Never Thought I’d Hate the Bicycle

By Bette Dewing

Whooey! That title will make this the most read column this week.

Make sure you read about the city’s third annual Dusk and Darkness traffic safety campaign, which raises awareness about the increased risk of crashes involving pedestrians in fall and winter after the earlier onset of darkness. But again, [this campaign] ignores city bicyclists’ habitual aversion to the laws of the road — from dawn to dusk, whenever and wherever. And as former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern opined at a traffic safety meeting years ago, bikes can be more frightening than a car because they are small, swift and silent, and can come at you from any direction. And that was before scooters. Help!

But this column is mainly about an all too common cause of death and maiming for city pedestrians: drivers’ failure to yield when turning into a crosswalk. It’s the traffic crime I’ve railed against for decades. And to augment the Dusk and Darkness campaign, the Dept. of Transportation must get over its resistance to posting “failure to yield” signs and stencils, especially at high traffic corners.

Except that every corner is perilous. Remember beloved deli manager Srymanean Manickam, known affectionately as “Mano,” who was struck and killed in the crosswalk at 78th Street and York Avenue by a taxi making a left-hand turn onto York Avenue. Remember that Mano was 51, and Vision Zero’s focus is mainly on children’s safety. In fact, the pedestrian fatality rate among males was twice that of females, and higher than the rate of fatalities among children ages 0-17, according to 2017 data from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Men are often working at night, as Mano was when his life was so brutally and wrongfully ended.

Personally, I worry about our doormen traveling by foot to bus or subway after dark. And to augment the Dusk and Darkness safety measures, every traffic tragedy needs media coverage and a memorial garden like the one for Mano outside the Super-Del Market at 1474 York Ave. Every neighborhood needs someone like Patricia Banks, a customer and friend of the Super-Del, where Mano worked and managed for 20-plus years, to spearhead such a memorial.

The Dusk and Darkness campaign rightly stresses pedestrian visibility, so may I suggest the obvious? Always wear light-colored clothing, and carry light-colored umbrellas as well. And swing your arms briskly. Hold up your hand to drivers, and also to cyclists so they yield while you cross with your light.

To sweeten the social climate, give a wave and a smile when drivers and cyclists do — oh, how we do need smiles. Of course, try to cross where they can’t turn into you. Some of us go out of our way to do just that. And we all must all obey the laws of the road. The lives we save and the injuries we prevent just might be our own, or those of someone we love. Vision Zero and Dusk and Darkness campaign leaders, please consider all the above.

And about those bikes: a state law requires that bicycles be equipped with both head and taillights. Yes, the laws of the road also apply to bikes, and elected officials need to be reminded of that. This paper’s “useful contacts” column (pg. 4) provides the phone numbers and addresses of elected officials, so you can easily reach out.

Above all, stress how the law requiring that motorists yield to pedestrians must become a number one bipartisan issue and a concern for all age groups. It can be done — if enough of us try.