By JOHN COLLINS RUDOLF
Biking is booming in New York City, with the number of daily cyclists rising to an average of 236,000 in 2009, up 26 percent from 2008, according to statistics compiled by Transportation Alternatives, a pro-biking nonprofit group.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and other city leaders have praised the increase in cycling for reducing congestion and pollution and making the city streets safer overall. To accommodate the surge in bike commuters, the city has installed hundreds of bike racks and roughly 200 miles of new bike lanes in the past three years, with plans for future expansion.
Yet according to a recent weeklong investigative series by Tony Aiello, a reporter with New York City’s WCBS-TV (Channel 2), the cycling boom is breeding discontent. Titled “Bike Bedlam,” the segments turned a critical eye on reckless riders who flouted traffic laws, and profiled a young father who was killed by a cyclist riding the wrong way on a one-way street in Midtown Manhattan. A former bike shop owner declared that cyclists were “way out of control.”
The reaction of the New York City biking community was mixed, with some cycling bloggers decrying the series for perceived sensationalism, while others admitting that too many cyclists were, in fact, ignoring traffic laws, often flagrantly.
“Cyclists, clean up your freaking act,” wrote Jen Benepe, a cycling blogger.
The Web site BikeBlogNYC urged “fellow cyclists” to heed the laws of the road. “Take those flip-flops off, put down that cellphone, put on a helmet, ride in the correct direction and pay attention,” read a recent post that, at the same time, mocked the WCBS series as sensationalist.
So, exactly how dangerous are New York City cyclists to pedestrians? When it comes to fatalities, not very: according to statistics compiled by the city’s Department of Transportation, just 11 pedestrians died as a result of crashes with cyclists between 1996 and 2005 — a tiny fraction of the 256 New York City pedestrians killed by drivers in 2009 alone.
As for pedestrian injuries caused by rogue cyclists, WCBS’s report exposed what the city now admits is a gaping hole in its data-collection methods.
“Many New Yorkers have stories to tell about dangerous encounters with bike riders, but when you look for statistics, they are nowhere to be found,” Mr. Aeillo reported. “New York City doesn’t keep a central database of accidents involving bicycles and pedestrians.”
In an e-mail to the Web site StreetsBlogNYC, a Department of Transportation spokesman, Seth Solomonow, said the city would work to close that information gap.
“We’re aggressively trying to improve the way that bike-on-ped data is collected,” Mr. Solomonow wrote. “The state D.O.T. database does a really good job of measuring motor vehicle crashes. We really want to know about these subsets, and we need to get more detail.”