Sep 23, 2023

New York Cyclists Say Bridge Bike Lanes Are More Dangerous

Practically every day, someone reports a bike lane crash on New York City’s cyclist forums on Reddit or on X (formerly Twitter). With the rise in people on two wheels — over 4 million rides were taken on Citi Bike this past September — and on electrified, motorized models of them, traveling in spaces no wider than a parking spot has become even more treacherous. On the city’s bridges, where bike lanes are often lined with concrete barriers, chain-link fences, or sometimes just a strip of paint, the distance between one rider and another can feel microscopic.

These bike-on-bike crashes come at one of the deadliest times for cyclists on New York’s streets in recent memory. The city is trying to keep up — with wider lanes in places like Ninth and Tenth Avenue, improved visibility at intersections through what’s known as “daylighting,” and crackdowns on illegal mopeds, which are unregistered and not allowed in bike lanes. But the demand for food delivery, the ballooning migrant crisis, and the unchecked black market for mopeds seems to outmatch any rules or enforcement. These are some of the stories of people who have seen it themselves:

Lucas Freshman, 45: I ride the Manhattan Bridge to work every day. One night, on my way home, I saw a group of people in the distance. As I approached, there was debris in the roadway—broken scooter and moped parts. There were people lying on the ground and others pacing. One guy had a broken arm. Maybe 15 feet past him, a guy was lying flat on his back with another biker. She was holding him, and beneath him there was this huge trail of blood. Like, a lot of blood.

I asked her if she had called the ambulance. She said yes. I helped her put pressure on his wound with a T-shirt. I started talking to him. “What’s your last name? Where are you from?” He was getting close to unconsciousness. I was slapping his shoulder: “Hey, wake up!” I asked him if his neck or head hurt, if he hit his head, if he had his helmet. I just kept trying to keep him from falling asleep. And then five minutes or so later, I started seeing EMS coming up the bridge.

When I biked home, I was shaken up. My adrenaline was racing. I was like, This is one of the craziest things I’ve seen in the city in a long time. But I was also not surprised that it happened. I took the bridge later and kept thinking, This is what’s going to get me back on the subway. But cycling has become part of my routine; I need it for pre-work relaxation and after-work decompression. Eventually, I was like, I have no choice but to keep biking.

The hierarchy should always be those with the least go first. A mom with a stroller is most important; after that, kids and pedestrians. Then bikes, e-bikes, gas-powered bikes, cars and trucks. Here, it’s always cars first. That’s the real psychological hierarchy out there, and it needs to improve. But this is New York. That’s never going to happen, at least in my lifetime. So the result? We’re fighting over inches.

Joseph Groenier, 22: I was on the Manhattan approach to the Brooklyn Bridge, and there was a moped driver that very aggressively went around me. On the bridge, that driver took the yellow dividing line as if it was their own lane. Tons of cyclists had to dodge and weave because that moped driver was taking up both lanes. That same day, there was another moped that approached and I had to get off my bike and stand next to the concrete barrier because they were not giving me space and probably going about 30 miles an hour. There’s usually a cop that sits on the Manhattan approach. I stopped and asked the officer, “Hey, that moped almost caused a dozen cyclists to get hit. He was not supposed to be on the bridge. What are you guys doing to stop this?: He said, “As long as they can fit past the bollards, they’re allowed on the bridge.” That is false and not the law, but I wasn’t gonna argue.

If I’m riding for leisure, I’m willing to put up with it. But when it’s the morning commute, it’s too much to handle. I used to commute by bike more, but now I’d rather stand on a packed subway than feel like I’m risking my life every day. In my opinion, it was nowhere near as bad as it is now. Cycling in the city has always been risky, but today, it’s a whole other level. The problem is that all of the near misses, dodges, and quick maneuvers that we have to do are just so normalized now. Thinking about that scares me.

The reality is our streets have enough space for bikes and pedestrians and in many cases cars, too. But it’s also an awareness issue. We have a lot of avenues with a one-way bike lane. I would say half the time, people are going the wrong way when there is literally a lane one block over going the correct direction. That is extremely dangerous for everyone who uses the streets.

I think random crackdowns are great. The community supports them, at least from what I’ve seen on social media. But I don’t understand why we can’t just have officers positioned at the bridge’s entryway who are there to stop mopeds from entering. Not to go back to the cliché of the NYPD not doing its job, but at some point, you really gotta ask, “What’s going on here?”

