We Won’t Cede The Road

Contributed photoA car struck my bike, with my 3-year-old son in the attached child seat, as I was riding eastbound on Edgewood Avenue toward Edgewood Park in October. The driver, to avoid slowing down for another car turning left, cut from the left lane into the right lane and banged into my handlebars, knocking us toward the curb.

The driver never stopped to see if we were injured. The car struck us in order to get to the corner of Ella Gross Boulevard a few seconds early – where the driver proceeded to wait at a red light.

Then, in December, I was rear-ended on my bike by a kindly 85 year-old lady who apparently did not see me stopped at a red light. She drove right into my back tire, mangling it in the process.

Yet, I was alive. More importantly, so was my son.

I was well aware in both instances how much worse it could have been. For many cyclists, similar encounters end with battered bones; for some, they end in death. The collisions were a reminder of how much better our roads could be. For while I do not believe either driver intended to strike me, the collisions were not accidents. They were products of choices – choices by individuals and choices by society. (Click here for a similar harrowing tale by a mom-cyclist.)

Like most cyclists, I drive, too. I get it. We are often in a hurry and we trade safety for shortcuts. But often, we do so for no rational reason. The first driver who hit me advanced no faster for it. He ended up waiting at the same light cycle he would have waited at anyway, had he chosen to drive responsibly.

Of course, the individual choices run both ways. I chose to be on the road with my son on a bike. And there is no doubt that car drivers are more likely to survive collisions with a bike than cyclists, just as it is safer to be on a bus than in a car. So there is an understandable inclination to look at cyclists and deem their activity reckless.

However, the truth is a little more complicated. Mile for mile, biking is actually safer than driving. Moreover, the health benefits of biking outweigh the risks; indeed biking is good not only for individual health but also good for public health. It’s good for the economy and it’s good for the environment. Foregoing these benefits in the face of antisocial driving only cedes the public square to the worst actors. I won’t do that.

Besides, I love it—the open air, experiencing the city from outside the steel box on my way to work, talking with people on the street, at red lights, anywhere. And sharing these experiences with my kids. I am not alone, especially in New Haven, the per capita leader in bike commuting in the Northeast.

Spaces Makes A Difference

But, as a society, we could choose to make cycling safer, both through the better use of space and better law enforcement. Cycling (and walking) in the United States is six times more dangerous than it is in Germany and the Netherlands. Bike lanes, which are common in both those countries, cut cycling injuries in half. Protected bike lanes, which have a physical barrier between the road and the lane, cut injuries by 90 percent.

In places like New Haven, where a number of travel lanes are already too wide for the posted speed limit, reallocation of space can have significant safety benefits. An example is Elm Street’s new design. For years, Elm Street between York and College was the worst part of my morning commute. But the city reorganized the existing space on the street to create a bike lane, making this stretch far safer for cyclists. It is currently a stretch of my commute that I now look forward to. 

This can be done elsewhere. Currently, one lane at the corner of Elm and Church is closed to all traffic and, even with the new bike lane along the Green, this has caused no traffic problems – even at rush hour.

Edgewood Avenue remains highly problematic. Speeding has been a longtime complaint of residents, particularly in the education corridor between Troup School and Amistad Academy. This is an area full of children on bikes, on skateboards and on foot, many of them heading to or from school. The road is never congested with traffic and the lanes are too wide for the traffic that does use it. And, as studies show, when given wide spaces, cars speed.

Moreover, this wasted space could be used for other activities. In fact, it often already is. A cyclist or skateboarder heading the wrong way along this section is a daily sight. It is also extremely dangerous. The city would benefit from reducing the driving lane to one lane, moving the parked cars from the right to the middle lane and making the right hand side of the road safe for bikers and skateboarders heading in either direction. (Example here and here.)

Ticket Speeders!

Reallocation of space along Edgewood Avenue and in other problematic corridors would be a significant start at addressing road safety. But law enforcement must be another prong. Elm City Cycling routinely gets complaints about incidents in which bikers are struck by cars and the drivers are not ticketed or cited.

This is not a problem unique to New Haven. Unfortunately, it is all too common here. In September, Elm City Cycling was contacted by a cyclist who was passing through a green light when he was struck by a car turning left at the corner of Prospect and Trumbull, throwing the biker onto the hood and mangling his bike. The car was clearly at fault. Yet, despite a witness who corroborated the cyclist’s account and a driver who didn’t dispute the facts, the police did not ticket the driver.

Although bikes are legally entitled to use the roads just as cars do, in practice cyclists do not enjoy the equal protection of the law. 

