Victor J. Blue, “What’s Really Killing New York’s Cyclists,” Bicycling.com
• A person operating a bicycle approaching a stop sign shall slow down and, if required for safety, stop before entering the intersection. After slowing to a reasonable speed or stopping, the person shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle and pedestrians if required, before proceeding.
• A person operating a bicycle approaching a steady red traffic-control signal shall stop before entering the intersection and shall yield to all other traffic. Once the person has stopped, the person may proceed through the steady red traffic-control signal with caution.
Twenty nine NYC cyclists were killed in traffic crashes in 2019—eleven more than 2018 and the most since 1999. This is despite NYC adding hundreds of miles of protected bike lanes and reducing the speed limit to 25 mph.
These measures aren’t enough to ensure cyclists’ safety. Laws governing cyclist behavior need to be updated to reflect how cyclists actually use the road and what they do to avoid being killed.
If we expect people to obey the law, we should not have laws they are unable or unwilling to follow and which puts them in harm’s way.
Protect Cyclists from Trucks
Of the 29 NYC cyclist deaths in 2019, 25 were killed in collisions with large trucks, buses, SUVs or vans—many “hooked” by these vehicles turning at intersections.
Allowing cyclists the opportunity to exit the intersection in the absence of cross-traffic gets them out of blind spots and allows them to establish visibility on the road ahead.
In 2007, Transport for London found that women cyclists were killed by trucks three times as often as men. The researchers posited that because women were more likely to obey traffic signals, they were also more likely to be caught in a truck driver’s blind spot.
The NYPD wrote 35,000 moving violations to cyclists in 2019—which is more than for trucks which figured in 43 of the 220 road deaths that year and which represent 10% of all city traffic.
By tightening the scope of existing law, we enable law enforcement to focus on egregious behavior such as failing to: “respect pedestrian right-of-way in a crosswalk” and “to maintain speed appropriate to the circumstance.”
Enhance Pedestrian Safety
In 2018, NHTSA didn’t record any pedestrians killed by bikes. Therefore, increasing bicycle mode share should directly correspond to decrease in pedestrian fatalities.
This has been proven true in NYC. While there the sharp rise in cycling over the past decade, only a handful of pedestrian fatalities have attributed to cyclists.
Since 2018, NYC cyclists have been allowed to proceed at red traffic signals during the leading pedestrian interval—effectively behavior envisioned by S920/A3104. That change has triggered no rise in complaints by motorists or pedestrians.
Reduce Cyclist Exposure to Car Exhaust
In 2020, the American Lung Association graded Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, Staten Island, Suffolk and Westchester an “F” for air quality.
A 2010 Belgian study found that cyclist exposure to particulants is 4.3 times greater than occupants of cars. The study concluded that enabling cyclists to increase the distance from cars’ exhaust pipe reduces that exposure.
A Harvard and University of North Carolina study linked 2024 premature deaths across New York in 2016 to high levels of particulate matter and ozone. Increasing bicycle mode share will improve air quality and reduce premature deaths.
Can We Make New York as Safe as Idaho?
Idaho, which passed similar legislation in 1982, has the third fewest fatalities per 10,000 bicycle commuters in the U.S. based on data from 2011-2015. This is despite Idaho ranking 47th on federal funds spent on bike—walk improvements.
The first year after Idaho passed its bill, bike injuries declined 14.5%. In Delaware crashes involving bicycles at stop sign–controlled intersections fell 23% in the 30 months after the Bicycle Friendly Act was passed in 2017.
No state that has enacted similar bills saw an increase in crashes involving cyclists.
Share the Benefits of Road Construction With Those who Foot the Bill
Non-motorists pay half the cost of road construction and maintenance, they deserve a decent infrastructure and enlightened legislation so they may safely share the benefits.
2nd Avenue, NYC. Image Google Maps.
Maximize Return on Bike Infrastructure
New York has invested billions of dollars bike infrastructure—Mario M. Cuomo Bridge ($400 million), Hudson Greenway ($1 billion), Walkway Over the Hudson ($40 million), Empire State Trail ($200 million). Making cycling safer and easier will increase throughput and grow the constituency for further improvements.
Because cyclists take up so little space and consume so few resources, growing bicycle mode share reduces the need to invest in more expensive transit modes and more expensive strategies to reduce CO2 emissions from transportation.
Enable Bikeways on Secondary Roads to Access Green Space and Grow Tourism
Cycle tourism added $97 billion to the U.S. economy in 2017. Per capita, that’s half a billion dollars per year in New York State.
Allowing cyclists to yield-and-go at signed intersections will facilitate use of secondary roads. This will facilitate a network of urban bikeways that will extend resident access to green space, and yield significant improvements in public health.
New York City houses 800,000 cyclists, but has few recreational facilities not crowded with runners and walkers. This constituency is a captive market for state-local tourism, including neighborhood food shops who’d see a surge in customers.
“We need to do more in New York State to make cyclists feel safe if we want bicycle tourism to work here. New York has an image problem when it comes to cyclists and their safety. Passing S920/A3104 will help to change that.” – Lukas Herbert, Owner, Gotham Bicycle Tours
Also see the resource page, which includes links to legislation text, videos of how comparable legislation works in other states and organizations in support.
Neile Weissman heads up Complete George—250 organizations, communities and public officials calling for expanded bikeways across the George Washington Bridge. He has led over thousand group rides for New York Cycle Club and is its current Public Relations Director.