Should cyclists be policed as if they were driving cars?
A City Council bill that would allow for cyclists to ride through certain red lights has spurred discussions between Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, lawmakers and advocates about how cyclists should be treated on city streets.
The bill, introduced earlier this year by Councilman Carlos Menchaca (D-Brooklyn), would permit cyclists to travel through red lights with “Lead Pedestrian Intervals.” Known as LPIs, the intervals extend red lights to give pedestrians several seconds to cross a street ahead of moving traffic.
It might sound like obscure traffic engineering, but it's a riding technique championed by riders.
“Sometimes laws create cultural and behavioral changes,” said Menchaca at a Transportation Committee hearing on the legislation Tuesday. “And sometimes culture points us in the direction of the legislation. This is an example of the latter.”
There are LPIs at almost 1,500 intersections throughout the city, according to the city’s Department of Transportation. It’s a feature that the agency says increases pedestrian visibility and helps keep those walking safe from turning drivers.
Proponents argue that the bill would provide the same safety benefits for cyclists.
“This important bill helps to draw a clearer distinction between cyclists and cars and highlights that [both pedestrians and cyclists] are extremely vulnerable to turning cars at intersections,” said Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez (D-Manhattan), chair of the Transportation Committee.
The bill would require little beyond departing from NYPD traffic policing that, typically, weighs cyclists’ behaviors equally against drivers’. Turning cyclists would still have to yield to pedestrians at affected intersections.
“There already are some exceptions,” said cycling advocate Paco Abraham, comparing traffic rules between cars and bikes. “This is carving out a little more space for that realization that sometimes you’re dealing with apples and oranges.”
Thomas Chan, the NYPD transportation chief, said that the idea of retraining officers to enforce a law only at certain intersections was a concern for the agency.
“We want to ensure that cyclists are safe,” Chan said. “Right now bicycles and vehicles are under the same rules….We have thousands of officers who will have to be retrained. We’re not exactly sure how this will affect enforcement, but we know it will.”
Turning crashes represented 23 percent of bicyclist fatalities in intersections, according to city data between 2006 and 2014. Sean Quinn, the senior director of bicycle and pedestrian programs at the DOT, said the agency supports the bill but wants to settle on exceptions for certain intersections with LPIs.
“The trends are all pointing to the same thing: there are more bicyclists on the streets…” Menchaca countered. “We’re going to have to evolve.”