Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bike Lane Backlash, NJ Bike-Ped Webinar in 2011

In the news today, a local author and blogger, JP Partland responds to an anti-bicycle editorial in the New York Times.

Pic: Police cars parked in bike lane in Hudson Heights this year (Benepe, (C)) 

He wrote, "A few cyclists running red lights are not a public menace. On the other hand, people driving 6,000-pound cars while talking on cellphones, speeding, running red lights, turning without signaling and so on are. Any meaningful crackdown on scofflaws should begin with getting car and truck drivers to obey traffic laws. "

But to add fire to the flames, that old curmudgeon, Norman Stiesel, (the one whom Mr. Benepe pointed out in his reporting two weeks ago on BBB, as someone who truly lacks vision,)  cosigned his name to a letter that once again, made flaming claims that the new bike lane on Prospect Park West has created a three time increase in collisions between drivers and cyclists--a claim that he shows no accompanying data for.

In addition he states that there are not the numbers of cyclists the DOT predicts using the lane; DOH Mr. Stiesel, it's 25 degrees outside! And did you forget the old adage, 'build it and they will come?' What's more, in his lack of knowledge about cycling and traffic calming, Stiesel claims that with less room for cars and more room for cyclists, there will be more accidents. But he fails to recognize that with more cyclists there will be fewer cars, and cyclists take up less space. Once again, Stiesel got it all wrong.

We'll have to weigh in here on the New York Times editorial. For one, it's clear the writer has no idea what it is like to ride in New York City. Perhaps because they are too scared to. No wonder, three, four and five ton vehicles traveling well beyond the speed limit, barreling down the avenues with no care or consequence should they hit and kill or maim you.

Once again, the New York Times misses the point entirely. There is no way to insure cyclist safety without creating safe bike lanes, and cyclists WILL go on the sidewalks if the streets are not safe for them.

They cite  Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer's mini-research study--showing, "741 instances of pedestrians blocking bike lanes; more than 275 vehicles blocking bike lanes, including a school bus and pedicabs; 331 cyclists going the wrong way; 237 cyclists running red lights; and 42 cyclists riding on sidewalks."

But they fail to point out the hundreds of thousands of trucks, cars and other heavy vehicles running red lights, speeding, making turns in front of cyclists, cutting them  off, buzzing them, and sometimes purposely trying to hit them--an offense that is still very difficult to punish by law.

Pic: A real bike path in Bruges, Belgium. Photo, Katie Lambden, (c).  

Let's start with the heavy hitters, and go from there, shall we? I propose a law that makes it a crime to hit a cyclist:  Now it's just called an incident, in varying degrees, and criminal culpability is extremely difficult to obtain unless the driver is drunk--and tested for drunkenness on the spot, which rarely occurs unless there is a death.

Now wouldn't that be novel? Then we would see a lot fewer cyclists on the sidewalks, going the wrong way, or doing anything that they are doing to protect their bodies from death and dismemberment.

Pic: Exclusive bike lane in the Netherlands. 

Also in the introduction to the Opinion Pages of the NYT, the writer implies that Mayor Koch's bike lane plans failed. Noted Steve Faust in a reply to the paper that although Koch's plan to demarcate the lanes with barriers failed, the painted lanes themselves still exist and were never removed.  "Reports of bike lanes death were greatly exaggerated - to our propaganda loss," wrote Faust to ebikes, a private New York email exchange founded and run by Daniel Lieberman.

Faust's detailed explanation of what happened to the bike lanes during the Koch administration is worthy of note, since the mythology that they failed has superseded any mention that they survived.

Four Part Webinar Offered by Rutgers on Bike-Ped Planning

Also a four part Webinar series on community health and transportation planning was announced today by the Rutger's center in charge of helping transform New Jersey's complex cycling and pedestrian issues.

The series is sponsored by the American Public Health Association and will cover the many ways transportation systems impact public health, said a representative from the New Jersey Safe Routes to School Resource Center.

They will feature speakers from across the nation talking about state and local programs that consider health and equity in transportation planning, the health benefits of active transportation, health impact assessment tools, and innovative programs to prevent roadway deaths and injuries. 

And if you register for any session, your registration is good for the whole series. To register, visit this link.

For more information contact the New Jersey Safe Routes to School Resource Center at the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center, Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers University, 33 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ 08901, telephone: (732) 932-6812.

Monday, December 13, 2010

City Bike Lane Hearings Make Mockery of Cyclists

By Barry Benepe and Jen Benepe
It wasn't just the hearings on bikes lanes in New York held Dec. 9 that made a mockery of cyclists. It was also the public officials elected to insure a fair process, and the "schmeadership" in Brooklyn that brought to mind the old fashioned thuggery of New York before the days of political reform.