Philip Thomas, 32: I go running on the Williamsburg Bridge a lot. It’s always been kinda dangerous, since the pedestrian and bike areas are next to each other on the Manhattan side. The other day I saw people huddled around this man. He had blood streaming down him, and he was lying on his side. He wasn’t really communicating.

I had heard about a crash on the Manhattan Bridge a few weeks earlier and that it was hard for rescuers to get to the person. So I went to the bottom of the bridge and made sure the paramedics headed in the right direction when they arrived. I ended up calling the police again. I said, “Is an officer coming?” And they asked if someone was injured. I told them the paramedics were here, but this was a hit-and-run. The paramedics told me a motorized vehicle hit him from behind as he was coming down the bridge on a bike. So I said, “Shouldn’t the police respond then?” And they asked, “Why?’”

If a car was on the sidewalk, it would be treated as a very scary incident. So much policing is focused on cars. There’s almost, like, a lack of equipment or training to deal with issues on pedestrian or bike pathways. It reminds me of the U.S. military in the Gulf War. We were designed to defeat the Soviets with tanks and when we went into a city, we were like, Oh wow, they don’t have tanks. What do we do now? It seems like a similar thing.

I moved to Williamsburg in 2019, and I think the traffic on the bridge has gotten worse over time and more brazen in terms of behavior. Someone said almost 8,000 cyclists cross the Williamsburg Bridge every day. If you have that many people utilizing something, then more resources should be put there. Having a dedicated police presence there, like you would have at the Holland Tunnel, makes a lot of sense. I don’t want more arrests, but it’d help deter people. I tend to go to DUMBO often, and I loved taking a Citi Bike across the Manhattan Bridge. But I just had too many near misses that I don’t do it as much anymore. And the city just feels less accessible as a result.

Dez S., 57: I live 15 minutes away from the Queensboro Bridge. The outer roadway is shared by pedestrians and bicyclists, which I hate. The city promised that they were going to open the southern roadway for pedestrians only, and that hasn’t happened yet. So it’s pretty tight, and in my first accident with my e-bike, I crashed into this kid who was traveling in the same direction. He didn’t look back and he merged into my lane, and I hit him. He went over his handlebars and landed on my elbow. He got hurt. He was down on the ground, and limping. I just had a scratch. My bike was intact. Then we went our separate ways.

The second accident was on my newer e-bike. On my way home to Queens one night, I cut through Central Park. I’m going maybe 15 miles an hour. I’m three feet away from the curb, and this guy on a Super73, which is a throttle e-bike, decides to pass me on the right side. Without warning, he strikes me. I fell off the bike and I landed on my back. I woke up and all I saw was trees and leaves.

I thought a car hit me. He’s on the ground, too; he gets up, walks toward me, and is like, “Are you all right? Why didn’t you look back before you made that turn?” We argued a little bit, but I was in no position to fight because I was in a lot of pain. Luckily I was carrying a backpack with my camera gear, which took the brunt of the impact. My head and knee hit the pavement, but absolutely no damage to my bike.

I’m too old to crash and limp around. With both of those crashes, I was walking with a cane for a month. I hope I never crash again, but I’m not gonna stop riding. I like doing it. I’m working out. I’m retired. When I bike, I’m touring. I cycle all over the place with my camera and I just shoot whatever I see. I’ve been cycling since I was a teenager. But I’m extra careful now; I’m looking at pedestrians distracted on their phones, scooters, other cyclists, e-bikes, cars. So there’s a lot to process.

A lot of people riding bikes now are amateurs. They don’t know the rules and laws and don’t have proper etiquette. That bothers me a lot, and it’s gonna get worse. When they introduce congestion pricing next year, more people are gonna purchase e-mobility devices to get into Manhattan. You’re going to see more accidents and probably more unfortunate deaths. If the city wants to reduce cars in Manhattan, put bike lanes on more avenues, enforce traffic flow, and make them bigger, because they’re packed.

Lucas Freshman, 45: Joseph Groenier, 22: Philip Thomas, 32: Dez S., 57: Lucas Freshman, 45: Joseph Groenier, 22: Philip Thomas, 32: Dez S., 57: Lucas Freshman, 45: Joseph Groenier, 22: Philip Thomas, 32: Dez S., 57: Lucas Freshman, 45: Joseph Groenier, 22: Philip Thomas, 32: Dez S., 57: Lucas Freshman, 45: Joseph Groenier, 22: Philip Thomas, 32: Dez S., 57: Lucas Freshman, 45: Joseph Groenier, 22: Philip Thomas, 32: Dez S., 57: