Tag Archives: Twin Tiers

Not The Way I Wanted My Ride to End……

This is how my ride ended……in the back of a pickup truck driven by Rusty, a local Good Samaritan, who made sure Meg and I got home safely after our tandem seatpost unexpectedly failed causing us to crash.

My wife, Meg, and I have been riding together on a tandem bicycle for 20 years. We ride single bikes most of the time, but the tandem gives us a great way to share our passion for cycling and spend time together enjoying the beautiful Finger Lakes countryside.

My seat post also held Meg”s handlebars until they sheared off.

We are lucky to be alive, though, after our tandem suffered a major structural failure that sent us crashing to the road on Aug. 19 during one of our rides. It was a terrifying few minutes we will never forget, followed, very fortunately, by the kindness of a Good Samaritan named Rusty who saved the day for us.

Before Rusty arrived, though, it was just Meg and I riding on Logan Road in the Town of Hector, a road we have ridden hundreds of times. We were about five miles from our home after riding about 25 miles.

I had visually inspected our tandem before we left our house. We had just returned from a week of riding the roads of Vermont together, where we traveled about 75 miles a day on the tandem. The dependable and rugged seven-year-old tandem appeared to be good shape.

In the seconds before we crashed, we sped through a steep downhill part of Logan Road at 35 to 40 miles per hour so we could build momentum for a steep incline just ahead. It felt like a routine ride for us.

The bottom of my seat shows where the post broke off.

But as we climbed the steep incline gradually slowing as we reached the crest of the hill, I felt an awkward movement from Meg, and then the bike pivoted sharply to the left. Meg’s handlebars (and my seat post) had broken off in her hands and we lost the ability to control the bike.

The next thing I knew, we were both on the pavement and one of Meg’s elbows was bleeding. I quickly moved Meg to safety, well off the road, and checked her injury. She was in pain, but suffered no serious injuries. I was fortunate to escape any injury.

I went back out on the road – no traffic had passed yet – and could see right away what happened that led to our crash: the metal post that held my seat, and Meg’s handlebars, had sheared off leaving a sharp, exposed edge.  We were so lucky that we didn’t get impaled by the the broken post as we crashed to the ground……

I moved the bike off the road and, as I was preparing to call one of our neighbors for a ride home, Rusty drove by. He passed us at first, probably not seeing us right away, but he backed up and asked if we needed help.

Once I explained what happened, he helped us pile our broken tandem into the back of his pickup truck. He offered to take us to the Hector Fire Department to have the EMT on duty look at Meg’s injury, but we declined, so we headed back to his farm so he could get his bigger pickup truck, and from there, we were home in minutes.

Rusty took a chance on us, welcoming two banged-up strangers into his truck without hesitating. His compassion reminded us – once again – how lucky we are to live in the Finger Lakes where it’s not at all uncommon for locals to graciously help one another.

Meg and I offer our thanks to Rusty and the many other Good Samaritans in the Finger Lakes who don’t think twice about helping a stranger in need.

A version of this story has appeared in The Odessa File.

Thank you for reading!

Jim

James B. Reed
NY & PA Bike Crash Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
Blogs: NYInjuryLawBlog.com and
            NYBikeAccidentBlog.com

Explore Scenic Ithaca Area Using Teen’s Great Cycling Routes Website

Willem van Osselaer

Willem van Osselaer was a senior at Ithaca High School when he developed a great online tool for bicyclists in the Ithaca area.

Willem, who will soon be a freshman at Cornell University, created Ithaca Cycling Routes as part of an experiential English class during his senior year. The site guides riders through some of the Ithaca area’s most beautiful road cycling routes.

Armin Heurich

“Willem developed the site over the course of five months and went way above and beyond course requirements to create a resource that will be valuable to visitors to Ithaca, new cyclists, and experienced local cyclists,” said Armin Heurich, a library media specialist at the high school and president of the Finger Lakes Cycling Club (FLCC). “The website is a labor of love and  a treasure.”

The site as constructed by Willem, a coordinator of youth cycling at FLCC, is simple to navigate. There is a link to the 12 routes – Find your route! – on the home page, as well as a map to East Hill Plaza, a starting point for most of the rides because it serves as a meeting spot for local bicyclists, and there is plenty of parking there. Many FLCC rides start there, Willem said.

