CBS 2 Gets Up Close And Personal With ‘Bike Bedlam’

Reporter Aiello Gets First Hand Look At Riding On NYC Streets

NEW YORK (CBS 2) — More and more New Yorkers are getting to work by bike, as the number of bike commuters has doubled in the last five years.

CBS 2’s Tony Aiello now knows first hand it’s the fastest-growing way to get to work in New York City.

“It’s a workout and you’re having fun,” bike commuter Serge Primyakoff said. “I actually look forward to coming to work now.”

It’s also a leading source of quality-of-life-complaints for city-dwellers.

“I hate it with a passion,” one resident said.

As a pedestrian, Aiello said he ducked his share of rogue riders – on the sidewalk and the crosswalks, but never had taken a two-wheeler onto the streets of Manhattan.

That is, until Wednesday.

To get the biker’s perspective, Aiello put a camera on his helmet and hopped on a bike.

His tour guide was Caroline Samponaro, director of Bicycle Advocacy for Transportation Alternatives.

They started on the dedicated bike lane on Ninth Avenue, and other than a few pedestrians in the space meant for bikers, it was smooth sailing — for about five minutes.

Then they encountered their first problem: a furniture delivery truck was blocking the bike lane, leaving just a narrow space to get by.

“It is what it is. It’s a small city, and we gotta do it – nothing else we can do,” the truck driver said.

To have to squeeze between the truck and the traffic lane was pretty frightening. As an inexperienced cyclist in New York City, Aiello said it freaked him out a little bit.

From there, Aiello and Samponaro went down 14th Street, where there is no dedicated bike lane – and no telling when someone will open a vehicle door and send you flying.

They stuck to the rules of the road, even as a fellow biker showed off. They were at a red light, and with no traffic coming, he went right through it.

Despite that guy, Samponaro said the bike lanes have significantly improved biker behavior.

“Ninth Avenue, there’s been an 80-percent reduction in sidewalk riding because of the protected bike lane,” she said. “They not only make it safer to bike, they’re encouraging more New Yorkers to get out and ride.”

Compared to the relative safety of the bike lanes, riding on streets without them is a harrowing experience.

At one point, a truck behind Aiello and Samponaro was honking to them to get out of the way, and the driver had nowhere to go even if he passed them.

As bikers assert their rights to a piece of the street, Transportation Alternatives said they also have to embrace their responsibilities by following the rules of the road.

“That’s what takes biking from a fringe, renegade pastime to a mainstream form of transportation, which is what it’s becoming in New York City,” Samponara said.

Like it or not.

A new law also aims to keep motorists from hogging the road. It requires them to keep a “safe distance” from bike riders – or face a ticket.

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  • Doug Terry

    Going out and riding a bike in the city for the first time gives you very little idea of what it is like. For one thing, the first time rider has no prior experience. It takes time to get accustomed to the bike and to traffic. One time on a bike is like one time control an airplane in flight: interesting, but not a true learning experience.

    I understand why bikes upsets drivers, but one thing should not be overlooked: many drivers simply don’t want, and don’t understand, what bikes are doing there in the first place, so they are upset from the moment they see them.

    Part of the “lawless” aspect of riding is the fact that the bike is quicker in turns and stops than cars. This breeds risk taking in cyclists and anger in drivers. Believe it or not, risk taking is also part of the survival skill of cyclists: by setting your own course and doing whatever you feel will make you safer, you get away from cars more quickly and feel like you gain a measure of control over the situation.

    Bikes belong on streets and roads because they are a great form of transport. In time, I expect the cyclists and the motorists to calm down and make room for each other. Hey, a guy can hope, right?

  • tebici

    NO more sidewalks until the City requires registration and insurance!

    (kidding, obviously; unfortunately the other guy was not).

    Agree with Crin; if you jaywalk, don’t get all high and mighty about bike behavior.

    Pedestrians first, then cyclists, then cars. Common courtesy and common sense to and from all.

  • G. H. Merkin

    “No longer should injured pedestrians have to pay their own medical bills!”

    Unfortunately, the majority of the time pedestrian/cyclist accidents are caused the same way motor vehicle/pedestrian accidents are caused: Pedestrians jay walking, stepping out from between parked cars, etc. Drivers in the city are dangerous, but they are predictably dangerous. Pedestrians–well, they feel entitled to go where ever they want, whenever they want. Completely unpredictable, and incredibly dangerous.

