Safety Concerns Aired as New York Bike-Share Program Prepares to Launch

The number of bicyclists on New York City streets is about to increase remarkably. After the city’s bike-share program starts next month, up to 10,000 public bicycles will eventually be available.

Obviously that’s a lot of bikes. What needs to happen, to make sure the bike-share program does not put more people at risk of New York bicycle accidents?

City Comptroller John Liu has already expressed concern about the program. He is worried not only about injuries to bikers, but also the dangers to pedestrians from bikers.

In a press release on June 25, Liu used biking metaphors to call attention to some of the potential problems. “In the rush to place ten thousand bicycles on our streets, City Hall may have pedaled past safety measures,” Liu asserted. In doing so, he said, the city “risks significantly exacerbating the number of injuries and fatalities of both bikers and pedestrians, especially those most vulnerable like young children and seniors.”

Liu’s criticisms of the bike-share program go beyond the human cost of injuries from bike accidents, of course. As the city comptroller, he is also understandably concerned about the possibility that such accidents will increase the number of legal claims against the city.

It is by no means clear, however, that increasing the number of bicyclists will result in diminished safety. It could be that, in practice, biking will become safer after bike-share is rolled out, due to a “safety in numbers” effect.

In other words, the more that motorists and pedestrians become sensitized to the presence of bikes, the fewer accidents there may be.

Source: “Despite Media Posturing, Liu’s Bike-Share Report Mostly Calls for Safer Streets,” Streetsblog, Noah Kazis, 6-25-12

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