In 2019 so far, 25 people have died in bicycle accidents on New York City streets. That’s 15 more than in 2018 and the largest number of fatalities since 1990. If you’re a biker in New York, you are probably wondering what the city is doing to address the danger.
After all, biking has become a major mode of transportation in our increasingly congested city. According to city estimates, there are currently around 460,000 bike rides taken every day in New York, compared to only around 180,000 in 2006.
Recently, Mayor de Blasio and the City Council announced two important changes. One is a change in traffic light timing referred to as the “green wave.” The other is a new $1.7-billion Streets Master Plan. Yet critics argue the plans come at the expense of motorists.
In some areas, bikers will enjoy a string of green lights
The “green wave” initiative involves re-timing certain traffic lights so that people traveling at about 15 mph will consistently hit green lights as they move through the area. Traditionally, traffic lights have been timed to accommodate cars. That meant timing them to change about seven seconds after the previous light. The idea had been to speed up traffic overall; now, the plan is to speed up bike traffic and slow down vehicle traffic.
The city began testing the “green wave” last year in Brooklyn. There, along eight blocks of Bond and Hoyt streets, bikers often outnumber drivers. In fact, on Hoyt there are sometimes as many as 594 cyclists an hour, which is more than enough to justify prioritizing their movements.
To achieve the “green wave,” the city re-timed the signals to change 11 to 12 seconds after the preceding light. That gives bikers, who typically travel 15 mph, a quick and easy ride through the area. At the same time, overall traffic speeds dropped on Hoyt from an average of 17 mph to about 12 mph.
$1.7-billion effort to build protected bike lanes
Even as thousands of bikers whiz through the city, some motorists continue to treat the streets as if they were created solely for cars. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson has said he wants to “break the car culture.”
One way to reduce the dominance of cars on our streets is to continue to carve away at roadway lanes and parking lanes to create protected bike lanes – those with a barrier separating them from vehicle traffic or which are monitored by cameras. Currently, New York City has around 1,250 miles of bicycle lanes, only 126 miles of which are protected.
The City Council has proposed $1.7 billion in improvements over 10 years, including building another 250 miles of protected bike lanes. Mayor de Blasio has said he will sign the bill.
The plan would also require the Transportation Department to issue a plan every five years on how to prioritize public transit and make the streets safer. The first plan would be due in December 2021. The city would then be required to hit certain targets every year in order to build the required protected bike lanes and make other improvements.
The Streets Master Plan would require 30 miles of protected cycling lanes the first year, followed by 50 more miles every year after that. Additionally, the city would have to make improvements for buses and pedestrians.
There are bound to be legal and logistical hurdles to these plans, along with pushback from drivers. However, these plans go a long way toward creating a safer city for bikers — and that is an urgent priority.