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Cyclist Deaths Hit Record Low As NYC Adds 20 Miles Of Protected Bike Lanes

The new two-way Delancey Street protected bike lane in action last month
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The new two-way Delancey Street protected bike lane in action last month Gothamist

The Department of Transportation took a debatably-deserved victory lap on Wednesday, announcing that 20.9 miles of protected bike lanes had been installed across the five boroughs this year. That's about ten miles short of their projected goal, and a bit less than the record-setting 25 miles that were added last year. But it brings the total on-street protected bike lane network up to 119.5 miles—triple what it was in 2014, when Mayor Bill de Blasio took office.

[UPDATE: Looks like DOT fudged the numbers. StreetsBlog reports that around five miles of the supposedly protected new bike network are marked only with green paint, and not separated from traffic at all. The city actually added only 16.05 miles of protected bike lanes this year, according to the outlet.]

Of course, those improvement haven't come without some setbacks: Inwood's brand new crosstown lane might get ripped out to preserve the "culture" of double parking, NIMBY vigilantes are scattering thumb tacks across new paths in Sunnyside, and the NYPD continues to treat bike lanes as their own personal parking lots. But as far we know, the year passed without a single TV news reporter pointing at a bike lane and invoking the threat of terrorism. So, progress.

"While they've broken the streak of installing more protected bike lane mileage each year than the one before, some of the bike lanes installed in 2018 required the DOT and Mayor de Blasio to spend a good deal of political capital," Joe Cutrufo, a spokesperson for Transportation Alternatives, told Gothamist. "But the outcome is a good one: we now have protected bike lanes on some critically important corridors, including places where bicycle commuting is going to skyrocket when the L Train shuts down next year."

This year's major projects include the first-ever crosstown protected lane in midtown, along with new lanes on Broadway in the northern Bronx; Skillman/43rd Avenues in Sunnyside, Queens; 9th Street in Park Slope, Brooklyn; and on Park Row connecting Chinatown and Lower Manhattan.

The spread of protected bike lanes—and the larger "safety in numbers" dynamic borne from a growing number of cyclists—also seems to be saving lives. This year, the city recorded an all-time low of 10 cyclist fatalities, down from 24 in 2017. The previous annual low for cyclist deaths was 12, during both 2009 and 2013.

As Streetsblog points out, there's still a lot more to be done to ensure the city's booming cyclist population can safely navigate our increasingly traffic-choked streets. Last month, Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez challenged de Blasio to build 100 miles of protected bike lanes per year, citing the looming arrival of e-scooters and e-bikes. A report from TransAlt also found that for the mayor to meet his first-term goal of doubling cycling by 2020, the city would need to drastically increase the speed at which protected routes are built. (One way to do that: eliminating the need for community board hearings on the construction of bike lanes).

The DOT's year-end bike lane announcement comes amid a particularly deadly month on New York City's streets. In the last three weeks, at least ten pedestrians have been killed by drivers, according to the Mayor's Office. This week alone, three senior citizens have been fatally struck: 73-year-old Yimei Gao in Queens on Monday, 74-year-old Waiching Chen on Tuesday, and 90-year-old Gerard Gorsuch in Staten Island on Wednesday. Only Chen's death resulted in the arrest of a driver—Mark Dudzinski, who was charged with failure to yield to a pedestrian and failure to exercise due care.

During a press conference on Thursday, the mayor addressed the recent spike in deaths, which he seemed to blame on the crash victims. “It’s related to the time of year in large measure—days being darker, cold weather, people are trying to move along and are bundled up and can’t see as much,” he said. “My message to all New Yorkers is to please keep special care on our streets this time of year.”

Overall, the city said that total traffic fatalities have decreased from 215 to 191 year-to-date, with pedestrian deaths ticking up slightly, from 104 to 107. A spokesperson for the NYPD did not immediately respond to Gothamist's inquiries about how many drivers have faced charges for the deaths.

Since 2014, the city's pedestrian fatalities have declined by 42 percent, even as drivers continue to kill more people than ever nationwide.

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