There Oughta Be a Law. Well, There Is.

The New York Times
December 16, 2010

Let’s be clear. We like bicycles. They are good for our air, good for our health, and, perhaps even someday, good for our traffic problems. New York City has about 483 miles of bike paths, some going back to the 1800s, and is adding 50 miles of bike lanes a year. City officials have recently been handing out data showing that these lanes “calm” traffic and cut down on fatalities.

But a lot of people are not particularly calm about bicyclists, and we are deeply sympathetic. Too many cyclists must think that they don’t have to follow traffic rules. That red light? Zip on through. That one-way street? No problem. Cyclists like to call it “salmoning.” If the city is serious about encouraging biking (and, by the way, less than a percent of commuters in New York currently ride bikes), then the New York Police Department and bike riders have to crack down on these cyclists and make them obey traffic laws like everybody else.  Read more…

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1 Response to There Oughta Be a Law. Well, There Is.

  1. iblockthebikelane says:

    Responses to “There Oughta Be a Law. Well, There Is” (NY Times editorial, Dec. 17)
    Also at

    Cycling has grown 109 percent in New York City in the last five years, as the city’s biking network has expanded. Growing pains are to be expected. We believe that all cyclists should ride safely and courteously. No one is above the law.

    At Transportation Alternatives, we are working to change the “me first” attitude on city streets, through our Biking Rules safety campaign and advocacy work aimed at dangerous driving.

    The rogue cycling problem needs to be put in perspective. Last year, more than 75,000 crashes occurred on city streets. Less than 4 percent involved a bicycle. If we truly want calmer and more orderly streets, the Police Department should focus on the behaviors that cause the most harm: drivers who speed and mow down pedestrians in the crosswalk.

    Paul Steely White
    Executive Director
    Transportation Alternatives
    New York, Dec. 17, 2010

    To the Editor:

    In “There Oughta Be a Law,” you rightly call for a crackdown on the practice of “salmoning,” or bicyclists going the wrong way against traffic. However, in your editorial, you said: “Too many cyclists must think that they don’t have to follow traffic rules. … That one-way street? No problem. Cyclists like to call it ‘salmoning.’ ”

    I am a daily bicycle commuter among many. None of us like to call it “salmoning.” We despise this dangerous practice so much that we’ve conducted demonstrations against it by blowing whistles and wearing “wrong way” signs on the front of our bikes in order to educate oncoming “salmoning” riders.

    Most cyclists I know agree with you that all of us should follow traffic laws.

    Elliot L. Markson
    New York, Dec. 18, 2010

    To the Editor:

    Your editorial about the problems caused by law-evading bicyclists mentions data released by the New York City Department of Transportation that purport to show that the 50 miles of bike lanes it is adding each year “calm” traffic and cut down on fatalities.

    But as the rest of your editorial suggests, the connection between encouraging biking — which we also strongly support — and making our streets safer and more pleasant for all users is far from established. The D.O.T. data produce more puzzlement than enlightenment.

    When new bike lanes force the same volume of cars and trucks into fewer and narrower traffic lanes, the potential for accidents between cars, trucks and pedestrians goes up rather than down. At Prospect Park West in Brooklyn, for instance, where a two-way bike lane was put in last summer, our eyewitness reports show collisions of one sort or another to be on pace to be triple the former annual rates.

    Furthermore, the D.O.T. data’s lack of credibility is reinforced by our own videotapes. These show that the Prospect Park West bike lanes are used by half the number of riders the D.O.T. says, and that cyclists are not riding to commute as originally contemplated but are recreational users who could be better served by enhancing the existing lane 100 yards away in Prospect Park.

    Finally, your point about the difficulty of giving tickets to cyclists who break the law is well taken. Educating bikers is a nice idea. But requiring them to be licensed like other potentially life-threatening high-speed vehicles is the only thing that will make enforcement any easier in the long run.

    Louise Hainline
    Norman Steisel
    Iris Weinshall
    Brooklyn, Dec. 17, 2010

    The writers are members of Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes. Ms. Hainline is its president. Mr. Steisel is a former deputy mayor and sanitation commissioner of New York City, and Ms. Weinshall is a former transportation commissioner.

    To the Editor:

    It’s disturbing that your editorial page endorses a crackdown on cyclists. Even your editorial notes that pedestrians and drivers are at least equally guilty, if not more guilty, of flouting traffic laws.

    A few cyclists running red lights are not a public menace. On the other hand, people driving 6,000-pound cars while talking on cellphones, speeding, running red lights, turning without signaling and so on are. Any meaningful crackdown on scofflaws should begin with getting car and truck drivers to obey traffic laws.

    As a pedestrian, cyclist and driver, I can attest that cyclists get the worst treatment from both drivers and pedestrians. Don’t blame cyclists for improvising their own code in response to the dangers that drivers and pedestrians present and the unwillingness of the police to protect cyclists. Cyclists don’t have several tons of steel to protect them if someone else makes a mistake.

    J. P. Partland
    New York, Dec. 20, 2010

    The writer is the author of three books about cycling.

    To the Editor:

    I sympathize with your editorial about the dangers posed by bicyclists who don’t follow traffic rules. As to how to catch a bicyclist running a light, the Police Department might try what we do in our little town: have bicycle officers stake out locations with the most offenses and issue tickets. The word gets around, and a cop on a bike looks pretty cool.

    Serge Scherbatskoy
    Arcata, Calif., Dec. 17, 2010

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