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Posts from the Bicycle Safety Category

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U.S. Traffic Fatalities Rising Fast — Especially Pedestrian and Cyclist Deaths

Traffic fatalities in America hit a seven-year high in 2015, with pedestrians and cyclists accounting for a disproportionate share of the alarming increase, according to preliminary data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Last year, 35,200 people were killed in traffic — a 7.7 percent increase over 2014 and the worst death toll since 2008. The number of people killed while walking or biking is rising even faster.

Traffic deaths increased 7.7 percent last year and pedestrians and cyclists saw the biggest increase. Graph: NHTSA

Last year pedestrian and cyclist deaths increased more than overall traffic deaths. Graph: NHTSA

Pedestrian deaths shot up 10 percent last year and bicyclist deaths 13 percent — more than other types of victims, according to NHTSA. The agency did not break down these categories by number.

Driving increased in 2015 too, but by 3.5 percent — not enough to explain the rising death toll.

People walking or biking have accounted for a growing share of total traffic deaths since 2007, and there is little agreement about the underlying causes. In addition to the usual rush to blame victims by invoking “distracted walking,” theories include increases in biking and walking overall, driver distraction, and low gas prices promoting more “marginal” drivers like teenagers, who are more crash prone. (The NHTSA report says crashes involving young drivers — ages 15 to 20 — increased 10 percent in 2015.)

One thing is clear, however: The United States is falling further behind other nations that have sustained impressive reductions in traffic fatalities. While countries like the UK, Japan, and Germany achieve rapid improvements in street safety, America has failed to keep people safe on the streets.

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Truck Driver Kills Cyclist Leah Sylvain in Bushwick — Victim-Blaming Ensues

Joseph Cherry struck and killed 27-year-old Leah Sylvain while she biked up the Evergreen Avenue bike lane early this morning. Photo: Google Maps

Joseph Cherry struck and killed Leah Sylvain on Evergreen Avenue early this morning. Photo: Google Maps

A fuel truck driver struck and killed Leah Sylvain, 27, as she was biking on Evergreen Avenue in Bushwick this morning.

Sylvain was traveling north in the bike lane when Joseph Cherry, also traveling north, turned his truck to the left across her path, fatally injuring her. Sylvain was lying on the road with head trauma when police and EMS arrived at 6:46 a.m. She was pronounced dead at Woodhull Hospital.

Cherry, 52, was charged with misdemeanor careless driving, two moving violations for failure to yield, and another unspecified violation, according to NYPD.

While Sylvain clearly had the right of way and Cherry broke the law by failing to yield, CBS New York‘s Ilana Gold reported that Sylvain “slammed into” the truck, citing police investigators. Gold’s video segment said Sylvain was riding on the sidewalk, which subsequent NYPD reports corrected, and that witnesses said she was “distracted on her cell phone.” The video has since been taken down, and the references to sidewalk riding and the cell phone have been removed from the online text of the CBS story.

Sylvain is at least the fifth cyclist killed by a New York City driver in 2016 — and the fourth in Brooklyn.

If you’d like to voice your concerns about street safety in the area to Deputy Inspector Maximo Tolentino, the commanding officer of the 83rd Precinct, the precinct community council meets on the third Tuesday of the month at 6:30 p.m. at the precinct house, located at 480 Knickerbocker Ave.

This morning’s crash occurred in the City Council district represented by Antonio Reynoso.

Streetsblog USA
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Why Helmets Aren’t the Answer to Bike Safety — In One Chart

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Better street design and getting more people on bikes — not blind faith in helmets — are the keys to making cycling safer, recent research has shown.

Want a good visual to get the point across? The Toole Design Group made this for you.

Of these countries, the U.S. has the highest rate of helmet usage among cyclists — around 55 percent — but also the highest cyclist fatality rate per distance traveled. Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, where helmet use is practically nil, cycling is much, much safer.

While this is just eight data points, higher helmet use seems to be associated with higher fatality rates. Intuitively, that makes some sense. The more dangerous an activity, the more people feel inclined to take steps to protect themselves.

Despite the high rate of helmet use in the U.S., helmet campaigns have clearly failed to make cycling as safe as it should be. If anything, they’ve distracted from the much more important work of designing safer streets and reducing motor vehicle speeds in cities.

Updated at 4:37 p.m to replace Toole’s line graph with Toole’s bar chart, based on the same data.

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TLC: Cab Driver Blocking the Bike Lane? We’ll Allow It

The Taxi and Limousine Commission is telling cyclists the agency is no longer penalizing cab drivers for blocking bike lanes.

It is against city traffic rules to drive or stop a motor vehicle in a bike lane. City rules also prohibit cab drivers from picking up and dropping off passengers in bike lanes. These rules exist because it’s often dangerous to force a cyclist from a bike lane into lanes designated for motor vehicle traffic.

In the past, a cyclist who filed a complaint could expect the TLC to impose a fine when presented with evidence that a cab driver broke those rules. But cyclists who have had recent complaints rejected by the TLC say that’s not the case anymore.

