2011-01-14 - Focus on making streets safer for all - The Brooklyn Paper

Focus on making streets safer for all

The Brooklyn Paper

January 14, 2011

By Benjamin Shepard


Time’s Up! Environmental Group has been advocating for safer streets for over two decades. We support efforts to make public spaces safer for all: pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. However, the crackdown targeting cycling announced by the NYPD will divert resources needed to address the real danger in our streets — speeding cars and red light-running motorists who kill people.

Over 200 pedestrians and cyclists killed by motor vehicles in New York City every year. Our concern is that this “ticketing blitz” which singles out cyclists will simply discourage bicycle usage.

The police do not have an encouraging track record. Hundreds of cyclists have filed civil complaints and successfully sued the NYPD over unlawful enforcement since 2004, including a lawsuit settled just a few months ago costing taxpayers nearly $1 million. Scores of police officers are issuing summonses without being properly trained on traffic laws pertaining to cyclists. Will Commissioner Kelly create yet another waste of taxpayer dollars with a new flood of cyclists fighting false tickets in traffic court?

Already, measures are being implemented which succeed in making streets safer for all, at little expense to taxpayers. Low-cost improvements in street design implemented by the Department of Transportation over the past three and a half years have made city streets safer, including a 40 percent decrease in crashes and reduced car speeds on streets with protected bike lanes. Grassroots efforts from bicycle advocacy groups, and cycling-friendly infrastructure has resulted in doubling the number of cyclists in the city since 2006. Studies show that safer streets for cyclists are safer streets for all.

If the NYPD is serious about making our streets safer it must reconsider its enforcement campaign targeting one class of commuter and announce a sensible strategy focusing limited resources on the most dangerous street users, no matter what means of transportation they choose. The NYPD would be well served to enforce current traffic laws such as those prohibiting cars from using bike lanes for parking. Every day, I ride to work along Jay Street, where I am forced to zig and zag out of the bike lanes, occupied by double-parked, cars forcing me to merge into fast-moving traffic.

Instead of singling out cyclists, the NYPD needs to shift its perspective and recognize that safer streets for all start with safer streets for the most vulnerable users: cyclists and pedestrians. The NYPD should join the rest of New Yorkers in encouraging cycling as a means to a greener and safer city for all.

Benjamin Shepard is a volunteer with Times Up! Environmental Group and co-author of the forthcoming work “The Beach Beneath the Streets: Contesting New York City’s Public Spaces” (SUNY Press).