With the legalization of electric bikes and scooters and the expansion of CitiBike to all the boroughs, more people are taking to the streets. The DOT has done much in the last few years to encourage biking with the addition of many miles of bike lanes and safety improvements of the roadways. They have used “traffic calming” – a method which reduces the width of a road – in order to force drivers to slow down. Medians are also used to divide the roadways and trees and green spaces are created giving pedestrians a safe place to stand while crossing. Now the addition of dedicated bus lanes has drastically altered the design of many streets with parking spots being removed. The city’s goal seems to be to discourage car ownership and encourage public transportation and alternate forms of travel and pedestrian safety.
Our roadways are becoming more complex. On the one hand they are more organized but on the other they are more confusing. There are now one-way streets for vehicles but also bike lanes in both directions. On top of that, the bike lanes are right next to the curbs. If one wants to step off a curb to cross the street or to get to their car, they must look both ways for bikes. The term “bike lanes” can be misleading. In the bike lane you can see e-bikes, e-scooters, e-skateboards, hoverboards, wheelchairs, roller skaters and, yes, bicycles. Many of these devices can go pretty fast, some up to 25mph, and all are silent with many of the riders not following the rules of the road and riding safely. Many do not have lights, bells or a horn or wear reflective clothing at night. There will be more accidents since drivers cannot see a fast-approaching bike when driving at night; pedestrians will be at risk, too, when trying to cross a street. Besides being fast and not easy to see, we all know many bikers don’t like to stop. When crossing a street, I am often more concerned with whether the bikes will stop, more so than the vehicles.
Our sidewalks have also become more congested as they increasingly serve as parking areas for many bikes. It is common to see a few e-scooters and e-bikes in front of a restaurant; also, many have motorized scooter that require license plates. When I had a motorcycle, I always thought it was illegal to park on the sidewalk and saw people get tickets for it. Why are motor scooters with license plates allowed? Many restaurants have a few scooters on the sidewalk, can they be doing that many deliveries or are their customers and workers parking there too?
There is also a city law that prohibits chaining bikes to city property such as signs, poles and trees but is rarely enforced. It is common to see the skeleton of a bike chained to a pole. The Sanitation Dept. can’t remove it until it meets the requirements of having enough parts removed. It can stay there for a long time if no one reports it. Sidewalks are for pedestrians but how many times have you seen bikes and scooters whizzing right by you without even a warning? One step to the left or right might put you in the hospital. The DOT has installed bike racks on the sidewalk but they are not everywhere and not always used, this creates a tripping hazard for walkers
Most of the people taking to the streets will be young and they are prone to risky behavior as they feel a bit immortal. They are the least experienced and the least likely to wear a helmet and think of safety. Many will be inexperienced with riding in traffic, many may be tourists not familiar with the city. To operate a motor vehicle, one must pass a written and a road test to get a license and one must be insured to operate a vehicle. With bikes you just go and helmets are not required unless you are 13 and under. On e-bikes and scooters a helmet is required but it’s rarely enforced. Up until recently, Revel scooters could be rented and the service encouraged people to review safety instructions but it was not required. Three riders died and the city stopped their use and is trying to work with the company to make it safer for riders.
There was hesitation by city and state officials in the legalization of e-bikes and e- scooters until the rationale was used that many immigrant delivery workers depended on them for work. How all this will fit in with the mix of cars, trucks and buses will be interesting. Biking is a great way to get around, it’s economical, fun and it is good exercise but it will not be for everyone. You have to be in good shape and be hardy in bad weather and a car is more practical when traveling with family or hauling groceries home. When I’m in Manhattan I notice all the private cars for hire and all the cabs. People will always want to take a car, but maybe not want to own one in the city.
Being a senior and driving for more than 50 years in NYC and riding a bike even longer I have driven or ridden all over the city and Long Island. I can say most drivers are good and I have never had an accident. Of course, we all do stupid things once in a while, but seeing some of the stupid things that bikers do takes it to new heights. I have seen people fly through intersections against lights, go the wrong way on one-way streets, ride on the sidewalk, even texting while riding, and do a “look ma, no hands!” It is big news when someone dies in a bike accident but from what I’ve seen I’m surprised more are not dying.
The city will have to do more to educate the people and maybe make helmets a requirement. A doctor once said our skulls are like eggshells and crack just as easily when struck. Many of these scooters have small wheels and NYC roads are not the best – one hole and you can go flying – so a helmet is a must. Will our streets be like the Wild West where anything goes or through education and enforcing the laws will we have safer streets and sidewalks? Only time will tell.