Once visitors click through to the routes, they’ll see a wide variety of distances from the 3.2-mile Cayuga Waterfront Trail to the 75.1-mile Owasco Lake ride, with other distances ranging from 8.4 miles to 51.3 miles.

Willem gives two options on the all-flat Cayuga Waterfront Trail, a 3.2-mile, one-way version, and a downtown loop that is 5.1 miles. He also notes: “This is also the only route you will find on this website that is completely flat!”

With each route, there are:

  • Maps and distances in miles and kilometers, as well as notes on elevation gains and major climbs.
  • Notes on food stops and points of interest.
  • Conversational descriptions, overviews, and observations on traffic, scenery, and hills.
  • Turn-by-turn directions.

Willem likes to ride about 70 miles a week during the summer, so you might meet him on one of his bike routes.

“The main reason why I bike is to talk to people,” Willem said. “Cycling is the main way I spend time with friends, and I have met many people through this sport.

“What sets cycling apart from other sports is that it allows people to explore and get a sense of their surroundings. I love observing the Ithaca countryside and experiencing its geography.”

His favorite short route? Mount Pleasant (15 miles), because it’s the closest challenging hill to his house. “The lack of trees and the observatory at the summit make it feel like you climbed a true mountain.

His favorite long route? Weltonville (51.3 miles), which has “gorgeous views,” he said. “Many roads provide an almost constant view of the hillsides around you. During the fall, the foliage makes this route even more stunning.”

Willem, who will be a student this fall at Cornell’s College of Architecture, Art and Planning, is proud of what he’s accomplished, and rightly so. “My goal was not just to complete the class requirements, but also to create a quality end product. “

He wanted the website to be his best work, he said. “I knew that the more hours I spent on the website, the more useful it would be to cyclists.”

I hope cyclists who meet Willem along his routes will thank him for this great website!

Thank you for reading!

Jim

James B. Reed
NY & PA Bike Crash Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
Blogs: NYInjuryLawBlog.com and
            NYBikeAccidentBlog.com

Carbon Fiber Bikes and Components: Great or a ticking time bomb?

It’s worth reading a great new article by Eric Barton in Outside magazine, “Why Carbon Fiber Bikes Are Failing,” because he writes a balanced account about what’s happening with these bikes. There are more and more lawsuits nationwide every day because of components failing on aging bikes, poor quality production, and more.

I talk in the story about my experience with the bikes as a lawyer and avid cyclist. But don’t read it just to see what I have to say – the story captures the joys and dangers  of owning carbon fiber bikes. It’s important reading for all cyclists, whether you own a carbon fiber bike or are thinking of buying one. (It’s also a good reminder for any bike owner to inspect their bikes often for the early signs of trouble before a crash sends them tumbling into the street, often with catastrophic consequences.)

I own two carbon-fiber bikes: a Trek Madone road bike and a Giant mountain bike because I love riding lightweight bikes. And I have also represented two carbon fiber bike owners who suffered catastrophic injuries in crashes where carbon fiber components failed, and have heard of many other similar cases because I am a Bike Law lawyer in New York.

Carbon fiber is not always a dangerous material for bikes. If manufactured properly and professionally inspected for wear and tear, carbon bikes and components can be safe. But this is the problem: not all carbon fiber bike makers and component makers have the necessary high production standards, and many owners can’t tell when key parts are in danger of failing because they are not able to do the kind of inspection professionals can do.  It is the hidden dangers of carbon that can bite you…..

So word to the wise….. have your carbon fiber bike and components regularly maintained and serviced by experienced bike mechanics who are trained to properly install components following manufacturer recommended torque settings and who can carefully inspect for early signs of carbon damage or failure.

This is what I had to say in the story:

Attorney James B. Reed is a New York state representative of Bike Law and has handled two lawsuits where clients suffered catastrophic injuries when carbon-fiber components failed below them. He has heard about numerous others from people on the Bike Law listserv.

Reed and other experts in carbon fiber agree that any material can fail. Wrecks happen from faulty aluminum, steel, and even rock-hard titanium. The difference with carbon fiber is that it can be difficult to detect signs of damage that might signal imminent failure. Cracks and dents in other materials are typically easy to see, but fissures in carbon fiber often hide beneath the paint. What’s worse is that when carbon fiber fails, it fails spectacularly. While other materials might simply buckle or bend, carbon fiber can shatter into pieces, sending riders flying into the road or trail. And this kind of catastrophic destruction can happen to any part of a bike made with the material.