It was as if the Old Tammany Hall had come back to life just like the nightmare of Scrooge's Christmas past in the form of borough president Marty Markowitz who thundered his way through the proceedings in opposition to bike lanes in Brooklyn. He sounded as if he were the sole voice of the borough, reported Barry Benepe. "He talks like a mob boss, and he wasn't interested in what anyone else thought."

Markowitz's disgraceful performance was followed up by an equally prejudiced portrayal against the only salvation for bicycle transportation in the city in an almost hour-long diatribe spouting unsupported "facts" by Norman Stiesel who calls himself an "eco" consultant and goes around tooting his title as "First Deputy Mayor", a title that has not been his for many, many years.

"The entire process appeared to be staged for the benefits of the loudmouths" Markowitz and Stiesel, said Benepe referring to the City Council's hearing on bicycle infrastructure in the city.

The pols' testimony and questioning of Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, including statements from city council members, took over two hours and after they were finished Chair Vacca gave only 2 minutes each to cyclists and other pedestrians to speak, who had come at 9 AM in the morning and waited until 2 PM to give their testimony. "Hurry up, you only have 2 more seconds," he barked to the hoi poloi, some who had waited for 7 hours for their chance to educate the city council members.

But those city council members who were elected by New Yorkers to listen to what we have to say started leaving soon after the pols had finished, leaving an empty dais for New Yorkers to talk to.

"The city council turned the process of a public hearing on its head by using it as a forum for their opinions to be heard rather than the opinions of the public, and the chair (Transportation Committee Chair and Councilman Vacca) was the worst of all by putting forth his opinions in the form of questions, what a lot of politicians do when they want to dominate the argument," said Benepe.

Transportation Committee Chair Vacca said that bicycle lanes create a "trade-off," crowding out motorists and parking spaces, a notion that has not been supported by fact, since no study has been done on the matter, at least to the knowledge of this reporter.

"Most of the [other] council members tried to pretend the issue was important, but didn't even seem to understand what bike lanes were, and they sounded equivocal about the whole thing," said Benepe.

Seventy-one people had signed up to speak, but only 45 people actually had the opportunity, with 42 of them in favor of bike lanes. 
Pic: Ken Coughlin speaking a couple of years ago in Central Park

Besides Markowitz and Steisel, only three other people came to speak against bike lanes in the city, but many of our elected leaders only heard the negatives because they were gone when the positives started to roll in. It was unclear if a video camera in front of the speaker's spot was actually catching the testimonies, or worse, if any of the lawmakers who left would take the time to watch the video later.

The New Yorkers who spoke in favor of bike lanes "were so good it was pathetic how the city council abandoned the hearings," continued Benepe. "It was really discourteous and rude, and they were hostile [in their questions] to the Department of Transportation [Janette Sadik-Khan] as well."

Among the council members who were an exception were Gale Brewer (D- Dist. 6), Van Bramer (D-Dist. 26),  Daniel Garodnick (D-Dist. 4), Brad Lander (D-Dist.39),  and Letitia James (D-Dist. 35) . Council woman James stayed the longest and Vacca stayed to the end, probably because as chair, he had to.

"Letitia James was the only forthright supporter of bike lanes, clearly and without conditions," said Benepe. "She was a voice of sanity and she was considered in her comments."

Showing just how out of touch our leaders are from our needs, among the New Yorkers who did speak in favor of bike lanes was Nancy Gruskin whose husband was hit and killed by a cyclist.  She wanted more care exercised by cyclists, and more order on the road. Then there was also a man who was hit by a truck when he was on his bicycle, a 13-year-old who spoke eloquently about the need for bike lanes, and a man who showed with photographs how he had lost 35 pounds by riding his bicycle to work.

Also among the pro bike lane speakers was Ken Coughlin who has long spearheaded the effort to reduce car use in Central Park on behalf of Transportation Alternatives.

Coughlin said that as a member of Community Board 7 in Manhattan he and his fellow board colleagues had asked the DOT to come up with a suitable bike lane along Columbus Avenue for their neighborhood on the upper west side.  

More than 100 people from his hood voted in favor of the bike lanes, said Couglin, showing that it was "hardly a case of an imperial administration foisting bike lanes on a district with no community input," a comment directed at the oft-repeated notion that New Yorker's don't want bike lanes.

That mythology has been perpetrated by an handful of negative voices that by all appearances, do not represent the majority.

As much as those in favor talked about health benefits, Markowitz and Stiesel--and some members of the City Council--showed their antediluvian thinking by being against them. "I think it was very instructive that the two people who spoke against bike lanes were overweight," concluded Benepe.

Jessica Lappin (D-Dist. 5), representative of the upper east side said that she had heard "countless stories of people being hit and killed," by bicycles.

But none of the relatives of those dead pedestrians came to talk against bike lanes, possibly because there has only been 11 such reported deaths in New York City over a nine year period, and at least one of them not the direct result of the crash, such as the man who died of a heart attack after a bicycle delivery man crashed into him.

