Thursday, January 20, 2011

Putting the Brakes on Rogue Cyclists

Ulrich Proposes Bike Registration

By Eric Yun

New York City is undeniably going to great lengths to promote biking. The city Department of Transportation (DOT) said cycling has doubled since 2005. But, many, including Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), worry that cyclists may be too prone to abusing the rules of the road.
Ulrich believes a simple way to curtail reckless cyclists is bicycle registration. Under his tentative proposal, adult bicycle owners would be required to register their bicycles and display some form of identification.

“[The proposal] came as a result with several meetings with constituents—many who are senior citizens—concerned about public safety,” Ulrich said. “I want to protect the well-being of people who share the road.”

Ulrich said his constituents are concerned about their safety because they feel most cyclists don’t follow traffic laws. “Traffic laws are broken every day in the city, and the person keeps on pedaling,” Ulrich said. “Every day across the city, bikes are directly or indirectly involved in an accident, and there is no way to identify them.”

“The city bends over backwards to accommodate bicycle riders, but yet we don’t accommodate the needs of everyone else on the road,” Ulrich continued.

Since Ulrich unveiled his plans to the New York Post last Thursday, the criticism has been swift.

Transportation Alternatives, New York City’s biggest advocacy group for public transit and bicycles, is already gearing up for a fight.

In an e-mail sent to Transportation Alternatives members, Paul Steely White, executive director of the group, blasted the “draconian” plan and wrote: “This misguided proposal is a waste of city’s resources and does nothing to improve safety, cycling or the city.”

Transportation Alternatives started a campaign against the proposal and is urging concerned cyclists to let Ulrich know how they feel about bicycle registration.

“Practically speaking, bicycle registration would criminalize bicycling, waste valuable city resources and erect yet another obstacle for those seeking to ride a bike,” White wrote in the e-mail campaign. “It would do nothing to improve safety or enforcement. … There are sufficient traffic laws on the books, covering drivers, cyclists and commercial cyclists. What’s missing from the equation isn’t an ID tag, it’s the NYPD’s participation in enforcement.”

Transportation Alternatives also noted that the most dangerous vehicles are still cars.

“According to the DMV, in 2009 there were 75,539 automobile crashes in New York City, less than 4 percent of those crashes involved a bicycle,” White wrote.

Caroline Samponaro, director of bicycle advocacy for Transportation Alternatives, said requiring bicycle registration would actually decrease safety.

“Studies have shown as more cyclists ride bikes, it becomes safer to ride. We want to encourage people to ride bikes. Don’t create unnecessary red tape,” Samponaro said. “We feel strongly that the solution to [reckless riders] is NYPD enforcement. Cyclists already need to produce a proof of ID when they’re stopped and ticketed.”

If Ulrich really wanted to stop lawless bikers, he should be in contact with the local police precincts to step up enforcement, Samponaro said.

Local community groups acknowledge there are problems with the city’s current bicycle rules and riders, but are mixed in their support of bike registration.

One possible local ally for bike registration is Mary Ann Carey, district manager of Community Board 9. In the past, she has proposed regulations charging cyclists for parking on city bike racks. Carey could not comment specifically on Ulrich’s proposal because it hasn’t been presented to the board, but on a personal level, she said she agreed something should be done.

“[Cyclists] endanger people on the sidewalk, people on the street and drivers of automobiles. There needs to be some guidelines,” Carey said.

Bob Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, said he hasn’t had many problems with bikers in Middle Village, but he has heard occasional complaints about people riding on sidewalks and riding through Juniper Valley Park harassing pedestrians. “Obviously the problem in Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn is much worse,” he said. “In principal, something needs to be done as long as it doesn’t become a bureaucratic mumbo jumbo.”

Gary Giordano, district manager of Community Board 5, feels bike riding is useful for the community. “Generally speaking, most of us think [biking] is a good activity health wise. If they’re riding bicycles, they’re not driving cars, reducing pollution and congestion,” Giordano said.

Giordano’s biggest problem with bicycles is that narrow streets such as Myrtle or Central avenues make it nearly impossible to install bike lanes, and passing cars must cross the double yellow line into oncoming traffic. “It’s not easy [to bike] here. We don’t want them on the sidewalk, but very often, that’s the only place they feel safe.”

Ulrich, however, said many of the criticisms are unfounded. No bill has been formally been introduced or drafted because his office is still trying to feedback and perspective from various groups including Transportation Alternatives, he said. A meeting has been planned between Ulrich and Transportation Alternatives, and Ulrich said he wants to hear every side before proposing legislation to the Council.

Bicycle registration won’t waste city resources either, Ulrich said. “When the bill is drafted, it’s not going to cost a dime. It will be a one-time, free registration.”

He envisions a proposal where the existing DOT bicycles unit handles the costs and riders can go to and download applications for free. “It’s not going to tax people for riding a bicycle,” Ulrich said.

Enforcement and responsible cycling would increase with registration, Ulrich said. By holding cyclists accountable, bikers would be more responsible and “think twice before blowing the stop sign or a red light,” he said.

Ulrich also argued that people hit by bicycles could actually identify the offending cyclist and file a complaint report with police.

“This is not a punitive measure, and I’m not against bicycles,” Ulrich said. “I applaud people who ride bicycles; it’s good exercise and good for the environment.”

But Ulrich believes bicycle registration is necessary to keep everyone safe and accountable. “This is the right thing to do. There is a totally unfair, double standard enforcing traffic laws. And nobody is above the law.”

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