City adopts $1.7 billion street safety plan after uptick in cyclist deaths
The City Council passed a $1.7 billion bike safety initiative dubbed the Streets Master Plan on Wednesday, following a deadly 10 months on the city’s streets.
The plan, spearheaded by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and supported by Mayor Bill de Blasio, will add 250 miles of protected bike lanes and 150 miles of protected bus lanes over five years. It will double the amount of pedestrian spaces within the first two years, and see 1,000 intersections equipped each year with traffic lights that prioritize buses to speed up notoriously slow commutes.
“We have lost too many people in our city this year, last year, the year before, five years before that, 10 years before that, because of traffic violence and because our streets have not been planned properly for all people that need to use them,” Johnson said Wednesday as he testified before the City Council.
Since streets were first designed, Johnson said, the city has made improvements in “piecemeal fashion … but we must go farther.”
“Seven million people in New York City do not own cars, and we have to make sure that our streets work for everyone,” he said. “We are not penalizing anyone; we are making our streets safer for everyone.”
This year has been the worst in two decades for cyclist deaths, which have reached 25 citywide and 16 in Brooklyn alone since the beginning of January. Last year, 10 cyclists were killed in crashes citywide.
The plan builds on an outline Johnson unveiled in May, which he described as a “roadmap to breaking car culture.” De Blasio announced his support on Monday, after the plan was altered to delay implementation to December 2021 — when de Blasio leaves office.
De Blasio announced in July his own “Green Wave” project, a $58.4 million plan to implement “design, enforcement, legislation, policy and education” to make the city’s streets safer for cyclists and hire 80 new DOT workers. The plan will add painted, safety guarded bike lanes along Fourth Avenue, Grand Street, Shore Parkway, Bay Parkway and the Bay Ridge Bike Network, among others.
One factor behind the spike in Brooklyn’s traffic fatalities is a growing population in industrial areas such as Williamsburg or Sunset Park, according to Polly Trottenberg, commissioner of the Department of Transportation.
“Areas like East New York where we’ve seen fatalities, we want to build out that protected infrastructure,” Trottenberg told the Brooklyn Eagle following an Oct. 24 meeting of the council’s Transportation Committee, where the plan was discussed. More people on bikes creates more opportunities for collision, she said.
Sixty percent of all cyclist fatalities occur at intersections, according to DOT. The city’s most recent cyclist fatality was the result of an SUV making a left-hand turn along a busy stretch in Queens, one with a bike lane but no stop light.
DOT has designated seven areas in Brooklyn as priority bike districts, neighborhoods with high bike ridership numbers but lacking sufficient infrastructure.
Under the Streets Master Plan, DOT would be required to conduct public education on the project. Each February, the council would issue a report on any changes to the plan.
Councilmembers at last week’s Transportation Committee hearing stressed that communication between agencies must get better in order for any new laws to have effect.
“It’s out of control,” said Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, who heads the Committee on Transportation, said at the Thursday hearing. “We have again failed areas such as North Manhattan, the South Bronx and many areas of Brooklyn and the working-class community.”
The Streets Master Plan requirement to increase dedicated bus lanes drew concern from a southern Brooklyn councilmember, who suggested that such bus lanes are making the streets more dangerous, not less.
Councilmember Chaim Deutsch said a 24-hour bus lane along King’s Highway has increased crashes. Deutsch cited double-parking by trucks in the area with no enforcement against it by police or DOT.
“I just want to tell the panel, the next hearing … I’m going to come with a blow horn and when I hear this testimony of ‘We want to reduce fatalities, we want to reduce crashes,’ I’m going to have that blow horn set off in the mic until I get kicked out,” he said.
Sonya Swink is a student at Newmark Journalism School at CUNY. She has written for StartUp Health Magazine, Emergency Physicians Monthly and The Globe Post. You can follow her work on Twitter.
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