Testimony by Julia Kite, Policy and Research Manager, Transportation Alternatives
Good morning, and thank you for convening this hearing. My name is Julia Kite, and I am the Policy and Research Manager for Transportation Alternatives, a 43-year-old membership-based non-profit advocating for better walking, biking, and public transportation in New York City. The topics of today’s oversight hearing and the many bills up for discussion are close to our hearts.
We strongly support Intro 1072, allowing bicyclists to proceed on the leading pedestrian interval (LPI) It is a practical safety measure for cyclists who all too frequently face aggression from drivers who do not respect their place on the road. Let us be clear: Allowing cyclists to go forward on the walk signal in a leading pedestrian interval, giving them a head start of three to seven seconds, is not about convenience or favoritism. It is a matter of safety. No one will be harmed by this bill’s passage, but people on bikes will continue to be injured or killed if it is not implemented.
- When cyclists take a head start through red lights, it is because they know there are drivers behind them who pay no heed to a cyclist’s right to occupy space on the street.
- Letting bikes go on the LPI can prevent a common type of fatal crash, the “right hook,” where an impatient driver turns into the path of a cyclist who is continuing straight.
- Because so many drivers fail to use their turn signal, this is a particular danger for cyclists who can be doing everything correctly and legally, and still get hit.
- Allowing cyclists to go on the LPI will prevent these crashes by allowing cyclists to clear the intersection first.
There is a precedent for this legislation: Washington, DC has allowed cyclists to go on the LPI since 2013. There is also a clear Vision Zero mandate: We know this intervention can prevent injuries and deaths, because it has already worked keeping pedestrians safe.
- LPIs have been shown to reduce pedestrian-vehicle collisions as much as 60% at treated intersections, so we have reason to believe they would reduce cyclist-vehicle collisions as well.
- Cyclists would still have to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk when turning. That would not change. This bill would definitely not be giving cyclists a right to blow through a group of pedestrians, nor will it allow cyclists to run red lights when there is no walk signal displayed.
- LPIs for bikes can be compared to the thousands of yield signs for cars throughout the city, with an important difference being that a bicyclist’s field of vision is far superior to that of car drivers - meaning less risk to pedestrians.
Intro 1072 will keep more bicyclists from having to choose between their own safety and being ticketed for running a red light. Cyclists face huge dangers at intersections and are far more vulnerable than drivers. Bikes are clearly not cars, and a simple measure like allowing cyclists to move during the LPI is a simple, no-cost, effective solution to a serious safety problem. We endorse it wholeheartedly.
We support Intro 1285, which will require the Department of Transportation to study ten locations with heavy pedestrian traffic and develop strategies for alleviating overcrowding. As the most pedestrian-heavy city in the United States, New York City should be leading on this matter.
- According to the DOT, the number of pedestrians at 100 sites it monitors has increased 18 percent on weekdays and 31 percent on the weekends since 2009.
- The City’s population and tourist numbers are at all-time highs. Many of our streets and sidewalks haven’t changed in more than 50 years even as travel habits and patterns have changed. This study is urgently needed.
- We encourage the DOT to undertake a thorough study in order to develop a methodology for creating citywide measures of pedestrian level of service.
- This metric should go beyond measuring volume and speed, and include elements like convenience and safety. This moves the City towards truly viewing sidewalks as multi-purpose, inclusive public spaces, not just places to walk in a rush from point A to B.
We would also like to register our support for Intros 401, 1117, and 1177, which move the City towards a safer, fairer, and more enjoyable experience for pedestrians and cyclists. We also support proposed Intro 1124-A and recognize its role in helping the City reach its carbon emission reduction goals.
Oversight: The Vision Zero Case for Making Cycling and Walking Safer
As has been reported in recent weeks, after two years of declining fatality numbers, Vision Zero progress has, sadly, reversed: More people in total, as well as more pedestrians and cyclists, have died in crashes in New York City so far this year than in the same period of 2015. Last year’s cyclist total was surpassed before Labor Day. Latest statistics indicate hit-and-run deaths have increased by over 40%. This situation is unacceptable and untenable, and we strongly encourage the City to turn its attention to the urgency of redesigning our most dangerous arterial roads, where the majority of fatal crashes occur.
Why the emphasis on street redesign? At present, most of our arterial roads are designed not for pedestrian and cyclist safety, but to move cars quickly at everybody else’s expense. They encourage speeding and failure to yield by drivers - the most common causes of pedestrian and cyclist deaths. These are entirely preventable, and the most effective way to do this is by altering the geometry and features of the road using tools the DOT already has available in its Street Design Guide. Street designs can change behavior and protect road users from the consequences of human error, and critically, those changes are cast in concrete. We are encouraged by the Mayor’s recent statement that he is very adamant about moving these redesigns forward as quickly as possible. The Mayor has said there is no shortage of will. What we need now, in the face of rising pedestrian and cyclist fatalities, is urgency and expanded capacity at the DOT to deliver the redesigns as soon as possible.
We must also emphasize that cycling will only get safer when there is an expanded, more connected network of protected bike lanes in New York City. We are aware of the tremendous effort on the part of the DOT to build a record number of protected bike lanes this year, and we appreciate their hard work. But this pace must be sustained, and consideration given not just to individual segments of streets, but entire routes.
Thank you for your time and consideration, and we look forward to continuing to work with you on delivering safe streets for all New Yorkers.