Road Rules

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Robert Sullivan, author of the soon-to-be-published The Thoreau You Don't Know: What the Prophet of Environmentalism Really Meant (Collins (March 17, 2009), offers his four "suggestions" for better bike "P.R.".


Robert Sullivan

Comments [51]

m from nj

Keep Riding Bikes

Mar. 13 2009 07:25 PM
Joanne Caputi from Metuchen, NJ

Someone called up and said he bikes against traffic and thinks that is safer than with traffic flow. I am a courier and drive a car 8 hours a day. I tell all bikers I know - grown-ups and kids alike - the most important rule when biking on the street is to bike WITH traffic. Yes, you can see what's coming at you when you're facing traffic, but a car who doesn't see a bike and has to swerve at the last minute to avoid collision has even less time because the bike is coming at him. During certain seasons when the sun is very bright a bike can unexpectedly pop out of the deep shadows of a tree-lined street right toward an auto grill.

Mar. 12 2009 09:27 PM
Seth from Manhattan

Whoops, forgot one of my 6 points!

3) Follow the stop and peak rule at every intersection. It's not exactly a stop, but a slow roll, look both ways and then go. Try it, it works! And, this is I find very helpful -- continue looking both left and right as you cross, looking out for pedestrians, speeding cars and, yes, bikes!

Mar. 12 2009 12:37 PM
Josh Penchina from Brooklyn

kbinps from park slope & Jon P. from Hewitt, NJ:

I'm in total agreement that the safety of pedestrians is of utmost importance when THEY have the light. And I'm in total agreement that there are types of cyclists who equally endanger motorists and pedestrians with their reckless riding styles. However, this reckless CONTINGENT does not represent all cyclists, just as the reckless contingents of motorists and jay-walkers should not represent the whole of motorists and jay-walkers. These types are insecure idiots who are trying to look hard, and are doing so at a price.

However, I've been cycling respectfully and alertly through this city for over 20 years, and I imagine that for every reckless putz out there, there are 50 more who are like me. And if one of us (a courteous and experienced cyclist) approaches an intersection and recognizes a safe route for himself to cross, all while keeping a safe distance from pedestrians and motorists with the light, then we should should feel free to cross-even if it means bending some rules. If these safe conditions do not exist, then, of course, a cyclist should chill until they do.

Last note: the best & safest thing a pedestrian can do if they have the right of way is to not budge an inch from their crossing speed and path. Like a competent motorist, a good cyclist will be able to maneuver around you more safely.

Mar. 12 2009 12:34 PM
Seth from Manhattan

MORE of my 6-point plan for safe biking. Has worked for 25+ years. No major take-downs. No injuries!

4) I always ride with a light starting from dusk. Mary from the Bronx mentions this and it is key to bikers showing respect for pedestrians. Heck, it also makes it easier to ride at these hours. When you ride with a night, pedestrians actually respect you and give you space! Those who ride sans-light or "stealth riders" are lethal to the City. I see many of them each evening in the Village (I've been down here for 25 years), many of them delivery guys. These riders are a threat both emotionally and physically to pedestrians. I've been hit several times as a pedestrian by stealth-rider delivery guys and had near collisions dozens of times and I'm a careful guy. I also admit that I've taken swings at several who came to close to me and heck, I'm a biker! Riding at dusk or night without a light HAS to be dealt with by the City. In Amsterdam you NEVER see a bike at night without a light. NEVER! NYC simply has to focus on this issue. Make it mandatory to ride without a light. Confiscate the bikes of those that break this law and you'll see a change overnight in this behavior. You correct this behavior and you'll see big changes how pedestrians treat bikers and bikers feel about pedestrians.

5) Scream or honk at pedestrians who are blocking your traffic when you have the right of way. Don't be shy. You're a New Yorker so act like one! My favorite warning, "COMING THROUGH!" or "MOVE!"

6) Ride at a pace that allows you to stop on 3 foot "dime". If you can't stop within 3 feet, you are riding too fast in my opinion.

Mar. 12 2009 12:24 PM
Seth from Manhattan

I've been biking in Manhattan for 25 + years biked all over town and I have never had a serious accident. Never. What's my secret? I’ve got 6.

