Because the cogs of the bureaucratic wheel are creaky and filled with cobwebs, here’s an itty-bitty piece of legislation that will no doubt cause an uproar among vituperative drivers who pine for the days when they could just catch a cyclist in the grill of their Olds, shrug, and turn up the radio. Introduced by Councilman Carlos Menchaca, the bill would allow cyclists to ride through lights at the pedestrian walk sign. That’s it!
Many intersections around the city are equipped with “leading pedestrian intervals,” or LPIs, which allow walkers the chance to step into the intersection before giving drivers the green light. As it stands, cyclists are required to wait for the overhead traffic light to change, right along with drivers who often don’t see them or, if they do, would still rather run them right off the road.
Caroline Samponaro, deputy director of Transportation Alternatives, told the Voice that the new legislation merely seeks to codify something that many cyclists are, frankly, already doing.
“Biking is a lot more like walking than it is like driving,” she said, adding that the majority of crashes that kill and injure pedestrians happen at intersections — and the same is true for cyclists. According to a 2010 study circulated by the National Association of City Transportation Officials, LPIs reduce vehicle-pedestrian crashes by as much as 60 percent. In Pennsylvania, where the study was conducted, research shows the annualized cost of LPIs to be at $115 per intersection per year. (By comparison, the rough comprehensive cost of a pedestrian-vehicle crash was found to be $164,029 per year.)
LPIs, therefore, are cheap and effective at saving pedestrians. The purpose of Menchaca’s bill is to extend that same safety benefit to cyclists.
“Right now you have bottlenecks at intersections because you have so many cyclists lined up waiting for the light,” Menchaca told the Post. “This lets the cars see that there are bicycles there so they can cross the intersection safely.”
It’s tough to imagine any objection to such a minor adjustment to the law, though the tabloid did manage to rustle up one perfunctory detractor, who read his lines perfectly:
“The bikes are more of a danger than the cars, and they already aren’t obeying the rules,” said Seth Kaufman, who lives on 79th Street near Amsterdam Avenue. “They are already clogging up the roads, and this will make it worse.”
Thank you, Seth, you may return to your coffin.
As Doug Gordon wrote over at Brooklyn Spoke, a key fact to remember is that bikes aren’t cars. “A 30-pound bicycle is no match for a multi-ton car or truck. People on bikes are hugely exposed at intersections, and under Vision Zero the city should be doing as much as possible to reduce the danger that comes from mixing flesh-and-bone cyclists with steel and glass vehicles,” he said, also pointing out that bikes are frequently allowed to engage in un-car-like behavior, as in the case of two-way bike lanes.
Last year, Councilman Antonio Reynoso really rocked the boat by introducing legislation promoting the Idaho Stop, a commonsense measure that would allow cyclists to treat red lights as stop signs and stop signs as yield signs. It’s still languishing in City Hall, where it will probably dry up and turn to dust, if the deafening shrieks of protest following its introduction are any indication.
“I think Council Member Reynoso really started the conversation in probably one of the more grand ways anyone could do it,” Menchaca told Streetsblog in February. “What I’m doing is taking a piece out of that vision and bringing it into here and now at a low cost, and allowing for us to build that narrative.”
The City Council transportation committee will hear testimony for the bill on November 15.