Study Finds Cyclists Need Safer Streets

A Hunter College study on cyclist behavior is making the rounds today, getting a long post on City Room. The data measure the extent to which cyclists take safety precautions and follow traffic laws. Helpful stuff to know, except that the findings are presented in a way that feeds into the worst stereotypes about cyclists and a blame-the-victim mentality toward traffic injuries and deaths.

In the post, headlined "Study Finds Cyclists Disobey Traffic Laws," the report authors call for greater helmet use and adherence to traffic laws. Again, all well and good, but leaving it at that reinforces the perception that cyclists would be much safer if only they obeyed the letter of the law. It’s easy to hear echoes of NYPD’s insistence, in the waning days of the Giuliani administration, that "cyclist error" was to blame in three quarters of deadly crashes. A follow-up study conducted by the advocacy group Right of Way [PDF] found otherwise:

careful reconstruction of crash circumstances, we were able to assign
responsibility in 53 of the 71 fatal bicycle crashes during 1995-1998
for which we obtained police crash reports. We determined that drivers
were highly culpable in 30 cases, partly culpable in 11 cases, and not
culpable in 12 cases. Driver misconduct was thus the principal cause in
57% (30 out of 53) of the cases and a contributory factor in 78% (30
plus 11, or 41, out of 53).

Another way to view the Hunter College findings is that rates of traffic violations among cyclists are symptomatic of a system designed mainly to accommodate cars. In other words, cyclists follow the rules more when they feel safe. (City Room cites TA’s Wiley Norvell to this effect, toward the bottom of the post.) This has been borne out on Ninth Avenue, where according to DOT’s data the incidence of sidewalk riding declined from five percent to below one percent after the protected path was installed.

As Norvell told Streetsblog, "A
lot of the traffic violations we see out there happen on streets that
have absolutely no provision for the safety of the cyclist."

  • I love how the picture in the City Room blog entry (while showing a delivery guy bicycling the wrong way on the street) shows a truck in the bike lane and traffic cones signaling the reservation of parking spots for a film crew (that invariably make it very difficult to ride in the bike lane with the film trucks creating a wall right at the line of the bike lane). Nice!

  • sam

    I particularly liked the part, in an article emphasizing “illegality”, that two of the biggest “examples” that they give aren’t illegal – those being (i) under-14s riding on sidewalks and (ii) over-14s not wearing helmets. Granted, on the latter, it’s certainly much safer to wear a helmet, but it’s perfectly legal to go without. It just annoyed me how they framed the whole thing.

  • Every time helmets are thrown into a debate where they have no relevance, my head explodes.

  • Streetsman

    Sigh – so many flaws with this biased study. The five biggest omissions I would call out:

    1. The study did not distinguish between cyclists that yielded at a red lights versus those that sped right through them.

    2. The article did not mention that riding on the sidewalk is legal for children.

    3. The professor did not mention that evidence from other cities shows that cyclist behavior improves dramatically as the prevalence of bicycle facilities and the percentage of mode share increases. The professor only recommended a (useless) safety campaign. Cities like Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and Portland have much higher rates of traffic law compliance because they have safer facilities and safety in numbers. Cities must first be made safe for people to bicycle, and then the safer people will come out and bicycle.

    4. The study made no effort to provide comparable statistics for pedestrians or vehicles. What percentage of pedestrians disobey traffic laws – crossing out of the crosswalk, crossing against the light, walking in the street? How many vehicles weave in and out of lanes, don’t use signals when turning, don’t come to a complete stop at stop signs, roll forward of the stop bar at red lights, speed, etc? 99% of them, that’s how many.

    In essence, the study, like so many before it, fails to recognize that cyclists, drivers, pedestrians, are all people. And that ALL PEOPLE disobey traffic laws, regardless of mode. The factors that have been proven to best encourage compliance in all modes are: a. environmental design, b. fear of punishment, and c. social compulsion. On most streets in New York, none of those three factors are well represented, so to expect compliance is retarded. Nope, no need to talk about that stuff. Just count how many cyclists run a red light and call it a day.