  • Robert

    I’m glad to see Tony get another perspective. I have been riding to work from the UES to Midtown for three years now. The rage and dangerous behavior of motorists makes what should be a pleasant alternative to the crowded subways a stressful and dangerous experience. I usually go through Central Park to avoid as much contact with traffic as possible, but even that does not assure me a safe or pleasant ride as the City continues to allow cars to use the CP drive during rush hour. Many of the problems that people complain about are caused by delivery cyclists who ride on the sidewalk or the wrong direction on one-way streets. However, people should not generalize the actions of a few cyclists to every cyclist. There are plenty of people like me who obey traffic laws and do our best to share the space even though we get little in return, but hostility. What is needed is NYPD enforcement of all traffic laws against cyclists, drivers and pedestrians. No NYC resident can say with a straight face that only cyclists are breaking the law. Drivers speed and run red lights. Peds cross against the light while wearing headphones. Everyone is guilty of something. The solution is consistent penalties for violators that will force them to either act more safely or run the risk of losing the right to drive on City streets. Hey, many dog owners used to leave their pet’s droppings on the sidewalk until the City started to enforce the law. Now I find it rare that people don’t pick up after their pet. Sometimes it takes a little negative incentive from the City to get people to change their behavior. Let’s work on that and then I think we’ll see changes that will benefit all parties with better traffic flow, less crowded mass transit and cleaner air.

  • Joe R.

    It might be nice if they actually asked some cyclists why they don’t follow all the laws, especially stopping at red lights. Well, let me enlighten everyone a bit. There are way too many traffic lights in most parts of the city, often at every single block. I’d say 95% of them serve no real safety purpose, but were put there because of vociferous community boards. Moreover, they’re horribly timed. If a cyclist were to obey the letter of the law, and wait the full cycle for every light, they’ll often get caught at the next one, and so on. Going a mile could end up taking 10 minutes or more instead of the 3 to 4 it might if you run one or two lights, ending up with mostly greens until the next red wave catches up with you. Stopping for every light essentially brings cycling down to the speed of a fast walk. Besides that, starting off from a green light with accelerating cars puts cyclists in a very dangerous area as the cars jockey for position. Breathing the fumes of cars idling at red lights is another issue. Simply retiming the lights for cycling speeds would eliminate quite a bit of cyclist’s red light running. The majority of cyclists will gladly stop and wait out a light if they might only encounter one or two in a 10 mile ride. But every block or two, it’s not only a major annoyance, but reaccelerating back to speed that often is beyond nearly every cyclist’s ability. Better timed lights and/or a change in the law allowing cyclists to proceed through red lights if clear are sorely needed. This is a clear case where a system designed to prevent automobiles from colliding with each other was foisted upon both bicycles and pedestrians. Pedestrians don’t need walk/don’t walk signals, either. Both pedestrians and cyclists have sufficient visibility to simply see if it’s OK to cross an intersection, and then do so if it is. The current laws for both pedestrians and cyclists are largely ignored because they legislate behavoir which is not only inherently at odds with natural behavoir, but often puts them in real danger.

  • Jimbe

    NO more bike lanes until the City requires registration and insurance.

    If cycling is to be taken as an alternate mode of wheeled transport, then the cyclists should have the same obligations as motorists.

    No longer should injured pedestrians have to pay their own medical bills!

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  • crin

    the cyclist who went through the red light was only doing what the jaywalking pedestrian was doing first. if you jaywalk you really can’t say anything about cyclists who go thru red lights

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  • mac

    cars run stop signs and stop lights and they cause one helluva lot of damage when they do. In fact cars kill 3,300 people a day around the world. That’s 1.2 million a year.
    Of the top 25 causes numbers 6 and 7 are running red lights and running stop signs.
    No. 1 is distracted driving, 2 is speeding.

    So we have millions and millions of people in 2 to 4 ton missiles who break the missile’s guidance system by doing stupid things like talking on the phone while running lights and stop signs.
    There are over 6 million car accidents in the US every year. That’s roughly 16,500 a day. Many of these cause permanent disability.
    No, two wrongs don’t make a right but I’d get my priorities right before jumping all over cyclists for beings idiots.

