How NYC is Stifling the Critics

by / January 20, 2014

According to a new study, bicyclists are more law-abiding since the City revitalized its infrastructure with bikeways, bike sharing, and a commitment to Vision Zero. It seems that when bicyclists are respected by the City, they respect the City’s laws in kind.

In New York and elsewhere, significant opposition to pro-bike initiatives has been justified with the perception that bike riders act like they are superior to other road users by showing a contempt for the rules of the road and posing a danger to pedestrians, motorists, and themselves. Critics thought that the bike-share program would make it worse and increase injuries along with the millions of new trips on public roads. Contrary to those concerns, this study, released in January by Hunter College, shows that the behavior of people riding bikes has become more legal and that bicycling-related injuries are decreasing. While safety for bicyclists is much more dependent on infrastructure and the behavior of drivers than the behavior of bicyclists, this study should stifle the argument that scofflaws don’t deserve safe infrastructure.

Compared to four years ago, more riders are using “bikeways” and stopping or pausing at red lights. Fewer riders are pedaling against traffic, which is probably because the City has been installing counter-flow lanes on one-way streets, providing bikeways in the directions that people are actually riding. Most importantly, more people (including more women), are riding their bikes. With more people on the roads, there is safety in numbers; as former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg explained: “The bottom line is that since we’ve had more bicycle lanes and more bicycles — there’s always accidents, and I’m not making light of it — but total accidents and deaths continues to go down.”

The study, Bike Lanes + Bike Share = Bike Safety, includes observational data about 4,316 bicyclists at 98 intersections. Students recorded behavior and demographic information. The authors of the study, Dr. William Milczarski and Dr. Peter Tuckel, compared this data with a similar study they conducted in 2009.

“Everybody had predicted with the Citi Bike [bike-share program] riders that there would be a spike in the number of accidents,” says Tuckel. “I think it was the same people that predicted that the Broncos were going to win the Super Bowl. It didn’t materialize.” Indeed, the study found that Citi Bike riders were especially law-abiding, and injuries have been minor and rare.

Tuckel continues, “I think what is happening now in New York City is that drivers realize that even though they have had a dominant position on the road, the roads now have to be shared. Drivers are becoming more aware of cyclists, and cyclists are becoming more aware of drivers. It’s going to result in safer habits for drivers and cyclists.”

This is a perfect example of how better infrastructure shouldn’t be stalled because of perceived problems in how people are using the road — better infrastructure solves those problems. Right now, building modern bicycle infrastructure like the protected bikeways that have been pioneered in New York is too difficult or banned in California. Join CalBike as a member today and help us pass AB 1193 to build better bikeways for everyone.

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