Archive for the ‘Citi Bike’ Category

“Pedestrians are not our concern in Traffic Court.”

Almost a year ago I received a citation for failure to stop at a red signal while cycling. Today was my day in court. While I was undeniably guilty of the violation, I plead NOT GUILTY because I felt that there were extenuating circumstances (more below) and, well, there’s always a chance the officer won’t show up and the violation will be voided.

Little did I know the civics lesson that would unfold. And little did I know just how infuriated I’d become with the current situation regarding the safety of pedestrians and cyclists in NYC. And while this is playing out in many cities, I can only speak for my situation; and I plan to speak about this a lot more in the future.

Current NYC mayor Bill de Blasio has a program called Vision Zero with the goal of reducing pedestrian and cyclist deaths to zero. Yet the policing and systems in our fair city are at complete odds with this mission. Here’s the culmination of the problem:

“Pedestrians are not our concern in Traffic Court.”

These words came from the traffic court judge. On the record. I find this appalling.

I guess I should back up a little and describe how we got the point of this quote…

I was riding a Citi Bike up 8th Avenue between Penn Station and the Farley Post Office at the time of the initial incident. There’s lots of construction in that area and sidewalk, bike lane, and traffic signals are often rerouted and moved temporarily. On the day of my violation, the traffic signal at the mid-block crosswalk had been relocated and was not easily seen from the temporary bike lane. This was not my main defense, but is an important point. Further, due to the temporary lane shifts, and due to pedestrian behavior, people are constantly walking in the bike lane.

On the day in question, I was returning to the Citi Bike dock on this block and was forced to both dodge and yield to many pedestrians in the bike lane. At the crosswalk, I didn’t see the traffic signal and there were (finally) no pedestrians in my path, so I proceeded. Three NYPD officers were on foot nearby ticketing cyclists for failing to stop at this signal. It was a “ticketing blitz” and that location was very likely selected due to all the distractions that would lead a cyclist to run the light.

I made the argument in court that my putting the safety of pedestrians first and the temporary location of the signal lead to me missing the signal. As I noted earlier, I didn’t think this would fly, but I wanted to give it a go. But what when the judge responded by saying, “Pedestrians are not our concern in Traffic Court,” I was floored. I was speechless. I was found guilty and fined $150.

A Little Perspective

My traffic court appointment was for 8:30 AM and after some administrative ridiculousness (bureaucracy at its best) I was seated in a small courtroom awaiting proceedings to begin. My issuing officer had yet to arrive, so the judge began with the docket of another officer. The judge went through her proceedings in a very rote, mechanical manner and this was of immediate concern to me.

After many motorist proceedings before me, I learned the following:

  • Pedestrian safety was of no concern to this judge
  • The judge ruled Guilty or Not Guilty solely on letter of the law (rather than spirit)
  • It was noted that the officer has the burden of proof, but “proof” was really a matter of interpretation based on how the judge decided to rule
  • Once a Guilty ruling is issued, the judge has enormous leeway regarding the amount of the fine
  • All the rules around previous violations and points are entirely moot in the courtroom

I need to give a few examples, because these made me terribly angry, and I kind of hope that you react the same way.

Motorist #1 – Made a right turn from the left lane, cited for Illegal Turn and Failure to Yield to Pedestrians. Motorist has four previous violations (all “previous violations” refer to a two-year window), six points and is a livery driver. Found Guilty of Illegal Turn, but judge waived the Failure to Yield since he was “polite and professional” – and he was fined $65.

Motorist #2 – Also two violations – Failure to Yield to Pedestrians and Not Wearing Seatbelt. I didn’t catch the number of points, but since his license would be suspended if he was guilty of the Failure to Yield, the judge waived that violation because “as a livery driver, you need your license.” He then argued that he had his seatbelt on and the judge challenged him. Response, “Well, I bent over to pick something up, so I unbuckled for a moment.” Mind you, his vehicle was in motion – what the hell did he need to pick up?!? This was unimportant, but he was Guilty of the seatbelt violation and fined $95.

