Will Enhanced Cycling Regulations Put NYC Bikers In Danger?

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio’s proposal to introduce regulations governing bicyclists has generated controversy among experts and cycling activists, according to a new report in Curbed. In a September press conference discussing the alleged murder of a cyclist by a SUV driver, De Blasio said his administration is considering regulations that will make helmets mandatory for Citi Bike riders, and requiring cyclists to apply for licenses from city authorities. “I’m someone who believes that more and more people riding bikes has been a good thing for this city,” he said at the press conference. “But we have to make sense of the safety realities.”

According to Curbed, however, increased regulation of bicyclists is likely to make New York City even more dangerous for them. An official at the organization Transportation Alternatives told Curbed that helmet requirements have demonstrably discouraged people from riding bicycles, and fewer cyclists on city streets leads to “higher rates of bicyclist crashes and injuries, in part because car and truck drivers become less accustomed to operating around bicyclists.” The official said further, “The safest cities for biking and walking in the world do not mandate bike helmets or licenses.”

Studies demonstrate that increased cycling leads to increased safety for cyclists, Curbed goes on, noting that bike-shares such as New York’s Citi Bike program are a part of that trend, comprising 17 million of the nearly 179 bicycle trips in the city in 2017. However, the article argues, helmet requirements led to the end of a bike-sharing program in Seattle, and a survey found that a helmet law in Melbourne, Australia became “a barrier to using the system.” The article stresses that this does not mean cyclists should not wear helmets, only that making helmet-wearing mandatory risks undermining the Citi Bike programming, and cycling safety in New York more broadly. This logic also applies to license requirements, it continues, an unpopular measures in cities where it’s been proposed, and which has been subject to abuse in cities where it’s been implemented. The article also notes, citing a Gothamist report, that “requiring licenses to ride a bike would most likely unfairly impact immigrant and minority New Yorkers, who are already among those most at risk for being aggressively targeted for minor infractions.”

Curbed concludes by discussing policy initiatives that might actually improve safety for cyclists in New York City. These include investments in cycling infrastructure like protected bike lines physically separated from traffic, and “reducing the number of cars on streets.” For more information on cycling policy in New York, read the analysis here.

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