Reader Choresh Wald emailed us to say a TLC employee told him the agency made a “policy change” and will no longer enforce NYC traffic rules against blocking bike lanes. According to Wald, the TLC staffer said the agency will instead defer to state laws that don’t prohibit drivers from blocking bike lanes.

Multiple queries to the TLC for confirmation of the policy change have so far gone unanswered. But cyclists are posting photos of traffic violations they say the TLC dismissed on the grounds that the driver was not breaking agency rules.

That doesn’t make sense, according to attorney and traffic law expert Steve Vaccaro.

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Street Safety Benefits of Congestion Charging Are Bigger Than We Thought

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The decline in crash rates in and around the London congestion charging zone has far outpaced the decrease in traffic volumes.

Evidence keeps mounting that congestion pricing can catalyze major reductions in traffic crashes. A year ago I reported on research that vehicle crashes in central London fell as much as 40 percent since the 2003 startup of London’s congestion charge. The same researchers are now expressing the safety dividend in terms of falling per-mile crash rates, and the figures are even more impressive.

The researchers — economists associated with the Management School at Lancaster University in northern England — compared crashes within and near the London charging zone against 20 other U.K. cities, before and after 2003. Their conclusion: Since the onset of congestion charging, crashes in central London fell at a faster rate than the decrease in traffic volumes. As important as the reduction in traffic has been for safety, at least as much improvement is due to the lower crash frequency per mile driven.

In short, driving in the London charging zone isn’t just smoother and more predictable, it’s safer. And safer for cyclists as well as drivers, with the number of people on bikes expanding considerably as car volumes have fallen.

The research reported last year was compiled in a working paper, Traffic Accidents and the London Congestion Charge. The new results stressing crash rates (per mile driven or bicycled), rather than crash numbers, appear in the paper’s final, peer-reviewed version published in January in the Journal of Public Economics.

Here are key findings:

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Total L.I.C. Street Rebuild to Include Safety Overhauls for Key Intersections

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer alongside the DDC and DOT Commissioners this morning. Photo: David Meyer

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer alongside DDC Commissioner Feniosky Pena-Mora (to the left) and DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg (on the right) this morning. Photo: David Meyer

The streets of Long Island City are getting a total rebuild, and as part of the project four major intersections along Jackson Avenue and Vernon Boulevard will get redesigned for greater safety.

Many other intersections could get curb extensions or other traffic-calming treatments as part of the $38.47 million neighborhood-wide street reconstruction. Speaking this morning at the foot of the Pulaski Bridge, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer said DOT will prioritize four intersections: 21st Street and Jackson Avenue, 23rd Street and Jackson Avenue, Vernon Boulevard and Jackson Avenue, and Vernon Boulevard and 44th Drive.

Jackson and 11th Street, a complex multi-leg intersection that pedestrians and cyclists have to navigate to get to the Pulaski Bridge, will also be improved. Once the Pulaski Bridge bikeway opens this spring, there will be a lot more room for walking and biking, and the approach on the Queens side could use an upgrade.

Long Island City’s population is on track to soar as new development hits the market. But sandwiched by the Queensboro Bridge to the north and the Pulaski Bridge and Midtown Tunnel to the south, the neighborhood is often overrun by car and truck traffic, creating an unpleasant and unsafe environment for pedestrians.

In December, Van Bramer, DDC, and DOT hosted a public workshop where local residents and business owners overwhelmingly cited Vernon Boulevard and Jackson Avenue as streets in need of safety improvements. Jackson Avenue feeds into the Pulaski and is the site of several popular attractions, including MOMA P.S. 1, but has few safe crosswalks. In 2015 alone, 31 people were injured on Jackson Avenue within the project boundaries.

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Streetsblog USA
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Study: Sharrows Don’t Make Streets Safer for Cycling

Sharrows are the dregs of bike infrastructure — the scraps cities hand out when they can’t muster the will to implement exclusive space for bicycling. They may help with wayfinding, but do sharrows improve the safety of cycling at all? New research presented at the Transportation Review Board Annual Meeting suggests they don’t.

Sharrows are useless and perhaps even harmful, a new study found. Photo: University of Colorado Denver

Sharrows without traffic-calming won’t do much to make cycling safer. Photo: University of Colorado Denver

A study by University of Colorado Denver researchers Nick Ferenchak and Wesley Marshall examined safety outcomes for areas in Chicago that received bike lanes, sharrows, and no bicycling street treatments at all. (The study was conducted before Chicago had much in the way of protected bike lanes, so it did not distinguish between types of bike lanes.) The results suggest that bike lanes encourage more people to bike and make biking safer, while sharrows don’t do much of either.

Ferenchak and Marshall’s study divided Chicago into three geographic categories using Census block groups: areas where bike lanes were added between 2008 and 2010, areas where sharrows were added, and areas where no bike treatments were added. They then looked at how bike commuting and cyclist injuries changed in these areas over time.

