Plus: Alec Baldwin has some ideas about fixing transportation in the city — as do three experts he interviewed. Citi Bike predominantly caters to wealthy, white New Yorkers, while underserving communities of color, according to a new study. And NJ Transit engineers are apparently skipping work when the weather's nice, causing a spike in train cancellations.
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It's called Vision Zero for a reason — zero is the only acceptable number of annual traffic fatalities in New York City, or anywhere.
But there are also 8.6 million people living in New York City, which creates a challenge for Mayor Bill de Blasio, who explicitly set the goal of eliminating all traffic-related deaths by 2024.
Recent years have seen success; fatalities dropped to 203 last year, the lowest figure in over a century. Then came 2019, and a series of 15 cyclist deaths, with the most recent three coming in the span of just one week.
On Tuesday evening, the cycling community made its concerns known, with almost 1,000 people turning out in Washington Square Park for a "die-in" to demand safer streets.
The mayor has conceded that there's an "emergency" around cyclist safety. Many cyclists don't think the mayor really cares. And many non-cyclists think bikes are a menace. So, what's the state of biking — and bike safety — in the city?
I asked Gothamist's Jake Offenhartz, who covers bike policy (and is an avid cyclist himself), to help put all this in context.
15 deaths are a tragedy. Are they also indicative of New York City becoming markedly less safe for cycling?
JO: New York City has never been a particularly undangerous place for cyclists, and it’s definitely not getting safer at the speed that a lot of people believe that it should. At the same time, more people are biking than ever, and 2018 saw just 10 cyclist deaths, the lowest number in city history.
This latest spate of fatalities, while horrific and tragic and largely preventable, is just one data point suggesting the needle is not purely moving forward.
At the die-in earlier this week, the message from attendees was pretty clear: They blame Mayor de Blasio. How much responsibility does he bear for this?
More than anyone else, the mayor is responsible for the design and safety of New York City streets. He controls the agencies that decide whether cycling infrastructure gets implemented and whether traffic laws get enforced. He determines the city’s legislative agenda. He sets policy by fiat. Unlike many aspects of city life (e.g. the subways), our streets are one of the rare arenas where City Hall exercises almost absolute power.
Compared to his predecessor, de Blasio has used this power sparingly, at times in a manner that infuriates bike advocates: giving his blessing to drivers who park in bike lanes, defending the NYPD’s practice of ticketing cyclists after cyclist deaths, cracking down on immigrant delivery workers.
And so far, he has declined to support bills in the City Council that would target repeat reckless motorists and accelerate the pace of bike lane installation.
De Blasio has gamely taken credit for Vision Zero successes, and advocates aren’t wrong to place blame at his feet for its many failures.
Photograph from Tuesday's die-in (Scott Heins / Gothamist)
Several of the recent biking fatalities have come from crashes with commercial trucks. Is there indeed a specific class of vehicles that's far more responsible for the problem?
Adding a bunch of 25,000 pound vehicles with poor visibility to the streets is, predictably, not conducive to pedestrian and cyclist safety. But thanks to our collective Amazon addiction and general e-commerce dependence, that’s exactly what’s happened. Of the fifteen cyclists killed this year, seven have been struck by trucks.
There are a lot of conversations currently happening about how to safely and sensibly regulate heavy truck traffic — for cyclists and pedestrians, as well as the drivers themselves. It’s a sprawling, complex subject, which we’ll have more on soon.
Beyond installing hundreds of miles of protected bike lanes, which seems like an obvious solution, what’s the best way to make New York a more bike-friendly city?
Crushing down every car and turning the metals into an elevated bike highway would solve the bulk of the problem. Absent that, the single most effective way to keep cyclists safe is to have more cyclists. As public health research Peter Jacobsen explained in 2003: "The likelihood that a given person walking or bicycling will be struck by a motorist varies inversely with the amount of walking or bicycling. This pattern is consistent across communities of varying size, from specific intersections to cities and countries, and across time periods."
That phenomenon is why Copenhagen and Amsterdam are the safest cycling cities in the world, and it’s why the surging popularity of biking in New York City over the last decade hasn't really been accompanied by a commensurate increase in cyclist deaths. The other side is that actions that discourage cycling — helmet-shaming, excessive ticketing, poor infrastructure — are surefire ways to create a less bike-friendly city.
When the topic of bike safety comes up, a chorus of people always magically appears to start complaining about bikes. Is that fair, or are bike critics missing something?
Every New Yorker is entitled to their own rage, but the statistics here are pretty straightforward: Drivers kill over 100 pedestrians in New York City every year, and injure thousands more. Cyclists have been responsible for killing three pedestrians in the last decade.
If you’re still furious about cyclists riding on sidewalks or against traffic, consider channeling that anger in the direction of better bike infrastructure. A network of protected bike lanes not only reduces pedestrian and driver injuries — it results in better behaved cyclists.
That doesn’t mean everyone on a bike is a faultless angel, of course. Ensuring that cyclists look out for their slower pedestrian brethren is an important part of the equation, and something that every person on a bike should take seriously.
A Word From a Founding Member of NightCAP Brooklyn, a Group for Women, Queer, Trans, and Non-Binary Cyclists
Courtesy of Sanja Wetzel
I just started working in a bike shop in April, and it’s still astounding to me the amount of women who come in and apologize for why they can’t ride their bike today, or why there’s something wrong with their bike. Whereas guys come in and go, I don’t know, the tire’s fucked up.
I see that, and I’m like, that was me ten years ago. I think everybody who has come into cycling has always felt intimidated by the culture. And we’re aiming to break that down and just be a casual ride. There’s no expectation, you don’t have to be cool and know somebody to get into the club, we’re not going to drop you — we have a no-drop policy, meaning that nobody gets left. We always have somebody who leads, and somebody who sweeps.
