MANHATTAN — Standing outside of his Gravesend office last week, Brooklyn Councilman Mark Treyger noticed a bicyclist using a cellphone while riding down the street.
He didn't think much of it at first, but all of a sudden, the cyclist veered into oncoming traffic, nearly causing an accident.
When Treyger looked into it, he discovered there was no prohibition against cellphones for cyclists even though other cities like Chicago have enacted a ban and states like California have considered one.
Under new legislation Treyger plans to introduce Thursday, New York would ban bicyclists from using their cellphones while riding.
A first offense where there were no injuries or property damage would only require the bicyclist to take a safety course that a companion piece of legislation that would create.
Subsequent offenses within a year would bring fines ranging from $50 to $200.
"More and more New Yorkers are using their bikes and it's a wonderful thing," Treyger said. "But we have to protect the safety of the bicyclist and those around them."
Bicyclists, like motorists, would be able to talk on their cellphones if they use a hands-free device, Treyger said.
The proposed legislation has the support of City Council transportation committee chairman Ydanis Rodriguez, he added.
Bicycle and pedestrian safety advocates were torn over the proposed legislation, saying that legislators should concentrate on motorists.
"Not texting while cycling is common sense," said Brian Zumhagen, a spokesman for Transportation Alternatives. "But in the effort to reach Vision Zero, the City Council and the NYPD should not take their focus off the most deadly behaviors on our streets, which are driver speeding and failure to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks."
In September, Jill Tarlov was struck and killed by a bicyclist while walking in Central Park. Police say bicyclists in Central Park have struck pedestrians at least 35 times in 2014, killing two and fracturing the skulls of three others.
A traffic death tracker from WNYC found that 118 pedestrians have been killed in traffic accidents this year.
It was unclear if any of the accidents were attributable to cellphone use.
Treyger said his legislation is not about assigning blame.
"I have no question that motorists play the largest role in safe streets for New Yorkers but I can't lose sight of the fact that we all have a role to play," said Treyger. "As more and more New Yorkers are using bikes we need to promote safe bicycling."
Ken Podziba, president and CEO of Bike New York, said his group is in support of the legislation and worked to have it introduced because of the education component of the companion law.
The Department of Transportation would be required to consult with the NYPD to create bicycle safety courses but Treyger sees the city working with groups such as Bike New York to host those classes.
Bike New York teaches bicyclist to pull off the road if they need to talk on the phone or send a text.
"People should not be texting or talking on their phone while riding," said Podziba whose group gave bicycle safety courses to 16,000 people last year. "You need every bit of attention on the streets of New York or it can be dangerous."