“I’ve seen accidents from a whole range of carbon-fiber components—handlebars, forks, seatposts, entire frames,” Reed says. “As a lawyer, the question is, ‘What’s the cause of the failure?’”

Carbon fiber used to be used only in expensive bikes, but now it’s used in many bikes, and crashes that follow part failures are on the rise, and based on the court ruling in Illinois, more lawsuits are likely on the way related to carbon-fiber bike parts.

Lucas Elrath, a bicycle-accident expert for a forensic company in Philadelphia and the owner of a home-built carbon-fiber bike, had a few great quotes in the story worth noting:

“There’s an old saying in bike manufacturing: It can be lightweight, durable or cheap – pick two. A lot of these carbon-fiber components are lightweight and cheap, but they are not durable.”

“It’s completely reasonable for someone who wants a lightweight bike to look at carbon fiber, but they need to understand the risks. Absolutely this is getting ignored.”

Roman F. Beck, another bicycle-accident forensic expert, warns of the long-range implications of bike makers using carbon fiber material, including mountain bike companies, especially now that there are so many secondhand bikes on the market.

“As good as (many) frames are, what happens when someone rides five or 10 or 20 years from now? Mountain bikes take a lot of punishment, but nobody knows how long these frames will last in that environment.”

Thank you for reading!

Jim

James B. Reed
NY & PA Bike Crash Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
Blogs: NYInjuryLawBlog.com and
            NYBikeAccidentBlog.com

 

 

Donate Your Old Bike Gear! My Donations Helped Ithaca High School Cycling Club Members

Photo for blog

All avid bicyclists collect gear over the years such as jerseys, bike seats, pedals, and more. Our gear clogs our houses and garages. Some of our old gear is still in good condition and would be welcomed by many other cyclists. But instead of donating it, we set it aside and forget it, or we throw it out.

This summer, round it up and donate it to someone or a group in need.

If your group or organization needs donated bicycles or bike gear, please email me at [email protected] and I will put your requests in a future blog post here.

I recently donated some of my used cycling gear – jerseys, pedals, seats, and bike racks – to the Ithaca High School Cycling Club, which has about 20 students participating in rides and hikes this school year, according to its faculty adviser, Armin Heurich, a library media specialist at the school.

Armin Heurich

Armin Heurich

Armin, also president of the Finger Lakes Cycling Club (FLCC), is making a difference in students’ lives, so keep the Ithaca High club in mind if you have items to donate.

He told me about one student, Marty, who has become an amazing success story through the high school club. The young man was riding a heavy, clunky hybrid bike two years ago, according to Armin, who convinced Marty to join the club’s AIDS Ride for Life team. Marty had so much fun that his father bought him a road bike, and Marty has improved as a bicyclist, “just crushing it on the hills,” Armin said.

Armin said this was just as significant: Marty went from being a shy person with a small circle of friends to being outgoing and having many friends, thanks to cycling and the club.

Willem, a senior soon to graduate and a club co-president, is finishing a class project with Armin that will create a collection of Ithaca-area bike routes with detailed analysis, photos, and narrative text. Willem and club co-president Madeline are also active in the FLCC, and several high school students have participated in FLCC-organized road races.

Option 2Armin makes an excellent point when he says that students should consider cycling clubs like his in order to develop a healthy routine of integrating outdoor recreation into their stressful weekly school routine.

“I reflect on the fact that when I was a kid, we used to play after school in the neighborhood,” he said. “These days, so many students are taking tough AP classes and are involved in so many more structured activities. It seems that unstructured play and recreation is a rare commodity these days, and I believe that it’s very important. There are inherent risks to cycling, and we’ve had some close calls, including a few falls, a scary endo, a crash into a tree, some minor scrapes and bruises, some touching of wheels, and our fair share of flat tires and a few snapped cables. I see every one of these opportunities as a teachable moment. Students always prove to be resilient, and parents prove to be understanding. Learning to participate in activities with an element of risk is an important part of the maturation process.”

