NYC’s Bike Lanes Might Not Be Making Anyone Safer

New York City is trying to make its streets safer for bicyclists. Notably, several dedicated bike lanes have been striped across all five boroughs. Are these efforts actually working, though? A recent article published by the New York Times suggests that the answer might be “no.”

There are a few reasons why NYC’s new bike lanes might not be doing the trick.

City Streets Aren’t Any Wider

New York City installed a dedicated westbound bicycle lane on 55th Street in Manhattan. It also installed a dedicated eastbound bicycle lane on 52nd Street. Each lane was installed directly next to the curb. 

However, neither street was widened or expanded in any way to accommodate the new lane of traffic. This means that the lanes traveled by cars, trucks, buses, and other large vehicles are narrower. That significantly reduces the margin of error motorists have when driving through the city. In turn, it’s easier for accidents to happen.

At the same time, the narrower lanes haven’t made drivers happy. Instead, they’re likely aggravated and upset that bicyclists are now taking up considerable space on the roads. Bike safety experts expressed concern that motorists might not respect the boundaries of the separate lanes.

If motorists use bike lanes as their own – to drive, stand, or park – the dedicated lanes serve little-to-no purpose and won’t keep riders safe.

Ubers, Cabs Still Double Park, Just More Dangerously

Double parking is fairly common in NYC. Limousine, taxi, Uber, and Lyft drivers – among others –  idle their vehicles next to parked cars on the side of the road while waiting for passengers or fares. With the new bike lanes, this means that these vehicles are either (a) encroaching on the bike lanes or (b) forced out into lanes of moving traffic.

This creates a hazardous situation for just about anyone who’s around.

Many rideshare and limousine drivers have complained that their vehicles are suffering damage because cyclists, with a limited space to navigate, crash into parked cars. One limo driver interviewed in the Times article mentioned that the damage his SUV sustained would cost about $1,300 to repair.

At the same time, the double-parked vehicles can obscure the view. This can increase the likelihood of a bicycle accident involving a pedestrian who’s trying to cross the street or bike lane.

Pedestrians Are at an Increased Risk

55th Street is home to two of the most famous (and expensive) hotels in New York City – the St. Regis New York and the Peninsula. Dedicated bike lanes now sit directly outside of the entrances to these establishments. Doormen for both hotels have expressed concern for the safety of their guests and patrons. Why? Before the lanes, guests could simply walk across the sidewalk, step down from the curb, and enter a vehicle. Now the guests have to cross a bike lane to get to a limo or car. Prior to the bike lanes, hotel and apartment building occupants weren’t crossing a lane of traffic. Now they are. 

The doormen say that there have been several close calls – and some accidents – involving bicyclists and pedestrians. Guests have been struck by oncoming riders who don’t slow down when approaching the hotels. 

Some hotels and businesses have set up signs and rumble strips in an effort to get bicyclists to use more caution when approaching their businesses. However, accident statistics seem to indicate that these efforts haven’t helped to reduce the number of accidents involving cyclists and pedestrians.

Accidents in NYC Have Increased In Recent Months

In 2018, there were 179 fatal traffic accidents in NYC. In the first 11 months of 2019, there have already been 194. That’s an increase of nearly 10 percent – and the year isn’t even over yet.

Despite efforts to make the roads safer for bicyclists, crash data reveals that those efforts haven’t yielded positive results. Last year, 10 bicyclists were killed in fatal crashes in the city. Approaching the end of 2019, 27 bicyclists have died in car accidents in New York City. Accidents, particularly fatal ones, should be declining, not on the rise. 

What about pedestrians? Sadly, the roads don’t appear to be safer for pedestrians, either. In fact, there have been two pedestrian deaths in NYC this year. Before these tragic accidents, there hadn’t been a fatal pedestrian accident since 2017.

How can NYC actually make its roads safer? The answer might be protected – rather than painted – bike lanes. Physically separating bicyclists from other traffic and pedestrians has been shown to be the greatest way to keep everyone safe.