With the world going to heck in an artisanal basket out there I was surprised to see the New York Times slip this odd bit of bike lane agnosticism into the paper yesterday:
Are bike lanes safe? Well, they’re certainly safe-er. Some years back the city found that streets with bike lanes see something like 40% fewer crashes resulting in injury or death. However, the writer does not address this, instead offering up the following anecdote:
In just the last eight months, I’ve had two cycling accidents when inattentive drivers made right turns and cut me off. So far I’ve been lucky, escaping with bloody scrapes and a bent bike wheel. But I can’t help wondering how long my luck will last.
This is not surprising. While bike lanes may be safer, they’re definitely not idiot-proof–and you can always count on drivers to be idiots, as is the case here:
With respect to my own bike accidents, both times I had the right of way. In the first, a truck driver turned right and cut me off as I was about to cross a major street on a green light, and I went down with my bike to avoid being crushed. He didn’t stop and likely never even saw me lying on the ground.
The second driver, at least, stopped, picked me up with my bike, and apologizing profusely, made sure I was not seriously injured. He said he forgot about the bike lane. He put the chain back on the bike, offered to drive me home and stayed with me until I stopped shaking.
So a near hit-and-run followed by a successful strike. Yet oddly the writer seems to sympathize with her assailants (did she not call the police after the second guy admitted he wasn’t looking?) and instead takes issue with the fact that bike lanes don’t somehow make you invincible, like a Power Pellet in Pac-Man:
But this second incident left me wondering how sensibly some of the new bike lanes were designed. The relatively new Brooklyn bike lane I was on, like many others, runs between a curb on the right and parked cars on the left. Cars traveling to the left of the parked vehicles have no clear view of what may be coming along in the bike lane, and cyclists in that lane have limited ability to see a driver who turns right and fails to slow down enough to avoid a collision.
There’s no doubt bike lanes would be even safer for cyclists if the city got rid of the parked cars altogether instead of using them as “protection,” but while this seems like a perfect opportunity for the writer to lobby for even better designs, she instead moves onto the “hordes of cyclists:”
I know I’m not alone in thinking that the relative newness of hordes of cyclists in my city is a big part of the problem. Unlike many European cities, there is no longstanding cycling culture in New York and other American cities. The result is several generations of drivers who don’t even think about sharing the road and looking out for cyclists.
This “newness” is indeed relative; the New York City cycling boom is closing in on 20 years old at this point. What’s actually new is all these Ubers and Lyfts and and Amazon Prime deliveries, which is what’s exacerbating traffic and blocking bike lanes. Sure, longtime drivers suddenly beset by cyclists makes for a convenient narrative, but the “hordes” are all the vehicles being summoned by smartphone apps and online retail.
At this point, having effectively exonerated the drivers who could easily have killed her (they were confused by badly designed bike lanes, they were bewildered by hordes of new cyclists…), she moves on to the real problem, which is…pedestrians?
In New York in particular, this issue is complicated by the fact that pedestrians and cyclists, as well as far too many drivers, routinely ignore red lights. As a cyclist and a driver, I know that pedestrians frequently dart out midblock between parked cars and seem to assume we will be able to stop in time to avoid hitting them. A further complication: pedestrians often cross the street, with or without the light in their favor, while staring at their phones or wearing headsets that block the sound of my bell.
Oh, and cyclists who wear dark clothes:
At the same time, I’m a strong advocate for cyclists learning to protect themselves better. Too many ride in dark clothes, even at night, without lights or helmets. The CitiBike program does not provide helmets, and fewer than half the people I see using the bike share bring their own head protection.
The jackets or, in warm weather, shirts I bike in are either bright red-orange or lime green, with helmets and backpacks to match, and there are flashing lights on my helmet and bike. After sunset or when visibility is poor, I wear a reflective vest.
So basically she dresses like a construction site, and yet two drivers recently managed to nearly kill her anyway. Funny how that works. Has it occurred to her that perhaps no article of clothing is bright enough for a driver to see with their head up their ass, and that maybe cyclists’ choice of wardrobe and headgear isn’t the biggest problem out there?
To her considerable credit, she’s still out there on the street contending with these asshole drivers at 79 years old:
I will soon be 79 years old and I’ve been riding a bike in city streets for three-quarters of a century. I hope to be able to continue to do so for at least another decade, though I promise to listen to my aging body if it tells me I’m getting too feeble or careless to do so.
And her frustration with moronic drivers and imperfect bike lanes is justified:
In the meantime, for the foreseeable future, until most drivers become more respectful of cyclists and the lanes dedicated to them, I plan to avoid riding on so-called protected bike lanes where turning vehicles can’t see me and I can’t see them until perhaps it’s too late.
I just could have done without all the stuff about what pedestrians and cyclists are doing wrong. It’s like she dressed the column up in hi-viz: it may have seemed like a good idea, and it probably made her feel good about herself, but in the end it didn’t really do shit.