    Looks like a study specifically tailored to confirm conventional wisdom

  • It’s possible that Tuckel and Milczarski did compare their results with the data on pedestrian and motorist behavior, but there is no way to know because we don’t have a copy of the paper! It’s not linked from their department website or the City Room blog, and it doesn’t come up in Google Scholar.

    This press release from Hunter says “A new study released today …” Sorry, the proper way to release a study is to submit it to a journal for peer review, or to present it at an academic conference. If the findings are just so earth-shattering that you can’t wait for peer review, then you may want to put it on the web so that anyone with an Internet connection can comment on it. Either way, emailing a copy to Sewell Chan doesn’t constitute releasing.

  • rex

    Those poor stupid cyclists. If only they would wear helmets, they would get into fewer accidents, and violate fewer laws.

  • Every time helmets are thrown into a debate where they have no relevance, my head explodes.

    Helmets have been brought up as a blame-the-victim tactic: The reason over twenty cyclists each year are killed in this city can’t be because the streets are poorly designed, or because enforcement against reckless driving is lax; it must be their own fault, and we don’t have to change anything! except maybe build more parking.

  • In the period during which this study was conducted (Oct. 1 – 29), Streetsblog reported the deaths of seven New York CIty pedestrians who were run over by vehicles, including a 74-year-old woman killed by a van, a 70-year-old man killed by a garbage truck, a man on the lower East Side dismembered by a semi whose driver didn’t know he’d hit anyone, and two young women killed by cabs at 1st Avenue and 14th Street. In addition, Streetsblog reported the death of a cyclist who was hit by a van.

  • gecko

    Cyclists and pedestrians have to travel in a dangerouse environment caused by cars and the statistics show it. It is more dangerous to be a pedestrian than to travel by car.

    This is absolutely bizarre!

    Only car drivers require insurance. This is a clear indication were the danger and fault lies.

  • t

    There are often safety reasons for a cyclist to go through a red light, at least after a yield or stop on red, as many people have mentioned here and over at Cityroom.

    But no one can come up with a good reason for a driver to go through a red light even if he or she yields or stops first.

    The study is interesting, but it’s a bit of an apples and oranges kind of comparison, lacking the full scope of choices that cyclists and others have to make when on the street.

  • I agree with most of the comments above. However note how many of the comments in the City Room on this study come from bicyclists expressing frustration with those who bicycle counterflow, especially in the bike lane. Add me to the list. There are probably not too many S’blog readers doing that, but there may be some, and we all probably know people who do it. Bicyclists should be stepping up and doing a bit of self-regulation on this point, or NYPD will do something about it. I typically will work hard to meet eyes with counterflow bicyclists I encounter, and shake my head while glowering at them once eye contact is made. That usually gets the message across, even if there is a language barrier. I also will express my contempt for that kind of behavior (and the reasons for it) in off-road conversations with other bicyclists.

    On the other hand, it does strike me as rational and appropriate for bicyclists to proceed slowly through red lights after making sure there is no pedestrian or motor vehicle cross traffic. A number of very good arguments for this practice are made in the City Room–in particular, that a bicyclist crossing against a red at pedestrian speed usually presents no greater danger than a pedestrian doing so, especially if this is done after confirming that there is no cross-traffic.

    Anti-cyclists like to cite running reds as proof of bicyclist lawlessness without distinguishing among those who do it carefully or recklessly, but there bicyclists who also use the red light scenario as a stepping stone to rationalizing other conduct (such as riding counterflow or on the sidewalk) that is unnecessary and generally inexcusable. It’s certainly more difficult to take a principled position that some violations are OK and others are not, but not impossible. The difference is safety. Bicyclists need to be able to articulate (and live by) the relevant safety factors, rather than just saying or thinking that they are “like” pedestrians and therefore should be able to do everything pedestrians do.

  • J. Mork


    Really? I usually smile and think “thank goodness you’re not in an Escalade going the wrong way in this bike lane.

  • Bicyclists should be stepping up and doing a bit of self-regulation on this point, or NYPD will do something about it.

