Tell Electeds and the Media: I’m a New Yorker, and I Want Safer Streets

Does Anthony Weiner really intend to someday rip out all the bike lanes in New York City? Or was his remark to Mayor Bloomberg “on a balmy night last June” merely a topical quip blown out of proportion in last week’s Times profile of Janette Sadik-Khan?

We’ve queried Weiner’s office to find out, but the Times piece, more than anything, should serve as a rallying point for those who support the work of NYCDOT. Whether or not Sadik-Khan has hurt feelings or ruffled feathers, her efforts continue to make city streets safer and more accessible for the majority of New Yorkers. Period.

With the axing of the 34th Street pedestrian plaza, you can bet the haters — the “real New Yorkers” for whom pedestrians and bus riders are obstacles on the other side of the windshield — smell blood in the water. Today’s sneering editorial from the Post calling for Sadik-Khan’s job is likely but a hint of what’s to come.

Several Streetsblog readers have posted their letters to Weiner and the Times. After the jump, read what John Petro of the Drum Major Institute wrote to the congressman. At this pivotal moment, consider adding your voice of reason to what is sure to be an ongoing war of words over the very future of the city.

The Honorable Representative Weiner,

I live in an area in New York City a bit west to your House district, but I wanted to write to express my concern about your comments related to bicycle lanes as they were quoted by the New York Times on Friday afternoon. I know that you have stood up and spoken out in favor of pedestrian and bicycle improvements before, so it is quite possible that your quote was taken out of context. All the same I would like to take the opportunity to discuss exactly why recent improvements to the city s streets are so important.

I am a policy analyst for urban affairs at the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy, a progressive-leaning think tank based in New York City. My comments today reflect my personal opinion, not those of the Drum Major Institute, but I would like to refer to my position with this organization because I am currently researching a comprehensive paper about street safety in New York City.

Through my research, I have found that about 270 New Yorkers are killed by traffic incidents, on average, every year. For every traffic fatality, there are thousands of life-altering injuries, including the loss of a limb, chronic pain, and immobility. I have found that among our peer cities in Europe, New York City s fatality rate is extremely high. I also want to point out that the threat that street safety poses to the city s general public is on the same level as gun violence. In fact, more people are killed by traffic in New York City than are murdered by guns.

Therefore, street safety is a very serious issue. If there were about 270 fatalities at Kennedy or LaGuardia every year, I’m quite certain that we would feel compelled do something about the situation. And yet, the same number of people is being killed on the city s streets every year.

This is even more alarming given that many our peer cities in Europe have fatality rates half of New York City’s. For example, Paris halved the number of traffic fatalities in the city in the short span of six years. The interventions that reduce fatalities are well known. They aim to limit automobile speeds to between 20 and 30 miles per hour when pedestrians are present. These interventions, such as the wide-spread introduction of protected bicycle lanes, have been associated with reduced fatality rates in the cities that have implemented them, as studies in medical journals such as Injury Prevention have shown.

As a progressive, and one that has been closely watching your admirable statements on the House floor, I hope that you will take these facts into mind when developing your position on bicycle lanes in built-up urban areas. This is simply a matter of life and death, an ethical issue that should be treated with the utmost seriousness. Personally, I do not feel that 270 deaths and thousands of life altering injuries on the city s streets every year are acceptable. Given the fact that they can be avoided, as the experience of European cities shows, I cannot accept that level of violence.

If you have any questions about how I ve arrived at these conclusions I would be happy to share the academic studies and reports by organizations such as the World Health Organization which have concluded: interventions such as the implementation of bicycle lanes have the potential to save hundreds of lives every year in New York City. Thank you.

John Petro