Is New York City ready for Citi Bike, the bike share program that will launch at the end of July? It depends on whom you ask, but there are numerous signs that suggest New York may be a challenge for proponents of urban biking.
The city already has significant experience with bicycle riders, with bike riding increasing significantly in the past few years. For example, the number of people using their bicycles to commute to work increased to almost 20,000 and the number of people who report riding their bicycles daily has grown by more than 13%. At least two percent of all traffic in New York City is bike traffic, at least five times more than 30 years ago.
New York is a walking city, and in 2011 more than 500 New York pedestrians were hit by bicycles. Some observers expect this number to rise significantly as bikers run red lights or turn right without stopping. City Comptroller John Liu pointed to the growing number of bike-related injuries and fatalities as a sign of possible things to come. In 2010, for example, there were 368 accidents and 19 fatalities – up from 286 accidents and 12 fatalities in 2009. Liu has called for mandatory helmets for riders using the Citi Bike system.
However, the number of bike accidents has not grown in proportion to the growth in the number of riders, And naysayers like John Liu can take comfort in knowing that most bike accidents are not the rider’s fault. Other ways of looking at the issue can be found in a 2011 study of Barcelona’s bike-hare program. Although there was a slight increase in the number of fatal bicycle accidents after bike-sharing was introduced in that Spanish city, the increase was balanced by the reduction in other deaths because of improved health from biking.
Others believe that increasing the number of bike riders on the streets of New York will make the streets safer for cyclists because drivers and pedestrians become accustomed to watching out for bicycle riders. This has been the case in Amsterdam, and bicycle advocates hope the same will occur in New York.
Of course, bike riders themselves can contribute significantly to the safety of the City-Bike program by obeying traffic rules.
Source: Time, “New York City’s Bicycle Wars,” by Bryan Walsh, July 3, 2012.