I was touched to receive thank-you emails from the students who received my donated items. Here is a sampling of some of their emailed comments:

“I was able to get an amazing kit from your donation, and I know that all of the members of our club were incredibly grateful for your generous donation.” – Madeline

“I got a nice bike jersey, which I am very excited about wearing. It’s my first one. Thank you!” – Rowan

“I took home your old cleats and they seem to fit perfectly. Thank you so much for your donations.” – Johannes

“I just got into cycling in the last year and I really love it. I didn’t have any cycling jerseys and one of the jerseys you donated fit me perfectly. I will definitely be using it a lot. Thank you!” – Robin

“Your donations helped give our newer members a safer and more enjoyable cycling experience. I received the bike saddle and have noticed how much more comfortable it is than my old one. Thank you!” – Marty

Clear out your closets and garages and donate your used gear that is in good shape to a club or riding group near you.

For example, Armin said the school club needs jerseys, shorts, MTB shoes with SPD cleats, wedge bags, tubes, and 700c road tires, and any items would be greatly appreciated.

If you want to contact Armin, send email to [email protected].

Thank you for reading!

Jim

James B. Reed
NY & PA Bike Crash Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
Blogs: NYInjuryLawBlog.com and
            NYBikeAccidentBlog.com

 

 

 

 

 

Friendly and Informative Dialogue Explores NY Traffic Laws For Motorists And Bicyclists

Bicycle Sidewalk 2

I recently received an email from a Twin Tiers resident concerned about bicyclists riding on sidewalks and on the wrong side of roadways. I was copied on the email that was sent to his mayor and police chief after the man almost struck a bicyclist riding on a sidewalk.

The man was turning right into a parking lot and a speeding bicyclist, the resident said, was riding on the wrong side of the street in his path to the parking lot. The bicyclist was on the sidewalk and behind a fence, so he was hard to see, the man said. The resident was able to stop before hitting the bicyclist.

The resident stopped by the police department and talked with officers, remarking that he was taught as a child to ride in the road – and ride on the right side of the road, with traffic.

He said two police officers told him that pedestrians (the bicyclist, in this case) always have the right of way, and police have no power to tell bicyclists where to ride on roadways.

ebike signThe man then correctly cited part of NY Vehicle and Traffic Law 1234 (regarding riding on roadways, shoulders, bicycle or in-line skate lanes and bicycle or in-line skate paths): (a) Upon all roadways, any bicycle or in-line skate shall be driven either on a usable bicycle or in-line skate lane or, if a usable bicycle or in-line skate lane has not been provided, near the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway or upon a usable right-hand shoulder in such a manner as to prevent undue interference with the flow of traffic except when preparing for a left turn or when reasonably necessary to avoid conditions that would make it unsafe to continue along near the right-hand curb or edge ….

I sent this response to him:

Thanks for including me on your email. I am sorry I have to disagree with your statement “motorists would be blamed in every case of a collision with a bicyclist despite a bicyclist riding unsafely.”

As a lawyer who handles a significant number of bicycle crash lawsuits, I can tell you that the vast majority of time it is the cyclist, not the motorist, who is blamed for causing a collision. I can’t tell you the number of times I have had to prove that an accident report was erroneous in claiming the bicyclist was at fault when in fact the motorist violated the NY Vehicle and Traffic Law.

My feeling is that our laws should be applied equally to ALL users of our roads — motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians. Likewise, proper education is important for ALL users of our roads. Yes, I see bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists sometimes obeying the laws, sometimes violating the law, and accordingly, I think it’s important that we don’t jump to the conclusion that all bicyclists are bad or that all motorists are bad.

James-Reed-Ziff-Law-FirmI appreciate the fact that you are creating a dialogue about proper bicyclist/motorist behavior.  I regularly lecture on NY bike laws to law enforcement, and in fact, I recently lectured to the Steuben County Magistrates Association, where many of the 52 village and town justices in Steuben County were in attendance. If you or anyone in law enforcement ever have questions regarding NY bicycle laws, please let me know and I would be happy to offer my analysis.

Under NY law, you are correct that bicycles are supposed to ride in the same direction as vehicle traffic, not against traffic. And most NY municipalities have laws prohibiting bicyclists from riding on sidewalks if the rider is older than 12 years old.

And finally, although VTL 1234 does say a cyclist should ride to the right of the road when it is safe to do so, a bicyclist IS permitted to use the full travel lane when necessary to ride safely (i.e., when making a left turn or when parked cars, road debris or potholes make the right side of the roadway dangerous).

* * * * *

Fortunately, the police chief responded to the man’s email, too:

“I do not know what officers you talked with or when, but if they told you that bicyclists are somehow immune to the law, they were incorrect.