Conversely, an average of 250 to 300 people are killed in crashes every year in New York City, said Transportation Alternatives spokesperson Kim Martineau. Over a 9-year period that would amount to about 2,200 people killed by cars over the same time period while 11 pedestrians died as a result of crashes with cyclists.

In the four year period between 2005 and 2009, New York City experienced 1,467 traffic fatalities. During that time, annual fatalities went down by 20% from 321 in 2005 to 256 in 2009. But pedestrians accounted for half of traffic fatalities (52%), followed by motor vehicle occupants (29%), motorcyclists (11%), and bicyclists (7%), according to a study by the NYC Department of Health which was published this November. "While bicycle-on-pedestrian crashes are a concern, they are overall a small part of the problem; cars are mostly what kill pedestrians in NYC," concluded Martineau.

And it wasn't just our elected officials who made a mockery of the democratic process: the New York Daily News editorial staff --whose reporters left along with most media before the positive testimonies were heard, harped on the fact that a couple of questions from Vacca had stumped DOT commissioner Janette Sadik Khan, mainly the precise number of people who cycle on city streets every day.

"They wouldn't be able to count that anyway, it's too expensive" said Benepe. "The important part is not the number of people, it is the safety of people. Even if the number of cyclists is only one, you don't want them to be killed. You don't eliminate sidewalks because there is only one pedestrian on the block," he noted.

Still the backwards thinking of the Daily News editorial staff didn't sway other NYDN journalists who reported one day earlier that most Brooklynites are in favor of the new Prospect Park bike lanes according to a survey initiated by Councilmembers Brad Lander (D-Park Slope) and Steve Levin (D-Gowanus).

"Despite vocal complaints since the city installed the two-way bike lane in March, the survey found a solid majority want to keep the lane - with 54% opting to keep it as it is and 24% to keep it with some changes. Only 22% wanted to scrap it," reported Daily News writer Erin Durkin.

About Barry Benepe:
Mr. Benepe is most well known for starting New York City's Greenmarkets, bringing fresh farm produce directly to consumers.
But he was also one of the founding members of Transportation Alternatives and had a direct hand in helping close Central Park to motor vehicles.
In 1966, one day after a defeat of the measure to close the park drives to cars on Sundays,  Benepe and his colleagues at Transportation Alternatives laid down their bicycles in front of motorists to prevent them from entering.
Soon after the measure to ban cars one day a week--on Sundays-- was passed. That soon was increased to Saturdays, and then decades later, with the help of many new faces to TA, like Ken Coughlin and a city administration under Mayor Mike Bloomberg more receptive to alternative transit ideas, increased to most daylight hours during the week.
Benepe also took part in mass bike rides through the city every day that drew 5,000 cyclists at a time.
Among his fellow upstarts were Charles Komanoff, Charlie McCorkell, Steve Faust, Ken Coughlin and countless others who now form the backbone of the cycling movement in New York City.
Benepe is an AIA/ AIP in architecture and city planning and has spent a good deal of his life working on alternative transportation, traffic calming design, and other initiatives to improve life in towns and cities in the northeast U.S.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Memorial Services Held for NYCC Cyclist

Services were held in Queens today for a member of the New York Cycle Club who was killed by a hit and run motorist on November 29.

Maxim Vickers was riding in Old Westbury, Ct., when he was struck by 20-year-old Priya Nanda, a Plainview college student, who after hitting the cyclist, didn't stop till she got to a Staples where she bought some supplies.

Vickers was pronounced dead at the Nassau University Medical Center at 6:12 pm.

The service celebrating the 59-year-old's life was held at the Mount Carmel Cemetery in Queens according to his younger brother Daniel Vickers, 51.

This is the third NYCC member to be killed by a motorist according to another member who posted to the club's online forum. The other two members were Steve Schuetze and Stan Oldak, said the poster.

Maxim was known to have cycled across parts of Europe, including England and Latvia, and completed Paris-Brest twice, a 1200-km ride that cyclists must complete in 90 hours from Paris to Brest, and then back again.

"Maxim was very active with the NYCC in the '80s and early '90s. Back then, he rode frequently with the 'A' riders, and was a regular at NYCC meetings and social events. In recent years, he preferred to ride alone," wrote Chris Mailing and Arlene Brimer in a joint message to NYCC members.

Vickers was hit from behind by Nanda who left the scene of the accident, but was tracked down by police in a Jericho Staples parking lot. A fragment from the mirror on her car that was damaged in the crash helped police identify the car and driver.

Nanda told police that "the guy on the bike . . . tried to cut me off," that she hit him, and that "I was nervous and kept driving," according to a report in Newsday by Matthew Chayes.

Nanda is charged with felony leaving the scene of a deadly accident. She was arraigned Tuesday at First District Court in Hempstead, and is free on $10,000 bond or $5,000 cash bail and due back in court Jan. 7, said the newspaper.