The first weeks of autumn have been grim for Brooklyn cyclists. In two tragically similar accidents, two young bikers were killed only days from each other in Williamsburg. On August 30th, Williamsburg resident Erica Abbott, 29, was riding down Bushwick Ave when she tried to pass a pile of construction debris and was fatally struck by a car. On September 2nd, fellow Brooklynite Nicolas Djandji, 24, reportedly ran a red light while cycling on Borinquen Place and was hit by an SUV. In both accidents, the drivers of the vehicles stayed at the scene and were not charged. These unfortunate accidents so close to one another inevitably raise the question of safety within the cycling community – are the city street too merciless for flimsy bikes?
According to cycling advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, the annual fatality rate for bikers has ranged from 12 to 26 within the past five years. Nicolas Djandji became the tenth victim of 2011, keeping this year’s number relatively low so far. Although the first bike lanes in Brooklyn were opened back in 1894, the amount of cyclists has skyrocketed within the past decade; the numbers of New Yorkers who commute by bike daily rose by 13 percent between 2009 and 2010 alone. Estimates on how many people overall use their bikes in the city every day vary, but it’s agreed to be somewhere between 200 000 and 300 000. With this many cyclists on the streets every day, city officials are under pressure to keep them safe. The Department of Transportation came up with an ambitious idea of completing 200 miles of bike lanes in three years, and they met their goal in 2009. While Transportation Alternative’s executive director Paul Steely White comments that the streets are “definitely getting safer”, some Brooklyn cyclists disagree. “Drivers have no respects for cyclists what so ever,” says local cyclist Neil Simone, who rides his bike between his home and work in Williamsburg daily. “I see near-accidents all the time.”
On September 16th, city officials announced plans to launch a bike share system in Manhattan and Brooklyn next year. With 10,000 bikes and 600 stations planned, the system is intended for short-time rides and commutes. If the project succeeds, it means a definite increase in the amount of bikers on the city streets. The Department of Transportation promotes cycling safety with events like Bike Month – which takes place in May – and by giving out 20,000 free helmets at DoT locations. While the amount of bikes in the city only seems to grow, the city seems to be taking the safety of the people riding them more and more seriously.
Cyclists on Havemeyer Street, Williamsburg