This double standard is no more prevalent than in the discussion of cycling that occurs, often in these pages, in which neighbors berate cyclists for flouting traffic laws. Indeed, there is no question that such flouting occurs. This is dangerous, and it’s a problem. But it’s hardly more prevalent than near universal jaywalking by pedestrians and speeding by motorists. However, when pedestrians and bikers disregard traffic laws, they take their lives into their own hands; when automobiles do so, they risk others’ lives.

The speed limit is just a farce until it is enforced. The only time I’ve seen someone stopped for speeding in New Haven was when I was stopped in 2006. But I see dangerous driving daily. Cars speed through our streets with impunity, while city workers swarm the sidewalks ready to ticket any car at an expired meter. Why? The city retains the parking penalties. The state gets the money from speeding tickets and only remits a $10 surcharge to the municipalities. This doesn’t give the city enough incentive to enforce traffic laws.

New Haven’s police department is busy, and it is difficult to incentivize speed enforcement when the city receives less for each traffic ticket than it does for each parking ticket. However, if your child is killed by a speeding car or killed by some other illegal act, he or she is dead regardless. When cars travel at 40 mile per hour, pedestrian collisions are fatal 85 percent of the time; at 20 mph, car-pedestrian collisions are fatal only 5% of the time. Pedestrian safety, bike safety and speeding traffic should be a priority.

New Haven cannot increase the portion of the penalties it receives from traffic tickets without help from the state legislature. And the push for red-light cameras, spearheaded largely by New Haven residents, appears to have stalled in Hartford. However, the city arguably could impose processing fees to offset the cost of enforcement – as long as those fees are “reasonably proportionate to cost of administering and enforcing the [corresponding] ordinance.” Under this scenario, the police could penalize the speeder by issuing the driver a ticket and then also charge the driver a fee for having required police intervention.

As far as I know, there are no other Connecticut towns that use their power to charge municipal fees in such a way. But, no other Connecticut town is New Haven. 11.2 percent of our residents commute to work on foot. Another 3.8 percent do so by bike. None of these numbers include recreational bikers or walkers or the high student population that lives, studies, and works in New Haven. And these numbers are far above the national average. New Haven’s share of commuters who bike to work is equivalent to the share in San Francisco; its pedestrian commuter percentage is higher.  In fact, New Haven’s bike and pedestrian percentages are only slightly behind Washington, D.C.’s, a city that has earned plaudits in recent years for its bicycle infrastructure.

Nonetheless, government officials are often loath to employ uncommon, creative solutions to the problems they face, and understandably: Change carries risk. For example, a court could find such a processing fee to be really a penalty by another name and void the city ordinance. 

Progress requires risk taking. In Connecticut, there are more people killed by automobiles than by guns. According to UConn’s Connecticut Crash Data Repository, there were approximately 119 pedestrians hit by cars in New Haven in 2012 and more than 5,000 car collisions total (including cars hitting property). A few relatively small changes can save lives.

Making safer roads is also an issue of economic justice. According to census data, cyclists are disproportionately from the lowest economic quartile, despite the popular perception that cyclists are urban yuppies. Moreover, cyclists with incomes under $30,000 a year are almost twice as likely to be injured than higher income bikers. By making biking around town safer—and thus more attractive—we can also help alleviate the costs associated with commuting for residents who would take up biking. This is good for the economy, good for public health, and good for the city.

Today, New Haven is lucky to have an incoming director of traffic and transportation who, like his predecessor, understands the importance of these infrastructure reforms. And the city’s approach to policing has been consistently progressive on many other issues, from Project Longevity to its reentry programs. The mayor herself has supported vulnerable victims legislation at the state level and stated that the city needs to “make it easier for people get around the city on bicycle and foot.” Cities around the world are implementing Vision Zero policies, aiming for no traffic fatalities in their jurisdictions. We can, too. And in the process we can make this great city an even better place to live in for everyone – workers, students and parents toting their kids in bike seats.

Liam Brennan, a federal prosecutor, lives in Westville.

Post a Comment

Commenting has closed for this entry


posted by: anonymous on February 11, 2014  6:10pm

As the author points out, if our city wanted to create jobs and create a family-friendly, lower-crime environment here, it would install bike lanes along all major streets such as Edgewood Avenue. It would also paint all of the missing crosswalks there.

Buying bollards and putting in a protected bike lane costs about $600.  Painting a crosswalk costs next to nothing.