1) I ride with traffic. In Amsterdam, you get ticketed for riding against traffic. The cops here should do the same. One week of ticketing bikers for doing this would change a lot of behavior. Now, some bikers say it's safer to ride against the traffic to avoid being doored. I say, those bikers are riding too fast OR they are riding too close to parked cars. But, I'll deal with that in my next step

2) Bikers should ride on the outer edge of the bike line or about one foot to the right of it, depending on the width of the road and lane. Riding in the middle of a bike line is in my opinion unsafe -- dangerous to pedestrians AND bikers. Pedestrians leaving cars need about 5 feet of clearance. So bikers, be smart and ride outside of the danger-zone (heck, we're accommodating j-walkers! Hooray for us!). Give pedestrians that half step of clearance to open the car door and peak out. True, on many side streets there are no bike lanes, so keep 5 to 6 feet from parked cars and all will be safe.

One other note, bikers may be reluctant to do this because they think they are in the "car lane" and breaking the law. I've never seen a biker ticketed for riding one foot outside of the bike lane, nor should they be. Riding this way is just a way to ride respectfully. Sure, it forces the cars over a bit to the right to accommodate us sometimes but I contend there is 99% of the time plenty of road for them to move over right. Where there isn't, bikers should be aware and drive closer to the left to let the car pass but still try to avoid the danger zone too close to the parked car lane. Bikers by claiming this zone 5 - 6 feet away from parked cars will make it safer for all.


Mar. 12 2009 12:23 PM
David from Manhattan

kbinps from park slope, your statement "on a daily basis it is bikes that threaten us" is so far removed from reality it is crazy.

How many people in NYC die each year because of cars? ~145. Bikes? ~0.5.

I agree peds should come first, but people have to stop blaming cyclists for everything. The more cyclists there are on our streets, the calmer, and safer, traffic is. Go ahead and throw up your anecdotes to contradict me; my numbers are accurate.

Mar. 12 2009 11:44 AM
Jon P. from Hewitt, NJ

Right on kbnps from park slope

As a biker and a driver, biker’s who don’t drive should realize I few things about cars and trucks. They can’t stop on a dime like bicycles. Cars, especially new ones, have many blind spots. Never assume just because you can see the driver that they can see you.

And Scott from Brooklyn and Josh Penchina from Brooklyn, you make no sense. Obey all traffic laws. Cars have to and so do you.

Mar. 12 2009 11:30 AM
kbinps from park slope

Too many bikers exhibit an air of self righteousness. Yes in the big picture it is greener. But on a daily basis it is bikes that threaten us. How many people are on a constant lookout for bikers on sidewalks or running through lights dodging pedestrians in crosswalks. Even here in these comments we see that everyone only seems to see it from their own selfish point of view. Bikers saying they don't want ot stop at lights because it ruins their flow. Or they get caught up with cars. Well we get caught up with your bikes. Pedestrians must come first because we are the most vulnerable. And hey, we're being pretty green walking aren't we?

Mar. 12 2009 11:12 AM
N/A from Brooklyn

I grew up in a rural area in Rhode Island. I was taught it was safe to ride against traffic since you can see cars coming. Riding with traffic always felt very dangerous to me because you never know who is coming up behind you. It's a much different situation than being in the city, but riding with traffic always made me more nervous than riding against.

Mar. 12 2009 11:06 AM
Luke from Brooklyn


Especially in the city streets like Chambers street or major traffic avenues (2nd,3rd,6th,7th,8th), I have found it much safer to ride in the middle of traffic (with traffic) than to ride near the curb. Generally speaking you know what a car is going to do, or you can see it coming. People go any which way they want and can step off a curb or out from btwn parked cars without any warning at all...And forget it if they're on a cell phone! The Cars have paused for a red light so they often don't even look up when they step into the street!

Mar. 12 2009 10:59 AM
Josh Penchina from Brooklyn

I'm totally against the idea of unconditionally stopping at red lights, especially if there's no or minimal traffic ahead. Many cyclists would agree that maintaining momentum is key to riding long distances during their commutes. If I'm able to maintain movement, and not have to stop and shift down to slowly get started again (which I promise is more difficult compared to a motorist or pedestrian), then I save more energy for myself...which makes me a happier, more energized and effective person upon arrival at my destination! (this also increases the lifetime of break pads, reduces the risk of injury and exhaustion of the cyclist-which would endanger pedestrians and motorists more, and reduces traffic).

Also, I'd say that cycling through traffic is merely advanced jay-walking. There are many types of jay-walkers: Some slowly cross moving traffic (just trying to maintain a cool image) and put many lives at risk in doing so. Some jay-walkers are tourists or perhaps too young to cross with confidence and end of causing dangerous situations. However, others are experienced and are able to completely avoid endangering themselves or motorists. I think these categories completely relate to the types of cyclists in the city. Bottom line: When you have a cyclist who is responsible, experienced, and acutely aware of their environment, he/she poses no more threat to safety than a comparable pedestrian.

