Bike deaths prompt new safety plan

As the number of cyclist fatalities this year continues to climb, the city expands efforts to protect riders

| 02 Aug 2019 | 11:28

Mayor Bill de Blasio has released a new five-year, $58.4 million plan to build more protected bike lanes, step up enforcement and redesign dangerous intersections after the number of cyclist fatalities so far on the year ticked up to 17. Since the announcement, another cyclist was killed in Brooklyn, bringing the total to 18, compared to 10 for all of 2018.

An expansion of Vision Zero, the mayor’s “Green Wave Bicycle Plan” vows to build 30 miles of protected bike lanes annually. The Department of Transportation will introduce several new safety features at fifty of the city’s most dangerous intersections. Additionally, the New York Police Department will ramp up enforcement at the 100 most crash-prone sites and target drivers who fail to yield to bikers and block bike lanes.

“No loss of life on our streets is acceptable,” de Blasio said in a statement. “With a dangerous surge in cyclist fatalities, we have to keep pushing the envelope and increasing our efforts. That’s what this plan is about. It’s a continuation of our promise. This time, specifically to bikers.”

“A Long and Aggressive To-Do List”

On the Upper West Side, the DOT will begin the first phase of safety improvements this month along Central Park West from Columbus Circle to 77th Street by installing a protected bike lane, removing street parking from 62nd Street to 77th Street and updating the signals at 65th Street.

“We have assembled a long and aggressive to-do list that we think can change this year’s tragic increase in cyclist fatalities — and encourage even more New Yorkers to get on bicycles,” said DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg.

Trottenberg’s department will be tasked with implementing much of the new policy, including installing 2,000 bike parking spaces annually. The DOT also will study automated enforcement technologies that keep bike lanes clear and enforce overweight truck restrictions, and then determine whether it could garner support from the State Legislature to use the technology.

After a record low of 10 cyclist deaths in 2018, the 18 fatalities this year represent the highest number for the city through July of any year since the launch of Vision Zero in 2014, according to the mayor’s office.

A Reckoning for Drivers in the City

Transportation Alternatives Co-Deputy Director Marco Conner said the number of deaths in the city is “a crisis symptomatic of chronically dangerous streets,” but that these deaths are preventable.

“It is incumbent upon the Mayor to invest in making our city safe for all modes of transport, particularly biking, and this starts with a connected network of protected bike lanes throughout NYC,” Conner said. “We’re hopeful that this plan will get Vision Zero back on track and help alleviate the anxiety that comes with riding a bike lately in the five boroughs. And where more needs to be done to make New York City streets safe, we will continue to push at all levels of government.”

Another street safety advocate, Erin McClure, the executive director of StreetsPAC, called the mayor’s plan “robust” and said that it will improve street safety and encourage more cycling. McClure said, however, that there needs to be a reckoning for drivers in the city.

“We also need people who drive in New York City to change their behavior behind the wheel, to slow down, obey right of way, and share the streets,” McClure said. “We need a change in car culture as well as these important changes in street design.”

In May, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson introduced his own legislation that would require the city to build 50 miles of protected bike lanes each year — 20 additional miles more a year than de Blasio’s “Green Wave” goal.