HomeBusinessBicyclists Usurp New York’s Sidewalks

Bicyclists Usurp New York’s Sidewalks


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New York

When the pandemic struck in early 2020, it discriminated. Older adults were exponentially more likely to become seriously ill or die. With immunization still months away, they retreated to their homes. When vaccines arrived, the elderly and their loved ones exhaled a sigh of relief. But as one threat to the elderly receded, a new one had emerged on the sidewalks of New York: bicyclists.

By the summer of 2020, the once-great metropolis had been transformed into a dystopian ghost town. Even after the sirens stopped wailing at all hours, the city didn’t spring back to life. With a travel ban preventing tourists from visiting and many businesses closed, the pavement was empty. Did it really matter if cyclists eschewed bike lanes and breezed down the sidewalks of Broadway?

But as pedestrians have gradually returned to the sidewalks, bikers have yielded not an inch. Cyclists ride on sidewalks irrespective of how crowded they might be. Instead of intruders, they now act like owners. Last week, as a biker snaked his way down a sidewalk on West 86th Street, I heard him shout, “Share the road!” as if walkers should concede the pavement to anything with wheels. Pedal-powered bikes were menacing enough; now motorized bikes speed down the sidewalk too.

Older residents are in danger of getting hit. But it isn’t only a question of public safety. As a rabbi of a synagogue on the Upper West Side, I regularly hear from my older members about their anxieties. They are afraid of cyclists whizzing by them as they walk to the pharmacy. Having left behind the worry that they might contract Covid-19 at the grocery store, they now worry that the walk there might land them in the emergency room. Lawlessness has overtaken the streets.

New York City is a busy place. Its streets weren’t designed to accommodate everyone at the same time. Cars, trucks, buses, bikes, scooters and pedestrians all jostle for position and have the additional challenge of navigating new sidewalk and street dining. As an environmentally responsible alternative to cars, bicycles are a boon for the city, but saving the environment never was meant to come at the cost of injured pedestrians.

The sense of ethical responsibility that causes us to pause while a disabled passenger gets on a bus should compel bikers to stay off the sidewalks so we can keep older adults safe.

It’s illegal to bike on the sidewalk in New York City. The police have an obligation to enforce that law. And we have a moral obligation to insist they do. Study after study has shown that more vigorous enforcement leads to fewer vehicular injuries and deaths. Issuing a few citations to sidewalk cyclists would go a long way. Maybe the city can use the revenue to support a campaign against another scourge: bikers heading in the wrong direction on one-way streets.

Mr. Levine is rabbi of the Jewish Center in New York.

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