In NYC, Cycling Deaths Increase But Gears Turn Slowly On Safety Measures A recent surge in cyclist deaths in NYC has called into question whether cities are taking the necessary steps to keep cyclists safe. Cities are adapting but cyclists say not quickly enough.
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In NYC, Cycling Deaths Increase But Gears Turn Slowly On Safety Measures

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In NYC, Cycling Deaths Increase But Gears Turn Slowly On Safety Measures

In NYC, Cycling Deaths Increase But Gears Turn Slowly On Safety Measures

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Bike deaths are on the rise in the U.S. Fatalities in 2016 were the highest they have been in 25 years. Take New York City, where 19 cyclists have died this year - eight so far this summer. The city has tried to protect riders, but as NPR's Aubri Juhasz reports, vehicles hitting cyclists remains a big problem.

AUBRI JUHASZ, BYLINE: Cycling in New York City has always been dangerous, but the recent surge in deaths has even shaken longtime bike messenger Jennie Jo Marine.

JENNIE JO MARINE: My friends - we're really in a weird time right now. No one really wants to go ride, even though it's the thing that we love to do the most. You know, so we do it, and we hope we make it home safe.

JUHASZ: The deaths have led some to question whether Mayor Bill de Blasio's traffic safety plan, known as Vision Zero, is making a difference.

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UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Mayor de Blasio.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: We are here for Hugo.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: We are here for Hugo.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: And Hector.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: And Hector.

JUHASZ: Last month, hundreds of cyclists gathered in Washington Square Park to protest the deaths. In 2014, New York was the first U.S. city to adopt the Vision Zero safety plan. Since then, while the number of pedestrian and motor vehicle deaths have decreased, that hasn't been true for cyclists, despite the construction of more than 300 miles of bike lanes.

In order to bring down the number of cycling deaths, experts say cities need to have a complete network of bike lanes, with as many separated from cars as possible. Building a new bike lane can take months, and car-dependent communities often resist construction efforts.

POLLY TROTTENBERG: You know, we're all facing a lot of the same challenges - years where we see fatalities go down, years where, tragically, we see fatalities on the rise, dealing with all the demands on our roadways.

JUHASZ: That's Polly Trottenberg, New York City's Department of Transportation commissioner. She says that it's normal for cities to experience setbacks. But with a growing number of cyclists on New York City's streets, setbacks are leading to accidents. Overall, most of the city's streets are far from bike friendly.

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SOPHIE MAEROWITZ: Cool. Are you ready for a ride?

JUHASZ: Yeah.

MAEROWITZ: So this is nice.

JUHASZ: Yeah, lots of space right now.

I'm riding a bicycle and following cyclists Sophie Maerowitz and Todd Martino in New York's East Village. We start out on a protected bike lane, but that quickly comes to an end. Then there's a painted lane. Then there's nothing at all. On another street, we see cars parked in the bike lane. We circle back to the park, and Maerowitz expresses her frustration.

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MAEROWITZ: When you get these incomplete networks, you have this situation where, great, you have this fresh, new bike lane. You're excited. You know, this infrastructure is working for you. And then, suddenly, it's gone, and you have to go out into traffic again.

JUHASZ: This is a city with more than 6,000 miles of streets, but fewer than 1 in 5 have a bike lane. Marco Conner, with the New York City-based advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, argues that New York isn't being aggressive enough.

MARCO CONNER: We are only using half measures. We are still seeking the approval of local community boards for far too many projects when we know that those projects will save lives.

JUHASZ: He cites two big challenges. The first is addressing car culture and the controversy of removing street parking to make room for bike lanes. The second is enforcement. New York City has already expanded its use of speed cameras, but Connor says they also need automated ticketing for vehicles that park in bike lanes or fail to yield to cyclists.

After the city's 17 cycling death this year, