The Second Avenue Subway Transit Garden on the Upper East Side, configured earlier this year, includes a protected bike lane. Photo: New York Department of Transportation
BY GALE BREWER
This summer, two cyclists were fatally struck in Chelsea. The first was a 36-year-old man riding east on a Citi Bike along 26th Street. He was hit by a charter bus just past Eighth Avenue, the first fatality in the four years since Citi Bike started. The second victim was an 80-year-old man, struck while riding near the intersection of West 29th Street and Seventh Avenue.
If there had been protected bike lanes on those streets, these two men would probably still be alive.
Bike ridership is surging in our city. As the Department of Transportation’s latest study shows, the number of New Yorkers who cycle regularly has grown 150 percent in the last decade. This trend is good news for New Yorkers’ health and for congestion; every person on a bike is one less person traveling by car through our increasingly congested streets or on jam-packed trains in our subway system. But we have to plan for growth in cycling — and the safety needs that come with it.
Most of our borough’s crosstown streets are far narrower than our avenues, which makes it harder to accommodate separated bike lanes on some of these roadways without removing parking spaces. And street design changes always rankle some – the few New Yorkers who own cars want to preserve parking, and all of us worry about worsened congestion when driving lanes are narrowed. But if we do not include more crosstown bike lanes, tragic collisions like the ones we have seen this summer will likely continue.
This is a no-brainer and long overdue. I am urging the Department of Transportation to embark on a study of Manhattan’s crosstown streets to determine which could best accommodate protected, river-to-river bike lanes with the least amount of disturbance to traffic flows. The city should plan to start building new bike lanes by next summer.
Mayor Bill de Blasio should be commended for the work he has done to expand our city’s bike lanes so far. In 2016, the Department of Transportation added an unprecedented 75 miles of bike lanes across the city, and 18 of those routes were fully protected. Last year the mayor also committed to installing 10 miles of protected bike lanes in New York City each year moving forward, and he increased bike lane funding from $245,000 to $690,000 in this year’s budget.
It is nearly possible to the entire length of our borough in a protected bike lane — but there’s virtually no safe way to go crosstown.
There’s more to be done — and bike lanes aren’t the only preventive measure. We should be looking into carrots and sticks to push intercity buses onto broader streets and keep them off the narrower side-streets where these crashes occurred.
Intercity buses that veer off broad streets and designated bus routes have been a problem for years. One of the problems is these buses don’t have good places to go – capacity at the current Port Authority Bus Terminal is stretched to the limit, and many buses don’t even use the terminal as a pickup and drop-off point. As the Port Authority considers options for replacing or supplementing its midtown terminal, part of a long-term solution has to include getting more buses off of the streets.
Large trucks also pose a safety concern for pedestrian and bikers. Projects like the Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel long championed by U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler would help dramatically reduce the number of trucks on our streets. This is urgently needed — on Sept. 11, a woman on a Citi Bike was struck and injured by a truck on Seventh Avenue and 30th Street, just five blocks from the site of the first Citi Bike fatality earlier this summer.
We must continue to implement life-saving street treatments like the creation of protected bike lanes. These improvements not only lead to much safer cycling conditions, they also have been found to improve quality of life and boost small businesses that depend on pedestrians.
The Department of Transportation needs to conduct a crosstown streets study so we can determine which streets can best accommodate safety-minded changes. Even one preventable fatality is too many. We cannot afford to lose more New Yorkers to senseless traffic violence.
Gale Brewer is the Manhattan Borough President