Since taking office late last year, the new chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, Charlie Beck, has taken several steps toward making conditions more tolerable for local cyclists. The most notable to this point is probably the formation of a cycling task force to address issues including traffic laws and bike theft. As reported by Damien Newton of Streetsblog LA, last week Beck fielded questions at a city council committee meeting, during which he referred to cycling as "an admirable form of transportation" and called cyclists "our most vulnerable commuters."
Beck has a lot of work to do. His department has a rich history of shabby cyclist treatment, and there is skepticism that Beck’s promises will bring about the culture shift many feel will be necessary before LAPD’s relationship with bike riders truly improves.
At least Beck is willing to come to the table. As in Los Angeles, cyclists in New York are routinely ignored and harassed by police, yet there is no sign that NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly has any qualms with the status quo. Kelly’s subordinates freely espouse the department’s "move traffic first" mantra, and just don’t seem to get it when confronted with questions concerning pedestrian and cyclist safety. Though cyclist fatalities dropped in 2009, pedestrian deaths are up. Too bad New York’s top cop puts no stock in data that exposes the rampant, preventable traffic crime that leads to countless deaths and injuries.
It’s not too late for Kelly to apply the same rigor to street safety that has brought other crime rates to historic lows. In addition to measuring the rate of traffic crime, he could get behind efforts like "Hayley and Diego’s Law." If nothing else, Kelly could engender a lot of goodwill by breaking NYPD’s silence when it comes to fatality investigations. Releasing that information would increase public knowledge of why traffic deaths happen, help save lives, and send the signal that he takes bike-ped safety seriously.