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Pedestrians are the latest road warriors

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This majority will be silent no more.

Pedestrians — the silent civilians in the war between cyclists and drivers — are becoming increasingly assertive in their demands for their share of the road.

And with the surge in biking and a wave of city-promoted bike initiatives, pedestrians — who have long considered motorists to be public enemy number one — are starting to turn against bike riders.

“Bicyclists are a serious problem on the roads,” said Anna Zapata, 41, of Park Slope as she walked down Fifth Avenue — one of the recent hotspots in the conflict between bikers and walkers.

“They’re every bit as dangerous as cars. They have no regard for the lights or traffic laws — I’ve seen them even hop up on the sidewalks when the traffic gets really congested down here,” she said. “It’s dangerous enough trying to cross the street with cars coming in both directions. I shouldn’t also have to worry about speed-racing bicyclists.”

Zapata isn’t the only biped outraged by the behavior of bicyclists.

“The problem is that the bicyclists here are just so pushy,” said Sloper Jocelyn Santiago, 34. “They think they rule the entire road, so to speak. And they’re everywhere in Park Slope, so it causes major traffic problems. They never want to slow down or let pedestrians cross in front of them.”

The city has promoted bike-friendly programs, but the Department of Transportation’s push in the last two years to paint 48 miles of cycling lanes in Brooklyn alone, extend car-free hours in Prospect Park, and distribute 12,000 helmets and 200,000 bike maps, has walkers now accusing the city of pandering too much to New York’s 131,000 daily pedal pushers.

But Department of Transportation spokesman Scott Gastel said that drivers, bikers and walkers all get a fair shake.

“For all of our projects, we factor in everybody, the bikers, the drivers and the pedestrians,” he said.

Among other pedestrian-friendly initiatives, the Department of Transportation is working to implement a red-light camera program to catch dangerous drivers, create four new public plazas per year, increase crossing time in neighborhoods with many senior citizens, and extend the period of crossing time at the beginning of certain walk signals, Gastel noted.

These goals come after 10 years of initiatives that have brought about a 55-percent reduction in the number of traffic fatalities.

But that doesn’t mean that roads are safe for walkers.

Last year, 136 pedestrians were killed on the city’s streets and sidewalks. By comparison, 77 drivers and passengers and 23 bikers died on the roads.

Between 1996 and 2005, some 2,000 pedestrians lost their lives citywide — but only 11 died after collisions with bicyclists.

Yet cyclists say they receive too much of the blame for the borough’s dangerous streets.

“People need to give [bicyclists] a break,” said pedal-pusher George Sweig, 39. “We’re not biking fast enough for the cars, and we’re always in the pedestrians’ way. No matter what we do, we’re making someone angry.”

Which shouldn’t be the case, according to the experts.

“Some cyclists break the law; so do motorists and pedestrians,” said Teresa Toro, the transportation committee chair of Community Board 1 in bike-friendly Williamsburg and Greenpoint. “Anyone can be reckless. Personally, I wish I had a nickel for every driver I see speeding on a residential street, simply to catch a green light.

“Why isn’t that called out as unacceptable behavior that we protest every day?” she asked.

At the end of the day, pedestrians should always have the right of way, said Transportation Alternatives spokesman Wiley Norvell, who suggests at busy intersections extending the sidewalk about five-feet and changing stop-light patterns so that pedestrians can cross intersections in any direction without any movement of cars — the so-called “Barnes dance.”

“If we were to make a hierarchy about who benefits the city the most — what form of transportation is most critical to the city’s environment — pedestrians would be on top,” Norvell said. “Pedestrians should get the most space, and the most respect.”

But Park Slope biker Richard Bauer, 28, says it’s the boroughs masses of pedestrians that are the primary rule breakers.

“If you walk around here, you think you have the right-of-way everywhere — and that’s not the case,” he said. “Pedestrians don’t want to share the road with us, and that pits one group against the other.”

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Reader Feedback

Allen Barcelon from Boerum Hill says:
Yes, we who are cyclists are between a rock and a hard place. Several years ago I was hit by an "Out of Service" bus on 14th Street in Manhattan while on my way to work. The bus driver didn't know it and just kept on going and I couldn't catch him because I was hurt. Well, long story short, I am very fearful of the ever increasing motorist population who are annoyed at cyclists because we move to slowly. Mostly they can't even see us while they try to negotiate the traffic. My crime is I need to ride on the sidewalks in many areas where the traffic is thick. I get a lot of snide remarks from folks who are annoyed at bikes on the sidewalks. I ride very slowly and always am considerate of the pedestrians -- especially old folks and children. But this isn't good enough for them I know. And, as our neighborhood becomes even more gentrified our sidewalks are becoming fairly congested too.

I am a local real estate broker who likes to tool around on my bike (been doing it for 10 years since I got over my fear of motorist traffic). I suppose I could abandon it and get around on foot. If I do this then I would have to use my car to get to places far away. I guess I could take public transportation --a little too slow in many cases for me.

I would love to enjoy the situation in some of the Scandinavian countries where cyclists have special considerations. We have some work to do yet. It is sad that the kids are getting killed learning to ride on the street -- like that poor little guy in the Slope a couple of weeks ago. (I assure you my kid will never ride his bike on the streets.)

Anyway, hoping these issues can get resolved for greening sack.
Sept. 27, 2008, 1:35 pm
Sarah S. Vatian from Park Slope says:
Dear Brooklyn Paper Editor,

I am sick and tired of listening to the pleas of cyclists, claiming to be discriminated against by everyone.

I am the mother of a 2 year old child. When walking with him on the sidewalks of this city, I am pretty much sure no car - except in the most dire situation - will jump the curb and pose a danger to mo and mi son. With bicycles, it is a different story.

I've lost count of how many reckless and defiant cyclists have invaded the sidewalks where we happened to be. When confronted about their violation of laws and good sense, not only they do not apologize, they are often incensed and agressive. As if they had a divine right to do whathever they want, on the road and the sidewalks.

I hope the city takes a stronger view of these violations. I've yet to see any policeman stopping a reckless cyclist, even thought just the other day, close to 7th avenue, a patrol car was within about four meters of a cyclist invading a sidewalk.

Sarah S. Vatian

sarasvatian@gmail.com
Oct. 1, 2008, 7:07 am
Michael from Bay Ridge says:
Bicycles on sidewalks would not be a problem if there were reliable bike lanes in the streets.
As it stands now bicycles can not always ride the streets safely. Furthermore I have never seen a single pedestrian be hit by a bicycle ever.

To Sarah S. Vatian, I don't think that bicyclists are saying that they are being discriminated against, so much as the current situation makes it nearly impossible for bicyclists to follow the law and bike safely at the same time.
Bicyclists should not break the rules, but in order to ensure that they don't (and to make arguing that they do have any merit) they have to be able actually follow these rules without putting their lives in danger. I think that is perfectly reasonable. Your complaints about bicyclists can be traced back to aggressive motorists who have made the streets unsafe for bicyclists.
And regarding the stricter enforcement of rules, in the spirit of fairness (bikes, cars and pedestrians being equal) would you like the city to jump on jay-walkers, cars that drive on the few existing bike lanes, and pedestrians that cross on red lights too? These violations are just as common and just as dangerous as bicycle violations and just as frequently ignored by policemen. I really have not seen any evidence that bikers break any more rules than other users of city streets.

-Michael
Oct. 1, 2008, 10:28 am

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