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  • Simon

    @Dave: I have the same experience: being away from the intersection before the traffic behind me starts to move is the safest place to be. However, the cop who ticketed me for running a red light (actually, as even he admitted in traffic court, stopping, looking both ways, and then proceeding through the intersection against the light) did not see it the same way, nor did the judge, who, although sympathetic to my safety argument to the point of reducing the fine, said that it was not up to me to interpret traffic laws as I saw fit. So I don’t go through red lights anymore, although I do feel less safe now.

  • Perry

    While I truly appreciate CBS’s reporting on biking in NYC from the cyclist’s perspectiv. However, they failed to interview cyclists that adhere to the rules. The ones that don’t ride on sidewalks, or the wrong way on one way streets. They failed to mention how much we as cyclists in the city hate how some messengers blow thru lights and intersections. They surely didn’t discuss how much delivery people infuriate the common respectful cyclist. They made it look as though it’s not so bad on the streets when you’re on a bike. A little danger here and there, but if you’re in a car or walking, the cyclists and their food delivery minions are going to kill you. Geez, CBS…good work not taking sides.

  • Richard

    Blaming someone for the crimes of others is irresponsible. And as one woman found out. It can cause you to go to jail and loose your license. My wife was riding her bicycle back from the grocery store and a women intentionally struck her with her car. Her excuse was that someone earlier had cut her off on a bicycle. I drive large vehicles for a living and like everybody else am not happy when impatient people brake the law. This includes pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists. They all break the law. I would never even think of taking revenge on someone with a vehicle in any of these situations. Do you have any idea what it cost the public in taxis to write up motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists. for breaking the law.. New York is doing what they can to make it safer for everybody. If you can’t handle it then ride a bus, walk, or ride a bicycle.

  • Dave

    12 years and 40,000 miles of bike commuting (Flushing Queens to southern Manhattan) has convinced me that it is safer for me NOT to be at a light when it turns green, so proceed through red lights when it is safe to do so. If I wait until it turns green, I have cars turning right when I’m trying to go straight, and opposing traffic jumping the light to try to turn before the oncoming traffic gets going. And, of course, I also avoid the pedestrians running in front of me, who consider their job is done when they’re out of the car lane and right in front of me.

    My biggest clue that it is safe to proceed through a red light is that the pedestrians are crossing against the light. Running the light is safer for me, and better for the cars.

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  • Jen

    I can understand the anger about cyclists on the sidewalk, but then how can you so casually blow off the pedestrians in the bike lane? Where is the rage about that?

  • Matthew Arnold

    Ah, you should see the road rage that I encounter every day cycling into work. There are a lot of drivers in this town with a gargantuan sense of entitlement. To them, the notion that they should have to give up that narrow green strip of street with a cyclist is an affront to their God-given rights as motorists. And on streets without lanes? I biked though un-laned Midtown yesterday, observing all the rules and being careful to hug the lane of parked cars whenever possible so as to give motorists plenty of room to pass. Still, at least a half-dozen yellow cabs went out of their way to buzz me, honking, or to cut me off and pull over in front of me (not to drop anyone off — just to assert their inviolable right to the road).

  • Paul Phillips

    “it is what it is”

    That is the same attitude most New Yorkers take, whether on foot, on tw o wheels or behind the wheel.

    By all means, cyclists should have the same responsibilities – and the same privileges as everyone else. Take them to task for their bad behavior, but make sure you hold pedestrians and motorists accountable for theirs, as well.

    And then, thank the brave cyclists for taking to the streets of NY. They are reducing pollution, leaving more room for mass transit riders and eventually will reduce the load on healthcare by leading fitter lifestyles.

    If you still ‘hate it’ as that motorists did, I say this: Get out of your car and hop on a bike. Just once. Until you try it yourself, as this reporter did, you really can’t speak from any position of informed opinion.

    -A cyclist/motorist/pedestrian/New Yorker/voter

  • John Bruce

    So, Tony, will you be doing this as your regular mode of transportation now? A bit different when compared to the streets of Winfield… ;<{ )

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  • Cold light of dawn

    Aiello, you can be doored even in the bike lane. And if you see someone biking on the sidewalk, feel free to knock them off.

  • Hiran

    What about bikers running red lights? Riding on the other side, when there’s a bike lane available.

  • jk

    Go to the corner of St. Marks Place & 2nd Ave. after 8:00 pm and see how many bike riders observe traffic laws or cause accidents.

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