Tourists Complicate Situation on Bridge
By Mary Frost
NEW YORK — Even as New York City expands construction of bike lanes and initiates a new bicycle-sharing plan, pedestrian and cyclist safety remains a growing concern.
Last week the city began a measure to reduce collisions on the overcrowded and dangerous Brooklyn Bridge walkway (and also on the less-hazardous Williamsburg and Manhattan bridges) by installing “pedestrian safety officers” to try to keep pedestrians separated from speeding cyclists.
Daniel Meyer, on his fourth day of the job, said, “So far so good. It’s not easy during rush hour — there have been lots of close calls.” He added for emphasis, “Lots.” As cyclists whizzed by at a high rate of speed he said, “You see how fast they’re going?”
The officers inform the crowds of tourists, many of whom do not speak English, to stay in the pedestrian lane. ”They come from every country,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle. “Norway, the Ukraine, Russia. The tourists want to take pictures. Even though the lane is marked with a logo they don’t understand.”
According to Department of Transportation (DOT), more than 4,000 pedestrians and 2,600 bicyclists cross the Brooklyn Bridge — a major tourist attraction — every day. During good weather and rush hour, however, the walkway teems with so many walkers they often can’t all physically fit in the pedestrian half.
The bike and pedestrian lanes get so packed during rush hour that Meyer sometimes has to wade out into the crowd and “push them apart,” he said.
On Aug. 26, the Brooklyn Eagle reported about a young woman who was hit from behind by a cyclist who was riding in the pedestrian lane. The victim was transported by FDNY first responders to Long Island College Hospital with head and ankle injuries. Her present condition is unknown.
FDNY has no official statistics regarding pedestrian/biker incidents on the Brooklyn Bridge, but one firefighter at the scene at the time told this reporter, “This happens almost every day. It’s crazy to have pedestrians and bicyclists on the same walkway. On the Manhattan Bridge, they keep them separate.”
Zach Campbell, who commutes by bike every day, said, “I don’t do the Brooklyn Bridge for just that reason. I go out of my way to use the Manhattan Bridge.
“There are so many tourists who just don’t know,” he said. “First, the walkway is badly designed. Second, you can’t expect tourists to constrain themselves to one side of the bridge and bikers going 40 miles per hour to constrain themselves to the other. I’m surprised no one has been killed.”
Perception of Bikers as ‘Lawless’
Is the problem bigger than the bridges? A new study from Hunter College professors Peter Tuckel and William Milczarski shows that injuries caused by bicyclists are far more common than previously thought, with roughly 500 pedestrians hurt by bikers annually in New York City.
As the number of cyclists increases — a laudable development, most people agree — the perception of bikers as lawless and reckless also increases. Even in bike-friendly Copenhagen, pedestrian anger is rising over bicyclists in who violate traffic laws, the New York Times reports.
As the city prepares to add thousands of cyclists to city streets, Brooklyn Heights Press editor Henrik Krogius asks, “Do pedestrians have a chance?”
Under the Bloomberg administration and Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, bicycle initiatives — and pedestrian initiatives — have proliferated to a degree unimaginable in the Giuliani years.
“No doubt the easy availability of rental bikes will boost the already striking increase in bicycling. But will it mean a further cost to pedestrian safety?” he asks. “While the city has been setting aside a number of pedestrian zones, these don’t address the problem found at lots of street corners, as well as on the Brooklyn Bridge where both cyclists and pedestrians frequently fail to keep to their own assigned lanes.”
Put It In Perspective
After the Hunter study was released, Transportation Alternatives issued a statement saying that while no death or injury is acceptable, the study showed that bike-on-pedestrian injuries actually declined 15 percent from 2007 to 2010. During this same four-year period, bicycling in New York City increased over 50 percent.
And while cyclists injure roughly 500 pedestrians a year, thousands are injured or killed by motor vehicles. Transportation Alternatives cites studies showing that cities with more bikes are actually safer for pedestrians. The problem for the city is how to manage the expected increase in bike traffic in a way to minimize mayhem. Installing pedestrian safety officers, while worth a shot on the bridges, is not going to solve a citywide problem. Towards this end, Transportation Alternatives has launched the Biking Rules and NYC Bike Ambassadors programs to encourage safer, more respectful cycling. Heights Press’ Krogius, however, recommends that the city goes farther and initiate bicycle registration to encourage the idea that bicycles are actual vehicles, with rights and responsibilities.
In Finland, where Krogius grew up, each bicycle had to have a license plate just like a car, and the use of a bicycle headlight was mandatory after twilight. “We grew up with the understanding that a bicycle was a vehicle — that it was licensed, that it traveled with the flow of vehicular traffic and not against it, that a bicyclist obeyed all traffic signals,” he write in an editorial published 30 years ago in the New York Times.
“Though bicycle registration would undoubtedly provoke howls of protest, it could heighten the sense that bicycling carries with it a need for responsibility.”