I’ve heard people be intimidated by riding in a pack. For some, maybe if they’re new, they feel uncertain. Like, I don’t want to be the slowest one. That’s a mentality that prevents folks from riding with us. But at the same time, it’s empowering when there’s enough of us to take the lane, and heads are turning, and yelling 'Yeah!' at us. That’s really cool, and that’s the feeling we want to create.
Best of the Week From Gothamist and WNYC
An NYPD officer "forcefully stopped" an East Village cyclist for allegedly running two red lights —; and wound up smushing his Citi Bike in the process. Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD have defended the officer's actions.
Three pedestrians were hit and killed by drivers in the last week, putting the city on track to see a rise in pedestrian fatalities for the second year in a row. Total traffic deaths — including vehicle occupants, motorcyclists, and cyclists — are also up 15 percent this year, according to city data.
Citi Bikes overwhelming serve wealthy, white New Yorkers, according to a new study from McGill University, while only 16.5 percent of people of color have access to any of the city's bike sharing services. (The city's Department of Transportation — not Citi Bike — has ultimate say on where docking stations are placed.)
A lush patch of poison ivy on MTA-owned land in Queens is now encroaching onto the sidewalk on Jackson Avenue. According to the city, it is illegal to let poison ivy grow on a property in the five boroughs.
The mayor will not provide bailouts for thousands of taxi drivers struggling to pay back the loans they took out for expensive medallions. This comes after a 45-day review of the predatory lending practices that led to a financial crisis in the taxi industry.
What Else We're Reading
The majority of subway commutes have become faster and more reliable in the last year —; but unpredictability remains an issue. Try out this deeply satisfying infographic, which lets you plug in the start and endpoints for your normal commute, and it charts the range between your speedy, efficient commutes and the ones that drag on. (The New York Times)
A track inspector warned four years ago that rotten timber — which fell last month from elevated tracks in South Brooklyn — needed to be replaced. MTA officials now say that at least two subway managers face disciplinary proceedings for letting the tracks go so long without repairs. (The Wall Street Journal)
NJ Transit train cancellations have spiked this summer, and the phenomenon of engineers taking the day off continues to be a problem. "They’re great people," said NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett, "but there are a few who, if it’s a nice day, decide not to show up." (NJTV News)
An NYPD officer saved a kitten from the subway tracks this week after it jumped out of its owners arms in the Canal Street station. (Subway Creatures)
WQXR classical commute
Look what blew in with the sommarvind: Another seasonally appropriate WQXR commuter playlist. Click here to stream it on Spotify.
Three Experts Join Alec Baldwin to Discuss Fixing the Subways
Here's The Thing: Johnson, Gelinas and Wright
As Alec Baldwin tells it, "congestion pricing is a horrible idea." The MTA needs to fire some of the contractors that have become inefficient. And Manhattan Institute scholar Nicole Gelinas "should have a huge position" in the next mayor's administration.
Gelinas, along with City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Regional Plan Association CEO Tom Wright, joined Baldwin on Here's The Thing this week for a wide-ranging discussion about the underlying problems with how the MTA is run, and what needs to change to make sure New York City doesn't return the situation we saw in the 1970s.
Best of the MTA's Lost & Found
Clarissa Sosin for We The Commuters
The bad news: Someone lost their teeth. The good news: They're replaceable teeth. They've also passed their claim-by date, so I hope whoever lost these chompers did replace them.
If you recently lost something on a bus, subway or the Staten Island Railway, stop by the MTA's Lost and Found at Penn Station. If you don't claim your property in time, you may get a second chance to buy it when it goes up for auction.
Weekend Service Changes: Night of June 12th - Early Morning on July 15th
This is a partial list of major service disruptions scheduled for the weekend. For a complete list of the MTA's Weekender updates, check here.
1 train service between 96 St and 145 St in Manhattan will be replaced by A and C trains and free shuttle buses.
2 train service between Franklin Av and Flatbush Av in Brooklyn will be replaced by free shuttle buses.
5 train service between E 180 St and Dyre Av in the Bronx will be replaced by free shuttle buses.
Friday night through Sunday morning, downtown 6 trains will run express from 125 St to 14 St-Union Sq in Manhattan.
Saturday morning through Sunday night, Hudson Yards-bound 7 trains will skip 111, 103, 90, 82, 74, 69, 52, 46, 40 and 33 Sts in Queens.
Saturday morning through Sunday night, N train service between Ditmars Blvd and Queensboro Plaza in Queens will replaced by free shuttle buses.
R train service will be suspended between Whitehall St, Manhattan and Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr, Brooklyn. Also, trains will skip Union St, 4 Av-9 St, Prospect Av and 25 St in Brooklyn in both directions.
Check here for complete details about the Long Island Rail Road.
For NJ Transit, check here for the latest service advisories.
Upcoming Meetings and Events
Wednesday, July 17th
Riders Alliance Rally to #FixTheSubway
Grand Central Terminal - 11 a.m.
Monday, July 22nd
Joint Metro-North & LIRR meeting - 8:30 a.m.
NYCT/MTA Bus Meeting - 10:00 a.m.
MTA headquarters, 2 Broadway, 20th Floor
Tuesday, July 23rd
Riders Alliance Bronx Bus Meeting
Bronx River Community Center - 6:45 p.m.
Wednesday, July 24th
MTA Board Meeting - 9:00 a.m.
MTA headquarters, 2 Broadway, 20th Floor
For official MTA committee meetings, registration for two-minute public speaking slots opens 15 minutes before the start time. To speak at a board meeting, you must register 30 minutes early.
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