The previous administration of New Haven clearly did not care about bicyclists or pedestrians, as evidenced by the decisions that they made around the Route 34 project, currently in construction.  The project will force pedestrians in the Hill to cross five lanes of 50 mile per hour traffic if they want to get to their house or school.

If our new administration doesn’t make changes this spring, then residents should go out in the middle of the night and install new bike lanes and crosswalks themselves.  Governor Malloy said today that the price of gasoline is projected to hit $5 per gallon, at least, by this summer.  Our economy depends on it.

posted by: everloved on February 11, 2014  6:44pm

I love biking myself and believe in bike lanes and would like to see every place in the world more bike friendly.  In fact cars are way overdone.  I hate riding on tight roads and drivers don’t like it either.  For slow leisurely riding I find sidewalks, which you’d probably say is illegal, to be better for everyone.  Speeding?  I don’t think there are many thoroughfares that have stretches long enough to really go crazy.  And pulling people over is a nuisance at times.  How can one really stop speeding?  Have friendlier foot cops keeping the pace?  Overpriced tickets don’t seem to help.  Not until I got older did I really start driving slowly.  Bike paths would be better. More money for the police is completely idiotic.  I dont at all get it.  Less bureacracy and much more effective, neighborly treatment and budgeting sounds real.  Id like to know who ever gets hit on bikes in new haven.  I have only heard of two helmet clad white people who complained politically in the independent and both were riding with children which I consider to be risky.  If safer streets are what you want I don’t think cops will do it or politicians even though you are one.

posted by: HewNaven on February 11, 2014  7:09pm

Bike lanes are not really an improvement if you ask me. If a city wants to be ‘friendly’ toward all kinds of cyclists it will install buffered bike lanes or cycle tracks. Bike lanes are a policy of appeasement in traffic planning. They do not actually make riding safer. If a city does not wish to build ‘all-ages’ infrastructure like cycle tracks it is implicitly urging everyone other than the ‘young, adventurous, male’ demographic to LEAVE THE BIKE AT HOME. I’ll bet this guy wished he did. I personally would never carry a child on a road shared by cars and trucks. Even if every traffic infraction was cited, there’s still the chance of accidental collisions with autos. The only real infrastructure solution here is to segregate the cyclists with buffered lanes and cycle tracks. Right now, the city has a plan for exactly ONE cycletrack.

posted by: Dwightstreeter on February 11, 2014  7:45pm

There is a huge cultural change going on and the powers that be are too out of touch to notice it.
Bicycling is the preference of a new generation. Cars are not the future - unless they’re solar powered.
People are out cycling on the streets of New Haven whether or not gov’t officials act to make it safe for them to do so.
I just hope we don’t have to wait for a horror story to get the commitment to safety we need.

posted by: Tilsen-Haven on February 11, 2014  8:17pm

We need dedicated physically separated bike paths and we need enforcement.  Am I missing something?

posted by: swatty on February 11, 2014  9:15pm

Speed bumps on edgewood and chapel would be a great start.

On Chapel past the Blvd: Speed limit is 25!!!!! People fly past Edgewood Park (right on thru to Forest Road doing 40-60 mph. Police car sits at corner EVERY NIGHT(!)and no one is ever pulled over.

posted by: Anderson Scooper on February 11, 2014  9:17pm

Fantastic piece Liam. Thank you!

posted by: jdoss-gollin on February 11, 2014  10:08pm

Why is biking only considered as an activity or healthy-lifestyle choice for professional-class/upper-middle class people? The huge majority of bikers in New Haven are teenagers who don’t have money for a car (or aren’t 16) and don’t like waiting around 45 minutes for a public bus to maybe or maybe not show up.
We like to talk about opportunities for young people in New Haven. Maybe bike lanes on Blatchley, Grand, Lombard, Dixwell, Whalley, Sherman, Davenport, Derby, Boulevard, Kimberly, and some other main roads in neighborhoods where lots of young people ride bikes would make a difference.

I have friends who complain all the time that when they try to ride their bikes on dangerous roads (Boulevard for example), they’re scared to ride on the road but get harassed by the cops if they ride on the sidewalk. Multiple friends have been yelled at by police for this. Yet who would possibly be crazy enough to ride their bike on Boulevard, especially in the evening?!

Now that I think of it, working on this issue could be a great way to bring together people who usually don’t have anything to do with each other.

Bikes for middle-class families, health-conscious adults, and green advocates are great. Bikes for them, young people, and working-class people is even better. It will create safety and youth opportunities, as well as the benefits to health and the environment that other people have mentioned.

posted by: TheMadcap on February 11, 2014  10:40pm

This was a good article, but, as one of the cyclist in the city, I’m probably biased. We are lucky though that mayor Harp replaced Jim Travers with Doug Hausladen who I think can help do some great things in regards to transit.

