Friday, August 20, 2010

Bike Bedlam Revisited

Aug 20, 2010 
The recent series by CBS News "Bike Bedlam," highlighting bad cyclist behavior in New York has raised the ire of cyclists, including BBB.

"We're unfairly under attack," cyclists seem to be saying, on blogs, email exchanges like ebikes, and club message boards, like the 5BBC.

But a visit to Soho and the Lower East Side yesterday by BBB showed that cyclists' critics--and CBS-- may have a point. Now BBB has to eat crow.

Pic: Sam Hindy's Ghost Bike --smashed by a car? (C) Aug 2010 Benepe.

What's worse, the city isn't helping matters. Here's what we saw while trying to drive (yes, drive a car) from the West Side Highway across to Chinatown. It was a little experiment.

While on our right were plentiful bike lanes, cars have now been restricted to single straight and turning lanes, making the already unbearable driving experience claustrobic and horrific. Traffic is horrible, and cyclists are plentiful. Normally that should be a good thing. It's what we wanted, right??

But are cyclists using the designated bike lanes? Not on your life, brothers and sisters.

In one example, in what can only be described as an arrogant (or is it ignorant) bicycle stance, no helmet (YES! NO freaking helmet, there we said it, we don't care what the cyclist community thinks, no helmet on a bike or motorcycle is just stupid), a cyclist riding right in front of the car as BBB attempts to make a right hand turn (coming from behind the car) then winding along in front of us in the single lane allotted to our use--while the bicycle lane lay fallow and unused to the right.

Not only were we then required to wait for the cycling jerk to take the turn in front of us that we had already waited to take, but now we had to drive 5 mph behind them as they zig-zagged back and forth in front of us, then darted unexpectedly to the left, and took a left hand turn in the wrong direction up the next avenue--not without first turning and looking at us straight in the face with a look that said, "See, I can do this, because I JUST CAN."

She wasn't the only one. There were cyclists coming in all directions wrong way, right way, most of them blowing through lights, few were riding properly. Right hand turns on red lights, straight throughs on red lights, left hand turns on red lights to go in the wrong direction. This was the smorgasbord of the "revenge of the a-hole cyclists."

The city's Department of Transportation ad (reproduced right) takes aim at cyclists and drivers, saying that if they look where they are going, they can avoid crashes. But that's hard to do when cyclists don't give a shoot.

Paul Dorn, author of the Bike to Work Guide: What You Need to Know to Save Gas, Go Green, Get Fit (Adams Media, 2009), said in one of his blog posts from California that riding in the wrong direction is "evil." There is no doubt that it is that, and more--let's start with one fundamental one, dangerous for all involved.

When we finally parked the car I was so relieved I had gotten across the 10 or so blocks without hitting one of these idiots. But a vision of a highly insular New York, sectioned off into little pockets of do's and don'ts with all the don'ts reserved only for car drivers started to form from bubble thought to reality in front of me.

Taxi driver Andrzej Mszanecki said lately: "I do not enjoy driving in New York anymore, there are too many sectioned off areas, and it has made driving a taxi very hard."

BBB has been wishing for this for a long time, hoping that one day New York would become a cycling paradise, where you could ride safely and to almost any destination.  Even though we still find riding in the city very dangerous, we were ecstatic when the city built real bike lanes going down Ninth Avenue from 23rd St. We were overjoyed to see the traffic medians taken up with new sitting sections, and controlled turn lanes for cars on 32nd and 23rd Sts.

But this kind of ridiculous behavior by cyclists was not in our vision. None of these scofflaws are receiving tickets for their antics, and it is about time they did. I would also say that their bikes should be registered so complaints about them --and tickets--can be tracked appropriately.

Cyclists, clean up your freaking act. You disgust us.

The Arrogant Cyclist is Also.....Guess What? Irresponsible!
Pic: Kafkafi points to a bike that has been abandoned for 1.5 years and is beyond repair.

And if that weren't enough, let's move on to the whole derelict bike issue.

About two weeks ago the city's Department of Sanitation held hearings about removing derelict bikes from the streets of New York. Their one mistake was to include in the proposed language Ghost Bikes, of which there are so few it's not even worth considering them. (See above a pic of Sam Hundy's memorial in Chinatown which has clearly been mowed down by some irresponsible motorist)

In this pic three bikes are left abandoned on a city bike rack--along with a workman's piece of equipment, all of them for over 1.5 years. They will not be removed under the new DOS rules because it's a city rack.  (c) Benepe, 2010

Irit Kafkafi has been spearheading a movement to get derelict bikes off her block. It's not a negative act on her part, but the second half of her strategy to get more bike parking on the Lower East Side.

As founder of the movement Rack and Roll, she has been trying to get the city to install more bike racks on the Lower East Side.

BBB didn't believe how much a problem it really was until we accepted her invitation last night to see the number of derelict bikes attached to  everything that stands still on the street, including tree guards, fences, streetposts, store gratings, you name it, it had a bike on it.

And 50 percent of the bikes she had shown us, one after another, had been there for more than a year and a half, with pieces hanging off, wheels gone, gears gone, seats torn off, frames twisted and dented into impossible shapes, and almost all of them--with unbroken kryptonite locks.

Here is video of Kafkafi giving me a tour of one block, almost every other bike has been there more than a year, left by its irresponsible owner for someone else to clean up.  In one case, a local store has taken all the bike rack spaces but never bothered to order more from the city.

The city Department of Sanitation's proposal to clear derelict bikes won't affect bikes tied to city bike racks even if they have been there for years, a weakness in the proposal that should be corrected.

Perhaps people who live in the area, like Kafkafi, or the local community board (do they do anything anymore?)  can give the DOS an idea of how long the bike has been abandoned.