    Isn’t this kind of regulation the NYPD’s job? Why don’t we want them to do it? When can we stop playing cops and leave it to the real cops?

  • squeakywheel

    I don’t really understand the hostility in this thread to any mention of helmets. Helmets (like seatbelts) don’t prevent accidents, but they (like seatbelts) do greatly increase your chances of surviving an accident or avoiding grievous injury.

    So surely they are a legitimate part of any study of safety and of adherence to rules. (Note comments in the report about the low percentage of children and commercial employees who don’t wear them, despite the fact that they are required by law.)

    As for running red lights, apparently 57% of cyclists observed in this study did it. (Hey, I do it.) Surely many — most? — of those instances had nothing to do with rider safety. Same thing for riding the wrong way in a bike lane (which I also do sometimes): it’s mostly about my own convenience, not safety. Let’s be honest here.

  • J.Mork,

    I don’t experience thankfulness when confronted by a bicyclist riding counterflow against me in the bike lane, any more than I do when someone takes up a seat on the bus or subway that I would like to use with their package, or any more than when a motorist parks in the bike lane or does something else rude or dangerous. This is a big crowded city and people need to cooperate in order to make life bearable. Civil but express remonstration against selfish non-cooperators is the only way to get it done. I hate getting scolded myself for my transgressions, but it makes me change my behavior, and I assume it works the same way for others. That is preferable to leaving it to the police, in my view.

  • There was at least one well articulated argument at City Room for occasional counter-flow riding (not riding in around the block every day, on dangerous roads, to get home to his/her building half way up the block). I hardly ever ride up one-ways, because I’m terrified of BicyclesOnly’s locked eyes and shaking head, but I understand that there are circumstances where it is practical and desirable for others to do so; when I cross their paths I try to brush off the inconvenience of avoiding them. (And if that somehow leads to being run over by an automobile, I still primarily hold accountable the operator of the vehicle that introduces deadly force to the equation.)

    To support or agree with any part of this ‘study’—on helmet use, one’s favorite law, whatever—is to fall into its trap, to signal that its findings are unwanted but trustworthy (you can’t believe half of a liar’s story) or that it at least frames the question of safety on public streets fairly and productively. Both implications are significantly wrong. The report is illegitimate from start to finish, structured with an evident agenda and surprising ignorance of (or indifference to) the laws it purports to measure compliance with. It indulges in the warped automotive-age convention of holding those that are the most at risk (and the most harmless) as primarily responsible for fatal outcomes, rather than the ones producing the deadly threat in the first place. There can be no points to agree with, no important lessons to be learned, no calls to action to be made from that mound of crud.

  • Be

    Aside from the fact that helmet are not legally required for adults over 14 in New York and that 14 and uder cyclists are allowed to ride on the sidewalk, another major flaw in the study is that is wrongly encourages increased helmet use.

    Wearing a helmet is very dangerous. Helmets lead to spinal cord injuries and paralysis. Two people in my life have suffered due to helmets. My father and baseball coach both suffered spinal cord injuries to due the kinetic energy of the impact being absorbed by the helmet, and traveling down the spine. I have learned that this is an unpublicized bt very common problem. Doctors explained that if they were not wearing helmets they would like have suffered a fractured skull, however, skull fractures do not necessarily lead to fatality or brain injury. In fact, they often heal within a few months. The skull is designed to diffuse the energy of an impact. Helmets do almost nothing to prevent fatalities in the majority of new york city bike fatalities. The numbers cited in the CityRoom post are misleading. If you actually look at all of the bike fatalities and accidents in new york over the past year or decade you will see that the injuries sustained or that lead to death did not involve the head, and could not have been prevented by wearing a helmet. Saying that “nearly all cyclists who died in New York City were not wearing a helmet and that only 13 percent of those seriously injured while cycling were wearing a helmet.” is incredibly misleading because it ignores that fact that New Yorker’s over 14 are not required to wear helmets. Of course nearly all cyclist fatalities were not wearing helmets – nearly all cyclists do not wear helmets. This also ignores studies that show that you are less likely to be hit if you are not wearing a helmet because drivers overcompensate by driving further away from you. There should never be a requirement for adults to wear helmets. We need to create more, and separated bike lanes, enforce traffic laws, crack down on drivers who go through red lights, punish drivers who hit bikes and pedestrians, and educate drivers.

