May/June 1999, p.26

Letters: Tickets and Tales

Dear T.A.:
I bought an old women's Raleigh from Frank's Bike Shop to see if I could ride to work. I have not gotten on the bus since! That was almost one year ago! It all started with looking through one of your free City Cyclist magazines. Thank you for the inspiration to try! Your newest member,
Anne Petoello
New York, NY
Letters like this make our day. Way to go Anne! -Ed.

Dear T.A.:
Thank you for sending me the ["give/get respect"] tri-lingual fliers. I copied and delivered them to 18 locations, where I got eight outright refusals. Of the 10 that were accepted, two are on display to the public. I am the only adult in my town who uses a bicycle for daily transport to my job, a 10-mile round-trip commute. Bellows Falls is a gasoline-burning small town like countless others. I want to promote bicycle transport in such places. We need a national picture of what is happening to bike transportation state-by-state, a national bicycling growth map.
I am happy to read of your success with the Queensboro bridge path. Whatever happens to bicycling in NYC won't affect me directly, but I wish T.A. the best of luck in your struggles against the NYC bureaucracy.
Richard Sileski
Bellows Falls, VT

Dear T.A.:
Concerning the Queensboro Bridge (March/April '99), some corrections: the QBB opened in 1909 (incidentally, it was a toll bridge until 1911). The upper level did not have streetcars. It carried the Second Avenue El until 1942. The main level had four tracks of streetcars. The outer tracks were used by Manhattan-bound streetcars running to the underground terminal at Second Avenue. Until 1919, streetcars from the 42nd Street Line ran to Queens Plaza on the inner tracks, an average of 1,563 a day in 1914.
Dr. Stephen B. Dobrow
Committee for Better Transit / Woodside, NY
Thanks for the corrections. -Ed.

Dear Assembly Member Glick:
The fines for cyclists who run red lights should be reduced. The current fee schedule for bicycles is $100 for the first violation within an 18-month period, $200 for the second, and $500 for the third. As you know, if one is ticketed for going through two red lights, he is liable for two fines.
Thanksgiving weekend, I was issued two separate summonses for running two red lights on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn. I contested the tickets in court, and was fortunate enough to have one dismissed. That meant I only had to pay $500, instead of $1000. Even so, since the recent bike crackdown began, I have paid $800 to New York State.
Why should the fines be less for cyclists than for cars? Because the law should account for the potential danger of the item being regulated. I work as an interpreter for the courts, and I know that all drugs are classified as "controlled substances." Yet a conspiracy to distribute crack is punished differently than a conspiracy to distribute marijuana or heroin. A gun and a knife can both kill, but a gun found on the premises in a federal narcotics investigation can lead to an additional count for possession of a weapon.
Bicycles are less dangerous than cars. They move more slowly and weigh far less. According to the New York City Department of Transportation, autos kill 250 pedestrians and 15 cyclists yearly and injure 14,000; meanwhile bicycles injure 440 pedestrians in New York each year and are responsible less than one death per year on average.
Fine equality rests on the fallacy that bicycles and cars get equal treatment on the road. But any cyclist knows if he tries to maintain his place in a lane, he will inevitably get honked at, itself illegal. Local bike lanes are always clogged with double-parked cars or delivery vans. Even traffic lights themselves are synchronized for motor vehicles, not bicycles.
Furthermore, I would argue that, not only are cars more dangerous than bicycles in an accident, they are more hazardous overall. Let us not forget that New York City is still in violation of federal Clean Air mandates. Cars pollute; bikes don't.
Do such onerous fines serve as a deterrent? Perhaps. As a consequence of the crackdown, however, some messenger services have replaced their bikes with mopeds, a disastrous development. New York State should be promoting cycling and other transportation choices, not private motor vehicles.
You have the power to legislate a fairer fines schedule. I look forward to hearing your views on the subject.
Daniel Sherr
New York, NY

Dear T.A.:
You are doing a great job for NYC cyclists. Please continue to address problems such as bike-lane enforcement. It is so frustrating to have waited many years for our own lanes, only to encounter runners, strollers, and canines clogging the artery!
Another menace: unsafe cyclists. I learned invaluable safety measures on the Boston/NYC AIDS Ride. I encounter few riders who signal when passing. I see riders often without helmets and, worse, wearing headphones. Please keep encouraging safe cycling practices.
Heide Fasnacht
New York, NY
T.A. has and will continue to educate road users of the laws and safe practices (fyi, helmets, while not required, are smart; headphones are prohibited). To brush up, see www.transalt.org/features/lawart.html. -Ed

Dear T.A.:
Here is another example of the airless atmosphere created by Rudolph Giuliani, in which everyone is expected to serve the mayor's biases - in this case encouraging driving in the city.
I was hired by the DOT to create ads for last year's "Bike Month." My fee, the ads, and even the salaries of the DOT's bike people were paid for entirely by federal money allocated to promote cycling in the city. However, as the mayor has signaled the preeminence of the car in New York's transportation mix, the DOT dares not contravene his will, even at the cost of misusing their federal grant.
The DOT rejected one of my ideas for a "Bike Month" ad because it suggested cars pollute, make noise and cause congestion. They said I couldn't imply that. I posed an idea that driving in the city wasn't pleasurable. They said I couldn't imply that either. Instead, I was told to create ads that held drivers, pedestrians and cyclists in equal regard.
In an effort to be agreeable, I floated the line, "Drive, ride, and walk the way your doctor, lawyer, minister, and mother would want you to." There ensued a discussion as to what race, ethnic group, and gender to make them. I suggested we make the mother a woman. My remark was not well received.
DOT civil servants took exception to the word "minister" because, they said, it didn't encompass Jews and we couldn't exclude Jews. I said a rabbi is a minister. That wasn't good enough. Then one of the civil servants said we couldn't use "mother" either because not all mothers are caring.
They liked an ad that had the headline: "We Bike Here." My intent was to change the perception that cyclists are irresponsible people. The headline would be surrounded by the names of hundreds of people who bike in the city and their professions: doctors, accountants, lawyers, professors, engineers, economists, designers, programmers, schoolteachers, DOT employees, and even ad writers. My favorites were an MTA bus mechanic and a subway maintenance man.
Among the names I had were ex-Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger; Fernando Ferrer, the Bronx Borough President; John Kennedy, Jr.; and Robin Williams. I was told I couldn't include the first three because they were known Democrats and the list would have to be vetted by City Hall. And could I vouch that Robin Williams had not donated to the Democrats?
The DOT civil servants had so altered the original assignment, perverted the expressed use of federal funds, and politicized the campaign, that I balked at doing further work for them. I was told I was unprofessional.
They so liked their own mediocre handiwork, they've brought it back for this year. Don't look for it to promote cycling. It doesn't. Welcome to the NYC DOT's "Bike Month."
Richard Rosenthal
New York, NY