The new bike lanes in New York City have generated controversy. Drivers hate them, and many pedestrians have stories about near-misses with reckless, rude bicyclists. Are the bike lanes a menace, or are they a good step toward improving transportation in this congested city?
The city spent $11 million to make 255 miles of bike lanes, with a 13 percent increase in daily bike use as of last year. While riding a bicycle has its own health benefits, a city study found that streets with bike lanes have 40 percent fewer accidents involving automobiles, bikes, and pedestrians. Although this seems counter-intuitive, the presence of bikes appears to slow down all traffic. There was also a reduction in bicycle fatalities, even with the big increase in bicyclists, from 26 in 2008 to 18 in 2010.
There have been pedestrians hurt — or killed — after a collision with a bicyclist. Still the greatest danger to someone walking or cycling in New York is a distracted or drunk driver, or a car or truck speeding. Anyone riding a bike in the city must understand and follow traffic laws and safety procedures. Pedestrians and drivers, in turn, need to be more aware of two-wheeled vehicles. Cars, trucks, and city buses that block bike lanes put cyclists at risk.
New York still has a long way to go to be truly bike-friendly. Bike use is predicted to keep increasing, given the population density, so the sooner we all get used to the bike lanes, the better.