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on February 11, 2014  10:49pm

Ticketing speeders in an urban setting would, I think, be intrinsically too dangerous to be worth the benefits. 

Even when they are in hot pursuit of a dangerous, violent criminal or someone who has already committed a hit-and-run, the police often abandon the chase because the chance of catching the perp is not worth the risk.  But cops speeding up to chase down and pull over somebody who’s going 40 in a 25-mile-an-hour zone and thereby endangering pedestrians, cyclists, children, and other drivers?  Would just add enormously to the danger, for stakes that are just too low.

posted by: JustAnotherTaxPayer on February 11, 2014  10:53pm

MY heart goes out to this gentleman, and his son. His vision of New Haven becoming truly safe and civilized (and increased use of bicycles to commute, or to run small errands, or even to ride to the green for a summer concert.) is beyond the grasp of those that would “manage” the city, and advise the Mayor’s Office, or the board of Alders. Also when the policy makers, and those that have the final say on making policy decisions a reality, do not understand the possibilities of improving the overall quality of living in New Haven, by coming to a solution that is better for the environment by slowly eliminating the number of cars that move about this city, every day and night, how can one convert minds and bodies to use a bicycle? Right now those responsible for making this city livable can’t figure out how to remove snow from downtown, so people can move around without risking injury, by falling, or being run over walking in the street, as the sidewalks go unshoveled, and getting off and on sidewalks is unsafe, as piles of ice line the curbs of all streets, and cross walks. Oh, and stopping the deaths in the street of people, young people, from gunshot wounds.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on February 12, 2014  1:10am

I am amazed at the cyclist in the city think that they don’t have to obey traffic laws. I have seen bikers going through red lights even with police vehicles stationed near the lights.Also to you bikers,Enlighten me as to what recourse a person injured by a bicyclist has? Bicyclists carry no insurance coverage for liability, collision or for anything else. If a pedestrian or biker is injured in a motor vehicle-related accident, the operator of that vehicle has insurance coverage for such an eventuality. If one of you bikers ran over someone had actually caused any serious injuries,How should you be held accountable.And for those who say bicycles can not kill.

Aiming to Rein In the Anarchy on 2 Wheels


Published: May 19, 2011


posted by: Bradley on February 12, 2014  7:33am

Everloved, I was hit by a car while biking two feet from the curb (fortunately, I was not hurt but I probably would have been if the driver was going any faster than s/he was).  Also, I would propose that the next time you are on Whalley, you drive at 30 mph and count the number of cars that pass you.

I think Liam’s ideas all make sense, but only partially address a larger problem. As he suggests, drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians all routinely break the law in ways that jeopardize themselves and others (I am as guilty as anyone). In addition to bike lanes and other engineering changes, we all need to show more respect for others using the roads.

posted by: Mitchell Young on February 12, 2014  9:08am

Advocate for dedicated protected bike lanes and the sacrifices to make them happen, I certainly would support you completely.

But please recognize that your responsibility is to assume what did happen to you and your child was bound to happen. Your article and the underlying politics of reads like a cover for a ridiculous and risky behavior.  it is an article that wouldn’t have been written if this story ended tragically. The statistics cited are somewhat proof of that.

Of course cyclists and urbanists don’t want to and should not “cede the road”, but that doesn’t mean you put a child in a dangerous position.  What it does mean is you work very hard, civilly or civil disobedience (its been done you know) to change the rules of the road.

You’re not a young inexperienced person and you have a position that one would hope requires wisdom. Apply it.

posted by: everloved on February 12, 2014  10:21am

It was much more relaxing to ride bikes back in the day before the elm city cycling group came out and began pushing helmets, complaining about bike safety and telling the world riding on sidewalks is illegal.  Has a pedestrian ever been hit by a biker?  Geez.  There are those cyclists that like to ride fast and share the road.  Others are more leisurely.  I wouldn’t take a kid riding only because I might fall on sand or something.  What is needed is money and or the will to develop bike paths.  As it is bikers need to take the risks and enjoy it.  Obviously large fast moving hunks of metal are part of riding bikes.  Accidents are pretty rare.  I don’t know what liam wants.  More speeding tickets?  How would that stop the old lady from hitting him?  Focus on bike paths.  Maybe even start a fund to build them.

posted by: TheMadcap on February 12, 2014  10:53am

“But please recognize that your responsibility is to assume what did happen to you and your child was bound to happen.”

