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Cycling in NY Is Getting More Dangerous Despite Better Bike-Friendly Policy

By Adam Marsal

Focusing on the most bike-friendly cities like Copenhagen, Amsterdam or Berlin, we only rarely get the insight into the streets of much bigger cities across the ocean. How dangerous is it to get on the bike in New York City these days?

An unsettling fact: the number of people who have been killed while riding bikes in NY is growing, making it 19 deaths just in the first half of this year. According to statistics of the US Department of Transportation (USDOT), bike deaths are rising all around the United States. For example, there were 840 fatalities recorded in 2016 which was the record number of the last 25 years. Despite heavy investments into cycling infrastructure, NY is following the same trend.

NY cycling infrastructure is still incomplete. © Profimedia, Alamy

City Mayor Billy de Blasio announced that NY would adopt Vision Zero, a program to eliminate all traffic fatalities by 2024. Since this bold statement, the number of pedestrians and car deaths have decreased, however, no difference has been made about the record of killed cyclists.

Despite building more than 450 km of new cycle paths, NY cycling infrastructure is still fragmented and incomplete. Apart from traditional challenges, cyclists in NY are facing new threats like the growing number of lorries to match demands of the e-commerce industry or new services such as Uber and Lyft. When speaking about problems, current authorities are referring to the flaws made in the past with the explanation that they will need more time to improve the conditions, which will slow down the delivering of present solutions, frequently grappling with the distaste of conservative population.

A tribute to the deceased bicyclists. © Profimedia, Polaris

According to the records of the US Department of Transportation, the number of daily bike rides has doubled in the years 2012 and 2017, reaching nearly half a million rides made every day. The reason why people prefer cycling to other means of transport more and more vary from a desire to do something healthy to concerns about the negative impact of car traffic on the environment.

The city has been encouraging people to switch to cycling by building approximately 100 km of dedicated paths every year but the network is still imperfect with cycle paths covering fewer than one in five streets. While riding a designated cycle path, you can end up at a point where the lane ends without any visible follow-up, bringing you into difficult situations. The city revealed plans to reduce parking places and change them to bike lanes but, according to bike advocates, most of the drivers are reluctant to sacrifice their conveniences for urban projects even though they might save lives.

The number of people killed in bike accidents is growing. © Profimedia, Sipa Press

The city passed several restrictions to protect cyclists such as lowering the speed limit to 25 mph in most areas and declared opening the car door into a cycle path illegal, however, bike advocates described it insufficient, calling for the instalment of more speed cameras and automatic ticketing systems for vehicles left on bike lanes.

Mayor de Blasio promised 58.4 million dollars to improve the NY cycling infrastructure and enforce the laws that are benefiting cyclists. While the politicians are increasingly talking about cycling safety and delivering more money into dedicated lanes, the drivers, on the contrary, are getting more and more nervous to see cyclists riding the streets even if there’s no bike lane in sight, so they have to share the road with the rest of the vehicles. The latest tension has even got a name – people call it a “bikelash”. Are we going to witness tensions swallow up the prospects of a better tomorrow?