Did Operation Safe Cycle make the streets of New York any safer for bikes?
Today marks the last day of Operation Safe Cycle, an initiative of the New York City Police Department aiming to “help ensure the well-being of cyclists.” A major tactic of this campaign has been to up the number of traffic tickets issued to cyclists. While anger over being ticketed is not surprising, many feel that the crackdown on cyclists is an ineffective means of protecting them.
Bike ridership in New York City is on the rise, and with it comes increased visibility to bike issues of all kinds, including the safety of riders. Last year, 12 bicyclists died in collisions with cars across the five boroughs, and another 3,884 suffered injuries, according to city records.
While addressing the safety of cyclists should be a top priority, it became clear that Operation Safe Cycle aimed to do this by targeting the illegal behaviors of cyclists, including minor offenses. Reports came from across the web of bikers being ticketed for rolling through red lights at T-intersections, on greenways and even running a yellow light.
“It seems like police know how to stake out locations where they can rack up a lot of easy tickets — places where cyclists tend to break the rules without riding recklessly,” writes Ben Fried for Streets Blog NYC.
This is not to say that bike riders in New York City don’t engage in dangerous behavior, but it was difficult to tell if ticketing was addressing problems like wrong-way cycling or bike riders speeding through crowded pedestrian cross-walks.
© Margaret Badore. Bike salmon: man rides his bike against traffic on 4th Ave.
“Most people are in favor of smart enforcement, and what we’re seeing with Operation Safe Cycle is that it doesn’t seem to be very targeted or data-driven,” said Doug Gordon, creator of the bike blog Brooklyn Spoke.
Gordon makes the case that many of the ticketed offenses are the result of poor street planning. “I think our streets have bad behavior engineered into them.” He points to the example of the Prospect Park West bike lane. After the lane was installed, riding on the sidewalk, which is illegal, dropped from 40–50 percent down to just 4 percent.
New York City has made progress with improving bike infrastructure in the past 10 years, not only by painting bike lanes but also by creating bike lanes that are separated from auto traffic by parking lanes or medians with curbs. This June, the city lowered the speed limit from 30 miles per hour to 25. Yet there are still many parts of the city that lack bike lanes, and many of the existing bike lanes are not respected by drivers and delivery trucks.
According to a city press release, Operation Safe Cycle did include a “special focus” on motorists who block the bike lane. Requests for comment and preliminary data about the number of tickets issued to cyclists vs. motorists made to the NYPD Department of Public Information did not receive a reply.
It may be too early to know if the enforcement effort will make any impact on the number of cyclist injuries this year. Gordon is doubtful that the average bike commuter will feel any differently about their daily bike ride after Operation Safe Cycle. “The streets are going to be exactly the same and they will not have moved the dial with cyclist behavior,” he said. “The problem of scofflaw cycling isn’t going to be solved through periodic crackdowns, it’s going to be solved with infrastructure.”