Mar. 12 2009 10:56 AM
Luke from Brooklyn

We need Car Lanes not bike lanes!!!

I ride to work everyday that I possibly can from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

We need more regulation of Yellow Cabs and Black livery cabs.
I cannot count the number of times that a cab has quickly pulled right into my "bike lane", without signaling, cutting me off to pick up a pedestrian. Or that I have found a Black Car (engine idleing by the way) in the "bike lane" while the driver eats a lunch!!

Mar. 12 2009 10:53 AM
Wendy from Brooklyn

I agree that bikers need to follow rules and especially give the right of way to pedestrians (when they have it. Like most bikers, I fear peds more than cars, though find kids on bikes the scariest). More importantly, BIKES ARE NOT CARS and should not have the same rules as cars. It's important to get ahead of cars when you're on a bike. Waiting at a red light and starting with the cars in the middle of the city can be very dangerous (since drivers don't respect bikers). So there should be rules to accommodate the needs of bikers - how about bike lights that turn green 30s before the car lights, giving bikers time to get ahead? On some highways, there are lights on the on-ramps that flash 'stop' when cars are coming past and flash 'go' when there's a break in the traffic. Maybe there could be similar monitors on city streets that signal you to move through a light, with caution, when no traffic is coming. That would keep bikes from piling up or allow riders to legally move forward when, say, they're just sitting at a light on a residential street in Brooklyn with no traffic anywhere in site

Mar. 12 2009 10:51 AM
David Womack from Brooklyn

The problem with expecting bikers to follow the rules of the road is that the road respects so few rules with regard to bikers. Our bike lanes in NYC are a joke--they begin and end abruptly and, when they do exist, are just double parking lanes for cabs and cars. This fosters a "wild west" attitude. That said, bikers need to ride friendly (if not always following the rules).

Mar. 12 2009 10:48 AM
Gabriele Abbott from Darien, CT 06820

Your topic covered the do's and dont's of riding the bike but did not touch on what to do when the ride reaches its destination. THERE IS NOWHERE to "park" one's bike, let alone secure it. I live in a small town, Darien and most shopping destinations, supermarkets, shopping areas, parks, office blocks, etc are in easy riding distance, yet once arrived, what to do with the bike? If we want to encourage alternate modes of transport, and promoting a healthier lifestyle at the same time, why not require major stores to provide simple bike racks. The only place in Darien seems to be the railway station and the library that has room for a few bikes to be parked and secured on a metal frame. As for shopping? I was told by a supermarket I could not leave my bike outside the entrance, so I guess the answer is, arrive by Escalade ( we are talking Darien) and all will be well!

Mar. 12 2009 10:48 AM
David from Manhattan

Cyclists should *call out vocally* to pedestrians any time we're approaching a crosswalk crowded with pedestrians.

Mr. Sullivan nais something in his Times article--cyclists both are, and are perceived by pedestrians as, more human than moving cars. Because of that, we should live up to that honor and open our mouths as we approach fellow, non-wheeling humans, even if they're acting oblivious. All you have to do is yell out, "heads up" or "coming through," or, my favorite, if the peds seem to be wilfully ignoring me, "CAR!"

Seriously, a cyclist's human voice is a lot nicer than a car horn, and I always find that pedestrians appreciate the courtesy, even if I sound gruff.

Everyone--motorists and cyclists alike--should STOP blaming pedestrians for claiming space: they were here before either of us.

Mar. 12 2009 10:45 AM
Elisa from Manhattan

I was born and raised in the Netherlands. Bicycles are a way of life for us and our road rules are strict. Why can't we adopt the ones from abroad?

Mar. 12 2009 10:43 AM
Richard J. Tufano, Esq. from Long Beach, NY

I am a J-walker not a cyclist but have a great bicycle story. I was J-Walking across 6th Ave near Penn and a burly bicycle cop going the WRONG way on 6th almost ran me over. HE WAS PISSED. He threatened to give me a JWalk ticket but just yelled at me.

Mar. 12 2009 10:42 AM
Mary from Bronx

(A good segment, but too short)
Rules will have no effect if not enforced. A few years ago, I was forcefully knocked down by a bicyclist while crossing 8th Ave. at 35th St. (I was crossing with the WALK light; he was running through the red light.) The wonderfully helpful drivers of the cars stopped at the light got out to assist me, and one of them prevented the cyclist from taking off. Another found a policeman, who had to be prodded by the driver to get the cyclist's information and give it to me. He did NOT give the cyclist a citation. The cyclist was a messenger. Fortunately, I was able to phone the cyclist's employer, report him, and extract a promise of help with any medical bills. I was grateful to the motorists, but disappointed that the policeman took so little interest in the cyclist's running a red light.
When I've driven (not in Manhattan), I've observed many cyclists without lights, cyclists who weave in and out of traffic, and cyclists who ignore lights and other rules. I've never heard of one of these receiving a traffic ticket.