Next time someone gets into a car accident I’m going to tell them that. I’ll report back with their reaction.

“and telling the world riding on sidewalks is illegal.”

It’s not only illegal, but it’s stupidly dangerous. I don’t mean to pedestrians, I mean to the cyclists. They’re telling you not to ride on the sidewalk so you don’t die. Sidewalks are among the most dangerous place for cyclists, they’re designed for very slow moving pedestrians. Cars don’t expect you to suddenly appear at 10+mph as they’re coming out of a driveway and such.

posted by: mrdhamden on February 12, 2014  11:15am

I’ve been biking to work for years now, first on streets and then via dedicated bike path, when the Farmington Canal Trail was completed between Hamden and New Haven.

The two are very different experiences.  I’m not afraid of the road, and traffic, but I can understand why people would avoid it.  Dedicated cycling infrastructure is much more welcoming to newer cyclists, or the more risk-averse.  I would love to see more cyclists out and about, for much the same reasons other people on this thread have expressed.

We need dedicated cycling lanes on our roads.  I’m not talking about painted lanes;  our motorists seem to think they are parking or turning lanes.  I’m not talking about sharrows; “share the road” is a joke when motorists are willing to risk YOUR life in pursuit of that 5 second improvement in their commute time.

Give motorists one lane devoted to their needs.  Give cyclists a segregated lane devoted to their needs.  Pedestrians, of course, keep the sidewalk.  Then enforce the rules for everyone.

Seems reasonable to me, anyhow.

posted by: ElmKaren on February 12, 2014  11:23am

Wonderful piece, thank you! I try to bike as well, but the drivers in my neighborhood (The Hill) are dangerous, to say the least. I was almost rammed by a driver with road rage in full view of a police car and they did nothing. 

Please increase enforcement of stop lights, stop signs, and speed limits!

posted by: HenryCT on February 12, 2014  11:48am

Excellent, informative, thoughtful article. As I’ve canvassed my ward many residents complain about cars speeding on their streets. Speed bumps are an attempt to reach a local solution to a community-wide problem. We need other approaches. Dangerous driving habits not only threaten bicyclists and other powered vehicles, but car drivers turn on pedestrians trying to cross the street. Beyond what happens on the streets, the city sidewalks are a low priority. When it snows many sidewalks are not shoveled, most crosswalks are piled with ice making walking through the city a safety challenge. Uneven and severely broken sidewalks tell pedestrians “you are unimportant.” According to the city engineer’s office, the New Haven sidewalk replacement/repair schedule is every 82 years. For a 21st century sustainable environment we must demand new solutions.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on February 12, 2014  11:52am

Excellent article. Even with the supportive studies and data along with multi-faceted suggestions for improving current conditions, including a sober analysis of potential drawbacks and shortcomings of enforcement, people still amazingly find things to complain about.

As someone who has benefited from riding around New Haven on a bike with a childseat, I applaud the author’s efforts to legally use streets and advocate for infrastructure and enforcement policies that will encourage others to legally use streets as well. For my personal experience with riding around New Haven on a bike, check out pages 10-14 of this document: http://issuu.com/jonathanhopkins3/docs/union_square_reknitting_new_haven_s

Enforcement of speed limits can foster a culture of compliance due to the looming threat of infraction. Why do people pay for parking meters? Out of the goodness of their hearts or because they want to avoid paying a ticket? As the author states, speeding enforcement can become a reality if we reform state law to allow municipalities to receive a larger portion of tickets. As it stands now, it is not financially adventageous for New Haven cops to write speeding tickets.

Having said that, the same way that lack of enforcement, education and our current ambiguous infrastructure (one way streets, sharrows, no markings at all, etc.) results in chronic law-breaking by cyclists and pedestrians, wide lanes, exaggerated geometries, and multiple lanes moving in the same direction enables drivers to travel at high speeds. Infrastructure is an integral part to creating a culture of safety AND efficiency. Our streets shouldn’t mimic highway designs because that sends the wrong message to users. Two-way streets, cycling infrastructure and narrower lanes can reduce frustration and increase compliance with the law by drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.

posted by: everloved on February 12, 2014  12:31pm

Please…. as far as sidewalks being dangerous…. many are not packed with pedestrians and for the more leisurely rider it is totally safe for believe it or not we can see and hear.  We can also see cars coming out of a driveway going slowly and its friendly for all.  But as I said bike paths are a nice idea.  The great thing about biking is the open air and freedom.  How many days go by without bike accidents.  Hundreds.  An article won’t change biking safety or enjoyment nor will policing vehicles.  Lobbying for bike paths will.  Aleo, ride down whalley and where are local non yuppies riding? On the sidewalks and streets keeping eyes and ears open.  Enjoying it.  Not doing a power commute in safety gear.  Bikes have responsibility to use awareness not pretend to be one with cars.

posted by: HewNaven on February 12, 2014  12:59pm

I think the cautious, calculated approach to cycling advocacy is good. ECC should be lauded for their accomplishments. But, there comes a time when civil disobedience presents the most effective method of communicating one’s dissatisfaction and desire for change (e.g. U.S. Civil Rights Movement).

