John Liu: Cyclists Need Helmets, But Not Bike Lanes

What does John Liu think of bikes in NYC? That’s hard to say, and it’s not clear that Liu knows either.

On the day when thousands signed up for the city’s bike-share program, exceeding expectations and setting the stage for a major shift in the way many New Yorkers get around, Liu chose to engage in scaremongering. From a statement issued by Liu, which was excerpted by AMNY:

“It’s not too late to fix the City’s Bike Share program to make sure it’s safe — by requiring helmets for all riders, increasing traffic enforcement at dangerous intersections, and doing more to educate cyclists, drivers, and pedestrians alike on the rules of the road. Helmets in particular are key — according to the Department of Transportation, in 97 percent of fatal bicycle accidents in New York City the rider was not wearing a helmet.”

Liu’s helmet use claim is misleading. The stat comes from a city report on cyclist deaths and injuries from 1996 to 2005, and here is what the report says: “Among the fatalities with documented helmet use, 97% of the bicyclists were not wearing a helmet at the time of the crash.” Of the 207 cyclist fatalities during the study period, helmet use or non-use was documented in 122 crashes. Of those, four cyclists were reported to have been wearing a helmet. No helmet use data was recorded for the remaining 85 fatal crashes. It could be that most of those 85 cyclists weren’t wearing helmets, but Liu misrepresents the report’s findings.

Here’s another data point from that report: 92 percent of cyclists killed were struck by drivers in motor vehicles. Liu’s statement is akin to saying 97 percent of gunshot victims weren’t wearing bullet-proof vests.

Liu is also drumming up fear without any evidence that bike-share is dangerous. Crash data from Paris to London to DC suggest that injury rates for bike-share users are lower than for cyclists on their own bikes.

As for infrastructure that makes cyclists safer: Liu’s helmet stat is cited in his bike-share safety plan, which, misguided as it may be, projects a generally positive attitude toward cycling. By contrast, at a recent candidate forum in Brooklyn, Liu said he is skeptical of the city’s bike lane program. From Ditmas Park Corner, emphasis theirs:

Question from the audience: A frustrated driver asked what he would do about the increase of bike lanes in the city.

This did not go over well with a clearly divided crowd, who began arguing with each other right away. Liu managed to get an answer in, siding with drivers. He said that they make sense in Manhattan, but in Brooklyn and Queens, he said he’s stood watching for a long time without seeing any cyclists ride past. He also said that there is “little to no community input” when the Department of Transportation looks at installing bike lanes (though, we’ve so far seen that the DOT is trying, in our area, to reach out via the Community Board).

First off, to say that DOT installs bike lanes without input is a total fabrication. Not only does DOT consult community boards on the vast majority of bike lane and other street safety projects, it routinely adjusts these projects based on feedback, for better or worse.

Also: Got that, everyone in Brooklyn and Queens? Your boroughs ranked first and second in cyclist deaths in 2012, with seven and six killed, respectively. Yet John Liu doesn’t want to make your streets safer for biking. Let’s see how that plays in the primary.