This majority will be silent no more.
Pedestrians — the silent civilians in the war between cyclists and drivers — are becoming increasingly assertive in their demands for their share of the road.
And with the surge in biking and a wave of city-promoted bike initiatives, pedestrians — who have long considered motorists to be public enemy number one — are starting to turn against bike riders.
“Bicyclists are a serious problem on the roads,” said Anna Zapata, 41, of Park Slope as she walked down Fifth Avenue — one of the recent hotspots in the conflict between bikers and walkers.
“They’re every bit as dangerous as cars. They have no regard for the lights or traffic laws — I’ve seen them even hop up on the sidewalks when the traffic gets really congested down here,” she said. “It’s dangerous enough trying to cross the street with cars coming in both directions. I shouldn’t also have to worry about speed-racing bicyclists.”
Zapata isn’t the only biped outraged by the behavior of bicyclists.
“The problem is that the bicyclists here are just so pushy,” said Sloper Jocelyn Santiago, 34. “They think they rule the entire road, so to speak. And they’re everywhere in Park Slope, so it causes major traffic problems. They never want to slow down or let pedestrians cross in front of them.”
The city has promoted bike-friendly programs, but the Department of Transportation’s push in the last two years to paint 48 miles of cycling lanes in Brooklyn alone, extend car-free hours in Prospect Park, and distribute 12,000 helmets and 200,000 bike maps, has walkers now accusing the city of pandering too much to New York’s 131,000 daily pedal pushers.
But Department of Transportation spokesman Scott Gastel said that drivers, bikers and walkers all get a fair shake.
“For all of our projects, we factor in everybody, the bikers, the drivers and the pedestrians,” he said.
Among other pedestrian-friendly initiatives, the Department of Transportation is working to implement a red-light camera program to catch dangerous drivers, create four new public plazas per year, increase crossing time in neighborhoods with many senior citizens, and extend the period of crossing time at the beginning of certain walk signals, Gastel noted.
These goals come after 10 years of initiatives that have brought about a 55-percent reduction in the number of traffic fatalities.
But that doesn’t mean that roads are safe for walkers.
Last year, 136 pedestrians were killed on the city’s streets and sidewalks. By comparison, 77 drivers and passengers and 23 bikers died on the roads.
Between 1996 and 2005, some 2,000 pedestrians lost their lives citywide — but only 11 died after collisions with bicyclists.
Yet cyclists say they receive too much of the blame for the borough’s dangerous streets.
“People need to give [bicyclists] a break,” said pedal-pusher George Sweig, 39. “We’re not biking fast enough for the cars, and we’re always in the pedestrians’ way. No matter what we do, we’re making someone angry.”
Which shouldn’t be the case, according to the experts.
“Some cyclists break the law; so do motorists and pedestrians,” said Teresa Toro, the transportation committee chair of Community Board 1 in bike-friendly Williamsburg and Greenpoint. “Anyone can be reckless. Personally, I wish I had a nickel for every driver I see speeding on a residential street, simply to catch a green light.
“Why isn’t that called out as unacceptable behavior that we protest every day?” she asked.
At the end of the day, pedestrians should always have the right of way, said Transportation Alternatives spokesman Wiley Norvell, who suggests at busy intersections extending the sidewalk about five-feet and changing stop-light patterns so that pedestrians can cross intersections in any direction without any movement of cars — the so-called “Barnes dance.”
“If we were to make a hierarchy about who benefits the city the most — what form of transportation is most critical to the city’s environment — pedestrians would be on top,” Norvell said. “Pedestrians should get the most space, and the most respect.”
But Park Slope biker Richard Bauer, 28, says it’s the boroughs masses of pedestrians that are the primary rule breakers.
“If you walk around here, you think you have the right-of-way everywhere — and that’s not the case,” he said. “Pedestrians don’t want to share the road with us, and that pits one group against the other.”
©2008 Community News Group
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