Cycling advocates, if they want people to pay attention, need to start to be a little more radical in their approach. They’ve been stepped on forever and literally kicked to the curb, so when is it finally time to stand up and fight back in a meaningful way? If they don’t assert themselves and clearly outline their #1 priority of safety, this will keep happening and no one will pay attention. The comments here are not a good cross-section of New Haven residents. Most residents will probably never ride a bike.

posted by: TheMadcap on February 12, 2014  1:22pm

I’d also to say(and remind people) that the best form of bicycle activism is to simply just ride your bicycle. Ride it often, and ride it on the street.

posted by: everloved on February 12, 2014  2:09pm

I agree.  Ride.  With or without helmets.  Cautious and having fun. And lobby for sidewalk riding if a meek and safe bicyclist feels its best.  That is my right as a citizen with a lack of better alternatives such as bike paths.  Also… as a former driver who hates passing bikers at times on cramped roads and a biker who has gotten yelled at on the road…. I wonder what the bike safety agenda is really about?  Bike paths or to give more money to the man? None of it is very real.  Apparently an old lady hit the guy while he was riding.  I doubt she was speeding.  But he wants more speeding tickets or a bike path?  The more people who leave me alone while cruising the better.

posted by: everloved on February 12, 2014  2:33pm

I must end the commenting insanity.  Rereading the article I see all he wants is more ticketing, more money to the man and has the nerve to throw in economic justice of poor bike riders.  A car hits a biker.  A ticket won’t heal anything… but helping the biker out would.  There is nothing about speed bumps or bike paths, just the one street the guy rode on losing a lane and a normal row of parked cars while, am I mistaken, there is a perfectly viable path along edgewwod park to ride a bike on?  Whatever the vision zero deal is better involve bike paths and less police.

posted by: William Kurtz on February 12, 2014  6:01pm

Thanks Liam for writing this. (Full disclosure: he and I are both on the board of Elm City Cycling. My comments are my own).

We do need segregated bicycle tracks and we do need better enforcement of existing traffic laws and we can’t ticket our streets to safety and we do need better on-street infrastructure to encourage and support bicycling and walking and we do need to create an environment where anyone from 8-80 can feel comfortable and safe riding a bicycle or walking. All of these are true.

Rich people bike and median-income people bike and economically-deprived people bike. People with nice houses bike and people with no homes ride bikes. JDG is right to point out a substantial proportion of people riding bikes in New Haven are young people and it’s not “nerve” to frame better cycling infrastructure and transportation alternatives as an issue of economic justice—that’s what it is.

Sidewalk riding is illegal and statistically more dangerous than riding on the road and there are plenty of places where novice riders (and even experienced ones, under certain circumstances) would feel (and probably actually be) safer on a sidewalk than in the road.

Bicyclists have to take into account the safety of more vulnerable road users and drivers have to do the same. Pedestrians have been injured and killed by reckless cyclists, and the danger presented by cyclists is vastly smaller than the danger presented by reckless motorists. Enforcement money and effort would be more effectively used to target those presenting the greatest danger.

Helmets don’t make riding safer; they make crashing safer. To the extent that ECC is ‘pushing’ helmets, we’re doing so for children (in accordance with state law), at our sponsored events (in accordance with insurance requirements) and as a best practice for riding in general, given the risk of crashing and the likelihood that a helmet can help prevent a serious head injury.

posted by: Mitchell Young on February 12, 2014  7:08pm

I am confused, are people being critical because a bicycling group advocates wearing helmets?

That is critique is certifiably insane.

I have crashed my bicycle and slammed my head on the pavement in the middle of nowhere, with just trees, and my riding partner around. Lost concentration, cracked my hip and was knocked out.

Thankfully I had a helmet on or maybe I would have been an organ donor. Ride without a helmet and you do will get to be an organ donor.

The correct policies for New Haven are not hard to see.