    Look, I ride my bike every day in this city. I was hit by a car from behind a few months ago (yes, I was going the right way and light was green.) I was damn lucky. I was knocked off my bike to the front/right. My wheel was bent and I had a very slight tweak of my ankle. But I fell into the path of oncoming traffic. I looked up and immediately jumped out of the way. I could have been killed if I were a little slower or the cars a little closer. If you look at the record of fatalities documented on this blog and in the great New York Mag article, you will see that many fatalities were not due to any sort of head injury that could have been prevented by a helmet, Many were due to riders being hit by one car, falling into traffic and being run over by a second or third car/truck. Most of the other fatalities were from riders being crushed by trucks/vans and dying from injuries of their internal organs – not head. My father is a cripple, and my coach is totally paralyzed and needs to breath through a tube. I will never wear a helmet. I would rather be dead than paralyzed/suffer from a spinal cord injury. And that should be my choice, and so should wearing a helmet. Helmets should be kept legal for adults.

    I’d love for there to be a larger discussion on this.

  • Doug

    The anti-helmet argument confuses me. Personal choice is one thing, but to argue that it doesn’t make sense for anyone is another.

    It is correct to say that many of the fatalities in New York could not have been prevented by

  • Doug

    The anti-helmet argument confuses me. Personal choice is one thing, but to argue that it doesn’t make sense for anyone is another.

    It is correct to say that many of the fatalities in New York could not have been prevented by helmet use. In the war of styrofoam hats versus steel trucks, steel trucks will always win. But there are probably thousands of smaller injuries and trips to the ER that were avoided by helmet use.

    If anything, the efficacy of helmet use is probably under reported. If a helmet protects you from getting injured in the first place, you would be less likely to report yourself as getting injured, correct? I fell off my bike after hitting some debris in the road and landed on my side, hitting my head against the pavement and cracking my helmet. Other than a little road rash, I was fine. I’m sure I would have cracked my skull if I hadn’t had a helmet on; whether or not that would have resulted in a brain injury, I don’t know. I didn’t report that accident because I didn’t need to. But that means that my experience and the similar experience of others do not get factored into any statistics. If you don’t get a head injury in the first place, you won’t die from a head injury and you won’t become a statistic.

    I think about this every time I ride. If I slipped and fell on an empty road, a helmet would probably be a big help. But if I slipped while riding with a line of cars next to me and behind me, I might get crushed by the wheel of a truck and no helmet would withstand that kind of pressure. I wear the helmet for the little moments, not the big ones.

    I don’t want to minimize the experience of Be’s family or anyone else for whom a helmet was not effective, but if hospitals were seeing waves of cyclist with helmets still sustaining injuries, there’d probably be a massive consumer recall and an overall of helmet design.

    That being said, there are simply tons of flaws with a lot of the helmet stats and studies on both sides. Not wearing a helmet is considered risky; are people who don’t wear helmets more likely to take bigger risks than people who do? If so, they’d be more likely to get into accidents. Or is it the other way around? Does wearing a helmet give you a false sense of security? (The study Be cites with drivers driving closer to those wearing helmets has many flaws, documented in books such as “Traffic” and on many websites.)

    Look, we’d all like for NYC to be more like Amsterdam or any other European country where the sheer number of bikes and the infrastructure dedicated to cycling leads to less of a need for a helmet. But NYC is not Amsterdam. It’s dangerous. Common sense says to wear a helmet, not for the random Mack Truck that could run you over but for the millions of other variables that could trip you up.

    Think of it like a batting helmet. It’s hardly going to protect a batter from getting beaned in the elbow or face, which could in some ways be a more career-ending injury than some hits to the head. Still, what batter would step in front of a 90-mile-an-hour fastball without a helmet?