Motorist #3 (The Worst One Yet!) – Single violation for Illegal Turn when, like the first motorist, he turned right from the left lane. Further, there were signs on that street making a right turn illegal during certain hours (including when he was cited.) His defense? “I was just following my GPS.” (OMG!) This motorist had nine previous moving violations and has 14 points on his license. He was found guilty and asked by the judge, “Why shouldn’t I suspend your license at this time?” His response? As a taxi driver, he needs his license to make a living. The judge agreed and fined him, wait for it… $75!

My Violation – Failure to Stop at Red Signal which was caused by a poorly placed signal and pedestrians in my lane. I’m told “Pedestrians are not our concern in Traffic Court” and fined $150 – more than any of the dozen or so motorists before me for which none were fined $100 or more.

What Does All This Mean?

It means that Vision Zero is dead in the water. It means that pedestrians and cyclists are left to protect themselves because motorists with tons of metal and combustion engines may run us down at any moment. It means that I’m clearly more dangerous on my bike based on the size of the fine than any motorists. And, worst of all, it means that if you drive for a living, you are held to a lower standard rather than a higher one. Isn’t that completely backwards?

Part of me wishes I paid the initial fine and didn’t see the disgusting underbelly of traffic court. Ignorance is bliss, right? But now part of me wants to push the message “Crash Not Accident” even more than I did before. Motorists operate a potential killing machine everyday and pedestrians do not – nor do they have any protection. For that reason alone, they need to be held to a higher standard.

Isn’t this a First World Problem?

Seemingly, yes – but indulge me for a moment. I don’t really care that I was found guilty or had to pay a fine; as noted several times, I WAS GUILTY. But this isn’t about my violation, it’s about the continued injustice to those that are in the most danger. Isn’t it completely absurd to hear that pedestrians are not the concern of traffic court? Isn’t it appalling that a driver can keep his license, even if he endangers others, because driving is his livelihood? Where’s the protection for society over the individual? And shouldn’t someone who drives for a living be held to a much higher standard?

I’m not really sure what to do, but I can tell you that I’m mad as hell. And in the current environment of our country where the militarization of our police is making it easier for them to kill minorities unjustly, this feels like another (very small) piece of the institutionalized bias in our government. It’s really scary.

Is Citi Bike TRYING to Fail?!?

When Citi Bike launched, I was intrigued. A few months later and after many of the initial kinks were worked out, I joined – and I liked it. But I have to wonder if Citi Bike hates its members or if it is just tryng to fail. Right now there are two obvious and well known issues with Citi Bike.

First, it’s inability to provide enough bikes at commuter hubs during the morning commute and places to dock them during the evening commute. This among other common complaints.

Second, it’s finances:

Despite these (quite enormous) concerns, these aren’t my biggest complaints. Sure its frustrating to get off a train, bus or subway looking for a Citi Bike only to find empty docks, but that’s a problem I understand. And if usage stays high, I can only assume they’ll find a way to fix the finances. (HINT: Charge us commuters more for annual membership. If the program actually works, we’ll gladly pay for it!)

No, my biggest complaint is that the system doesn’t actually work. I’m talking basic functions – like the ability to release an available bike or dock one when done. And don’t get me started about the app!

Let me use today as an example…

This morning – I exit the [A] train at 34th Street and head for a Citi Bike station for my cross-town ride. First station: six bikes, three with the red light indicating they don’t work. The other three? After numerous attempts, none would release for me to use. And several others were experiencing the same trouble. Second station: four bikes, three with red lights, last one won’t release. Third station: no bikes. Fourth station: many bikes, first one wouldn’t release, second one did. By now I’ve taken 10-minutes to get a bike and I’m more than half way across town. Any time savings is lost and, thankfully, I’m able to dock it on the first try near my office. WIN!

This afternoon – Similar experiences at the first two stations, so I launch the app and see this information:

2014-05-28 21.27.33

Cool – 22 bikes! (Of course I’m now only two blocks from my destination, but, hey, I like the exercise!) In the five minutes it takes me to get to the station, I arrive to find this:

2014-05-28 17.28.48

That’s not 22 bikes. And when I refresh the app after undocking my bike (the bike on the left) the app now says 20-bikes. So I ride this bike the remaining 2-blocks, get to the [A] train at 34th Street and find the station has plenty of open docks. Well, it takes me five docks before I get one that will accept my bike. Now I’m frustrated and overheated from ramming the damn tank into each dock because you do need to use some force to get the dock to notice that it’s been penetrated by a 40-pound hunk of metal.

