Getting drivers and bike riders to safely share the road is one of the main goals of the New York Bicycling Coalition, which works to move the bike movement forward in areas including bike safety, tourism, recreation, law enforcement and infra-structure. The coalition’s Executive Director, Paul Winkeller, says New York has a long way to go in promoting bicycling, as it came in 29th in a recent bike-friendly state ranking by the League of American Bicyclists.
“There’s some real incredible success stories like New York City, with Buffalo, Rochester not that far behind, in terms of transforming their cities. But, you know, we have a culture of transportation in New York that’s still dominated by cars and roads, and putting pavement on top of old pavement. We really have been not doing a great job in terms of creating what’s called complete streets, and complete streets are roads systems that accommodate pedestrians, bicyclists with stripes and protected lanes, and signage and education. So, despite being a progressive state, in a lot of ways, New York is really not very good when it comes to this stuff, and our ranking reflects that.”
Is there some legislation in the state capitol this year that you’re watching closely and pushing for?
“Yes. This is a really interesting year for legislation. Two things that we’re working on really quickly are an amendment to the 2010 Safe Passing Law. We want to amend that to a width of three feet, so that motorists and bicyclists, and law enforcement who are enforcing the Safe Passing Law know what a safe distance is, everybody knows what’s safe if it’s three feet. That’s just a little tweak to an existing law. We have tremendous support in the legislature; Phil Steck in the Assembly, and Tom O’Mara as Senator, sponsoring that. This is a law in 26 states, so again we’re not inventing anything new. We’re very optimistic.
“Quickly, the other piece, couple of more things…One is we are trying to legalize electric bikes in New York State. Electric bikes, even though they are sold here, and there’s a lot of electric bikes and they’re not just in New York City, they are illegal to ride. And the law was just passed in California, and New York is the target for the bike industry, second big state. The law defines an electric bike, either pedal-assisted or throttle-assisted, as a bicycle, so it’s not a motorcycle, it’s not; it just defines a new category of bicycle, and it allows municipalities to regulate those bikes. If they want a certain kind of electric bike in a certain place in their community, they can. It just defines, universes, and enables the electric bikes to join the world of bicycles. Electric bikes get people with challenges on a bike, it gets more butts in bikes, you’d like to say. The more people in bikes, I think the safer the transportation system becomes, it gives people more choices. People can use electric bikes to commute, as well as for recreation. You have to pedal an electric bike; you just don’t turn it off. So it’s still use a way to recreate and get healthy.”
How would you describe the relationship today between drivers and bike riders? Antagonistic, getting better? How’s it going out there on the roads?
“In some ways I think that there’s still a lot of antagonism, and I think there’s fault on both sides. There are badly behaving motorists and badly behaving bicyclists. There’s distracted motorists, which is a huge issue, with texting and talking, which in our mind is equal to drunk driving. We’ve put out some literature that tries to talk from the point of view of a motorist and a bicyclist, so that there’s a better understanding of a shared road system. The biggest, problem though, is in America-this is a bit of a generalization-too often bicyclists, when there’s a crash-and we don’t like the word accident anymore- when there’s a crash, too often the default blame is put on the bicyclist or the pedestrian. And we get a lot of angry messages in the era of social media, that there’s a feeling among the bicyclists-and there’s been some horrible crashes recently-that they’re blamed for bad behavior, whether that’s real or that’s a perception. And that’s a huge problem, and again, we are working with law enforcement, law enforcement is really interested in stepping up their game in terms of why crashes happen and how they report them. So it’s not a great relationship still; there’s still a competition, people are distracted, and there’s danger out there.”