“You accurately cited one of the sections of the NYVTL that identifies the manner of which bicycles should be ridden.

“In addition to this, there are City Codes that further identify proper bicycle operation and restrictions to riding in certain areas, including the downtown area. Through our School Resource Officer, we try to educate children of their responsibilities when operating bicycles, and offer a program for free helmets for those children in need.

“By your letter, it is not clear to me the age of the bicyclist (child or adult), as this certainly factors into the options that are available to the officers. Regardless, with warmer weather upon us, there will be more cyclists out and about, making it  imperative that persons operating motor vehicles do such with due care and caution.

“I will be talking with my entire staff re an uptick of patrolling safe bicycle operations. If you need anything further, please feel free to call me.”

It’s great to see a police chief admit his officers made a mistake and that he plans to educate his employees and increase enforcement. For our roadways to be safer, everyone has to do their part – motorists, bicyclists, motorcyclists, and pedestrians – and follow the laws. And always be mindful that there will be those who ignore the law.

Thank you for reading!

Jim

James B. Reed
NY & PA Bike Crash Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
Blogs: NYInjuryLawBlog.com and
            NYBikeAccidentBlog.com

 

 

 

 

 

Test Your NY Bike Law IQ By Reading My Column At The Odessa File

Odessa File

A few months ago, I began writing a column for The Odessa File (photo above), a must-read community news website in Schuyler County. Since my wife and I live there now, I wanted to find a way to connect with my fellow residents, and I know that everyone in the county reads it. Charlie Haeffner has created a great resource for county residents, and I will say it again: Everyone. Reads. It.

The feedback has been great and people are coming up to introduce themselves on the street when I am out in the community. It’s been a great icebreaker.

0411reedPicI just published my fifth column this year. I write about legal news that people can use in their everyday lives. I have written about a great insurance change in state law for New York State drivers; about how a woman’s tragic death has led to a positive change in another state law; and about how writing wills can be a messy process for families.

My latest column is a wake-up call for New York motorists and bicyclists. The hibernation is over.

The snow is gone for good (I hope) and bicyclists are getting their bikes out of the garage and checking their brakes and tires. As we all prepare to hit the road again, and dodge the horrible potholes that winter left behind, it’s time to remind everyone on the road what the law says about the rights of motorists … and bicyclists!

So please. go read the terrific Odessa File website and read my column.

As a bonus, I have a brief quiz in the column that will test your knowledge about basic bike laws in NY. If you email me your answers, I will enter you in a drawing for a $50 gift card to a great Watkins Glen restaurant.

You can also email me at [email protected] f you’d like a very readable and easy-to-understand primer on NY laws for bicyclists. It’s a great refresher so we all have another safe year of sharing our roads with drivers, motorcyclists, and pedestrians.

Thank you for reading!

Jim

James B. Reed
NY & PA Bike Crash Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
Blogs: NYInjuryLawBlog.com and
            NYBikeAccidentBlog.com

Debate Over E-bikes Grows After NYC Partially Lifts Ban

ebike 1

Last week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city would lift its ban on riding e-bikes, making bike-sharing and delivery companies happier. For motorists and bicyclists in the city, it will be one more faster-moving object to watch for as they zig-zag through the frenetic streets. And reviving the debate nationally over the safety of e-bicycles.

The NY law on e-bikes is murky and confusing as noted in a nice blog post from CityLab:  “Under federal law, an electric bike with a maximum assisted speed under 20 miles per hour can be sold as a bicycle, not a motor vehicle. Under New York state law, riders would need to register these as they would a motorcycle, moped, or car. But there’s no clear way to register them. Because of this regulatory patchwork, e-bikes are legal to sell as bikes anywhere in the U.S. but effectively illegal to ride in New York, since they can’t be registered as motor vehicles.”

NYC Mayor Bill di Blasio.

NYC Mayor Bill di Blasio.

According to news reports from NYC, the city just months ago was taking a hard line on e-bicyclist delivery folks, targeting riders and the businesses they work for with fines from $200 to $500. But vocal critics said the fines were hitting delivery riders, often poor immigrants, the hardest.

The New York City Department of Transportation is drafting new rules that will regulate the use of pedal-assist bikes. For now, any throttle e-bikes that can travel faster than 20 mph are still banned.