  • MIndy

    Maybe it’s just me….but I’ve never seen a cyclist slow down and yield at a red light and then go through. I’ve seen hundreds ride through a red light at full speed while I’m trying to cross on foot. I just cannot see them coming. It feels like they are swooping in out of nowhere. It’s fine to lobby the city for safer streets, but it’s not fine to endanger pedestrians in the meantime.

  • Doug and all,

    I’ve read a study that seems to indicate helmet wearing increases risk taking in cycling and many other sports and/or activities. I think it was from the same British study that showed cyclists that wear helmets are more likely to be passed at a closer distance then those who don’t.

    Personally I wear a helmet because automobiles and our autocentric roadway engineering have made US roads dangerous to cyclists and pedestrians. I believe the simple act of riding a bicycle at a relaxed Copenhagen / Amsterdam like speed is NOT dangerous. Cars make it so. I wish I could enjoy this simple pleasure without living in fear and fealing that I must wear a helmet.

    Now riding for speed whether that be on or off road is differet because a rider is more likely to push limits and take risks. I know I do when I ride my nice road and mountain bikes. In these circumstance I wear a helmet and would always wear a helmet regardless of potential traffic or road conditions.

  • Oh yeah. One other thing.

    I hate to have to keep on bringing up my dislike for NYC’s left-side-of-the-road bike lanes but new reasons keep popping up in my head.

    Besides exposing cyclists to faster left lane motor traffic and running counter to general vehicular cycling rules, the design MAY also encourage retrograde riding. Everyplace else that I’ve seen left side bike lanes they were for contraflow bicycle traffic. Engineers who designed these contraflow lanes elsewhere must have felt that this location was the most logical place for them. I’m not saying that it is right but it wouldn’t surprise me if people who illegally ride contraflow in NYC’s left-side-of-the-road bike lanes reached the same “logical” conclusion.

    Now this is good question to answer with an academic study.

  • Doc, it’s that in terrorem effect for which I strive.

    For years I rode counterflow a half block to my home to avoid having to “box it” and ride an additional 1/2 mile. Then I decided counterflow was never OK, after an experience in which a counterflow bicyclist cleaved to the inside of the lane, inducing my son out into traffic where he was nearly sideswiped. Most of the counterflow bike lane bicycling I see is by delivery guys (esp. Chirping Chicken deliverers eastbound on W.77th) and southbound commuters on CPW, who likely are trying to avoid the hills on the nearby southbound route on Park Drive West. I don’t have any sympathy for these people.

    For a while after that I used the sidewalk for that half block. Then I got scolded by a neighbor. Now I usually just dismount at the accessible corner and walk it half a block. It’s just not a big deal compared to the time I save by using a bike for the other 99% of my trip.

    Even so, I still have my lapses. When there is no one on the sidewalk, I’ll ride up and then lift my right leg over the top tube and coast to my final destination standing with both feet on the left pedal. If a pedestrian appears, I can brake and hop off instantly.

    I’m surprised by Mlndy’s comment that she never sees bicyclists stop and yield to intersecting traffic before proceeding through a red. It may unfortunately be that some pedestrians only notice those who don’t follow the law. In my experience I get explicit expressions and gestures of thanks from pedestrians, several times a week, for my yielding to them. I’m grateful for those thanks and they are part of what keeps me “on the up and up.”

  • squeakywheel

    Andy B and Be:

    If helmets either cause accidents or cause spinal cord injuries — in other words, that they actively harm more often than they help — surely we should be working day and night to repeal the laws requiring that kids wear them and, come to think of it, making it illegal for *anyone* to wear them. Good luck with that.

  • Be

    I think it’s better to have the bike lane on the left side of the road. You are more directly in the field of vision of the driver.

