September/October 1997, p.2

Publisher's Letter: Cycling at the Margin

All and all it was a very tough summer for city cyclists. While riders observed some of the most atrocious driving behavior and pavement conditions in recent memory, the police hit us with a massive ticketing blitz. On Manhattan's Upper East Side, over 1,100 tickets were handed out to cyclists during three weeks in July. At the Queensboro Bridge, cops handed out more than a hundred tickets to cyclists riding the wrong way on 59th Street to Second Ave. Cops and their commanders seemed not to care when told there was no other way to get from the bike path
to a route downtown.

As cyclists dug deep to pay $150 tickets, it was still open season for the motorists who would kill them. On a hot Saturday in July, cyclist Rachel Fruchter was killed while trying to enjoy the sanctuary of car-free weekend hours in Prospect Park. Skid marks revealed that the motorist who killed her was speeding along in the "car-free" park at 40 mph. He was charged with having a cracked windshield and fined less than $50.

In the midst of all this, T.A. met with the second in command of the NYPD Traffic Control Division (which happens to be located across the street from the T.A. office) to demand that the cops start doing something about the speeding and general motorized craziness harming so many New Yorkers. The officer literally shrugged his shoulders at our complaint, adding that as an avid cyclist who had done the T.A. Century a number of times, he knew exactly what we were talking about. Indeed, he himself (the number two ranking traffic enforcement cop in the city) was afraid to ride in midtown. In the end, he explained, politics and perception drive police enforcement. It seems that bikes bug politically influential New Yorkers much more than the motorists who each year kill 250 pedestrians and hurt 14,000 of us. Ironically, maybe it is the cyclist's human face that triggers a public wrath that the raging river of cars and trucks in their gigantic destructiveness somehow transcend. Maybe the problem of noisy, death-dealing traffic is just so big and so old that it no longer registers on the public consciousness.

The focus and energy of bike advocates like T.A. has been largely on building new lanes, paths and parking for bikes. Yet, these physical improvements are probably not as important as persuading motorists and the public that bikes really do belong on the biggest bike network of them all - city streets.

John Kaehny,
Executive Director

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