More Cycling, Fewer Injuries: Study Shows Need for Better Bike Infrastructure in NYC

Data from a Hunter College study shows fewer pedestrians being injured by cyclists between 2007 and 2010, the same time frame in which NYC has improved bike infrastructure and cycling has grown.

[Update 9/26: For further reading, see last week's City Room article about how this study has been critiqued by other members of the Hunter College's urban planning faculty.]

Earlier this week, two Hunter College professors released a study showing that between 2007 and 2010, approximately 1,000 pedestrians were injured by cyclists. Those so inclined have heralded this study as proof that bicycles on streets mean less safe streets. Though the number of injuries is higher than previous academic estimates, as Streetsblog and others have pointed out, the study also shows that the number of pedestrian injuries has decreased even as the number of bicyclists has increased.

Furthermore, looking at bike/pedestrian crashes in New York City, the study uncovers an interesting pattern. The authors note that the “place of residence of individuals involved in pedestrian-cyclist accidents parallels exactly the ranking of the location of all pedestrian deaths in New York City.” This suggests that unsafe places are unsafe places: it’s likely that streets with large numbers of pedestrian/bicycle crashes also have large numbers of pedestrian/vehicle crashes; they are simply unsafe places to walk.

The study finds Brooklyn and Manhattan to have the highest pedestrian/bike accidents, with 34.4% and 28.1%, respectively, of New York City’s share. The study does not provide information on the crashes at an individual roadway level, but many of the roads in the neighborhoods with the highest number of crashes — East Harlem and the Lower East Side — are wide, fast roads that currently lack adequate bike/ped infrastructure.

Viewed in this light, the study shows the need for greater bike and pedestrian infrastructure throughout the City. In fact, Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito has already made this link, saying via Twitter that the study underscores the need for more protected bike lanes above 96th Street. The connection between safer streets and bicycle and pedestrian improvements is well-supported. A NYCDOT study found that pedestrian improvements in Midtown and lower Broadway have reduced pedestrian injuries by 35%, and injuries to motorists and passengers were down 63% since implementation in 2009.

While some have suggested that the Hunter study gives New Yorkers a reason to be wary of the City’s bike policies including the recently-announced bike share program, those pedestrians most at risk seem to understand that better bike infrastructure means safety for all. The study finds that Hispanic residents are “overrepresented among [pedestrians] involved in pedestrian-cyclist accidents.”  They are also the ethnic group which has been most supportive of bike lanes in recent citywide polls. It looks there’s some light at the end of this bike path.

Chart: From Hunter College study.

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4 comments to More Cycling, Fewer Injuries: Study Shows Need for Better Bike Infrastructure in NYC

  • Jeremy

    Ok – a few things here. The neighborhood trends are due to a number of factors, and are likely primarily due to economic issues. This study does not measure accidents – it measures pedestrian hospitalizations. While an Upper East Side resident might go straight to a physician or orthopedist, residents of the neighborhoods identified above are very likely to head to the emergency room first. The author’s conclusion is highly, highly tenuous.

    What the data does show, and what anyone who *really* cares about pedestrian safety will readily acknowledge, is that per capita, cyclists are more likely to send a pedestrian to the hospital than a driver. It really shocks the conscience that certain cycling extremists and pretend “complete streets” proponents would sell out pedestrians so quickly by refusing to acknowledge this. It’s almost inhumane.

    Let’s be clear – a driver is more likely to send a pedestrian to the morgue, which is the critical issue of the day. However, the effort that’s being undertaken to undermine any pedestrian safety responsibility for cyclists is dirty, dirty work.

  • Steve

    Your conclusions are equally as tenuous. A UES resident might be more likely to have health insurance than someone who lives in East Harlem, making it far more likely that the UES resident would seek medical care either in a hospital or from a private physician. You are right that some poorer people might head to the emergency room first, but without health insurance they might only go for the most extreme injuries since they’d probably try to avoid the high cost of a hospital visit.

    Poor people might be more likely to visit a hospital ER or private doctor in comparison to a person with health insurance, but they also might be more likely to avoid seeking medical care altogether. (In other words, a person with health insurance could go get a bruised knee checked out, but a person without insurance might only go for a fractured skull.) There’s simply no way to compare one neighborhood to another.

    You may be right about the relative dangers of cyclists and motorists, but I would not use this study as help in that argument at all, nor would I use it to promote a pro-cycling agenda. It was shoddily done and should not be held up as an example of anything. It helps no one’s case.

  • Jeremy

    I agree with your first two paragraphs wholeheartedly, and was simply providing an alternative, similarly unproven (but equally reasonable, given the data) explanation of the geographic distribution. I’m not suggesting it’s right, just more probable than the infrastructure argument above.

  • ed tristram

    That’s injuries ANNUALLY, not total injuries over the 4 year period. The reality is 4 times worse than the headline suggests.

    Just as many motor vehicles create virtually a hostile occupying force in our neighborhoods, many bikes start to do the same. (Injuries are less likely to be deadly, yes.) You see this on bike Sundays in Manhattan when peds have trouble crossing at all when confronted by a rived or bikes. It’s a good problem to have, but it needs to be solved or folks will rebel against bikes more and more.

    Part of the solution is better adherance to red lights by cyclists. Part is better enforcement. (Meanwhile, we still need better enforcement much more for motor vehicles.) Part is awareness by cyclists that it’s not enough to miss the peds; you must also avoid frightening them.

    One-way streets: I’d like to see many more streets legal for 2-way bike traffic. And then, where it’s not safe, signage and enforcement.

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