    Also, I understand that a helmet can protect you from the “little” potential injuries, such as scrapes and nicks, however, when you are trying to evaluate risk you have to multiply the probability of an event with its payoff. Let’s assume that falling off your bike, hitting your head while not wearing a helmet, but no suffering a fatality, can result in an head injury ranging from a mild scratch to a fractured skull with either no brain damage, or brain damage. Let’s say the payoff of a scratched head, when falling off your bike is -100, and the probability of that happening are 10 percent. That would make the risk factor of that event -10. Now, the way I see things, death has a payoff of zero, because if you are dead, well… you are dead. Nothing matters to you if you are dead, you experience nothing. But if you are paralyzed, with a perfectly functioning brain, you fully experience agony and suffering, and so do your loved ones. Having experience with spinal cord injuries I would rather risk my own death than increase the chances of a spinal cord injury. Something that you need to be aware of is that the type of event that causes a severe spinal cord injury, while wearing a helmet usually involves very little force, and often involves no collision, or only a minor one. You could simply fall off you bike and, if the head/helmet hits the ground at the wrong angle, even from three feet off the ground, you could be paralyzed for life.

    If you want to argue that riding a bike is so dangerous that people should be
    required to wear a helmet, then why not just forbid people from riding bikes at all? Or, why not prevent a pedestrian from crossing the street unless he is wearing a giant bubble suit? Why not require all shoes to have velcro so no one trips over their shoes laces? Why stop at helmets when you can dictate risk preferences for everything to everyone? I know this sounds extreme, but I think it is extreme to require helmets when there is a very large chance of spinal cord injury as a direct result of wearing one. You say that wearing a helmet is common sense. But common sense is only what is most evident with the least amount of thought or knowledge. My experiences with these injuries are not just anecdotal and coincidental. I’ve been doing research, speaking with lots of people, and doctors. This is much more common that you realize or than the helmet companies want you to believe (and no, I’m not positing a conspiracy.) I plan to publish this research when it’s complete. And one of the reasons you don’t hear about the spinal cord injuries is because 1) the initial incident is not reported in the news because there is no fatality. There is no follow up with the victim to find out what happened, or whether he can walk a year later. 2) These injuries often have nothing to do with a collision with another vehicle. They can happen by yourself if you hit a pothole, slip, flip over, or fall to the side. Hence, they won’t be reported in traffic stats.

    So, all I’m saying is that a helmet make you safe in some very unpredictable ways, and that I, and all of you, should be free to decide how much risk you are willing to when riding a bike. You should be allowed to decide for yourself whether you’d rather suffer a brain injury or a spinal cord injury.

  • Yes Be, that is an advantage of having the lane on the left. However the primary reason why the bike lanes were positioned on the left side of the road in NYC was to eliminate conflicts with busses in the right lane particularly when boarding and unboarding (I was told this by an older authoritative source). I’m not saying that there aren’t a couple of good reasons for putting the lane on the left but I think if you look at all the pros and cons, I personally believe that the cons eventually win out.

    While NYCDoT continues to be at the cutting edge of bicycle and pedestrian facility design here in the US (at least within the past 3 years) this is the one, AND ONLY, issue that I have a real problem with. I love what’s going on at NYCDoT but their design standard that defaults the bike lane position to the left side of oneway streets is flawed in my personal (and soon to be professional) opinion.

    I was at a professional development seminar the other day where a widely respected bicycle and pedestrian planner from the west coast spoke about how bicycle facilities should be design. He reviewed a number of design points. He believes wholeheartedly in the “safety in numbers” principle and that the only way to get the numbers is to build facilities but only the streets that really truly need them. He agrees however that vehicualr cycling alone has obviously failed to bring out the massive numbers of cyclists that to bring about that “safety in numbers” effect.

    But what stuck out was his insistance that bike lane (and other bike facility) design should not break the basic principles of vehicular cycling. Facilities should emulate and reinforce proper bicycle placement on the road like what a highly experience rider would do if the bike lane wasn’t there*. This is where the idea of placing the lane on the left (and only on the left BTW since Sacramento has begun experimenting placing lanes on both sides of oneway avenues) is critically flawed.

    *(Note – As a cyclist with 20 years of real world cycling experience, this is a sentiment I had when I entered my graduate studies specializing in bicycle and pedestrian planning. It was very refreshing to FINALLY hear such a respected professional echoing gut feelings I’ve had for many years prior to my professional studies.)

  • John Deere

    Man, the logic on streetsblog just keeps getting more and more convoluted.

