Time to Stop Spinning Our Wheels on Bike Safety

Islands on the Avenue: Sixth Ave. (seen here at W. 21st St.) will get pedestrian refuges, when a bike lane is installed btw. W. 8th & W. 33rd Sts. Chlsea Now file photo by Zach Williams.

Chlsea Now file photo by Zach Williams.

BY FRANK MEADE | You probably don’t know Claudia Apicella by name, but you’ve almost certainly seen her going about life here in Chelsea, or as a model in various print media.

There’s a world of difference between the Real McCoy and a cheap imitation, and she is certainly the former. Claudia’s a lively, intelligent woman “of a certain age” who has memories of being sheltered as a small child in the London Underground during the Blitz, though you’d not guess it to see her. She speaks at least four languages with native-fluency and is more widely traveled than some commercial pilots. She sings in her church choir every Sunday and is better read than most Americans. In short, she’s the kind of person who makes this neighborhood, the city, our country and the world a better, more interesting place. She’s unique and you can tell by her bearing that she’s of the stoic “Keep Calm and Carry On” generation.

As a naturalized American citizen, Claudia cares deeply about her adopted country and believes strongly in its laws, customs and traditions. She maintains the constant British tenet of civility and holds that the social contract obliges each of us to submit to laws so the rights of all may be preserved.

At 10:45 a.m. on Wed., Aug. 3, 2016, she met someone whose concept of the social contract is that his own desires and comfort far surpass the dignity of all others. Claudia was on her way to an urgent medical appointment and waited for the green light to walk within the crosswalk from east to west on the south side of W. 23rd St. and Seventh Ave., when she was struck by a bicyclist speeding northbound in the middle of southbound Seventh Ave. This individual did not stop.

After more than two weeks in the hospital, she entered a physical therapy rehab facility for over a month. She is now at home where she is expected to remain incapacitated for the foreseeable future, as her broken bones are treated during home visits by her rehab and care providers, and medical attention is provided for her previous diagnosis. Claudia is now one more in the growing list of victims of incivility and criminality in our lives. In that way, there is nothing notable about her. We’ve all (bicycle enthusiasts included) had conversations centered around “I was almost killed by a bike when…”

Bicyclists are mandated to follow the NYS Vehicle and Traffic Law directives as are motor vehicle operators — but in an area as densely packed as Chelsea, it’s virtually impossible for the police to chase offenders who are on two wheels. Bikes are more maneuverable and can easily put more people at risk by escaping police through traffic without regard for anyone or anything other than their hubristic selves while taking the time to make a crude gesture. While there simply aren’t enough police to permanently assign officers to catching these violators while maintaining sufficient presence to respond to 911 calls and other requests for assistance, their efforts have been documented on Eighth Ave. in the vicinity of Penn South where summonses are handed out frequently.

There is a very finite number of police officers to go around. If you want enough cops on the streets to effectively control the problem, write to your electeds. That’s the only way you’ll get enough enforcement, since the politicians control the NYPD budget, hiring and other issues.

Enforcement is only one part of the solution. Social pressure is critical and those who disobey traffic laws should be shamed by other cyclists, motor vehicle operators and pedestrians. Cyclists who would not run a red light while behind the wheel of a car have no compunction against doing so on a two-wheeled vehicle.

Those responsible for placing Citi Bikes on our streets chose a sturdy, heavy bike with required lights and warning devices rather than the lightweight racers favored by most. Obviously, the lighter the bike, the faster it’s able to go, and the rider is tempted to take speed to its limit, without fear of control or ability — the same as do many 17-year-olds with a new driver license. Perhaps a requirement that two-wheeled vehicles in the city cannot be capable of exceeding a certain speed, and cannot be less than a given weight should be instated — which will render them less likely to achieve dangerous speeds, although even “slow” speeds can be deadly.

Consideration also must be given to the laws of physics, which dictate that it’s difficult for a cyclist to stop quickly on a speeding bike without fear of falling or valuating over the handlebars. It’s much different than slamming on the brakes while driving a motor vehicle.

Claudia didn’t deserve what she got. Political “leadership” has to stop delivering platitudes, and start talking seriously about the issues their constituents face daily. It has to be much more than applauding Vision Zero, joining neighborhood demonstrations, and other press conference-worthy sound bites and photo opportunities.

Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels, Sarajevo, Tirana and Vienna, among many others, can do it. Why can’t New York?

Until that happens, you’re as much at risk as this lovely lady.

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