Thursday, June 23, 2005

What You Don't Know Can Hurt You...Or Someone Else

Riding a bicycle in New York City is like having a death wish.

Tuesday morning, a livery cab struck a 12-year-old boy on the Upper East Side, leaving him in intensive care. Police are still looking for the driver. Later that morning, 25-year-old Andrew Ross Morgan was hit and killed by a furniture delivery truck on the Lower East Side. Morgan is the fourth cyclist—we know of— in the last two months to die after being hit by an automobile.

On June 9, 28-year-old Elizabeth Padilla was killed after being run over by an ice cream delivery truck in Park Slope. The driver didn’t even know he had run over the woman until a passerby waved him down. On May 10, 21-year-old Brandie Bailey was struck and killed on Avenue A by a garbage truck, whose driver also did not know he had hit her until police tracked him down. On April 26, 59-year-old Jerome Allen was mowed down and killed by an SUV on Staten Island.

This should not be a laundry list. But according to Transportation Alternatives—a nonprofit organization working to encourage biking, walking and public transportation as an alternative to driving—in the last 10 years, a cyclist has been killed about every three weeks on a New York City Street. It’s a misconception that cycling in this city is safe, probably because these deaths are not reported. The New York Times, one of only two daily papers to run the story of Morgan’s unfortunate death, ran only one paragraph in the Metro Briefing. The New York Daily News also ran a short piece. The Daily News and Newsday were the only two dailies to run stories on Padilla’s death, while only Newsday reported on Bailey’s. No major papers reported Allen’s death.

Word of these tragedies does make its way through the cycling community over blogs, email lists and in bike shops, but cyclists aren’t the people who need to be made aware. We know the dangers of riding on New York City Streets, and some call us crazy for still riding. Sure, some of us navigate with reckless abandon, but we are always aware of cars, even if not always aware of pedestrians. But motorists in New York City, as a rule, are simply not aware of cyclists. If every motorist knew how often these automobile vs. bicycle accidents happen, they might take a second look before making a left turn over a bike lane, throwing open the car door or even eating while driving—I was recently almost run over near the site of Padilla’s death by a truck whose driver was eating ice cream (yes, with a spoon; that requires two hands, leaving none for the steering wheel).

I’m sure bicycle deaths aren’t reported because they are so common, not because the city or the media hates cyclists, as some of my fellow riders like to claim. However, without proper coverage, motorists will continue to be oblivious to cyclists and taxi passengers will freely flail doors into bike lanes.

Short of supplying every biker in the city with “Watch out! This car almost killed a cyclist!” stickers to slap on every vehicle that cuts us off or almost doors us, a bicycle awareness campaign should be put into place, even if it’s one news outlet deciding to report on every such accident. Bike lanes are great, and the cycling community is certainly grateful for them, but they don’t do much good if motorists don’t stay out of them or at least check them before opening a car door or pulling in to double park.

Maybe if the papers started to report on every cyclist death in the city, after a while, there wouldn’t be so many to report.


mfs said...

I really like the idea of the bumper stickers, if only we could catch up to the car on bike...

But seriously, i'm pretty peeved that no driver has been charged with manslaughter yet in any of these incidents... they are only upset with the livery driver who did a hit-and-run? And what about the 1st truck that knocked down the guy on Houston, not the one that actually killed him?


Barbara Spannaus said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Barbara Spannaus said...

Family and friends from Austin and NYC are hurting badly over the loss of Andy Morgan. He was very loved. Possibly doing a story about the person who lost his life due to the problem of NY drivers being blind to bicycles might have a positive impact.
Andy grew up in Austin, TX. He was a standout, intelligent, multi-talented, good person.

Anonymous said...

andy is going to be very missed.