New York

DOT: Bike Lanes Make Left Turns Much Less Deadly

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New York City streets need more protected bike lanes and more “left turn bays,” according to a new study from the Department of Transportation.

The study, part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan to eliminate traffic deaths by 2024 across the five boroughs, focused on left turns, and analyzed five years of citywide crash data from the most dangerous intersections. Lefts are more deadly, because they allow drivers to make wider, faster turns, and because the frame of a car can obscure pedestrians in crosswalks from a driver’s view.

Between 2010 and 2014, 108 out of 859 pedestrian and bicyclist deaths were caused by left-turning vehicles — twice as many as right turns.

The study analyzed data at 478 intersections before and after the DOT installed traffic-calming measures. In intersections that outright restricted left turns, the study found a 41 percent drop in injuries. Protected bicycle lanes also proved highly effective, and led to a 53 percent drop in pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities and serious injuries at those intersections between 2004 and 2013, according to the report.

Impatient driving habits, such as the failure to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, heighten the risk, especially for seniors, who are disproportionately the victims of left-turn crashes. Injuries as a result of left-turning vehicles were most common on streets over sixty feet wide, and when cars made a turn from a one-way street onto a major two-way street.

To cut down on injuries and deaths caused by drivers making left turns, the DOT report suggests the increased installation of protected bike lanes and “left-turn bays,” which remove left-turning traffic from the main lanes. The report also recommends more left-turn-only traffic lights and the elimination of left turns altogether at some intersections.

The DOT has plans to install about fifteen miles worth of protected bike lanes this year. At least 500 new “leading pedestrian intervals,” which give walkers a head start crossing the street before traffic is resumed, will be operational by the end of this year, up from 400 last year. The agency has also redesigned 50 dangerous intersections and installed 33 slow zones across the five boroughs.

There is also the Right-of-Way Law, signed by Mayor de Blasio nearly two years ago, which makes it easier for beat cops to charge drivers for hitting pedestrians who had the right of way.

Despite these efforts, critics say Mayor de Blasio is doing too little, too slowly. The city is on pace for more traffic deaths than last year, according to the New York Post. As of last August, the Right-of-Way Law was invoked in less than 4 percent of crashes where the driver violated the law, according to Transportation Alternatives.

Read the DOT report here.