by Bill Batson
There is a delicate equilibrium between the wheeled-vehicles that share our roads. A recent Facebook post by Nyack’s Ken Sharp describing the loss of a loved one reminded me of this dangerous dynamic.
On Sunday, August 27, Sharp wrote “my brother in law was killed by a car while on his daily cycling route. He was a cautious, experienced cyclist that never deviated from that route. The loss is devastating needless to say…..” The crash happened in Brewster, NY. The victim, David Eric Wellin was a highly-regarded Orthopedic Trauma Surgeon.
“All of the men in my dad’s family loved cycling,” said Wellin’s daughter, Kathryn Thier during a recent interview with Nyack Sketch Log. Her father and his brother raced at popular event in Detroit in the 60s. “My uncle Paul won the Belle Isle Bicycle Marathon twice. My dad was in the race as a young man. His friend had gotten hurt in the race. My dad stayed with him rather than finish the race.”
Thier reflected on how healing and wellness were central elements to her father’s life. “My dad inspired my grandfather to cycle after he suffered a heart attack.” Evincing the concern for others that he showed at the Belle Island race, Wellin became a renowned surgeon, helping hundreds of patients survive catastrophic vehicular and industrial accidents. In 2002, like his father, Wellin suffered a heart attack and returned to cycling as a road to recovery.
“My dad was cycling for his health. Most people who cycle are trying to take care of themselves, as well as enjoying the beauty of cycling. I want people to know that it may be hard, but when you are a driver and when you see a cyclist in front of you, the cyclist is an actual person who has a family and represents a life. In the case of my father, it was a person who was a huge contributor to the world and the metro region.”
“On a busy summer weekend, Nyack and Piermont can see as many as 5,000 cyclists passing visiting the west of Hudson River villages,” says Dave Zornow, a Nyack cycling advocate and chairman of the Village of Nyack’s Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) Committee. That’s a lot of two wheeled traffic considering that there are only 2600 residents in Piermont and 6800 in Nyack.
Heidi Broecking, a local cycling enthusiast, believes that simple topography is a major reason the village is a popular destination on this two-wheel migration route. Broecking says if you want a long ride and you live in New York City you ‘gotta go north.’ “Route 9W is the easiest access point from the George Washington Bridge. Plus, we have beautiful river scenery, great hill climbing and interesting rest stops like Nyack, Piermont and Haverstraw.”
“It’s just terrible,” Broecking said when she learned about Wellin’s loss. “I think about it every time I swing my leg over the top tube. It’s getting scarier out there.” When Broecking moved to Nyack 18 years ago, there were significantly fewer bikes on the road. Broecking reluctantly attributes the explosion in the number of cyclists to the sport’s disgraced former champion. “Before Lance Armstrong, you wouldn’t see 60 cyclists sitting outside the Runcible Spoon on North Broadway.”
With the opening of the Shared Use Path on the new Tappan Zee Bridge in late 2018, it’s likely we will be seeing many more two wheeled visitors to the village. But Zornow says the next wave of bike riders won’t look like the serious cyclists who travel to Nyack and Piermont today from North Jersey and New York City. “The new bridge will have six viewing areas where people can walk or bike across the north span and take in some amazing views,” Zornow says.
If you want to get a glimpse of what the future will bring, Zornow says just look north to the Walkway Over The Hudson in Poughkeepsie, a tourist venue which attracts 500,000 visitors a year. “The Shared Use Path on the new bridge , like the Walkway Over The Hudson, will be a great attraction for casual bicycle riders: families with tween and teen kids, couples on dates, and any one who can bike, or walk the half mile to the first ‘belvedere’ viewing stop on the bridge.” To traverse the complete SUP in one direction, it’s just over three miles. Skeptics say that’s too much for a tourists, but based on the throngs of joggers, hikers and casual cyclists that already visit the Nyacks, it’s likely we will see a surge in cycling tourism when the new walk/bike lane across the Hudson opens.
If Nyack and Tarrytown’s new tourist attraction gets 1/10 of the foot traffic that the Walkway Over The Hudson receives, the business districts for those river villages will see 50,000 incremental shoppers, diners and sight seers each year.
What’s being done to make things safer for our future visitors? Plenty.
David Eric Wellin
1948 – 2017
Renowned Orthopedic Surgeon David Wellin died on Friday, August 25 from injuries sustained in a collision with a car on route in Brewster. His sister-in law Marion Blechman made this moving appeal that we learn to share the road on Facebook.
