The city's bike share program, CitiBike, kicks off next month, and so now all sorts of worries are coming out of the woodwork. And not just our "too pricey" bellyaching. Last week we got the good old terrorism concern, and today Comptroller John Liu has come out with his own issues with New York's upcoming invasion of ten thousand two-wheeled terrors.
"In the rush to place ten thousand bicycles on our streets, City Hall may have pedaled past safety measures, a move that risks significantly exacerbating the number of injuries and fatalities of both bikers and pedestrians, especially those most vulnerable like young children and seniors," Liu said at a press conference today in which he released a report/safety guide for the program [PDF]. "Aside from the human toll, there is a real possibility that the Bike Share program will increase the number of legal claims against the City."
Basically, Liu acknowledges that CitiBike will be massive (the third largest similar program in the world) and that they have lots of benefits ("The health and environmental benefits associated with bicycling are significant."), he's just worried about all those new cyclists hitting the streets—and what that is going to cost the city. As Streetsblog notes, Liu's report itself is "much more positive about bike-share than its author’s press statements would indicate."
Liu is calling for a number of reasonable and almost obvious safety measures (better signage and road rule enforcement, better education, more cops on bicycles, cycling classes for kids), one totally reasonable safety measure that we still doubt will ever happen (mandatory bike helmets for adults) and better financial liability mitigation. Liu is worried that in a city as crazy as New York the $10 million annual liability insurance that operator Alta has taken out is not going to cut it. And Streetsblog takes that last claim down quite nicely, using other cities program's for data:
Moreover, bike-share riders actually have significantly better safety records than cyclists using their own two wheels. As Streetsblog previously reported, no one was seriously injured or killed on a London Barclays Cycle Hire bike in the first 4.5 million trips. In D.C., Capital Bikeshare users crashed only seven times in the first seven months of operation, with no serious injuries reported. More recently, the Boston Globe reported that city’s Hubway system had put up similarly laudable safety stats: no serious injuries in its first six months of operation. All of these cities use the same bikes as New York’s Citi Bike program.
Operating company Alta Bicycle Share has not been held liable for crashes in either Boston or D.C., where it also runs popular bike-share systems, according to the Times.
As for helmets? There is lots of evidence from other programs that helmet requirements simply don't work or can kill a bike share program before it gets going. The way CitiBike is designed—so, for example, you could take the subway to work and then bike home—makes it difficult for riders to use if they have to carry their helmets around. And let's not talk about the health hazard that a helmet share program could be (lice!).
Sure, we'll be carrying our helmets around starting next month—according to the DOT "in 97 percent of fatal bicycle accidents in NYC the rider was not wearing a helmet."—but it would be terrible for CitiBike's success to make them a requirement.
But other than the helmets most of Liu's suggestions wound't be terrible for the city, at all. We particularly like the idea of a "BikeState" website managed by the DOT "where anyone can obtain information and statistics on biking in NYC." The more cycling data out there the better for everyone!