Garbage collects in the basket of an abandoned bike on 2nd Ave. (c) Benepe 2010

The idea that a cyclist would leave their destroyed bike there for someone else to clean up goes against the whole idea of what a cyclist is supposed to represent, a moral citizen who is furthering the greening of New York. HAH! Greening of New York!

These cyclists who abandoned their bikes for whatever reason have only contributed to the JUNK of New York, leaving behind impedimental carcasses of metal that they expect their "mother" to clean up, whomever that is.

One more reason to disassociate myself from this particular cycling tribe.

Adding to the possible reasons for so many derelict bikes is the lack of secure and safe parking in the city. If a bike is parked, gets vandalized, and cannot be ridden, it's possible the owner abandoned the bike because it was no longer useful. But despite all the news about new bike parking laws being passed by the city, requiring residential buildings of a certain size, as well as commercial buildings to add secure bike parking, there are no provisions for smaller and older buildings like those on the Lower East Side.

The seat on this bike is dangling off--the bike has been there for over a year--untouched.

The law states that new buildings must dedicate 3 percent of their space to bike parking. In a recession those buildings haven't been built. Smaller existing residential buildings do not have to comply, and only larger commercial buildings have to comply--but they have ample time to do so.

More than 200 bike racks have been added to the Lower East Side since the Bike Rack program started according to the Department of Transportation and Kafkafi. But most of those spaces have been hijacked by irresponsible bike owners, leaving no space for real bike riders, the ones who actually use their bikes and need to park somewhere.

Kafkafi proposes that cyclists sign an agreement or receive training at the point of purchase that states they promise they will not abandon their bike in a public place, and if it needs to be disposed, to dispose of it properly either by donating parts to Recycle a Bicycle, or by recycling it through the city's recycling program.

Unfortunately, that type of program will not work for junk bikes that are bought for temporary use by students attending New York University, as it is suspected many of these derelict bike riders were--the owners having since left town after their schooling is over.

 In such a case, New York University should instruct their out of town students that leaving a bike on the streets for someone else to remove is not only illegal, but morally reprehensible.


Galfromdownunder said...

Cyclists with attitude who don't follow road rules and don't bother to use a rear light at night totally piss me off. They do nothing for the cause.

Jim Nicholson said...

Excellent article, Jen. You have said something that needed to be said.

It gives us bicyclists a bad rep and hinders us from achieving more. Case in point, the article today on the TriState Transportation Campaign's blog about NY trying to pass a Complete Streets Act. One comment, saying, "Good idea, but we need to do something about these bicyclists who..."

We can be our own worst enemy sometimes.

Jim Nicholson
New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition

Irit K said...

Jen, thanks for highlighting the abandoned bike problem. Today, it is a sore sight for eye in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and the East Village, Manhattan and tomorrow elsewhere in New York City. While for many years riding a bicycle was a domain of the few it is no longer the case. Now that it has become a transportation mode just like others, it is time to create regulations and enforcement or we will continue to see increase in bicycle related accidents and general bad behavior. Let me explain, I have been a cyclist for the last 36 years in Manhattan and before then I cycled for years in Israel and France. Over the years, I have done my share of bad behavior knowing full well that I would never drive my car through red light, go against the traffic or drive on a sidewalk. It appears that many cyclists do not think twice about traffic rules and most think they are entitled to the road. Frankly, in as much as it pains me, and will cause me an added expense, perhaps it is time to create a national/state department of transportation registry with a VIN and a decal. Perhaps then we will start seeing better behavior on the road, we will be able to identify a stolen bike, and we will be able to fine someone dearly for leaving their derelict bike – trash in the streets. This is a solution that may take time and I am sure will have many detractors. Meanwhile, because the problem is worsening and is soon to reach a tipping point where the public is not going to be sympathetic at all to bike riders, I would like to see us reaching to cyclists through public announcements on the radio, TV, newspapers , signage, brochures at point of purchase reminding them of their civic responsibilities to obey the rules of the road and to remove their trash when it is time to dispose of the bicycle."

RatherBeBiking said...

Nice video, but it would be nice if while you're commenting on people riding illegally, you weren't walking out in the bike lane. That's one of the main reasons people don't use the buffered bike lanes - oblivious pedestrians walking in them as if they were a sidewalk.

Jen Benepe said...

Dear Rather Be Biking:
Just to be clear, we were on the sidewalk, and not in the bike lane.

strfsh said...

A more likely way to solve this than asking people to sign a pledge would be to follow "Cradle to Cradle" recommendations; find a disposal mechanism charged to and traceable to the bike. Maybe charge a deposit fee on a bicycle when you buy it in the city, kind of like paying a deposit on a coke bottle. If the bicycle is not properly disposed of the fee pays for disposal. Presumably there is some way to get the fee refunded through proper disposal. Of course bikes not purchased in the city get a free ride.

I'm not a big fan of registering bike or riders; but perhaps they should be registered to take advantage of city parking. If you park off street in a building, fine, but if you want to park on the street you are required to have a registration permit; and there would need to be signs clearly stating the need for registration bike parking; would apply to non-official racks too (I don't know the city's policy on locking to things other than racks). Or perhaps it would only be required if you want to park on-street for more than 2 hours, but this would require more vigilant enforcement.

The book Cradle to Cradle proposed doing a manufacturer based solution with home appliances like clothes washing machines that often get dumped to avoid disposal fees. In his scheme, manufacturers are responsible for disposal fees; they they will likely pass through this cost to customer however they would also be incentivized to recycle parts and make appliances more durable if they have to pay for disposal.

Anonymous said...

Once again, it's not Bikes that hurt people. It's people that hurt people!