19 July 2019

Fifth Avenue: Downhill In The Slope

Alert:  The video includes footage of a truck striking a cyclist.

This one hits close to home--no pun intended!

When I lived in Park Slope, Brooklyn, I cycled along Fifth Avenue nearly every day.   Those weren't my "fun" rides--far more pleasant streets and Prospect Park were close by--but I did much of my shopping, as well as a number of errands on Fifth.  

Then--the '90's and early '00s--the Avenue was lined with small shops of all kinds.  Some had been in the same family for a couple of generations; others were owned by young people who sold the sorts of books, clothes and music you wouldn't find in "big box" stores.  As the avenue is narrow, traffic could be congested and chaotic, but there was at least some level of respect between drivers--many of whom were making deliveries--and cyclists and pedestrians.   So, even though there was no bike lane, I never worried while threading through traffic and parked vans.

Fifth Avenue still doesn't have a bike lane, protected or otherwise.  I still ride there occasionally, but my recent experiences confirm something I've heard from other cyclists--and read in a news report:  Drivers aren't good about sharing the road.

Those accounts also confirm something else I've experienced on Fifth Avenue and elsewhere:  Some of the most reckless riders are on Citibikes.  A police officer has said as much to me:  When he sees someone with earbuds blowing through a red light, or making a careless turn, there's a good chance he (Sorry guys, they're usually young men!) is on one of those blue share bikes.

Such was the case Tuesday morning, when a Citibiker cut across traffic in both directions--against a red signal--and was hit by a truck


While the cyclist in question--identified only as a 39-year-old man--is expected to survive, he was knocked unconscious and suffered serious injuries.   The crumpled Citibike was still on the side of the road during the evening rush hour.

Now, I might sound like one of those New Yorkers who blames tourists for everything she doesn't like, but I really believe that, to some degree, Citibike has made cycling--and, for that matter, walking--less safe than it was.  While some commuters ride Citibikes, more are used by people who are in town for a day or a few days and are not accustomed to riding here or are just more careless because they figure they won't be here long enough to have to face the consequences of their actions.  

To be fair, similar things could be said about many of the drivers found along Park Slope's Fifth Avenue today.  They come and go:  There's a good chance that the one you see today (or tonight), you'll never see again.   In contrast, I used to see the same delivery drivers, as well cyclists and pedestrians,  several times a week, if not every day.  In other words, those folks were, in essence if not in fact, friends and neighbors. That, I believe, is a reason why drivers, even if they didn't understand cyclists, didn't harbor or express the kind of hostility we often experience today.

Oh, and it's a lot easier to see cyclists as "them" when their bikes all look--or are--the same.  

That said, I hope the fellow who was struck on Fifth Avenue recovers--and that he and the drivers he encounters are more mindful of each other.

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