Mar. 12 2009 10:42 AM
maria from Brooklyn

going the wrong way on a one way street is a really bad idea. Cars coming through intersections are looking the other way for oncoming traffic. Ive seen people hit this way. I have never done it since I saw the first accident.

Mar. 12 2009 10:41 AM
markBrown from

btw TELL the writer that SCHLUFFY is YIDDISH for nap or SLEEP, and if he is GOING to try and upsurp yet ANOTHER yiddish word, he should get one with the RIGHT meaning. NOT using Schluff to mean 'walking like a scooter'..

If he schluffs with his bike, I expect to take a nice quilt and wrap both HIM and his bike UP in it, and set a nice alarm to wake him up from his NAP!

Mar. 12 2009 10:39 AM

Bike lanes vs. introduction/expansion of on-street parking? Here in Somerset County, NJ this has become a local issue in some towns -- given that bike lanes improve standard of living and suppress overcrowding of old Victorian homes.

One solution for those in favor of bike lanes:

Yes -- the state of NJ actually promotes better sidewalks for walkers and conditions for bikers!

Mar. 12 2009 10:38 AM
bruce engel from broklyn/ manhattan

we need to make bikes a priority. every street in new york city needs a bike lane. If there is not enough room for bike lane and car traffic, then the road becomes dedicated to bikes only

Mar. 12 2009 10:38 AM

Bike lanes vs. introduction/expansion of on-street parking? Here in Somerset County, NJ this has become a local issue in some towns -- given that bike lanes improve standard of living and suppress overcrowding of old Victorian homes, while more parking is convenient for SUVs, vans, etc.

One solution for those in favor of bike lanes:

Yes -- the state of NJ actually promotes better sidewalks for walkers and conditions for bikers!

Mar. 12 2009 10:37 AM
kbinps from park slope

More often than not I encounter bikers who ride the sidewalks and are completly disdainful of pedestrians. Another issue-in Prospect Park the spandex clad bikers are very aggressive and territorial and challenge pedestrians. It makes a walk in the walk in the park.

Mar. 12 2009 10:37 AM
Karen from Manhattan

My husband's favorite ride was on the remannts of the old elevated West Side Highway before it was torn down. He got a ticket once for riding the wrong way down a CLOSED street. He pled innocent -- the street was closed -- and beat the fine on a technicality. The administrative judge was very sympathetic; maybe she was a bicyclist.

Mar. 12 2009 10:37 AM
Heather from Brooklyn

What is the proper way to make a left turn?

Mar. 12 2009 10:37 AM
RLewis from The Bowery

License all bikes.
Tax all bikers.
It's the only way that bikers can legitimately claim their own rights.

Mar. 12 2009 10:37 AM
Mike from Brooklyn

DO NOT RIDE against traffic - as a biker, that is the worst thing you can do!!!

Mar. 12 2009 10:37 AM
Billy Gray from Brooklyn, NY

As a driver and a bike rider, I want to smack other riders going the wrong way in a bike lane on a one-way street, when there's an opposing direction street and lane one block over. I mean, c'mon, do you want to get killed? Or get me killed?

Mar. 12 2009 10:36 AM
Scott from Brooklyn

Love the show and thanks for the topic. Cyclists are safer when they STAY ON the bike. Imagine getting out of your car every time you stopped at a light and then getting back in. It makes no sense. Biking is a fluid activity- it is safer and more efficient to stay on the bike and that means rolling through intersections.

Mar. 12 2009 10:36 AM
Daniel from Munich

I've lived and biked in NYC (an admittedly bad city for cyclists) and Munich (a great city for cyclists). Here in Munich we have bike lanes (both on the sidewalk and on the road) and police strictly enforce rules concerning where you can ride, using lights at night, etc. Because the cyclists are forced to respect the rules, pedestrians and cars respect the cyclists---they stay out of the bike lines and apologize for getting in the way.

Mar. 12 2009 10:36 AM
Caitlin from Sunset Park

I will admit I bike through red lights, but only after coasting to an almost-complete stop to make sure there isn't any oncoming traffic (mostly because I'm a pansy).

