Gore de France - NYPOST.com
Paris’ bike-share deaths show the importance of caution on NYC streets
By NICOLE GELINAS
Last Updated: 11:10 PM, May 18, 2013
Posted: 10:32 PM, May 18, 2013
As City Hall prepares to roll out bike share, New Yorkers are bickering over dock placement. There’s a more pressing topic: saving lives.
Three people died in Paris’ first year of bike share. New York should heed Paris’ lesson.
Bike share will be a big deal. If each rental bike receives three to five daily uses, anywhere from 16,500 to 27,500 new riders will add themselves daily to the 31,359 cyclists in core Manhattan now.
The city has a special responsibility to new cyclists — because it’s putting them in relative danger.
Sure, cycling is safer than it once was. In a decade, as bicyclists’ numbers have quadrupled, annual deaths haven’t risen.
Paris’ program is very popular—but three died in its first year.
But that’s still 18 people dead last year, including three in Manhattan.
Bicyclists made up 6.5% of people killed in New York crashes, far more than their 1 percent share of people coming into Manhattan by subway, bus or car.
More cycling can make riders collectively safer, by increasing awareness by drivers. But it doesn’t make the individual Citibiker safer if she was doing something far safer — like riding the subway — before.
Yes, London, Washington and Boston have had bike share for couple of years — with no deaths (although London had a critical injury last month).
But Boston and Washington have a fraction of Manhattan’s population density (and expected bike usage). Core London, too, is less dense.
The city closest to us is Paris, with 81% of our population density.
You’ll often hear that bike share in Paris — or “Velib,” for liberty on a bike — has been a hit since its summer 2007 launch. True enough: Go to Paris, and you’ll see older ladies in skirts pedaling with their purses in their baskets just as often as you see thirtysomething males.
What you won’t hear is that Velib had a gruesome rollout.
In Velib’s first three years, seven people died, including three the first year. (An eighth person died last fall.)
Thanks to Velib, the average number of bike deaths in Paris initially doubled, from fewer than three people annually between 2004 and 2006 to nearly six deaths annually between 2007 and 2009.
The equivalent in New York, even if one assumes an increase only in Manhattan, would be at least six deaths beyond the usual expected by the end of 2015 — all on the cute, clunky blue bikes.
And while the cycling injury rate fell in Paris, the number of injuries initially increased, with bicycling up 70% and bicycling injuries up 35%. In 2010, a pregnant woman suffered serious harm.
Most of those people would not have been injured if they had stuck to their pre-bike way of getting around.
Since these tragedies, Paris has gotten serious about bike safety.
Nearly all the early Velib deaths involved a truck, with these large, heavy vehicles making a blind right turn (angle mort).
French bicyclists now know, thanks in part to updated instructions on each rental bike, that turning truckers will not see them.
And since the early deaths, buses and bicyclists can share super-wide segregated lanes on major avenues, with bus drivers receiving training about bicyclist safety.
People have also absorbed the grim lesson vicariously (tabloid attention has helped).
All bicyclist deaths have fallen to just more than two annually, or about half New York’s current rate adjusted for Paris’ smaller population.
New York must do more to avoid a similar spike in tragedies.
Working in the city’s favor are its protected bike lanes.
But the city isn’t being aggressive enough about educating people about safety — and it sends mixed messages.
For example, the city tells people to ride in bike lanes when possible — but it’s dropping huge bike docks near Fifth and Sixth avenues, where there are no such lanes.
New Yorkers who rent a bike from these kiosks to go across town, too, will be in traffic on a narrow obstacle course filled with intersections, double-parked garbage trucks, passengers opening cab doors without warning and oblivious pedestrians in the way, causing them to swerve.
The biggest lesson from France is for people to understand that they must be afraid of trucks.
Eric Britton, an American cycling enthusiast who’s lived in Paris for decades, says that when a new bicyclist sees a truck, she should stop and wait for the truck to pass. Yet the instructions on Citi Bike kiosks say nothing about trucks.
New cyclists should understand that bicycling is collectively beneficial. But as an individual choice, switching from the subway or another safer way to travel adds danger.
Despite the hype surrounding Citi Bike — and the Disneyfication of Manhattan that makes newcomers and tourists feel safe doing anything the city says it’s OK for them to do — urban cycling is not a game.
Adapted from a forthcoming City Journal online piece.