Midtown Citizens Push for Tougher Bike Safety Laws
By Della Hasselle
MIDTOWN EAST — When a bicyclist hit an elderly man on 40th Street and Second Avenue, it created such uproar in his Midtown neighborhood that it may result in the passing of a controversial new bike safety law.
Irving Grudman was on his way home from doing errands when he was struck by a commercial bicycle messenger, causing near-fatal injuries that put him in Bellevue Hospital for over three months.
Although Grudman is 92, he lived an independent life before the accident, close friends say. Now, he remains at home, paralyzed and unable to speak.
The culprit, campaigners say, is not only the bicyclist but lax law enforcement.
"The mayor is a great advocate of bike lanes and all that jazz," public safety activist Lola Cherson said. "But you can’t have lanes without enforcing the laws.
"Most people don’t understand that we have existing laws and they’re very specific."
To help enforce current safety laws, Cherson and local council members are pushing to pass new legislation requiring a public database that lists violators of city laws covering bicycling.
The proposed law, which would make an Internet list searchable by name or business address, is important for residents to feel safe in their own neighborhood, Cherson said.
The legislation was introduced to City Hall in 2007 and filed last year, but has yet to become a reality. In order to speed up the process, Cherson created the group "Citizens Alliance for Pedestrian Safety (CAPS)" shortly after Grudman’s accident, with intention to bring attention to bicycle traffic violation problems.
"Our neighborhood writes a lot of summonses," Cherson, the group's president, said. "That doesn’t do anything. Nobody pays any attention to it."
Current bike laws require bikers to ride in the correct direction, wear identification on deliveries and yield to pedestrians. The infraction for disobeying these laws is a summons to court and fine for as much as $250.
According to the Department of Transportation, there were 42 fatalities from bicycles in the state of New York in 2009 — only 3.9 percent of all vehicle deaths.
The laws currently on the books are more than enough and making them stricter is not healthy for New York, according to some organizations.
"Bike delivery is part of what keeps New York City running," Noah Budnick, Deputy Director for Transportation Alternatives, said. "The laws on the books are very good, very rational.
"The first step is for businesses and delivery places to take the laws seriously. You don’t get people to follow the laws by creating more laws. You get people to follow them by enforcing them."
The city should regulate the laws by implementing education programs, Budnick suggested, “to teach all cyclists about the rules of the road.”
Others think that current laws need to be tougher. For instance, meter maids should be able to hand out summonses to bicycle law offenders, CAPS members think, to ease the burden on local police officers.
Moreover, an online database by itself isn’t going to fix the citywide problem, Cherson commented.
"As a regular citizen, if I order a pizza, I’m not going to go to the database to see if my local pizza parlor is guilty of violations," Cherson lamented. "Because I want my pizza, right? It puts the onus on the public."