They found that bike commute rates more than doubled in areas with new bike lanes, compared to a 27 percent increase in areas with new sharrows and a 43 percent increase in areas where nothing changed.

Meanwhile, the rate of cyclist injuries per bike commuter improved the most where bike lanes were striped, decreasing 42 percent. Areas that got sharrows saw the same metric fall about 20 percent –worse than areas where streets didn’t change (36 percent), although the difference was not great enough to be statistically significant.

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DOT Weakened Riverside Drive Plan to Appease Manhattan CB 9 [Updated]

A DOT road diet for the Riverside Drive viaduct, where the majority of drivers speed, will keep two lanes for northbound drivers and will have no lanes for cyclists. Image: Google Maps

A DOT road diet for the Riverside Drive viaduct, where most drivers speed, will keep two lanes for northbound drivers and will have no dedicated lanes for cyclists. Image: Google Maps

DOT watered down and delayed an already half-hearted plan to make Riverside Drive safer for walking in deference to opposition from Manhattan Community Board 9.

Riverside is a neighborhood street, lined by apartment buildings and parks. It also ranks in the top third of Manhattan streets in terms of the number of collisions, which is supposed to mean it’s a high priority for DOT to redesign under Vision Zero. From 2009 to 2013, crashes on Riverside resulted in 74 injuries, including 23 severe injuries, according to DOT.

In January, DOT released a road diet plan for Riverside that was weak to begin with. By omitting bike lanes where there is clearly ample room, DOT passed on an opportunity to make the street safer for cyclists and pedestrians. But that wasn’t enough to placate CB 9, which refused to endorse the plan as drivers continued to injure people.

The original DOT plan called for reducing through-lanes on the Riverside Drive viaduct, where DOT says the majority of drivers speed, from two to one in each direction. But under the amended plan endorsed by CB 9 last May, the viaduct will remain two lanes on the northbound side, according to the office of City Council Member Mark Levine.

DOT dropped pedestrian islands planned for W. 120th Street after CB 9 objected to them.

DOT reportedly dropped pedestrian islands planned for W. 120th Street after CB 9 objected to them.

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More Evidence That Helmet Laws Don’t Work

There was a correlation between living in an area with high cycling rates and low levels of hospitalization. Graph: University of British Columbia

Living in an area with high cycling rates is linked to lower levels of hospitalization for bicyclists. There is no similar link for helmet laws. Graph: University of British Columbia

If you want to increase cycling safety in your city, drop the helmet law and focus on getting more people– particularly women — on bikes, with street designs that offer separation from vehicle traffic.

That’s the finding of a new study by researchers at the University of British Columbia [PDF] evaluating safety outcomes for cyclists across Canadian provinces and territories.

Lead author Kay Teschke and a team of researchers looked at cyclist injuries requiring hospitalization in 10 Canadian provinces and three territories between 2006 and 2012. They checked to see if hospitalization rates were linked in any way to helmet laws and cycling rates, and they checked for variations in hospitalization rates by sex and age.

Helmet laws were found to have no relationship to hospitalization rates. That was true even though self-reported helmet use is higher in areas of Canada that mandate it (67 percent) than in areas that don’t (39 percent).

But having a higher rate of cycling in one’s community does seem to have an impact on safety. Using Canadian government data on cycling activity, researchers found that men and woman were both less likely to be injured while biking in communities where more people bike.

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Side Guard Pilot Almost Complete — Next Up, the Other 95% of City Trucks

A recently-installed side guard is part of a 240-truck pilot program. By 2024, all city trucks must have side guards. Photo: Joby Jacob/Twitter

A recently-installed side guard, part of a 240-truck pilot program. By 2024, all city trucks must have side guards. Photo: Joby Jacob/Twitter

In February, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a pilot program to add side guards, which prevent people from being dragged beneath the rear wheels of large vehicles, to 240 trucks in the city fleet. The Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which is managing the rollout, said today that it is two-thirds done with the project, and expects to have the job done by the end of the year. Still, there’s a long way to go before all city-owned trucks have this lifesaving add-on.

Side guards have proven effective at reducing fatality rates. In the United Kingdom, cyclist fatalities dropped 61 percent and pedestrian deaths fell 20 percent in side-impact crashes after side guards were required nationwide starting in 1986.

So far, 160 vehicles from 20 city agencies have had side guards installed. The Department of Education was the first agency to have its whole truck fleet outfitted, DCAS reported in June [PDF]. Other agency trucks that have received side guards include Parks, Environmental Protection, NYPD, and the Department of Finance.

The city is working with U.S. DOT’s Volpe Center, which issued a report last December recommending side guards on NYC-owned trucks, to evaluate the pilot program.

Although it will take almost a year to install side guards on 240 trucks, that’s just a drop in the bucket. The city’s 28,000-vehicle fleet includes approximately 4,500 trucks that are eligible for side guards. New York plans to equip all those trucks with side guards over the next eight years.

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