF, something were to go wrong "like 9/11", the unimagineably horrible, then it would be YOUR fault Christine Quinn!

A review of the new rules are as follows:
"A 'parade (or procession)' is any (march, motorcade, caravan, promenade, foot, or bicycle race, or similar event of any kind,) procession or race which consists of a recognizable group of 50 or more pedestrians, vehicles, bicycles, or other devices move by human power, or ridden or herded animals proceeding together upon any public street or roadway."

Handing out regs at CM in 2004

Outrage has been heard on all the familiar channels, including Transportation Alternatives, the New York section of the Civil Liberties Union, TimesUP!, and onNYTurf, a blog about city politics.

Said at onNYTurf: "the phrase public street is much broader, this phrase would be subject to interpretation by a court and thus puts public gatherings of all types at great risk. According to onNYTurf's legal advisors, public street easily could be interpreted to include the sidewalks."

This is another overreaction by liberals, though who could blame them? It seems any law can be passed by any city agency at any time, and this one clearly does not strike a balance, even though it is less draconian than the first two passes.

Although the outrage being expressed on the private email exchange, ebikes run by Danny Lieberman, was not as loud, it did express a great deal of worry that the new rules would also apply to organized bike rides heading out of the city, or through neighborhoods, like the ones often run by the Five Borough Bike Club (5BBC.org).

But as Steve Stollman, host to many of the CM parties at his storefront on Houston St. has often said, instead of concentrating on the problem--car traffic--this administration keeps crippling the solution--cyclists.

On the Phone, CM, Halloween 2004

Although it is clear the new police rules are targeting Critical Mass, it is not clear that organized bike rides intended for recreation and heading out of the city, stopping at red lights, and riding two by two will be affected. Clearly "parades" by their nature tend to take the entire street, which is entirely why the police are attacking CM.

Whatever the final effect, it looks like either the party is over, or CM is about to get ugly: will participants now up the ante, and spoil for a fight? We'll see after the new rules go into effect, in time for the next Critical Mass, Friday February 23rd.

Everyone, get your cameras ready!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

One Less Ghost Bike Reported

Photo by Mike Pidel. Jan. 10, 2007--

One of the victims of a car-bicycle accident, Ivan Morales, 62, was declared alive today, according to a posting to e-bikes by Josh Gosciak.

He wrote: " This comes from organizers of the memorial ride, via Indymedia.org:

It has come to our attention, at the NYC Bike Coalition, that one cyclist who we memorialized on Sunday, is alive and well!!

This mistake could not have made us happier.

Ivan Morales, who was struck by a motorist on Jan 9, 2006 was prononced dead at the scene, on Shore Road in City Island, The Bronx. He was later revived in the hospital, spent months recovering and has gotten back on his bike. He turned 62 this year.

Once again, this points out how the city's records are a mess. It is incredibly difficult to attain accurate information on cyclist and pedestrian deaths in this city.

Thanks to the diverse group of cyclists who participated. Messengers, activists, commuters, mothers, daughters, spandex-clad triatheletes, old, and young. Only together, with pedestrians will we see great changes on the streets on NYC. "

Thanks Josh and Indymedia for bringing this to our attention. One more cyclist, one more bike, one less car.

Monday, January 08, 2007

A Ride for the Fallen

Photos by Mike Pidel
January 8, 2007-- Hundreds of cyclists rode on Sunday to the sites where cyclists were killed by motorists in 2006. All told, 14 cyclists, and 134 pedestrians were reported killed in 2006 on the streets of New York.
Cyclists rode from location to location placing flowers and offering their sad regrets. Bicycles that had been painted white to represent the ghosts of the fallen cyclists, had been placed at the locations where the accidents once occurred.

The ride was organized by TimesUp!, an organization most known for its behind-the-scenes promotion of Critical Mass, a monthly bike ride in the city. Transportation Alternatives, the city's largest bike advocacy organization was also a major sponsor of the ride.
Noah Budnick, deputy director of advocacy for Transportation Alternatives was reported to have said that accidents have gone down in the city while the number of deaths have increased, according to the Metro newspaper.
But the actual number of cyclists killed on our streets fluctuates between 14 and 21: In 2004, there were 15 reported deaths, and in 2005--a really bad year for two-wheeled travelers--25 cyclists were killed as reported by the New York Police Department.
The statewide level was 42 in 2004, and 48 in 2005. But in both years, the numbers of personal injury accidents for cyclists related to cars were more or less the same, 5,738 in 2004, and 5,735 in 2005.
The numbers of those dead then, is related less to the degree of danger a cyclist encounters when navigating city streets, than to luck and circumstance. It is quite clear for many that the dangers of cycling have augmented rather than moderated, and the many violent deaths in 2006 are a testimony to that.
This may have been the case for both Dr. Carl Nacht, 56, who was killed in 2006 along the Greenway by a police truck, and Eric Ng who was struck by a drunk driver who was using the the same pathway as his personal road home.

