Erik Kantar

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If you’re one of New York’s cyclists who has braved the city streets during rush hour traffic, you may have experienced or witnessed dangerous and acrimonious encounters with taxis. In an effort to relieve some of the tension between cyclists and cab drivers sharing the road, cyclist advocates from Bike New York, the Taxi Limousine Commission and the Department of Transportation along with for-hire drivers from the Independent Drivers Guild gathered on Wednesday afternoon for a group bicycle ride through Bushwick, promoting the safe sharing of New York’s streets.

“It was really good for drivers to see what we go through on a regular basis, like a lot of the road hazards, like bike lanes that just disappear and bike lanes that are blocked,” says Laura Shepard of Bike New York. “We passed by a lot of ‘ghost bikes,’ which mark the places where people riding bikes have gotten killed by drivers.”

As commuters confront reliability issues with the MTA and become more conscious of their environmental impact, biking has cemented itself as a popular, cheap alternative for commuting to work. Department of Transportation funds are being devoted to bike lane construction projects in an effort to streamline the process for two-wheeling New Yorkers. However, bike lanes won’t eliminate the danger of bike-riding entirely.

According to the 2017 Annual Bike Crash Data report –– NYC’s most up-to-date report on biking accidents –– 1,808 injuries were attributed to bicycle crashes in Brooklyn alone for the year, the highest among all the boroughs. Although biking accidents take place for a variety of reasons, the most common reasons are getting ‘doored’ by exiting taxi passengers, and illegal parking, idling or entering into bike lanes by cars.

As unfortunate as accidents are, riding in the city poses an even bigger risk. Just this year, Hugo Alexander Sinto Garcia, a 26-year-old man, was killed in Brooklyn after he ran into an opening taxi door, which threw him off of his bicycle and into the path of oncoming traffic.

After Wednesday’s group ride down Knickerbocker Avenue, participants convened for a group meeting at the offices of the Independent Drivers Guild, engaging in open dialogue to help alleviate tensions, share perspectives of navigating Brooklyn streets and brainstorm solutions.

A popular suggestion was an updated street design that addresses the growing popularity of ridesharing, including specified zones for Uber/Lyft drop-offs that do not intersect with bike lanes. Although Mayor de Blasio drafted a goal of conducting redesigns at 50 intersections annually, none of these designs designate ride-hailing/drop-off zones. Nevertheless, it’s a start: At locations where the Department of Transportation has made major engineering changes, fatalities have decreased by 34 percent since 2005.

According to Jon Orcutt, communications director at Bike New York, these discussions offer some hope that things will improve in the future: “We’re really happy about this dialogue because we want to talk to the companies like Lyft and Uber about getting on board with street design changes. I’m really hoping the drivers today will say we need a place to pull over that’s not the bike lane or moving traffic lane, and we really need them to help push this.” Orcutt believes that the city is not doing enough on its own and that enlisting the drivers themselves in the activism could help in getting the results that our city needs.

Regardless of whether city legislative plans materialize at the pace New Yorkers demand, local grassroot events like this continue to improve progress in strengthening understanding between the biking and driving community: “The bike ride and conversation today opened a productive communication channel between cyclists and professional drivers,” says acting TLC commissioner Bill Heinzen.  “By sharing their street perspective, drivers and cyclists were able to focus on how to safely use the road together and reduce street conflict.”

Cover image courtesy of Bike New York.

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