The bottom line is that I can’t rely on any aspect of Citi Bike to function at any time. As a commuter, I can’t always take chances with my time either. And so many other members are experiencing this, yet the official blog just keeps churning out member profiles and self-congratulatory crap rather than openly acknowledging any problems or even telling members what’s being done to fix it.

It’s funny that the Op-Ed in the NY Times likens the system to a government subsidized transit system without the subsidies. Sadly, it’s worse than that since it’s got all the bureaucratic BS of a government system. And still doesn’t get the subsidies.

Can CitiBike save the Millennials?

You’ve seen them all over the city – the Millennials with their heads in the phones, never looking up, never making eye contact. For the most part, they magically take one step to the side as you approach, as if they have some kind of radar. And, yes, they occasionally walk into things as well. But one thing is for sure – they are not taking in their surroundings. They are on a destination mission and their phone is either mapping them there or simply a distraction along the journey. Technology has swallowed their attention.

I like to compare this to the Emerson quote, “life is a journey, not a destination.” For the Millennials, this couldn’t be more false.

But I think that an invention of the modern city will help to save them from their technology (and themselves.) This invention? CitiBike NYC.

I watch as several zombie drones, phone held at the familiar angle around chin high, approach the CitiBike docking station. The put the phone away, methodically use their fob to unlock the bike and sleepily adjust the seat height as if still in a trance. But then, as they mount the bike, something magical, almost unheard of, happens – they look up!

From this moment until they reach their destination, their only distractions are the obstacles of the city streets. But these are experts at navigation without sight, so they don’t need to look at the streets. Instead, they look up! They look at the people on the sidewalk, they make eye contact with the produce delivery guy and, dare if I say, they look at the buildings and the rest of the city around them. For perhaps the first time, well, ever, they see the buildings, the architecture, the people and parks for what they really are. Why? Because they look up!

It’s pretty amazing that a simple thing like a new mode of commute can force an entire generation to see the world around them in a new way. And for this, if nothing else, we must thank CitiBike NYC for its contribution to our culture.

If only there were a CitiWalk NYC sidewalk system that forced this same behavior…


Citi Bike NYC – First Impressions

citibikeToday was my first day as a member of Citi Bike. I made three short rides on this first day and my overall impression is very positive. Beautiful these bikes are not, but functional and convenient they are for sure. And considering how they are meant to be used, the design is pretty impressive. Durable, functional and, relatively, comfortable.

I’ll leave the detailed analysis of the bikes and the system to others, there are no less than a few thousand posts about this already. What I will say is why I joined, how I intend to use Citi Bike and make a small plea to other members to wear a helmet.

My morning commute current consists of a 30-minute subway ride down the west side and then a 15-minute walk cross town along 34th Street. While I don’t typically mind a walk anyone who understands 34th Street knows how crowded it can be and how damn annoying the various tourist service hawkers can be; and that walk turns into a tricky obstacle course. I honestly feel safer navigating between cars on the street than the crowds on the sidewalk.

Since there are multiple Citi Bike stations in the general vicinity of my start and end points on 34th Street, I figured the membership was worth it even if I only ride to/from the subway and my office. And my first two of those rides today were so easy and so fast that I went almost a block too far on my first ride in the morning. And I was also able to use a bike for an appointment 20-blocks away at midday.

So, onto the helmet comment. I thought about this quite a bit as I waited for my membership to activate after signing up. The bikes are huge, heavy and slow, so the risk of crashing compared to my road bike are minuscule. And the upright positioning gives a good view to and for nearby cars. But even still, this is NYC and the streets are crowded and messy; and by messy I’m talking about the potholes and other road hazards. Falling off the bike (or with it) even without another vehicle in the mix, could still lead to serious injury. So I may be cutting my hair a little shorter now, but I am resigned to coping with a little helmet head. Which is undeniably better than dead head.