“I too am a cyclist, as well as a motorist. As a cyclist it is my responsibility to ride single file on all main roads, obey all traffic signals, and clearly indicate my intention to to turn. I humbly ask that we motorist give the cyclist as much room as possible when passing, If you can’t safely pass then wait until you can. It’s not worth a life. Please do not honk at a cyclist to let them know you are coming up behind them. Believe me we hear you. You may not realize that cyclists need to avoid many obstacles along the side of the road like storm drains, debris, and certain dips. It’s not always convenient but if we all to our part; cyclists and drivers alike we can all share the road.”
For those interested in advancing bike safety and/or making a donation in Wellin’s memory his brother Paul speaks highly of League of American Bicyclists. LAB is a non-profit that’s been in operation for over 100 years. They do advocacy including safety issues at a national level and certify cities and schools as bike friendly. They are mostly focused in Washington DC and try to advocate on a national level but also work plenty at the state and local level. Click here to visit the League of American Bicyclists.
- The Villages of Nyack, South Nyack and Upper Nyack along with the Nyack School District have received a $120,000 grant from the New NY Bridge Community Benefits Fund to create a Greater Nyack Bike/Walk Master Plan for the Nyack river villages. The goals of the plan are to create better and safer connections between destinations in the villages for residents, students, seniors and visitors to get around without a car.
- The Orangetown Bike Study kicks off with a public workshop this Thurs Sept 7 at 7p in Orangetown Village Hall. Parks & Trails NY is working with the Town of Orangetown to document popular cycling routes and count cyclists throughout the town this month. The public is invited to attend the kick off session and to volunteer to help with the counting process.
- The Village of Nyack’s TAP committee is planning a bike lane / path along South Franklin Street to safely connect SUP walkers and cyclists to the village’s downtown via the Esposito Rail Trail. The path will start at Cedar Hill Ave by the new Pavion Apartments development, pass the Nyack Community Garden and then make a right turn on Artopee ending up near Veterans Park on Main Street.
What You Can Do To Cycling Safer
- Share The Road…seriously: If you are riding a bicycle in Piermont, Grandview or South Nyack, there’s steep fine for riding side by side. If you are riding two abreast in the Village of Nyack, it’s not illegal, but it is rude. Your need to talk with a friend doesn’t supercede cycling safely…and sharing the road with three ton vehicles who aren’t always so friendly. If you see a car behind you, single up.
- Safe Passing Law: NYS has a safe passing law, which is interpreted by most states as to mean a driver needs to give at least three feet of space when passing a cyclist. If there isn’t three feet of space and there is oncoming traffic, please tap your brakes and wait for a safe time to pass.
- Cyclists Can “Take The Lane” When there is limited space: Don’t get angry if you see a cyclist bike right down the middle of a street with parked cars. New York State law permits cyclists to “take the lane” when there isn’t enough space on the road for both a bike and a motorized vehicle to ride side by side. As soon as space permits, the cyclist must move to the right and permit the faster traffic to pass.
- “Doing the Dutch Reach:” One of the reasons the safe bicyclists might take the lane is “Fear of Dooring.” A frequent cause of cycling collisions on streets with parked cars are driver side doors which are thrown open without checking to see if there is anyone already in the adjacent lane. You can help by opening your driver’s side car door with a “Dutch Reach:” using your right hand instead of your left hand. That elegant maneuver will force you to look behind your car to see if there is anyone approaching in the lane.
- Wear a helmet while riding a bike: Rockland County requires everyone to wear a helmet. (Yes, we are special, and the only county in NYS that requires all ages to wear a helmet). But it’s a good practice and it might just save you or someone you love from a serious head injury.
- The Double Yellow Line Is There For a Reason: Cars would never cross a yellow line if there was oncoming motorized traffic, but drivers frequently don’t recognize the danger of driving head on into a lane with pedestrians or cyclists traveling in the other direction. Considering the driving advice of songwriter Paul Simon, “slow down, you move to fast.” Tap your brakes, give cyclists, joggers and walkers in the oncoming lane a break.
When David Wellin was struck by a car on Route 6 in Brewster, NY, two doctors from a nearby medical center came rushing to his aid. ” That is something he would have done, said Thier. “My brothers spoke to both of the doctors on the phone. They thought that they lost one of there own. My family is eternally grateful,” said Thier.
Short of rushing to a person’s aid, we are summoned by these preventable accidents to act with urgency. There is only so much room on the road and our failure to accommodate each other can visit devastation on a family and a community. We can all survive the road by sharing. In this avenue of vehicular life, selfishness can be deadly.
Follow the “Street Beat:” Nyack News And Views weekly series, Street Beat, writes about our roads, streets and sidewalks each Thursday, including cycling in and near Nyack as well as future TAP improvements to the South Broadway business district.
The great American painter Edward Hopper’s wooden-wheeled bike is on display at his childhood home, now The Edward Hopper House Art Center at 82 N. Broadway.