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John Petro

The Continuing Saga of the Bike Lane Wars

New York City has witnessed a historic rise in the number of bicycle commuters in recent years. Due in part to new street designs that enhance safety, bicycle commuting has more than doubled since 2000, taking cars off the road and easing crowding on subway trains.

But on Monday the editorial page of the New York Post tried to piece together an argument against the city's policy of encouraging bicycle use. Using loosely related anecdotes, hysterical proclamations, and a headline evocative of a 1950's B-movie horror film ("Attack of the killer bikes!") Matt Harvey claims that increasing bicycle use in New York City is a safety hazard.

The Post editorial attempts to portray bicycles as deadly for pedestrians, citing "bicycles that threaten to take you out every time you step outside." But between 1996 and 2005, just 11 pedestrians were killed on city streets because of a collision with a bicycle. In contrast, 207 bicyclists were killed by collisions with automobiles over the same time period.

Even the exclamation point in the headline cannot reverse the fact that new bicycle lanes actually increase safety for all users, including pedestrians and motorists. According to city transportation data, since the 9th Avenue bicycle path was installed traffic injuries for all users has decreased by 56 percent, including a 29 percent decrease in pedestrian injuries. Results for the Grand Street bicycle path have been similarly encouraging.

As a result of these new street designs, more New Yorkers are feeling safe enough to give bicycling a try. But safety is really just a means to an end. The ultimate goal is to accommodate another one million residents by 2030 while simultaneously reducing traffic congestion. And the only way to accomplish this is to reduce New Yorkers' reliance on automobiles, a point that most politicians and editorial writers would rather not have to admit.

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Posted at 12:29 PM, Jul 22, 2010 in Urban Affairs
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