Four Years After Crash, a Cyclist Paves a Legacy

New York Times Blog | August 11, 2009

By Sean Patrick Farrell

Sean Patrick Farrell/The New York Times -- Noah Budnick, of the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, was critically injured while biking near the Manhattan Bridge in March 2005.

Last Friday, city officials and cycling advocates gathered at Navy and Sands Streets under the Manhattan Bridge in Brooklyn to celebrate the opening of a new protected bike lane connecting the Jay Street bike lanes with the bridge's bicycle on-ramp.

A day before the festivities, on a bright morning, Noah Budnick stood on the fresh black tarmac of the new bike lane and declared it "top notch." Commuting cyclists sped past along the path, which is raised and protected on either side from auto traffic by concrete barriers two feet tall.

The path is a bit personal for Mr. Budnick, who is now the senior policy adviser for the pedestrian and cyclist advocacy group Transportation Alternatives.

More than four years ago, possibly while looking into road conditions near the Manhattan Bridge, Mr. Budnick crashed on Sands Street. He fractured his skull (yes, he was wearing his helmet) and received many scrapes and bruises. A pothole was blamed for the accident, but Mr. Budnick has never been entirely sure why he crashed. He was unconscious for days and lost his memory for three weeks.

Mr. Budnick says he is now thankful he cannot remember everything about the crash, but he does remember that the area was tough for cyclists getting on or off the Manhattan Bridge.

"I used to think this was one of those places where the city should put up a sign that says 'good luck,' " he said, surveying the spot where he thinks he crashed.

Though there was a marked bike lane, its marking was not always clear. Automobile traffic was heavy, and the road surface was pocked with potholes.

"I'd say the road was as bad as Canal Street," he said, referring to the Manhattan street beloved by truckers crossing the island. "The pavement conditions were abominable."

After his crash, Mr. Budnick's bike was collected by the police. He said in an e-mail message that it was "totaled." He thought about going to retrieve it from the police, "but ultimately decided it wasn't worth the schlep to deep Queens and the emotional stress and never did."

Mr. Budnick, who made a full recovery, now rides a sleek black commuter with a bicycle-size license plate reading "Noah" dangling from the saddle.

Shortly after Mr. Budnick's accident, the city began planning for the new improved route for cyclists.

"I can really geek out on the design," said Mr. Budnick, praising the path. "Anytime the city takes space from cars to give to bikes is a good day."

Car traffic still goes by on either side, much of it revving up to an on-ramp to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, but cyclists are now separated from cars by concrete barriers on either side of their lane, which is smooth and free of potholes.

Some call it the Sands Street Bike Lane, but Transportation Alternatives is already calling it the Budnick Bikeway.