“By creating the framework for pedal-assist bicycles, our goal is to join other world cities that are opening the door for delivery workers, older or less able-bodied cyclists, and other casual aspiring cyclists to experience a safe and low-emission mode of travel,” said NYCDOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg in a news release.

“The mayor’s announcement is a positive first step, but until the City has established a solution for converting the e-bikes currently being used to pedal-assist bicycles, we worry that delivery workers will continue to be criminalized,” wrote Joe Cutrufo, a spokesperson for the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, in an email to Bicycling magazine.

ebike signE-bikes – and bicycling – are growing more popular in the U.S., news reports say. The National Institute for Transportation and Communities said its research found that people buying e-bikes are less reliant on motor vehicles.

E-bike advocates say they help reduce barriers for people who may not ride a traditional bicycle because of age, disability or poor physical condition. Some work commuters like them because they are a less strenuous ride to the office.

E-bike critics have many valid concerns: pedestrians don’t want to tangle with e-bikes on sidewalks. Some bicyclists call e-bikes cheating and don’t want to share busy bike paths with e-bikes that will travel faster. Police officers are worried about speeding and dangerous crashes..

There is pending legislation in NY to better define e-bikes and their legality in NY.  It is my hope that this legislation will soon become law because confusion over e-bikes is bad for everyone.

Be safe on our roads, and thank you for reading!

Jim

James B. Reed
NY & PA Bike Crash Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
Blogs: NYInjuryLawBlog.com and
            NYBikeAccidentBlog.com

Inspect Your Quick Release To Avoid Devastating Failure While Riding

It’s winter in NY and PA — cold and icy and snowy, definitely not bicycle season — so it’s a good time to head to your garage, get your bike out, and complete a safety check. We will get our first taste of spring soon, I hope, so be ready.

quickrelease2If you have a quick-release seat or front wheel, that’s a good place to start your winter inspection. I will focus on that today because failure, of either the front wheel or the seat, can lead to very serious injuries and destroy your bike.

Please watch the instructional video above by Global Cycling Network. It’s a great primer for new and future quick-release users.

So you and your buddy installed quick-release seats and wheels last fall, and had a few safe rides? You think you have nothing to worry about, right?

I hope so, but … I have handled a few bike crash cases caused by quick-release failures. As you might imagine, if the quick-release fails and your wheel suddenly separates from the bike, injuries can be catastrophic.

Quick-release failures can be caused many ways:

  • Improper installation.
  • Improper adjustment.
  • Poor manufacturing.

The point is that if someone is injured because of a quick-release failure, they should:

  • Immediately preserve the bike and wheel and …
  • Contact an experienced bike crash lawyer who can then investigate the details of the crash and determine the cause of the failure.

I would recommend you take your bike to a local bike shop this winter and have them inspect your quick-release levers. Also be sure they observe how you remove and return your wheel and/or your seat. They might have safety suggestions after observing your methods that will save you thousands in medical costs.

Losing a front wheel while riding could send you head-first toward the pavement, so be as prepared as you possibly can before spring arrives.

Be safe on our roads, and thank you for reading!

Jim

James B. Reed
NY & PA Bike Crash Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
Blogs: NYInjuryLawBlog.com and
            NYBikeAccidentBlog.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

After Son’s Bike Crash, Father Gears Up Fight For Safer Streets For Cyclists, Pedestrians In Ithaca

Armin Heurich with some of his yield signs.

Armin Heurich with some of his yield signs.

Armin Heurich of Ithaca, the president of the Finger Lakes Cycling Club, has written an excellent guest blog post about his long battle for bicycle and pedestrian safety in Ithaca, a big issue in a progressive – but unsafe – city. The turning point in his struggle for safer streets is very personal ….

Why is a state traffic law almost completely ignored and unenforced in some cities, and almost universally respected in others?

I’ve been pondering this question for many years now in Ithaca, N.Y., where I have lived since 1997. Section 1151a of the New York State Traffic Law states that: “[w]hen traffic-control signals are not in place or not in operation, the driver of a vehicle shall yield the right of way, slowing down or stopping if need be to so yield, to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a crosswalk on the roadway upon which the vehicle is traveling, except that any pedestrian crossing a roadway at a point where a pedestrian tunnel or overpass has been provided shall yield the right of way to all vehicles.”

Most states in the U.S. have similar laws in the books. Most of us have visited a city or town where we can step foot in a crosswalk where there is no traffic light and marvel as all oncoming vehicles travelling in both directions respectfully come to a complete stop.

