Monday, December 13, 2010

Get involved in local politics to improve street safety.

Bicyclists must get involved in local politics if we want roads that are safer for everyone and for cyclists in particular.  That means attending meetings of your Community Board.  It also means attending City Council hearings on topics that concern cyclists.

Last Thursday, the New York City Council's Transportation Oversight Committee held a hearing (read: charade) on whether new bike lanes are being installed too quickly and without enough oversight from City Council and Community Boards.  Some Councilmembers seemed blissfully -- even gleefully -- ignorant of the fact that the City Council and the Community Boards already weighed in on the topic many years ago and approved a master plan of bicycle paths.  The current Department of Transportation is implementing this plan, which the previous DOT commissioner failed to implement (Failed due to Incompetence? Political machinations? Too much oversight? Too much candy and donuts? You decide.).

The result of these failures to install bike lanes, along with other failures to take strong measures to improve safety on New York City streets, has resulted in the deaths of thousands upon thousands of New Yorkers who have been killed in motor vehicle accidents.

James Vacca, Chairman of the Transportation Oversight Committee, began the hearing with a diatribe against the rapidity of the DOT's work and the evils of cycling.  Then DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan presented, and was grilled.

Then came the testimony. Some 72 New Yorkers signed up to speak for two minutes each.  The first six speaking slots were given to those who object to bike lanes, particularly on Prospect Park West, and apparently prefer streets where motorists drive with murderous intent.  (Fortunately, most Park Slope residents like the bike lanes. See  And in a true lesson of City democracy, they were allowed to exceed their two minute time limit allowed for delivering testimony.

I showed up at 8:30am for the 10am hearing.  And at about 3:15pm I delivered the following two-minute testimony.  At the time, only one councilmember was still present (friend of a livable Brooklyn, Councilmember Letitia James), Chairman Vacca being on break.  By this time, and for the last hour and a half or so, the testimonies and audience members consisted only of those who support bike lanes and the DOT's aggressive approach to creating livable streets.  Little surprise.  Ultimately, bike lanes are better for the city.  We can hope that good sense will prevail.


Dear Honorable Councilmen and Councilwomen of the City of New York:

In the five boroughs of New York City, 266 people were killed in traffic fatalities in 2009. This is according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.(1)  Are those 266 deaths in 2009 too few?  Or are they too many?

In the 15 years from 1994 up through 2009, 5,746 people were killed in the five boroughs of New York City in motor vehicle accidents.  Are 5,746 fatalities in 15 years too few?  Or too many?  How many more people need to be killed in traffic accidents before we take aggressive steps to make our streets safe?

Personally, I believe these fatalities were needless and are entirely unacceptable.  For this reason, I support New York City’s Department of Transportation for making changes to city streets that decrease injuries and save lives.  Projects that result in safer streets -- like the creation of pedestrian areas in Times and Harold squares, the redesign of Park Circle and Prospect Park West in Brooklyn, the installation of bicycle lanes city wide, and the wide use of modern traffic engineering to protect citizens' lives, health and well-being -- are an unambiguous benefit to New York City, when measured in irreplaceable lives.

Furthermore, I believe there are some services which city government should be expected to provide, such as saving lives, without micro-management.  It should be self-evident that a deadly street is a bad street.  And a safe street is a good street.

There are those who might argue we are moving too quickly with safety improvements.  But, if we consider the death toll, the question is not “are we moving too fast” but rather “what is taking so long?”

5,746 deaths over 15 years is too many.  We do not need more people to die on the streets.  We need fewer dead.  We need safer streets.  And we need them fast.

Sincerely yours,

Robert Matson

2009 and 2008 Traffic Fatalities in New York City, by borough(1).

2009 traffic fatalities
2008 traffic fatalities
New York

(1)   The U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's “Fatality Analysis Reporting System Encyclopedia” at


If you attend a community meeting about bike lanes and street safety and you aren't sure what to say. Use the testimonial above. Our political leaders must take responsibility for the daily fatalities on our streets. Hundreds dead every year, in New York alone, is not an acceptable price to pay for motorists to drive badly and illegally.

Robert Matson
New York City Recumbent Supply (TM)
The Innovation Works, Inc.
copyright 2010 Robert Matson

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