There are many routes that can be developed in the greater New Haven region with protected bicycle lanes.

There are hundreds of miles built in Montreal, a far denser busier place. Many riders ride 9 months of the year there, did I say it was Montreal, Canada.

The number of people on bicycles gives the place an absolute feeling of vitality and youth.

Maybe nothing New Haven could do would be more effective as a marketing tool than to go head over heels for bicycle transportation.

But reading comments here I get the idea, that people would rather ride, ( and complain) than create positive change.

posted by: TheMadcap on February 12, 2014  7:53pm

The helmet thing seems to be really divisive among cycling proponents. On the pro side their reasons are obvious, they want to improve one’s safety. However on the other side people argue pushing for helmets makes cycling look more dangerous than it actually is, as more of a sport than a transportation method, and that when you go to places where there’s big bicycle use outside the US, you rarely see anyone wearing helmets.

posted by: LSok on February 12, 2014  8:46pm

Thanks for this piece, I wish more people would advocate for protected bike lanes in New Haven. I have a bike that I would like to use for commuting around town but as a someone who has never biked on the streets (and also witness bad drivers very often), I am scared! As it is now, I mostly walk.

I have seen how great separate bike lanes and well thought out bicycling infrastructure can be when I spent several months in Konstanz, Germany. They have bike lanes physically separate from car lanes with separate bike traffic signals in high traffic areas (such as http://see-online.info/rheinkilometer-null-neue-hinweistafel-in-konstanz/), and some bike lanes in busy areas that are adjacent to pedestrian walkways but are clearly marked (such as http://caa.org.nz/general-news/pathways-to-heaven/). In less busy areas, there are regular bike lanes on the streets, and only the suburban-like streets with very little car traffic have no marked bike lanes. They also have traffic calming measures along their streets, and a small historic center that is pedestrian-only.

As a result, most parents are able to safely transport their kids around in attached bike trailers, and there are many many people, young and old, commuting by bike with ease. It’s a wonderful thing to see. I wish New Haven, which is very compact and with a higher population density, could one day be more like that.

posted by: robn on February 13, 2014  9:41am

I strongly support legal and infrastructure change to be more accommodating to cyclists. However, I cringe every time I see a cyclist blow through a red light. Cyclists’ complaining about motorists breaking the law to justify their own law breaking is just “two wrongs make a right” philosophy. This isn’t just about safety, its about public relations and setting an example for motorists. I urge all law abiding cyclists to verbally haze their peers who blow through red lights.

The argument about personal hazard vs hazard to others (cyclist vs motorist) doesn’t stand up for several reasons; including the psychological effects of laying blame for a cyclists death on a law abiding motorist, and including potential civil suit from the cyclist’s survivors.

posted by: disconnect on February 13, 2014  9:42am

“I am amazed at the cyclist in the city think that they don’t have to obey traffic laws. I have seen bikers going through red lights even with police vehicles stationed near the lights.Also to you bikers,Enlighten me as to what recourse a person injured by a bicyclist has? Bicyclists carry no insurance coverage for liability, collision or for anything else. If a pedestrian or biker is injured in a motor vehicle-related accident, the operator of that vehicle has insurance coverage for such an eventuality. If one of you bikers ran over someone had actually caused any serious injuries,How should you be held accountable.And for those who say bicycles can not kill.”

Well I’ll be damned, I was going to say good for the author, we need more bikes. But then I read this, and you know what, you’re right! I’ve totally seen bicyclists run red lights, fail to yield the right of way, fail to keep right of center, travel the wrong way down a one-way street, text while riding, ride while intoxicated, and just generally foul up traffic. And sure, pedestrians can be killed dead by bicycles! http://www.ctc.org.uk/sites/default/files/file_public/pedestriansbrf.pdf In London from 2008-2012, 9 people were murdered by deathcycles! That’s almost 22,200% more than the 1,999 people who died by being stupid around poor defenceless motor vehicles.

(I believe the name of the logical fallacy you committed is “hasty generalization”. Look it up. Think about it a while.)

posted by: William Kurtz on February 13, 2014  11:16am

“I urge all law abiding cyclists to verbally haze their peers who blow through red lights.”

I’m curious to know why you—and others—set a standard for collective behavior so much higher for bicyclists than for anyone else. Do you “verbally haze” other pedestrians while walking? Do you chastise other drivers for rolling stop signs and exceeding posted speed limits?

Why does a person on a bicycle have to adhere to some platinum standard of good behavior in order to be taken seriously?

