Oblivious Walkers Cause Bike Woes

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Bike lanes mean new rules for the road. Look for cars and bikes.

A woman talking on her cell phone on the corner of 86th Street and First Avenue steps into the bike lane on 86th Street without looking. A bike zooms past and just misses hitting her.

She was lucky. Yet, accidents in which cyclists hit pedestrians have been pretty common on First Avenue along the new bike lanes, which were installed a few months ago, according to Gerardo Petrie, a worker at the Hybrid Flowers located on the corner of 86th and First Avenue. He said almost every week he sees a pedestrian mowed down by a cyclist riding in the bike lane. The intersection is at the bottom of a hill, so cyclists tend to pick up speed, he said. Part of the problem is that people don't even look both ways when crossing, or forget that the bikes are likely to zoom down the bike lane these days.

"The city made a big mistake by doing these bike lanes," said Petrie. "Now everyone is complaining about it. People are getting struck by cyclists whether they are elderly or have a disability. They get up and they're bleeding." he said. "I saw a messenger doing at least 30 mph once and he yelled 'get the expletive deleted out of the bike lane!' to the pedestrians."

Bikes have long been a heated topic on the Upper West and Upper East sides, with the installation and extension of the Columbus Avenue bike lanes on the West Side, and the creation of bike lanes on First and Second avenues on the East Side. And now, with the completion of the CitiBikes project, Manhattan is going to see a lot more two wheelers rushing by.

Bike and pedestrian safety is of particular concern on Second Avenue on the Upper East Side, where bicyclists have to weave in and out of construction areas, and navigate narrow sidewalks and roads.

"The way they've reconfigured Second Avenue, the lanes change so many times the motorists are so confused," said Steve Vaccaro from Transportation Alternatives. "Traffic is slower, but I still consider it just about the most dangerous place for riding" on the East Side. "Pedestrians have to be more careful because cyclists are riding closer to the sidewalk."

On the other side of the park, the dangerous intersection is near 96th and Columbus Avenue, by the Mandell School, according to Gabriella Rowe, a parent coordinator at the school. She said that she has seen children avoid narrow circumstances involving speeding cyclists.

"Earlier this year, our librarian was crossing the street in front of the school, and a bike plowed right into her," said Rowe. "At Columbus and 96th St. if a bike is going full speed, they pick up a fairly significant rate of speed, and it becomes a very dangerous intersection. We have 1,000 kids in the area walking to and from school every day."

The librarian could not be reached for comment at press time.

And with the implementation of the new Citi Bikes, Rowe is even more concerned. She believes that participants in the program should have to go through safety training before taking out their first bike.

"We are putting vehicles in the hands of a cyclist, for whom New York may be a brand new city," said Rowe. "To simply hand a moving vehicle to someone and say 'here have fun' is irresponsible."

The concern for safety at the Mandell School on the Upper West Side is not necessarily just the fault of speeding bikes down the hill, however. Steve Vaccaro said that many times parent will pull up in an SUV outside the school, and all four doors will open without warning.

"I wonder if these reports of injuries involving school kids and cyclists don't involve parents driving or parking and not acknowledging traffic," said Vaccaro.

Much of the concern is for speeding bike messengers and delivery men and women, who are trying to get those smiley-face plastic bags delivered as quickly as possible. But in April, recent safety measures, spearheaded by City Council Woman Gale Brewer, now require delivery personnel to wear bright vests with numbers on the back, and restaurants/companies who employ these bicyclists are required to give safety training.

Joshua Weitzner, a spokesperson for Samurai Bike Messengers, said that he is very careful with his cyclists, and that they are well-trained, and that cyclist-pedestrian accidents are much less common than car-pedestrian accidents. He said that his company, as well as all good delivery and messenger bike companies have workers compensation and liability insurance.

"We are a small company, and only hire experienced messengers that know how to ride in traffic," said Weitzner. "Riding safely and riding fast are not mutually exclusive."

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