    So let me get this straight:
    -cyclists violate traffic laws because the streets don’t accomodate them (so the thinking here goes). So “the streets made me do it.”

    -So . . . if we get more bike lanes, and bike paths, then suddenly all this scofflaw behavior will change, and cyclists will become more law abiding.
    Riiiight. I’m going to go riding on the city’s premiere bike facility, the West Side Bike Path, because according to the what I’ve heard on streetsblog, the cyclists must be much more skilled and angelic than cyclists riding in traffic. Gotta go . . .

  • t

    Actually, if you go to other cities, especially cities in Europe, cyclists break fewer laws precisely because there are more of them and more infrastructure for them.

    The West Side bike path is a terrible example, of course. It’s a good try, but a tiny sliver compared with the available street space and needs of NYC commuters.

  • gecko

    Cities exist as virtually entirely manmade environments. When someone builds something that involves people that person takes on a large amount of liability if it is not safe.

    Through many years of negligence cities have been able to shirk this responsibility when it comes to automobiles.

  • “Actually, if you go to other cities, especially cities in Europe, cyclists break fewer laws…”

    Those people are scofflaws according to the old guard’s lexicon, where law abiding literally means “skilled.” (See word substitution in #27.) Yet Europe’s amateur, carefree, unskilled riders somehow manage to travel a lot further per fatality than traditional American cyclists with their cult of equipment, headdress, and competition. Our spartans can no more see the benefits of bicycle infrastructure (physical and legal) as logical than 17th century Catholics could accept heliocentrism.

  • Andy B,

    The thing is, in NYC the left lane is not the passing lane–every other block it is a turning lane, just like the right lane. It is the middle of certain NYC roadways that functions as a “passing” lane. So, consistent with vehicular cycling principles, I would not install a bike lane in the middle lane of Second Avenue. But I would consider installing one on the left side of Second Avenue. The Q’bo Br. Plaza would present a challenge to this design, but that can best be managed with a bicyclists-only signal phase. Even if you had the bike lane on the right of Second Ave., you still would have a major motorist-bicyclist conflict in that location (which is the site of so many bicyclists fatalities and serious injuries).

  • Bravo Doc Barnett!!

    That’s the most eloquent statement for the need for bicycle facilities I’ve ever heard.

    I see it like this: Since so many people feel safe riding their bikes in these truly bike friendly cities, there is obviously LOTS of bicycle traffic. Try riding down the wrong way of a Copenhagen cycletrack when there are 200 cyclists coming the other (proper) way! You just won’t be able to do it and you’ll also have 200 people cursing you for even trying.


    I’m NOT saying that there is NEVER a reason to put a lane on the left. There are plenty of good reasons for doing so on a case by case basis. San Francisco placed a lane on the left side of Fell St as part of their famous “Wiggle” bike route. As far as I’m aware this is the only left side lane in San Fran but I’m probably wrong.

    My concern is that the DEFAULT location for bike lanes in NYC is on the left. The avenues are one thing but what about the cross streets with long blocks and lower traffic volumes? Where there is no bike lane I naturally default to the right side (its what I and all cyclists do everyplace else on earth where people drive on the right). Traffic tends to go slower on the right (I know but not always, especially in NYC). Also here on the cross streets there are little if no conflicts with buses to deal with as well. So why violate a basic tenant of vehicular cycling by placing the lane on the left here?

    That said BC, I do hear you on the left not really being a passing lane on the avenues. That’s not what I saw on Eighth the other week but then again I’m only occasionally in the city on my bike.


  • ARGHH!!

    “That said BO” as in BicyclesOnly!

