The City Council bill to install chirping traffic signals to tell visibly impaired walkers when it’s safe to cross the street is surely a must, but it won’t alert them, or anyone else, to a silent bike running a light or riding the wrong way. So keep repeating former parks commissioner Henry Stern’s great truth: “A bicycle can be more frightening than a car, because it is small, swift and silent, and can come at you from any direction!”
And this was before Mayor Bloomberg’s goal to flood the city with bicycles and bike lanes to protect riders, but prudent walkers had yet another lane to check, this one, for cyclists who routinely run lights and ride the wrong way. A police officer can’t be at every corner, (or any corner, it seems), so until the revolution of all-out enforcement and compliance, we desperately need a softly audible city bike, say, with tiny bells rung by its turning wheels. I hear bicyclists don’t want that, but they can’t have it all in a high-density city with great public transit, even though elected and appointed officials often say they can.
Audibility makes for safer cycling, as well as safer walking. So does visibility like a flag or banner attached to a city bike’s rear fender. Bikes ridden in the city should only be the low-speed kind. And long overdue is an official license plate for which adult riders would pay an appropriate fee. As non-adult riders are often more responsible for accidents in which they’re involved, they’ve really got to be seen and heard. Scooter riders do, too.
And while bicycles don’t kill – not like motor vehicles do — they have, and will, and the injuries inflicted often go unreported. But the greatest overall harm they do is the stress engendered by the countless near misses and always being on guard for this silent machine which can come at you from any direction.
This is why Police Commissioner Ben Ward said, when he tried in vain to limit messenger biking hours in midtown: “These bikes are scaring the public to death!”
My May 1984 Times op-ed piece included a plea for an audible city bike. And if bikes had made a sound, my Pedestrians First group might not have had to hold respective vigils for Rodericaa Monk, 60, and Peggy Ryan, 29, both fatally injured by red-light running messenger bikes. And if the elected officials in 1986 had continued the concern they expressed that day, I wouldn’t need to write about bike lawlessness today.
But I am, and also urging the Stuart Gruskin Family Foundation to join this push for audible city bikes. And remember we must how Nancy Gruskin formed this foundation to work against traffic lawlessness after her husband Stuart was fatally injured in 2011 by a wrong-way riding food delivery cyclist in midtown. This beloved husband, father and son might be alive today if that bike had been audible.
I know it’s unorthodox, but it makes so much utter good sense for city bikes not to be silent, and oh, my friends, neither must we!
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