THE BLOG
09/22/2014 11:52 am ET Updated Nov 22, 2014

When Will NYC Crack Down on Reckless Cyclists?

This really should be the last straw.

A 59-year old mother of two from Connecticut, Jill Tarlov, who was struck by an allegedly speeding cyclist last week, has died. An accident for sure but one that could have been prevented if the cyclist, Jason Marshall, had not been riding in the car lane or at least been going slower. Regardless of his exact speed, it was still clearly fast enough to cause grievous injury to the woman.

Unfortunately, this is not the first such incident in New York City since cycling became ubiquitous. Another woman was also struck and killed by a cyclist earlier this year, and explosions of road rage by cyclists against car drivers and pedestrians is becoming increasingly common. This is not normal or acceptable, and the city must do something before more people are hurt.

There are two overarching problems here. The first is the arrogance of cyclists, who feel entitled to the road and find cars and pedestrians an annoyance. That, in turn, leads to a reckless disregard for the rules of the road, which includes riding in the car lane or the sidewalk, ignoring red lights, riding against traffic, speeding, and refusing to stop for pedestrians.

These basics are what we expect from all car drivers, then why not from cyclists? In the case of the latest tragedy, Jason Marshall is apparently an athlete cyclist who loves to clock up immense speeds within city limits. Here is my message to him and to others like him: the streets and even park drives of NYC are not racing tracks and are not meant for speed cycling any more than they are for drag racing. If you want to speed, either do it in the context of an organized race or find some place less crowded to indulge yourself.

Nor are cycling enthusiasts the only ones guilty of abusing their right to ride. Bike messengers and delivery people are equally notorious for being oblivious to cars and pedestrians and exhibiting aggression on the road.

Just this weekend, I saw a messenger who was speeding in the bike lane get into an altercation with a car driver who inadvertently cut him off when turning a corner. Instead of acknowledging his own error, the cyclist followed the car down the street, swerved in front to force the driver to stop, and then launched on an earsplitting tirade of profanities -- all in the presence of a small child in the backseat of the car. The messenger continued to yell for a full minute, during which the driver wisely kept his windows closed until the cyclist's psychotic rage had abated, then quickly drove away before the guy could regroup.

It would be fine if such incidents were extremely rare but they are not. Anyone who tries to whitewash that, including pro-bike groups, is asking us to ignore the evidence in front of our eyes. Yes, not all cyclists are maniacs but the overall biking culture in NYC has become stupidly aggressive and chaotic, and that won't change until we confront the problem honestly.

It will also not change until 1) City Hall reconsiders its deeply flawed system of bike lanes, which often cause confusion for pedestrians, car drivers and cyclists, and lead to accidents, and until 2) the NYPD starts cracking down on irresponsible riders more firmly. A lot of the problem behavior that cyclists exhibit is already illegal but you would never know it since the laws are rarely enforced. Even though the NYPD claims that summonses have gone up this year, it means nothing if cyclists can simply pay a small fine for extreme recklessness.

As NYC moves towards a bigger cycling culture, creating a framework of respect for the rules is crucial and urgent. It will be good for everyone, including cyclists, who will otherwise surely face a backlash from the other side. Cyclists often complain of bad car drivers who swerve, speed, and jeopardize the safety of riders, but act the same way themselves towards everyone else. That is counter-productive and dangerous.

Sanjay Sanghoee is a New Yorker and commentator. Follow him on Twitter @sanghoee.