  • John Deere

    Andy B.
    Doc B responds back, not with reason, but with insulting anyone who might choose to wear a helmet, wear lycra, ride fast, by calling them members of a cult and comparing them to medieval catholics, and this is eloquent? I guess only certain kinds of cyclists are welcome here.
    Could it be that accident rates are also a product of cultural attitudes toward the law in addition to bike infrastructure? I was in a European city this year, which had relatively few bike lanes, yet I found the cyclists more skilled, courteous, and yes, law abiding than the ones here. Having more bike lanes doesn’t make cyclists more law abiding, nor should we forget that cycling safely is as much about what the cyclist does as the infrasture that’s available. And what cyclists choose to do or not do (especially involving traffic law) can make a big difference between being in a crash or not. This seems pretty obvious, except on Streetsblog, where discussing cyclist behavior seems strangely heretical.
    Last week I was walking in Chinatown, and was almost struck by two helmetless, casually clad fixed riders, who were travelling east in the Westbound lane of Canal St. They then proceeded to nearly collide with someone else, before running the red light through a crowded crosswalk, weaving their way through pedestrians who they either narrowly missed, or who were forced to stop to avoid being struck. According to what I’m reading here, these two are victims of a lack of bike friendly infrastructure, and they are to be welcomed as amateur, carefree low-skilled cyclists who aren’t caught up in the cult of speed, headgear, and lycra. While blowing off at least 3 important traffic laws, I wonder how many more enemies of cycling these two made?

  • “I guess only certain kinds of cyclists are welcome here.”

    Playing the victim card right after the expert card? That’s a losing hand.

    In the months since I started riding daily, I’ve been told countless times that I’m not wearing the right things. So don’t accuse me of insulting individuals for how they dress themselves to ride a bicycle; individual choice is what I am for. But American cycling made itself a monoculture, identified by exotic dress among other things, and yes I will readily ‘insult’ that self-imposed cultural ghetto. It marginalized bicycle riding with such spirit (“cycling advocacy is for cyclists”, and so on) that one has to assume being marginal (elite) was the point. Please do wear what you want on or off a bicycle; if I saw you in athletic apparel the extent of my jugement is that you are out for exercise or have a great distance to cover. But I won’t hold back in calling group dynamics as I see them, historical-religious analogies and all.

    “I was in a European city this year, which had relatively few bike lanes, yet I found the cyclists more skilled…”

    First time I’ve heard that from an expert New York cyclist! Are you sure you haven’t let those pivotal fatality rate disparities color your definition and observation of ‘skilled’ riding?

    “Having more bike lanes doesn’t make cyclists more law abiding,”

    Must be something in the water? You should reveal this mystery Euro city, so we can look for the X factor.

    “And what cyclists choose to do or not do (especially involving traffic law) can make a big difference between being in a crash or not. This seems pretty obvious, except on Streetsblog, where discussing cyclist behavior seems strangely heretical.”

    No, just pointless like it is anywhere else. You can rant all day long about whatever stupid thing a cyclist wearing whatever apparel did last week, e.g.

    “Last week I was walking in Chinatown, and was almost struck by two helmetless, casually clad fixed riders”

    and nothing will change. It is a proud tradition in this city. Or you can look for what is structurally different in the cites that have been successful in extending the bicycle’s benefits to the full spectrum of society, from elderly to young, rich to poor, athletic to slovenly. Something tangible is behind the statistical safety they enjoy, the legality they practice, and the kilometers they pedal on their bicycles—and it is evidently not the skills and apparel beloved to the soon-to-be-old school of American cycling.


City Numbers Show Highest Cyclist Death Toll in Eight Years

 Traffic fatalities in 2007 were at their lowest level since the city began keeping records almost 100 years ago, according to data released today by the Bloomberg administration. However, while the number of pedestrian fatalities last year dropped sharply percentage-wise from 2006, down to roughly one death every two-and-a-half days, cyclist fatalities were up, and […]

The Real Menace on Our Sidewalks

So it looks like the City Council is pondering legislation that would raise the fine for biking on the sidewalk (currently $100) and possibly establish a new squad of enforcement agents dedicated entirely to ticketing commercial cyclists. At a hearing earlier this week, transportation committee chair James Vacca framed the riding habits of commercial cyclists […]

The Rules of the Road Are Everyone’s Responsibility

I’ve been trying a little experiment lately as I ride around town on my bike: doing my level best to follow the letter of the law. I’ve been inspired by both the carrot and the stick. In the carrot department, Transportation Alternatives’ new Biking Rules handbook has made a very nice case for more rule-based […]