NYC: How cycle lanes can improve traffic safety

The disputed “Prospect Park West Bike Lane” in New York City is a particularly impressive example how the implementation of separated cycling infrastructure can improve traffic safety overall. Now this well-known cycle lane project is celebrating a special fifth anniversary. It gets a lot of attention in Janette Sadik-Khan’s new book “Streetfight”. She was the responsible commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation five years ago and is a beacon for giving this megacity a more humane design.

Initial situation: Crashes and speeding

Prospect Park West had created infamous statistics: 74% of car drivers were speeding on the five-lane road (three lanes for moving, two for stationary motorized vehicles), ten accidents with injuries to people per year and a lot of cyclists on the sidewalks avoiding the road out of fear. Citizen committees had called for improvements and cycle lanes for several years. In 2010, the new commissioner of the NYC Department of Transportation under mayor Michael Bloomberg was ready for implementation.

Her solution: Reducing the number of lanes for moving motorized traffic down to two slowing down cars. Implementation of a two-way cycling lane protected by a parking lane. This also allowed the creation of traffic islands and zebra crossings which in turn shortened ways for crossing pedestrians and improved their safety.


Before and after: improved safety and quality of life are immediately visible.

Result of the re-design: More safety and more cyclists

The results were impressive as speeding went down to 20%, severe accidents were reduced to four per year and of course cyclists moved from the sidewalks to the comfortable cycle lane. The number of cyclists increased significantly because of improved accessibility as well as the both subjective as well as objective safety of the new cycling traffic solution.  What is more there was no increase in travel times for cars or traffic jams despite the reduction to two car lanes. 70% of interviewed people were happy with this solution.


Intermezzo: Court verdict secures solution

In brief: almost everyone was happy. Only an alliance made up of district politicians, the former traffic city council and antagonistic lawyers as well as some individual citizens tried to get the project revoked in court. But the obvious advantages of this project convinced the judge. Exactly five years ago, on 16 August 2011, he closed the case in favor of the Prospect Park West Bike Lane. The fact that two scattered activists are still trying to get the cycle lane removed
by court order can be filed under oddity and particularities of the US legal system. This cycle traffic measure is a convincing example for successful focused intervention in a failed traffic system – beyond the city limits of New York and across the Atlantic.

Literature and links:

Detailed insight into the re-design of New York City can be found here in the book “Streetfight – Handbook for an Urban Revolution” (Janette Sadik-Khan, Seth Solomonow; USA 2016): LINK

The presentation of the traffic department of NYC DOT at the beginning of the planning phase can be found here: LINK.

Results of the study by the University of Virginia von Conrad Gosse und Andres Clarens (2013) on “Quantifying the total cost of infrastructure to enable environmentally preferable decisions: the case of urban roadway design” can be found here: LINK

(Fotos: DOT)


Posted on August 12, 2016