Right of Way

I’ve spent a good deal of my life avoiding cars. Since I was twelve and first learned how to ride a bike, I’ve become a professional navigating the ins and outs of New York City traffic. However, like any other cyclist in this town, I have had my close calls. As someone who not only is an avid cyclist, but as someone who has recently gotten involved in the field of bicycling education, I am constantly asking myself one question. A question not only for my sake, but for the sake of the kids I teach, which is how can we better our current ways of transportation in order to make cycling safer throughout the New York City area and beyond.
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Last night, I again asked myself this question as my mother came home with a bruised knee, from a fall. A car had apparently denied her the right of way, causing her to make a sharp turn, and fall off the bike. I myself, have had incidents like these. I have been crashed into by cars twice. On the first occasion as I was trying to turn up a hill a car slammed into my bike, loudly yelled two explicatives at me, and then drove away. On the second occasion, as I was trying to cross an intersection, the driver made eye contact with me, and proceeded to slow down, yet that didn’t stop him from running right into me, a couple days before I had a big bike tour.

Every day we hear stories like these and some of these stories don’t end so well. Which is why I was so confused throughout the whole debate over the 210th street bike lane. Cyclists are daily targets for cars; according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in 2015, there were over 1,000 cyclists death, and about 467,000 cycling related injuries. With these statistics in mind, we must ask ourselves what can we do to prevent these fatalities? So many of these deaths and injuries were probably preventable.

According to the New York CIty Department of Transportation, (NYC DoT) there is a way to prevent some of these deaths, and that is to put in bike lanes. With the introduction of protected bike lanes in New York City, from 2001-2013 serious risk injury to cyclists has been down by 75%. A big argument among drivers is that bike lanes, increase travel time. However, when a bike lane was added to 8th avenue in Manhattan, the opposite occurred, as according the NYC DoT, travel times actually improved by 14%.

For my mother, however bike lanes could not have prevented her crash. What she needs and what so many cyclists need is for cars to understand the fact that we often have the right of way. Meaning that cars are not entitled to that left turn when we’re trying to go straight. Just as I must yield to pedestrians, cars must remember that along with pedestrians, they must yield to cyclists.

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Every single moment that I am cycling on a road, I am terrified. I always assume that cars will break the traffic laws, laws that have been put in my place for my safety. I am not asking to confiscate all cars, and just create one never-ending bike lane. I am simply asking for more protected bike lanes, and more awareness by our counterparts in cars. It is easy to say that bike lanes are unnecessary and annoying from the comfort of a steel box, however when you are a cyclist experiencing how terrifying New York City traffic is, you understand how crucial these lanes are.

Cycling safety is of utmost importance today. We’ve seen a surge in cyclists as more and more Americans are becoming more environmentally conscious, and are ditching their steamy steel machines for much cleaner, and self-empowering bicycles. Which is why it is all the more imperative that we create more bike lanes, and watch out for cyclists.

Joelle Galatan

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