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Thursday, August 23, 2012

TLC Attorney Declares That Bikes Aren’t Vehicles [Streetsblog]


One morning in May, I was riding my bike up Park Avenue in the East 70s, a stretch that is rife with double-parking at that hour. Seeing a cab and another vehicle stationary ahead of me in the right-hand travel lane, I carefully checked behind and then pulled into the middle lane. As I passed the cab it began to move — parallel to me and into my lane. It was quickly clear to me that the driver saw me but meant to occupy my space, whether or not I was in it. I shouted and swerved. The driver advanced a little more, then stopped and leaned on her horn. Then, seeing an opening, she whipped around me.
Catching up to the cab at the next light, I told the driver that she should have yielded. No, she indignantly asserted, you should have been in “the bike lane.” I pointed out that there is no bike lane on Park Avenue and that a cyclist has a right to the road. She insisted that bicycles are subject to different rules. When I told her I’d report her actions to the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC), her response was essentially “go ahead.”
I thought long and hard about following through on my threat.  After all, it was a trivial incident compared to the tragic crashes that kill or seriously injure cyclists in this city. What tipped the scales for me was the knowledge that bike-share would soon be adding thousands of bikes to the streets. I wanted to do my part to spread the word among cabbies that cyclists are legitimate road users, so I made a formal complaint to the TLC.  I never suspected that a TLC attorney would share the driver’s view.
In July, I received a letter from Sameer Shukla, Esq., of the TLC, informing me that although the agency understood that I had “a negative experience” with one of their licensees, “we cannot at this time file charges in relation to your complaint.  The conduct you describe does not constitute a violation of any specific TLC rules.”
I called Mr. Shukla for a fuller explanation. During the course of our conversation, Mr. Shukla first suggested that I should have gone around the cab to its right — a narrow and perhaps impassable space between the double-parked and parked cars. He then stated inaccurately that a bicycle is not a vehicle in the eyes of the TLC, and suggested this as the reason the agency would not pursue my claim. If I wanted clarification of the policy, he said, I could contact TLC Commissioner David Yassky. Here is my exchange with Mr. Shukla. His declaration that a bicycle is not a vehicle appears about 20 lines down.
COUGHLIN: Isn’t there a rule against failing to yield to another vehicle that has the right of way?
SHUKLA: There is a rule but the case as I understand it you were behind the driver and you were going around him [sic] as he [sic] moved, correct?
COUGHLIN: No, I was to the left of the driver, I had to go into the other lane because she was in the right-hand lane . . .
SHUKLA: [interrupts] then it wouldn’t be a failure to yield
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