I love cycling and I've had the good fortune to live in Denmark and the Netherlands, where bicycles are as ingrained in the culture as the NFL is in America. But I've proceeded with caution when cycling in NewYork City, because, despite progressive measures created by the Bloomberg administration to promote cycling and improve bicycle lanes, cycling here is still dangerous: New York roads are not built for cyclists and New York drivers don't know how to coexist with cyclists.
StreetsBlog's "Record of Carnage" speaks for itself:
Over 7,000 vulnerable street users were injured in New York City traffic in the first six months of 2012, and 79 were killed, according to NYPD data reports...
Across the city from January through June, 67 pedestrians and 12 cyclists were fatally struck by motorists: 18 pedestrians and two cyclists in Manhattan; nine pedestrians and one cyclist in the Bronx; 22 pedestrians and five cyclists in Brooklyn; 15 pedestrians and three cyclists in Queens; and three pedestrians and one cyclist in Staten Island.
Now, imagine introducing 10,000 new bicycles in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens to the mix that will be used daily, but not by people who have had proper training riding through our rough-and-tumble streets. Nope, these bicycles will be ridden by novices, likely even tourists, who very well may be clueless about the flow of New York City traffic. This is the reality that will launch any day now with the introduction of the Citi Bikes bicycle share program to New York. (You're not in Kansas anymore... and bike sharers are less likely to wear helmets!)
I shared bicycles for a month in Montreal, a city with far less traffic and far more ubiquitous bicycle lanes than New York. The idea is amazing, and it worked well. (For the record, this was in summer.)
But I've also lived in London, a city with a cycle sharing program, Barclay's Bikes (nicknamed Boris Bikes for London's Mayor Boris Johnson), have proved highly controversial. Many London cyclists have been killed, primarily by truck drivers, who fail to see them in the blind spots of their mirrors when making left turns. (Boris Johnson himself had a brush with death while cycling in London!) While New York doesn't have fenced-in sidewalks (that have, sadly, sandwiched many cyclists between their metal and the aforementioned trucks), right turns in New York will be equally treacherous.
The London-based blog Cycling Intelligence, which keeps track of cycling fatalities in London, a city of roughly equal population size to New York, experiences approximately 17 cycling deaths per year. New York is on track to achieve 24 deaths this year, but I surmise that this death toll will rise significantly with the introduction of the Citi Bikes, as I anticipate that many of their riders, in addition to being unfamiliar with New York cycling, will also not use helmets.
(Logistically, New York will face significant problems when there is a shortage of bicycles in Midtown and the Financial District during the evening rush hour.)
The NYPD has a pathetically lax standard for investigating motor vehicle accidents, and as Streetsblog revealed, "Of 55 pedestrian and cyclist fatalities reported by Streetsblog and other outlets, 13 were hit-and-run crashes in which the driver was not immediately caught or identified. Of the remaining 42 crashes, five motorists were known to have been charged for causing a death. In four of those cases, the driver was also charged with driving while intoxicated. In the fifth case, the driver was accused of running over the victim intentionally. Historically, nearly half of motorists who kill a New York City pedestrian or cyclist do not receive so much as a citation for careless driving."
Yet, despite all of these problems with drivers, New York City has taken the illogical step of ramping up traffic court for cyclists. This is not saying that cyclists are always correct, because they're not killing anyone, that's for sure.
Citi Bikes and New York City will mix like oil and water. Inexperienced cyclists and drivers who don't deal well with cyclists and rush hour traffic and poor efforts by the NYPD to protect cyclists will result in needless deaths in New York City. And unfortunately, it will take at least one needless death to prove this point, but by that time, there will be no turning back.
This article first appeared on PolicyMic.com.