There has been a lot going on lately, so it is possible that even our well-informed readers missed the interesting news that in a special referendum in Paris, local citizens voted overwhelmingly to ban rented e-scooters by 89-11%. Apparently, the chaos and accidents caused by these motorized menaces was too much for Parisian pedestrians to bear in what many consider the ultimate walking city.
This got me thinking that the French populace might be on to something when it comes to urban planning. Now, I know that many of our friends enjoy using bicycles and other environmentally friendly methods of transportation for recreation and getting around New York City, and I salute their intrepid green spirit, but things are amiss (a mess?) here as well.
We can also look to Amsterdam, which is the paradigm of a successful (albeit much smaller) bicycle-riding city. However, in planning for the future the Dutch have conceded on the city’s website that “certain parts of Amsterdam’s city centre have become so congested that it is impossible to accommodate bicycles, cars and pedestrians at the same time”. As a result, they are redesigning the Amsterdam bike lanes to address the problem and encouraging what they call considerate cycling and suggesting that cyclists will need to learn new habits and practice good cycling etiquette (what are the chances of that happening here?).
In NYC, the safety situation has gotten totally out of hand with all kinds of one and two-wheeled vehicles darting around the streets, including but not limited to e-bikes, e-scooters, unicycles, motorcycles, mopeds, rickshaws and Citibikes along with traditional bicycles and scooters. Unfortunately, even with the new bike lanes New York streets are too crowded with cars and dense pedestrian traffic to deal with this anarchy as many pedestrians are distracted by their screens, music or phone calls to safely co-exist with the exponential expansion of these alternative forms of transportation.
Making matters worse, just three months into this year 11 bicyclists have been killed by motorists, which is one more than the entire year of 2022. Moreover, pedestrians are also at risk and several have been killed or injured by bikes. Most recently, an e-biker got into an altercation with an off-duty policeman who was walking his dog in Yorkville at First Avenue and 92nd St. The policeman, who is presumably well-equipped to defend himself, ended up with a broken ankle.
One thing that is not statistically measured is the number of close calls that pedestrians experience every day from speeding bicyclists and others. For example, my husband Eric is so permanently scarred from a particularly frightening experience when he was nearly mowed down by an e-bike turning a corner in midtown that he will barely leave our apartment (except for Knick games and to walk our bulldog where he does not have to cross the street).
Everyone we know has a similar story. While it is wonderful to see all the senior citizens and others with mobility challenges navigating the streets with canes, walkers, and the like, they are no match for out-of-control cyclists and impaired drivers. Further, my nonagenarian mother who exercises every day is rightfully more concerned about the dangers of a short trip to the store where she has to contend with bicyclists coming off the Queensboro (Ed Koch) Bridge than the extremely low risk of crime in our otherwise very safe neighborhood.
Indeed, the situation has gotten so bad with the number of traffic deaths rising so quickly that the city fathers (and mothers) have taken note of this disastrous trend and the NYC Department of Transportation and other agencies have been directed to look at fresh approaches to our traffic fiasco.
The bottom line is this. The bike lanes were initially a good idea. I commend Mayors Bloomberg and DeBlasio (remember Vision Zero) for trying them to reduce pollution and make it easier for New Yorkers to get around. However, it has become abundantly clear that they just haven’t worked. They’re just too darned dangerous. The proliferation of pedal-pushers and other makeshift people-movers is just impossible in New York City.
When you get in a hole, the best thing you can do is stop digging. The simple fact is that the bike lanes have created a monster that has made New York City terribly unsafe. Accordingly, the best course of action now is to just admit failure (which is not the fault of Mayor Adams) and go back to the drawing board. The only way to take back our streets and return them to the people is to ban all the electronic forms of bicycles and scooters. Citibikes and regular bikes would remain for the good citizens who want an easy and inexpensive method of travel, but speed limits should be strictly enforced.
We all agree that for New York to be restored to its former glory, it must be safe. That goes beyond just crime. If pedestrians can’t even walk the streets safely, what kind of city is it anyway? Contrary to the belief in some other precincts, New York is doing quite well as apartment rents just hit a record high. But while we know people want to live here, things could be even better. We’ve got many challenges, but this should be relatively easy to solve without disturbing the concept of the 20-minute city where people live, work and play. Power to the pedestrians!