Mar. 12 2009 10:36 AM
Ivan Rubin from NYC Brooklyn Resident

The NYS Vehicle and Traffic Law section 1230 et seq reguires bikes to obey traffic rules like red lights and one way streets

Mar. 12 2009 10:36 AM
birder from brooklyn

stop being so afriad. you make people feel as though its something you shouldn't do. i've been doored, hit by someone on a cell phone, gone over the bars last week. that was all because of the drivers. keep your head up and stay alert and go for it.

Mar. 12 2009 10:36 AM
Marie from Pittsburgh

As a cyclist, pedestrian, driver, THANK YOU! Such a good topic. I have had to slam on my breaks for cyclists running lights, I have been hit by runners and people crossing streets. Pittsburgh has different rules (since we lack bike lanes) a biker has the right to ride 3 feet away from parked cars because of the doors.

Mar. 12 2009 10:35 AM
Smokey from LES

It's not so much about all the specific rules, it's about safety and courtesy. When I'm crossing the street with the light, don't threaten me! I don't care if you stop, just avoid me in a safe and courteous way.

Mar. 12 2009 10:35 AM
Hesch, mobility impaired from Lower East Side

First level concept:
Those people who want to break the rules (whether legal or polite) should be AWARE that they MAY have to suffer the consequences (whether ticket or derision). "Be willing" would be even nicer, but I don't want to push that as the FIRST level.

Mar. 12 2009 10:34 AM
lindsay from brooklyn

I am an avid cyclist and regular bicycle commuter. I would fully stand behind stricter cycling regulations. When cyclists do things such as ride the wrong way in the bike lane, it defeats the purpose, as it pushes those of us who are riding the right way out into traffic. However, if cyclists are going to be held more accountable for following cycling rules, so should cars (i.e. - no turning or parking in the bike lane!)

Mar. 12 2009 10:34 AM
mattg from manhattan

Riding on sidewalks is allowed, if you are riding with kids on their own bikes. It's important pedestrians know that kids are permitted to ride on sidewalks. Great writer, loved the Meadowlands book.

Mar. 12 2009 10:33 AM
William from Manhattan

yesterday a bike was running through a red light while a car was going through the green light. The car slammed on his brakes (obviously startled and panicked) as the bike slammed on his. 5 seconds later the car layed on his horn...and the biker through his hands up and bowed his head in apology because he knew he was in the wrong. Was nice to see him admit fault rather then returning with the middle finger.

Mar. 12 2009 10:33 AM
Marie from Pittsburgh

Thank you for pointing these things out. I am a bike, and a car driver, so I understand both sides. I have almost hit so many bikes who shoot through stop signs without looking! But also as a bike rider I have been hit by runners and walkers.

And I know a few people who have gotten dwi's for riding their bikes drunk.

Mar. 12 2009 10:33 AM
Jason from Staten Island

I see way more violations on a daily basis by bikers than by car and truck drivers. Going against traffic, going through red lights/stop signs, etc. I'm not just talking about crazy messengers - I see older people, people with kids, etc riding recklessly and endangering themselves and pedestrians, and even drivers who have to swerve out of their way.

Mar. 12 2009 10:33 AM
Ivan Rubin from NYC

The code of civility Mr. Sullivan suggests already exists. It is NY Vehicle and Traffic Law section 1230 et seq. Bikes are subject to vehicle laws.
Obey traffic controls, e.g. one way streets, red lights etc

Mar. 12 2009 10:33 AM
J from NYC

I agree with being civil. But often the people 'scoffing', if you call cursing and threatening the biker, are the car owners that are parked in the bike lane. And I don't see the traffic cops caring. Especially in these budget problem times, why don't they ticket these folks?

Mar. 12 2009 10:32 AM
Mike from Brooklyn

I agree - I commute to work every day on my bike and I'm MUCH more wary of walker than drivers - they just don't pay attention.

that said, when I'm at a red light, I DO give walkers (and obviously drivers) they right of way

Mar. 12 2009 10:30 AM
jeffy from brooklyn


Mar. 12 2009 10:29 AM
Smokey from LES

As a pedestrian, I applaud your suggestions! We both need to be civil with each other!

Mar. 12 2009 10:29 AM
chris Van Dyke from washington heights

We have codes of civility already -- they are called traffic rules. I am a biker who commutes to work. I know I'm a vehicle and act accordingly. We should ticket bikers who break traffic laws, and ticket pedestrians who walk in bike lanes.

Mar. 12 2009 10:29 AM
Darius from Prospect Heights

In Ann Arbor, MI you can get a DWI if you're drunk on a bike.

Mar. 12 2009 10:28 AM

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