I have visited many cities in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, Washington, Oregon and California where one can safely assume that motorists will indeed yield. Yet in Ithaca and so many other cities and towns across the country, casually stepping into a crosswalk at an intersection with no traffic light involves putting your life at risk. When a vehicle does finally slow down, you can’t count on vehicles travelling in the other direction to follow suit, since all bets are off.

I am decidedly an urban dweller. When I was hired for a job as a librarian at Ithaca High School, my wife and I initially considered living in the lovely countryside, since we love all forms of outdoor adventure from cycling and hiking to cross-country skiing. Ultimately, we decided to live in the heart of the downtown Northside neighborhood, since it allowed us to bike or walk to work.

Cycling and walking are my primary means of transit both for business and pleasure, and we are only a mile away from some beautiful county roads that are very welcoming to cyclists, so living in the city was a great choice for us. It’s hard to imagine a better place for cycling, if you love the challenge of hills and appreciate breathtaking terrain. My direct bike commute is actually too short, so I typically add some hills and extra distance for a good morning workout.

While the county roads are mostly quiet and safe, with lots of low-traffic options, the same cannot be said for the city streets of Ithaca. Our small city is criss-crossed by state highways running east/west and north/south, including routes 79, 96 and 13.

These highways turn into mostly one-way city streets with a steady high volume of traffic, especially during business hours. Many motorists seem to be impatient and annoyed while driving through the city to their final destination. Ithaca is a waypoint to many, and pedestrians and cyclists are just another impediment along their way. Only one example of the challenges facing pedestrians is Seneca Street, which is Route 79 as it continues east through the city.

Try crossing Seneca Street at the Geneva Street intersection, and you are in for a rude awakening. There is a stop sign on Geneva Street, and there is no sign reminding motorists of the state law requiring them to yield to pedestrians. In fact, there is a dearth of such signs anywhere in the city. I have waited upwards of five minutes at that intersection waiting to cross, even with two feet in the crosswalk as I attempt to make eye contact with motorists. Of course, cyclists face the same exact challenges as they attempt to brave the crossing.

For many years, I have been asking mayors, members of Ithaca’s Common Council and the city engineers for more signs to no avail. I also ask why we have such an unfriendly pedestrian and cycling culture compared to many other municipalities, when we take such pride in being a caring and progressive-minded community. The best answer I get is that it is a cultural thing and a mystery that might not ever get resolved. I have attended Common Council meetings, Board of Public Works meetings, and open houses in which specific infrastructure projects are shared for public feedback. I keep asking the same questions, and get unsatisfying answers. I usually end up feeling ignored or sidelined, even though I have carefully chosen my words and present my perspective in a polite and thoughtful manner.

This summer, our family enjoyed a trip of a lifetime, which involved cycling and walking through many great European cities, including Copenhagen and Amsterdam, two of the most cycling- and pedestrian-friendly cities. We marveled at the infrastructure and the feeling of safety for cyclists of all ages and skill levels. We biked every day and logged nearly 100 miles of urban cycling in our week of sightseeing in those two cities. I took endless mental notes about how the cities were completely transformed through seamless infrastructure, and looked forward to sharing insights with friends and community members.

Then, a week after our return, my 16-year-old son was hit by a car while cycling in Ithaca. He stopped at a four-way, then continued on his way north on Albany Street until he was struck by a motorist heading west on North Titus Street.

The driver ran the stop sign and claims not to have seen Toby, who has struck hard in the ribcage. Toby rolled onto the hood of the car, causing some noticeable damage to the bodywork, then rolled onto the pavement after the motorist came to an abrupt stop. He spent seven days at Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse with a fractured rib and a collapsed lung, but was very lucky, since he did not concuss.

While I was sitting at his bedside during his painful convalescence, I became increasingly frustrated about Ithaca’s unfriendly streets. I felt like I failed him as well as the membership of the Finger Lakes Cycling Club by not being a more decisive advocate for bicycle and pedestrian safety. It was time for action. I thought up a renegade action that would likely start a community conversation about this issue; I got to work on social media and touched base with my local copy shop about the logistics of printing signs on rigid plastic.

