The City Council took up Councilman Mark Treyger’s controversial biking and texting bill this week, which seeks to fine cyclists caught using mobile devices while riding.
Biking advocates and at least one elected official slammed the councilman’s proposal at Wednesday’s hearing with the council’s Committee on Transportation, arguing it addresses a nonexistent problem, reports Streets Blog.
A vocal critic of the bill was Councilman Antonio Reynoso (whose district includes bike-obsessed Williamsburg, notes the New York Post).
“We should start asking pedestrians to wear reflectors when they cross the street, because they might be the problem next,” the councilman reportedly said. “I think we are fooling ourselves with this legislation.”
When Reynoso asked DOT Assistant Commissioner Josh Benson about the frequency of texting-related bike accidents, he replied, “Zero per year. We did not find any reports where texting was a factor in bike-related crashes.”
The legislation, which has the support of Mayor Bill de Blasio and Bike New York, wouldn’t apply to bikers whose devices are docked on their handle bars and would allow first-time offenders the option of taking a bike safety course rather than to pay the $100 penalty.
As we reported in December, some biking advocates take issue with Treyger’s motivation for initiating the bill:
One criticism is that the bill is an example of legislation-by-anecdote. Treyger cites his own experience of witnessing a near-collision in front of his Stillwell Avenue office as evidence of the dangers of biking and texting, when, in fact, there is little data demonstrating that texting while cycling has caused any fatalities.
Others point out that the bill may be redundant. At Wednesday’s hearing, an NYPD spokeswoman testified to the committee that the state’s prohibition against texting while driving for motor vehicles also applies to cyclists, but that summonses for bikes are infrequent. Only six such summonses were handed out last year.
Between July 2013 and June 2014, more than 170 pedestrians were struck by cyclists — two of them fatally in Central Park — according to the Department of Transportation.
Update [5pm]: Councilman Treyger sent us a statement defending the bill:
The vast majority of New Yorkers, including bike advocates and groups like Bike New York, agree that it is unsafe and irresponsible for cyclists to use a handheld device while biking on public streets. I am not convinced that the city has made a concerted or real effort to actually tabulate this data and provide a clear picture of how often this occurs.
At the same time, I don’t need a large comprehensive study to know this issue exists and is dangerous. I stated clearly that motor vehicles clearly pose the greatest hazard to pedestrians, which is why the majority of Vision Zero initiatives have focused on the behavior of drivers. Still, we all have a responsibility to advance this effort. This is a common-sense piece of legislation that should have the support of everyone who is working towards improving safety on our streets for all New Yorkers.