NEW YORK—An influx of 10,000 bikes has the potential to overload the city’s streets some say, making planning key for a smooth roll out of the new bikeshare system in July.
Several pieces of legislation announced recently—one eyeing rogue delivery bikers, the other proposing mandatory helmets for all riders in the city—has cast a spotlight on bicycle safety. Worries about overflowing transit hubs if bikeshare stations are situated too close by, and concerns about pedestrians and general traffic flow with the extra bikes, are further issues for consideration.
In 2011, 136 bikeshare systems operated in 165 cities across the globe, according to a report from the University of California–Berkeley. Paris, which boasts the largest bikeshare system in the world, jumped from 10,000 bicycles in 2007 to 20,600 in less than a year.
The Paris system now has 1,800 stations.
New York City could see a similar increase if the next two phases become a reality. A 2009 city report showed a map of Phase 2, which would bring a total of 30,000 bicycles. Phase 3 of the report suggested a total of 49,000 bicycles.
Meanwhile, New York’s Citi Bike system will roll out late July when, in a matter of a few days, hundreds of stations will be crane-dropped into locations throughout Manhattan, and parts of Brooklyn and Queens.
A common concern, put forth in separate community board meetings, is the potential danger the extra 10,000 bicycles, and bicyclists, may present.
Dr. David Gootnick, a management consultant, voiced his concerns to Community Board 6 last week.
“By adding 10,000 new city rental bikes, it is almost certain that bike-strike injuries of innocent pedestrians on our streets, sidewalks, and parks will skyrocket,” Gootnick said, according to a transcript. Gootnick has been hit by a bicycle.
But, more cyclists don’t necessarily equal more accidents, according to a Rutger’s University Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy study.
In Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands, levels of cycling have increased in all three countries over the past 35 years, while the total number of cycling fatalities has declined by over 70 percent, the 2007 report said.
The main reason: safer cycling encourages more cycling and more people cycling means more safety, the report stated. Yet one deterrent to more cyclists is the perceived danger of both riding bikes and of more cyclists.
“Thus, making cycling safer is surely one of the keys to increasing overall cycling levels in the USA, particularly among women, the elderly, and children,” the report said, adding that the authors found wearing helmets had no correlation with increased safety.
Adam D. White Esq., an attorney who represents bicyclists involved in accidents, said accidents are inevitable but the streets may ultimately be safer.
“With 9 million people there’s going to be accidents,” said White. “But the more cyclists out there, the more safe it’s going to be; even though I’m sure there’s going to be a handful of bad accidents that are going to make sensational headlines.”
White advocated education and common sense for pedestrians, bicyclists, and automobile drivers alike.
With the “substantial tension” between pedestrians and bikers, bikers can do some things differently while riding, he said. “Just because you can get through an intersection weaving in and out of pedestrians doesn’t mean you should.” All three groups should slow down, he said.
The shifting relationship between bikers and drivers should result in drivers becoming more aware of cyclists—such as when opening car doors—while cyclists can potentially go a slightly different route, giving more safety.
“My recommendation for bicyclists would be, to the extent that you can, is to avoid two-way streets and just take one way streets,” White said. “That’s a huge risk that you remove from the equation.”
City data from 1996 through 2005 showed that 92 percent of bicyclist deaths (a total of 207 deaths) were traffic-related, or happened as a result of a “crash with a moving motor vehicle.” Only one fatal crash happened in a marked bicycle lane. Of the cyclists who died, 97 percent were not wearing helmets.
In the three months from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31 last year, three cyclists died out of a total of 754 crashes between bikes and vehicles in New York City. Twenty-six pedestrians were injured in crashes with bicycles during the same three-month period.
Twelve-hour street counts of cyclists, carried out by the Department of Transportation (DOT) show that biking has become more popular in the city over the past decade. The data came from counts of bicycle traffic over the four East River bridges, the Staten Island Ferry, and on the Hudson River Greenway. In 2000, the department counted 12,800 bikers during a 12-hour period. In 2011, 34,600 cyclists were counted in the same locations over a 12-hour period—almost triple the number.
At the same time, the DOT’s cycling risk indicator suggests that it is three times safer to be a cyclist than it was a decade ago. The risk indicator counts severe cycling injuries and fatalities and divides that sum by the number of commuting cyclists counted in DOT’s street counts.
Barton L. Slavin, also an attorney who represents cyclists, advised cyclists to take down the license plate number if they are involved in an accident.“A lot of time police won’t ticket the drivers or passengers that do something wrong because the police are not aware of a lot of the minor vehicle and traffic laws relating to car doors and things like that, so you have to be careful of what you say to police,” Slavin said.
The city’s DOT does have safety in mind, Kate Fillin-Yeh, the bikeshare system director, recently told Community Board 5.
Between the handlebars of the new blue bikeshare bikes there are basic safety reminders, such as “stay off the sidewalk,” and “obey traffic lights.” The bike stations will also have helmets for hire.
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