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.
As an example of the disproportionate enforcement, NYPD wrote more tickets for cyclists than for trucks in 2018.
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 resulted in no rise in pedestrian-driver complaints.
Reduce the Over-Policing of Cyclists of Color
In NYC in 2018-19, Black and Latino cyclists were given 86 percent of the tickets for riding on the sidewalk, even though they made up just half of all cyclists.
Summons for sidewalk cycling are more likely to be issued along streets that lack bike infrastructure—which correlate with neighborhoods with people of color.
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.
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 the bill, bicycle injuries declined 14.5%. And no state that has enacted similar bills have experienced an increase in cyclist fatalities.
Enhance Access to Green Space. Grow State and Local Tourism.
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, yield significant improvements in public health and grow state and local tourism.
Maximize Return on Bike Infrastructure
Enlightened legislation will complement the billions of dollars New York has invested in bike infrastructure—Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, Hudson Greenway, Walkway Over the Hudson, Empire State Trail, NYC’s 1300 mile bike grid—by increasing throughput and growing 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 is the least expensive means to reduce CO2 emissions from transportation.
Share Benefits of Road Investments With Those Who Foot the Bill
A 2015 USPIRG report found that non-motorists pay half the cost of building and maintaining roads, yet cyclists and pedestrians inflict virtually no damage and take up a fraction of the road.
Sensible legislation and “complete street” improvements will fairly distribute the benefits to those who foot the bill. Opponents of such measures are effectively offering to double motorists’ gas taxes and tolls.
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.