Transportation Alternatives is devastated at the fourth preventable cyclist death in three weeks on the streets of New York City, where infrastructure fails to protect bike riders on far too many major streets and avenues. Ronald James Burke, 32, was killed while biking in an unprotected bike lane in Bushwick on Friday, June 30th. His death follows those of Corbin Carr, a high school student; Michael Mamoukakis, a lifelong cyclist still active at age 80; and Dan Hanegby, a father of two, all killed while cycling in Midtown Manhattan on streets that lack protected bike lanes.
What the deaths of these four New Yorkers have in common is that they could have been prevented. Burke, Carr, Mamoukakis, and Hanegby died for want of protected bike lanes for which the funding is present, but the political will to quickly install them and push back against NIMBY-style complaints about loss of parking is not. The City Department of Transportation’s own data from 2014 shows that on Manhattan avenues where protected bike lanes were installed, cyclist injuries decreased even as the number of riders increased. And it is not only cyclists who benefit from protected bike lanes - on these avenues, total crashes causing injury fell 17%, and pedestrian injuries decreased by an even greater margin of 22%. Meanwhile, congestion did not worsen as a result of these bike lanes, and in fact, travel times improved for drivers in certain locations. A recent Manhattan Institute report on the progress of Vision Zero shows that street safety treatments have had real impacts on keeping pedestrians and cyclists safe, yet many neighborhoods with the highest risk have yet to receive intensive infrastructure improvements, creating a particular burden of injury and death in lower-income areas. Progress in expanding this crucial infrastructure is stymied by a systemic deference to a status quo that values parking spaces over saving lives.
Protected bike lanes are not luxuries, nor are they optional amenities. They are public safety imperatives crucial to keeping people alive as they travel throughout the city at a time when transit has reached a breaking point. The data is undeniable, and it is now beyond apparent that without major action, senseless deaths will continue. The Department of Transportation’s most recent Strategic Plan calls for New York City to add a minimum of 10 miles of protected lanes per year. Considering there are more than 400 miles of demonstrably dangerous Vision Zero Priority Corridors alone that do not yet have protected bike lanes, this goal is far too low. It must expand by at least a factor of five; all major streets and avenues must be urgently retrofitted with protected bike lanes and protected intersections, starting with those with the most pressing safety challenges.