My plan was to print the official state sign that states, “State Law: Yield to Pedestrians in Crosswalks” on rigid plastic, the kind used on political yard signs. I would make as many as I could, then assemble a team of like-minded friends in the community to zip tie the signs at dangerous intersections. The signs would have to be installed in a convincing manner, so as to fit right in with existing signs and not obstruct the view of motorists.

First, I contacted an Ithaca printer and emailed the graphic file for my prototype signs. Then I started a GoFundMe account and set a goal of $500 to cover the expense of sign production. Finally, I took to Facebook and shared a few posts about this idea on my wall, along with a link to my fundraising site. I have a good number of Facebook friends, many of whom live in and around Ithaca, but I was unprepared for the staggering response. In just three days I had raised over $400, and after a week I had surpassed my goal by nearly $100.

Meanwhile an Ithaca-based journalist named Mark Anbinder read about my project and interviewed me for an article that was to appear on 14850.com. Also I heard from many others in the Ithaca area who had accidents or near misses, including Ithaca Alderman Ducson Nguyen, who was hit by a car while cycling a month before Toby’s accident. The collective sense of frustration with the status quo and the encouraging words about the project kept me motivated.

I ended up getting about 50 signs printed, and with the help of friends, managed to get the signs placed on the most dangerous intersections by mid-August.

The community reaction was immediate. I was having conversations with neighbors and friends daily, and the overwhelming consensus was that the signs were making a difference. Drivers were more likely to yield to pedestrians in some of the most troublesome intersections. Local citizens and members of Common Council were urging the Board of Public Works and the city traffic engineer to install permanent signs and do more to get motorists to comply with state law. Residents were discussing the issue regularly on online forums, and the support for increased signage and enforcement was overwhelming.

About the time that I gave up on seeing Mark’s article on 14850.com, he published his piece, which was timed to appear during the first week of school

Mark’s excellent article raised much greater awareness about my campaign, and increased pressure on city leaders to take action.

I received a warning email from the supervisor of public works that my signs were out of compliance with state DOT regulations, and that they would be removed. While I fully anticipated this eventual action by the city, I was hoping that the signs would last much longer. My dream was that they would be systematically replaced by permanent ones, but that was not the case.

IMG_20170815_111408848_HDRHowever I am more hopeful and optimistic now than ever before. I have heard that the BPW has agreed that more signage is necessary, and that it will be installed in a reasonably short order. The question about increased enforcement keeps coming up as well, and the city is looking at possible solutions to address this problem.

After my temporary signs came down, I circulated an online survey, asking respondents to reflect on the impact of signs, the process of requesting safety signage, and to suggest intersections that need increased signage and enforcement. My next step is to summarize the survey results from nearly 50 residents and present it to the mayor, Common Council, city engineers and the BPW.

If you are feeling helpless about the pedestrian and cycling safety concerns in your community, I hope that my story gives you hope and possible strategies for being a catalyst for change. While Ithaca has a long way to go, I believe that the emotional energy invested in this project has already paid off. Ultimately, my goal is to change the culture of our city with regard to respect for non-motorized transportation, even while our downtown experiences unprecedented growth.

Please feel free to contact Armin at [email protected] if you have suggestions on or questions about his initiative.  

Armin Heurich is the president of the Finger Lakes Cycling Club and the faculty adviser of the Ithaca High School Cycling Club, where he works as a school librarian.

Check Out Great Video Series On NY Bicycle Laws

If you or someone you love rides a bike in New York State, take 12 minutes or so and watch the two-part video series above that explains bicycle law in New York State. It’s an investment in your family’s safety on the roads!

I am sure even experienced NY bicyclists and drivers will learn something new about state law when they watch these videos, so I HIGHLY recommend these videos to all NY bicyclists and drivers.

Remember, ignorance of the law is no excuse!

The NY Bicycling Coalition made the videos with the Albany Police Department, thanks to funding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration with a grant from the New York State Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee.

The videos will be used by law enforcement agencies around the state to improve knowledge and enforcement of vehicle and traffic laws relating to bicycling, according to NYBC.

Check out my NY Bicycle Law Primer 2017 for a PDF summary of state laws that you can download and keep in your home!

The NY Bicycling Coalition made the videos with the Albany Police Department, thanks to funding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration with a grant from the New York State Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee.

Be safe on our roads, and thank you for reading!

Jim

James B. Reed
NY & PA Bike Crash Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
Blogs: NYInjuryLawBlog.com and
            NYBikeAccidentBlog.com