The memorial ride was also partly organized by Visual Resistance, a group of cyclists that created the white bike reminders of dead cyclists as living monuments to street dangers. The group has also mapped 13 of the ghost bikes around the city.
Houston St. is also particularly dangerous for cyclists, with its many trucks and steel-plated street covers which become slippery in the rain. There were three fatalities on Houston St. last year, capped by the death of 23-year-old Derek Lake. Cyclists who ride the street often note how aggressively drivers use the road. Indeed, speeding and dangerous driving are hardly regulated by police there, and the roadway itself is not designed for safety.

Meanwhile, reports continue to appear in the press that the U.S. and Europe, as well as the rest of the world, are overrun with car traffic. An article in the New York Times today, January 8, pointed to the scores of traffic jams being experienced all over Europe.
Only those countries, like Denmark, with successful bike programs and heavy taxation on car purchases, have been able to put a dent in their traffic nightmares.
Perhaps it is an appropriate moment for silence--to contemplate those innocent people who have been killed by a car.
It may also be the right moment to develop the reserve, and the determination, to try harder to make changes to our sadly inconsistent transportation policy.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Improving Parking in Westchester?

The town of Tarrytown, NY recently instituted special valet parking to ease the shortage of parking spaces for shoppers, restaurant patrons, and movie goers, said a NY Times article on Dec. 31.

When I read articles like this one, I often wonder, has the world really gone crazy? But I think the bigger issue is why this isn't as obviously crazy to other people as it is to me.

I could be preaching to the choir when I say I find it unbelievable that in lieu of going through the extraordinary measure of sending cars out of town via valet parking, Tarrytown officials have not first adopted a yellow bike system, built more bike lanes, developed secure bike parking, and created safer conditions for cycling to town.

The valet parking measure was only partially successfull according to Steven McCabe, village administrator.

The Times also reported that Tarrytown is not alone in trying to address parking woes, and that "municipalities throughout Westchester County, striving to improve their downtowns, are confronted with a lack of space to create convenient parking.

One of the problems, according to J. Michael Cindrich, the mayor of Mount Kisco, is what he calls “suburban syndrome.”

“Everyone wants to park right in front of an establishment and walk in the door,” he said, according to the Times.

Said one cyclist Mike Pidel, who often visits Tarrytown and lives nearby, the problem with cars and parking is so bad that it affects cyclists, and he often feels it is more dangerous because of the lack of parking. But he also blamed local ordinances for allowing private home owners to block off precious parking spaces with their driveways, and local businesses, for allowing their employees to park in front of their establishments.

It is no secret to Americans that car ownership has more than tripled since the 1960's: Families in the suburbs are the worst offenders, some owning more than 4 cars per household of five people. It's no wonder there is no parking, no room on the highway, and tremendous traffic jams every day.

Owning one car--just one car--creates the second largest source of spending in an American household according to the 2004 U.S. Bureau of Labor who calculated that a car consumes 17 percent of household income after shelter of 32 percent, well above food which consumes 13 percent of our take home pay.

Yet, the Sierra Club reported that "auto ownership and vehicle miles traveled (VMT) continue to grow." U.S. VMT grew at rates over 3 percent per year during the 1980s, and is forecast to increase 25 percent per capita between 1990 and 2010, they said.

Since 1970, the number of miles Americans travel by car every year has grown from a little over 1 trillion to about 3.5 trillion according to the Federal Highway Administration.

So whose fault is it, and what can we do to change the situation?

It's everyone's fault really, but let's start with government, who are pouring their energies into building faster and better roads, while neglecting the bare essentials for safe cycling and bike parking.

We're also talking about neglecting the barest bike necessities, such as not even being able to take your bike on a bus when you cross a bridge--say the Tappan Zee, 24 hours a day, or the George Washington at night--because there are no bike facilities to cross the bridge.

It seems incredible that a town would devote so much energy to building valet parking before its even attempted to establish safe bike parking and bike lanes, or increased ticketing for dangerous driving around cyclists.

Then there are the people who get sucked into the fantasy that drivng a car is cool, and should be as essential to your character set as a pair of Gucci sunglasses. The reality, not driven by advertising, is that driving a car instead of riding a bike makes you sedentary and overweight.

So what can you do? You can recognize the organizations that are struggling to help small upstate towns reconfigure their streets and byways in ways that are meaningful for the coming centuries, such as the New York Bicycling Coalition (www.nybc.org).

With the help of Josh Poppel, their director, the organization maps roads that cyclists feel are unsafe and offers voluntary solutions for reconfiguring the town's transportation dynamics. So supporting organizations like NYBC is an essential first step.

The other major step you can take is to vote people into office that you know will make the right changes.

A 2005 study conducted by John Pucher and Ralph Buehler under a joint arrangement with the University of Sydney, Australia, and Rutgers University sought to understand why Canadians cycle three times as often as Americans.

They found that having limited parking meant that people cycled more--which implies that Tarrytown's move is even more lacking in vision than they imagined--and that greater bike networks and a targeted government effort at increasing cycling and cycling safety made the big difference.

Make your needs known, and put your vote, and your money, where your mouth is.