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Pants on Fire

January 14, 2011

Since I like to give most people the benefit of the doubt, I hesitate to call anyone a liar and instead prefer to understand someone who spreads misinformation in other ways.  But every once in a while I question that doubt.  Take this editorial in The Brooklyn Paper from Leslie Lewis, president of the 84th Precinct Community Council.

I’m not anti-bike, but I follow police statistics: About 90 percent of the bicyclists killed in this city died, in part, because they were not following the rules of the road. Obviously, these deaths were tragedies and they never should have happened. But in many of these cases the bicyclists were violating the rules in some way. They were either on roads without bike lanes, going through a red light or riding the wrong way down the street. The “ghost bikes” you see in the different neighborhoods that honor these fallen bicyclists only tell half the story.

Any statement that begins with defining what you are not stinks a tad, methinks, of protesting too much.  The Times did it in their 12/16/10 editorial–“Let’s be clear. We like bicycles.”–and Lewis does it here.  I don’t hate bikes, I’m just reporting what the police tell me! Don’t shoot the messenger!

If only staking a defensive posture was Lewis’ biggest offense, we could dismiss his opinion piece as a mere trifle.  But Lewis has a direct relationship with the police and as such should have a modicum of responsibility to report reliable, verifiable figures.  Lewis’ 90% figure is dubious–what’s the source?–and his understanding of the rules of the road is lacking.  “They were either on roads without bike lanes,” he writes.  Sorry, no.  Cyclists do not have to stick to streets with bike lanes.  Even if I give Lewis the benefit of the doubt and imagine that he meant that cyclists would be safer on streets with bike lanes, that does not mean they deserve to die for riding on streets without them.

Aside from printing information that is demonstrably false, and probably easy to look up if you have a direct line to One Police Plaza, Lewis maligns a lot of very innocent people whose tragic deaths were no fault of their own, getting in a swipe in at the Ghost Bikes project in the process.  Jasmine Herron, whose ghost bike is the most recent addition to the city streetscape, was not violating any rules when she was doored by a driver opening her car door and subsequently crushed by a bus in September of last year.  By all reports she was riding lawfully: she biking with traffic down Atlantic Avenue and did not run a red light.  Not that it matters all that much, but she was wearing a helmet.

For Lewis’ sake, allow me to “tell the other half of the story.”  You know, the story of those poor drivers who, through zero fault of their own suddenly find themselves besieged by renegade cyclists.  Better yet, perhaps Lewis could read The Brooklyn Paper to learn more about the sad tale of the poor driver who doored Herron:

Crystal Francis, the driver, attempted to leave the scene, claiming she had nothing to do with the accident. But police officers dragged her back, and she was charged with driving on a suspended license, police said.

So, a driver who had no business behind the wheel of a car, which I’m assuming she had to drive in order to get it into the parking space, knocks down a cyclist and it’s the cyclist’s fault?  And lest I be accused of cherry picking one example, other Ghost Bikes tell similar tales.  Meg Charlop, killed in March, was riding legally when she was killed.  The list goes on.  There are, of course, tragic cases in which cyclists engaged in behavior that contributed to their deaths, but Lewis ought to be more careful when disparaging dead people.

Leslie Lewis ought to be asked if he really wants the “other half of the story” told.  It might lead to people questioning whether or not he really needs to drive to Borough Hall from a neighborhood rich with transit and bike lanes.

UPDATE:

Paul Steely White comments over at Streetsblog: “Leslie Lewis derives his 90% from the city bike safety report that found over 90% of fatally struck bikers were not wearing helmets.”  Never mind that no helmet is going to protect you if you are riding lawfully and run over by a bus, just as no bullet proof vest will protect you if you are shot at with a rocket launcher.  Also, since there is no mandatory helmet law in NYC, not wearing one does not mean that you are “not following the rules of the road.”

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5 Comments
  1. January 14, 2011 1:52 pm

    How is being on a road without a bike lane not following the rules?! See, this is one of my biggest concerns about bike lanes, I think drivers are starting to get the idea that cyclists aren’t allowed on roads that do not have them.

  2. Jonathan permalink
    January 14, 2011 2:14 pm

    Great post as usual, Doug.

    The Lewis critique is a little more subtle than that. You see, it’s a “safety” issue, and “safety,” like for the family with three kids on the bike that he mentions, should be paramount.

    In other contexts, however, the issue of safety has spurred infrastructure improvements. Kids falling out of high windows and dying is less prevalent since 1976, not because we have “cracked down” on parents not watching their kids while at home, but because NYC figured out that proper infrastructure, i.e. bars on windows, can keep kids from falling out no matter how inattentive the parents are, and in 1976 they passed a law mandating window guards.

    If Lewis is serious about “safety,” then he’ll support taking more street space away from cars and letting pedestrians and bicyclists use it, SAFELY, instead.

  3. January 14, 2011 2:22 pm

    Thanks, Jonathan.

    I thought the bit about seeing a guy with three babies in tow was laughable. We all know how the real scourge on city streets are dads carrying triplets! That must happen ALL THE TIME.

  4. Ruby7Biker permalink
    January 25, 2011 9:58 am

    In June 2005 my new next door neighbor newlywed pro-bono lawyer Liz Padilla was killed on 5th Ave as she swerved her bike into traffic to avoid a trucker’s door swinging open. She was riding within the “suggested” bike lane. Rather than waste efforts that discourage bikers, let’s be bold and promote 24/7 bike-only avenues. The bike lane along PPW has substantially decreased all types of accidents. Biking is good for your health and the environment – a no-brainer Marty Markowitz! Fuhggedaboutit! Somehow emulating European Social Democracies is seen as un-American – strange. I suppose the image of the fixed-gear anarchist biker in black frightens a small band of Marty’s constituents. Thank you for pointing out Leslie Lewis’ contradictions and inaccuracies. His daily drive to Borough Hall demonstrates his POV & how actions speak louder than words.

  5. January 25, 2011 1:01 pm

    Ruby,

    Thanks so much for your comment.

    I pass by Liz Padilla’s ghost bike almost every day and it always stops me in my tracks. I hope that more bike lanes and more street improvements make this city safer for everyone. People like Lewis, in my opinion, trivialize a very important issue that affects very real people.

    Thank you again.

    – Doug

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