Bike brainstorming

Providing a valuable service to the community, the Village Independent Democrats club held another bicycle forum last Thursday evening May 10. The club’s inaugural bicycle forum, held last April, was both thought-provoking and informative, and last week’s was no less so.

The discussions at these panel forums help clarify the issues and challenges we all are now facing in New York with an expanded network of bike lanes and growing numbers of bicyclists on our streets.

Nadine Hoffmann, the V.I.D. Executive Committee member who organized the panel, succinctly posited the night’s basic question: “Bikers, drivers and walkers — don’t we all want the same thing? Can’t we all get along?”

Panelists offered ideas on how the streets can be made more livable, civil and, most important — safe.

George Bliss of The HUB bike store in the West Village, touted the advantages of so-called “upright bikes.” As opposed to bikes with drop-down handlebars that make the rider hunch over, upright bikes offer a more comfortable, and safer, ride. Also, these bikes tend to be heavier, so they make cyclists go slower.

Speaking of speed, everyone, from the panelists to the audience members, agreed that those cyclists, frequently young, who are looking to zoom — the type who often ride racing bikes and “wear spandex” — are creating a perilous situation on the streets, and are unaware of just how dangerous they are.

Bliss is right: Upright bikes do make a difference in safety. And in European cities, which have a firmly established bike culture, these are the types of bikes one sees.

In a similar vein, Caroline Samponaro, from Transportation Alternatives, gave a report on the city’s new Bike-Share program, which will be starting very soon, in July. These bikes — which will be upright models — will be stationed throughout Manhattan south of 59th St. for the program’s start, and there will be docking sites throughout our Downtown neighborhoods. She said statistics show bike-share programs actually increase safety.

Allie Nudelman, representing Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s Office, gave an update on pending legislation to crack down on electric bikes, which are typically used by restaurant deliverymen, and which are illegal. The legislation’s sponsor, Councilmember Jessica Lappin, also attended the forum, and elaborated on the proposed increased fines and other regulations.

Rounding out the expert panel was Steve Vaccaro, a lawyer representing cyclists who have been injured or killed in collisions with auto vehicles. Vaccaro said that not all bikers may realize it, but they must, as a general rule, follow all the same regulations as car drivers. They also have the same rights as drivers, he added. They must use bike lanes where available.

The crux of the matter, Vaccaro said, is: “Why are there so many cyclists that violate the rules?” He broke the two-wheeled scofflaws down into three categories: new, inexperienced cyclists; “hard-boiled cyclists” who grew up before bike lanes and just are used to biking anarchically; and delivery cyclists who are pedaling faster to get bigger tips and make more deliveries.

Ratcheting up enforcement against restaurants whose cyclists are rogue riders would be a way to combat the problem, but these liabilities need to be codified. However, Officer Martin Baranski of the Sixth Precinct said police definitely will talk to bad operators if residents inform police about them.

Several middle-aged-to-senior V.I.D.’ers noted they had been hit by cyclists.

Clearly, the panel was enlightening, and it’s these types of dialogues that are going to help New York become a city where, indeed, cyclists, pedestrians and car drivers can all get along.

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