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on February 13, 2014  11:32am

posted by: disconnect on February 13, 2014 8:42am

(I believe the name of the logical fallacy you committed is “hasty generalization”. Look it up. Think about it a while.)

I do not have to look it up.All one has to do is go downtown by the green and look right at it.Bikers going through red lights,Bikes that do not follow equipment requirements like lights and reflectors,age of sixteen to wear a helmet while riding a bicycle.

We need to do what New york is doing.

Yes, Cyclists, the Cops Are Giving You More Tickets


NYPD Hits Bike Riders With 1,400 Tickets in Two Weeks


posted by: HewNaven on February 13, 2014  12:25pm

Hey guys, 3/5 is right. It’s not a ‘hasty generalization’ to stand in one spot (e.g. the Green) for a few minutes and observe the behavior of a few cyclists passing by, and then extrapolate those observations and apply them to the general population. Let’s give him credit for doing such thorough scientific research.

posted by: TheMadcap on February 13, 2014  12:30pm

I’d say it’s more of a gigantic false equivalency vs a logic fallacy. The idea it’s up to cyclist to make motorist like them more by being the most polite and law abiding cyclists ever is ridiculous when all day long we have to see people swerving because they’re on their phone, speeding through a yellow light or tailgating the car in front of them to make it through a red, going 15mph an hour over the speed limit in a busy city, and my personal favorite, seeing people eating. And the eating leads into my second favorite thing, seeing people drive with their knees. I don’t mean holding a hamburger in one hand, I mean eating an actual meal off their lap with spoons and such. I mean cyclists blowing through red lights? First off, almost no one is “blowing” through red lights unless they’re a raging idiot and you can’t fix that level of stupid because they obviously don’t even care about their own safety and life. You ever come to a rolling stop at a deserted intersection because you could see it was obviously clear all around? Yeah, it’s the same thing. A bicycle which can stop almost on a dime and is highly agile going 5-10mph through a red light is not the same as a car doing it. Also it’s possible many cyclist don’t like waiting at lights because if you do, once that light turns green you’re going to be in front of or to the right of traffic(the right thing is important if it’s possible to turn right at the intersection) and a lot of motorists find waiting 5 seconds for you to get going and past the intersection to be the greatest travesty to their existence, and will instead try to zip around you, and often suddenly cross your path when making a turn. The burden if responsibility falls on everyone in every aspect of life, but when it comes to traveling on the road, the idea that cyclist and motorists have the same level of responsibility is absurd. If people held other drivers to the same standard they’re trying to hold cyclist we could cut traffic deaths in 1/2.

posted by: HewNaven on February 13, 2014  12:45pm


Please define “blow through a red light”

Are you observing cyclists riding through intersections at full speed without stopping? Or are they stopping first and then proceeding?

As for going through intersections without looking or stopping, of course that’s idiotic if that’s what you meant by “blowing red lights” But, how often does anyone actually observe something so stupid? I’ve actually never seen that.

My own observation is that few cyclists will stop and wait at a red light. Many more will stop and then proceed, if it seems safe. It looks to me like it’s left up to each rider to make that decision. I haven’t observed any hard-and-fast rule about behavior. Personally, I admire anyone who can act pragmatically and doesn’t just blindly follow things like traffic signals. It shows me they have a brain. I’ve always preferred practicality over acquiescence in adult humans. (If we were talking about children or animals, then I might agree that we should expect obedience over cognizance).

posted by: robn on February 13, 2014  2:36pm


I’ll answer you questions in order
1) I set the same standard for everyone; that’s adherence to the law.
2) Yes I chastise peds, cyclists and motorists with a horn or a shout when they flagrantly ignore a sign or signal.
3) it a fact of life that if you hope to be respected by others, you need to show respect to them.


I don’t mean an Idaho stop (a cautionary slowing to see if the intersection is clear); I mean a high speed blow through red lights at intersections with zero sideways visibility until you’re on top of them. I see this almost daily on Orange Street at intersections like Humphrey, know for their high speed cross traffic.

posted by: TheMadcap on February 13, 2014  3:22pm

There’s no where on Orange st where visibility is that obstructed, incudling at Humphrey. You’re thinking about it from a car perspective, the stop lines for cars are set quite a bit back from the actual intersection(at Humphrey specifically. There’s at least a car length between the stop line and the lines of the crosswalk, which itself is quite wide), so yeah, in a car that view might be blocked by the church on the left if you’re coming up from downtown, but you’re forgetting a bike is going probably at 10mph and as you approach the actual intersection you can stop near on the spot if you see a car coming from Humphrey st with no worry of having some back end you like in a car.