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The Times Finally Opines on Street Safety: ‘Calm Traffic’ By Ticketing Cyclists

3:31 PM EST on December 17, 2010

Today's Times editorial on cycling enforcement (the kicker: a few more tickets for bicyclists "would certainly calm traffic in New York City") is generating a stir. What I want to know is this: Why did the Times editorial writers choose to pipe up about this particular aspect of street safety? Correct me if I'm wrong, but as far as I can tell, the Times has not seen fit to print an editorial about traffic enforcement for at least as long as Streetsblog has been publishing.

When Assembly member Deborah Glick had a bill pending in Albany to allow New York City to enforce the speed limit with cameras, the Times editorial page didn't say a word. (A search of the Times site for "speed cameras" yields a few dozen news results, including this one, which is basically free advertising for iPhone apps that let drivers detect when they're in zones monitored by automated enforcement.)

When there was a bill pending in the City Council to compel NYPD to release its data on traffic safety and summonses, the Times apparently did not publish an opinion about it. (A search of the Times site for content containing the name of the bill sponsor, Jessica Lappin, and "police" did not turn up any news items about that bill, but did return a story about an older bill to crack down on reckless delivery cyclists.)

Now that the City Council has held an oversight hearing on bike policy, the Times has weighed in with this piece, urging stepped-up enforcement "if the city is serious about encouraging biking." No mention of the fact that the provision of safer bike infrastructure in New York City has been proven to reduce infractions like sidewalk riding.

The authors seem to anticipate the accusation that a double standard is at work, writing:

Cyclists often complain that the problem is not the bicycles but the cars. It is true that cars and trucks can too easily maim and kill cyclists. But cyclists can too easily injure pedestrians — and themselves.

This passage about cyclists, their complaints, and the dangers of NYC streets is bereft of data, unlike the following paragraph, which goes on to list specific counts of traffic violations by various parties.

Here are a few numbers on injuries and fatalities worth noting:

According to the State Department of Health, an average of 3,446 pedestrians are hospitalized and 312 are killed statewide each year as a result getting struck by motorists. The average number of pedestrians hospitalized as a result of getting struck by cyclists is 81. In New York City, 155 pedestrians and 12 cyclists were killed in traffic in 2009. Historically, bike crashes kill about one pedestrian per year in the city (see page 22 of this PDF).

The death toll on our streets should be zero, and to get there, you need to get priorities straight. If NYPD devotes more resources to cycling enforcement, that's less manpower available for other tasks, including enforcement of motor vehicle infractions with a much higher likelihood of causing death. A crackdown on traffic violations won't calm traffic or make us safer unless it targets the behavior that's putting people's lives at risk.

When will the Times publish an editorial about that?

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