Peddling bike safety, and succeeding 2015/2016

| 29 Dec 2015 | 11:03

To date, 1,000 miles of bicycle lanes exist citywide. The number is significant if only because nearly half that network has been installed since 2006, according to the city’s Department of Transportation, which oversees the installation of the lanes.

Few topics set off debates as fierce and passionate as those about bicycles and bike lanes. Those who might count themselves as anti-bike and pro-pedestrian say that by and large designing a more bike-friendly city enables bicyclists to further flout traffic laws and in the process endanger themselves and others, particularly older folks who walk. Pro-bikers, whose number has increased exponentially in recent years, say that without the protection afforded by bike lanes, they are increasingly imperiled by motorists.

What’s indisputable, according to city statistics, is that while bicycle use increased by more than 400 percent between 2001 and 2013, the average risk of a serious injury to cyclists decreased 75 percent during that same period.

It’s then perhaps no accident that in its biennial survey Bicycling Magazine last year named New York as the most bike-friendly city in the United States.

“Over the last few years across the United States, numerous cities have made cycling improvements, but none has done as much as quickly as New York,” the magazine wrote in its appraisal.

Starting in 2007, the DOT, shepherded until 2013 by its bike-riding commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, has reshaped the city map in small increments via hundreds of so-called bike facilities — everything from shared routes to protected bike lanes.

The DOT’s rationale for installing bike lanes takes into account several factors when installing them, among those that 56 percent of car trips in the city travel less than 3 miles, which the agency notes are “distances readily served by bicycle.”

More bike lanes are on the way, including a likely south-to-north protected bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue traveling from 72nd Street to 110th Street. That lane would complement a similar, southbound lane on neighboring Columbus Avenue.

The project would involve a major redesign of a significant thoroughfare, including a winnowing from four car lanes to three. It’s already garnered its share of occasionally vociferous, detractors, some of whom make valid points, such as increased bottlenecks and consequent traffic spillovers on Central Park West.

But again, city data suggests that protected bike lanes have greatly reduced serious accidents and injuries, including to pedestrians. According to city statistics compiled over a three-year period following the installation of protected bike lanes on Columbus Avenue both downtown and uptown, three sections of lanes on Broadway in midtown, and on First and Second Avenues from Houston Street to 34th Street, total injuries decreased by 20 percent, including to pedestrians, which dropped by 22 percent, and to motorists, which fell by 25 percent. Paradoxically, injuries to cyclists dropped by just 2 percent, but that figure is in all likelihood deceptive, given that the number of bicyclists along those routes increased, probably significantly, just as they have throughout the city and as they’re apt to for years to come, in the most bike-friendly city in the country.