The rate of cyclist deaths has declined since the mid 1990s while the number of daily riders in New York City has grown roughly 150 percent, the Department of Transportation announced Monday at a celebratory press conference.
"Biking is no longer the niche of our city," Citi Bike CEO Jay Walder told reporters, after biking over Brooklyn Bridge with a gaggle of DOT staff. "It is the mainstream of how people are getting around."
There were, on average, 12.8 cyclist fatalities per 100 million bicycle trips between 2011 and 2015, compared to 44.2 between 1996 and 2000. Per-year deaths have remained relatively steady: between 22.4 and 17.2 on average annually since 1996. The vast majority of these deaths occurred on unprotected streets—between 2006 and 2016, only 11 percent of cyclist fatalities occurred on streets with bike safety infrastructure.
Fewer than 20 percent of NYC streets currently have bike lanes, DOT data shows.
Standing in front of fresh bike lanes at the Brooklyn entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said the agency intends to expand the city's bike network in ten outer borough neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens to enhance cyclist safety. Bike lanes slow traffic by reducing street width, the agency says.
These neighborhoods—East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Glendale, Ridgewood, and Corona in Queens; Bed-Stuy, East New York, Borough Park, East Flatbush, Flatbush, Midwood, Brownsville, Gravesend and Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn—account for nearly a quarter of all cyclist fatalities and serious injuries and include just 17 percent of the city's bike lane network.
"We have so much more work to do," Trottenberg stated on Monday.
The DOT has pledged to stick to its goal of creating 50 new miles of bike lanes each year, including at least 10 miles of protected lanes. DOT will also create 75 miles of bike lanes in the identified "priority" areas by 2022.
Cycling advocates praised the DOT's announcement and what they see as a concerted effort to enhance the city's bike network, but also pointed out that the de Blasio administration's commitment to building bike infrastructure is still relatively conservative.
"Right now the DOT is building five times as many unprotected as protected lanes, and they are only committed to ten [protected] miles per year in a city with 6,000 miles of streets," said Transportation Alternatives Director Paul Steely White. "That's not even beginning to accommodate the enormous need."
— Stephen Miller (@miller_stephen) July 31, 2017
Advocates also questioned City Hall's willingness to change hearts and minds in communities opposed to bike lane expansion (concerns range from reckless cycling to parking-space-gobbling bike infrastructure).
"We need more all-ages infrastructure that works for kids, seniors, and everyone in between," said safe streets advocate Doug Gordon, who writes the blog Brooklyn Spoke. "Sharrows and double-parking lanes aren't going to cut it."
And advocates criticized the NYPD's investigation habits which, they say, encourage victim blaming. In the wake of multiple recent cyclist fatalities, the NYPD's press office has disseminated preliminary information about the circumstances surrounding the crash that was later debunked. For example, video footage recently refuted the NYPD's narrative that Dan Hanegby "swerved" into a bus before he was fatally run over in June. And in 2016, witnesses contradicted an initial report that Lauren Davis was cycling against traffic when she was struck and killed by a driver.
"A broken telephone runs not only between the NYPD press room and the Collision Investigation Squad, but also between the precincts and whoever is telling cops how to respond," personal injury attorney and safe streets advocate Steve Vaccaro, who frequently represents cyclists, told Gothamist. "The message coming through that broken telephone is, 'Go out and ticket those cyclists.'"
Roughly 8,000 cyclists were ticketed in the time it took to ticket 43,000 drivers for bike lane violations, according to the NYPD.
NYPD Inspector Dennis Fulton disputed the idea that the NYPD's media approach is problematic.
"Right now the current way works," he said. "CIS will do the investigation and then relay the information to DCPI [public information office] and they will relay information to the press."
"There's a general policy that we have one voice and it comes through DCPI," he said. "So if you want to get the true information you go through them."
"We are doing a lot of work to approve bicycling infrastructure on both sides of the Williamsburg Bridge," Trottenberg said. "We are still working through the full details of where those are going to be."