On Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city’s bike lane network is expanding at a thrilling rate. “Among our Vision Zero plans announced earlier this year was an unprecedented fifteen-mile expansion of the protected bike network, because we know that protected bike lanes not only get more people cycling, they calm traffic and save lives,” he said. “No cyclist death is acceptable and that’s why we’ll continue raising the bar to keep riders protected.”
On the contrary, it seems that cyclist death is actually quite acceptable; as of this writing seventeen cyclists have been killed by motorists so far in 2016, more than all of 2015. Just this morning, a twelve-year-old boy riding his bike in Kensington was seriously injured after being struck by a driver. On Thursday, the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives will host a mass bike ride with the goal of pressuring de Blasio to fast-track the city’s planned protected bike lanes and pedestrian crossings at its most problematic streets and intersections. Paul Steely White, the group’s Executive Director, told the Voice that while more bike lanes are certainly welcome, de Blasio’s self-praise is somewhat misplaced.
“The fundamental disconnect is between the mayor’s own goal, and his follow-through and commitment to that goal,” he said, adding that eliminating traffic deaths by 2024 and doubling the number of cyclists in New York City by 2020 were key planks of de Blasio’s election-year platform. “He’s switching the goalposts.”
One key issue ignored by the administration is the distinction between protected and unprotected bike lanes, since the latter are often rendered ineffectual by drivers who see them as just another place to park their vehicles. In May, the NYPD launched a crackdown on such behavior, dedicating 1,500 officers to ticketing cars that were double-parked or otherwise obstructing the lanes. It was nice while it lasted, but a ride around the city reveals little evidence to suggest that the effort has been maintained — just this morning I was forced out of the bike lane and into a traffic-clogged lower Manhattan street thanks to a series of trucks idling over the painted lane.
White agrees, saying that from an effectiveness standpoint, there’s a big difference between some paint on the ground and the installation of a physical barrier, even if it’s just bollards or low curbs. “[The DOT] should be designing streets on the assumption that the NYPD isn’t doing its job,” he said, referring to the agency’s habit of ignoring offenders, and often participating themselves.
Another key TransAlt platform is to force more accountability on drivers, and require targeted enforcement by an NYPD that seems more than happy to blame crashes on the victims themselves.
“We continue to see NYPD officials quoted in reports blaming victims for their own deaths,” he said. “We don’t know where these wild accusations are coming from, and we don’t know why the department continues to have it out for bicyclists.”
According to the city’s release, New York City’s bike lane expansion exceeded earlier projections, with 18 miles of protected bike lanes to be complete by the end of 2016, with “at least 75 bike-lane-miles projected overall.” Still, White said the administration’s strategic plan has only committed to ten miles of protected bike lane per year from here on out, which will not result in the coverage necessary to prevent more cyclists from getting killed.
TransAlt’s mass ride will be held Thursday on E. 59th Street and Fifth Avenue. Riders should arrive at 6 p.m.; the ride begins at 6:30 p.m.