John Liu: City Hall Skipped Safety Measures With Bike Safety Program


Shortly before the City’s bike share program hits the streets, Comptroller John Liu has slammed City Hall for “pedaling past safety,” saying today that Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s administration and the Department of Transportation have not taken proper measures to protect cyclists.

At a press conference today, the mayoral hopeful presented the DOT with a list of safety recommendations — such as making helmets mandatory — to implement before the program’s official July start.

But some transportation advocates have taken issue with Liu’s statements. They claim that the comptroller — who has supported the program but did not voice these concerns during its development — is incorrectly shifting the safety burden to riders.

In statements furnished to the Voice, Liu said the city “rush[ed]” to place ten thousand bicycles on the street, “a move that risks significantly exacerbating the number of injuries and fatalities of both bikers and pedestrians, especially those most vulnerable like young children and seniors.”

Liu called for making helmets mandatory for bike share users, citing DOT statistics that in 97 percent of fatal accidents, the rider was not wearing a helmet. He also wants intersections to be designated more clearly and for more protections for senior citizens.

Also key for Liu is increased cyclist education — from making bike safety part of drivers’ education to giving riders incentive to take citywide safety courses.

The comptroller wants to increase the number of accident investigators, too, and increase the city’s bike share-oriented liability coverage.

Currently, the insurance covering the initiative maxes out at $10,000,000 annually, which his office fears might not be sufficient.

Asked why Liu didn’t bring these concerns up before the program got the greenlight — rather than a month before its start — his spokesman told the Voice: “The contract has been registered with the comptroller’s office. We’re not saying we’re anti-bike share. We’re simply saying that before this program hits the streets, there’s a real opportunity to bolster the city’s safety initiatives. More safety will lead to less claims against the city.”

Caroline Samponaro, director of bicycle advocacy at Transportation Alternatives, countered that Liu’s program does not adequately address vehicles’ role in accidents and injuries.

She cited a statistic that between October and December 2011, 26 pedestrians got hurt in crashes with bicyclists. In those incidents, six bicyclists were injured. During this same period of time, 4,336 bicyclists and pedestrians were injured by drivers. Counting the 356 injuries caused by car crashes, one pedestrian or bicyclist got hurt in a bicycle-pedestrian crash.

“Or, put another way: Drivers are 365 times more dangerous than bike riders.”

“It’s dangerous driving, not a growth in bicycle transportation, that is the public health crisis on our streets,” she said in a statement to the Voice. “If the comptroller wants to take safe cycling seriously, he should focus on the three proven ways to make cycling safe and reduce crashes: enforcement that targets dangerous driving; quality street designs that keep cyclists safe; and an increase in bicycling, or safety in numbers.”

She especially took issue with the helmet requirement.

“A plan that forces New Yorkers to wear helmets won’t prevent the crashes that put them at risk in the first place,” she said. “To protect people from gun violence, we don’t force them to wear bulletproof vests — we correctly focus on stopping gun violence in the first place. ”

The Voice has reached out to City Hall and the DOT to see whether they’re weighing the recs. We’ll update if we hear back.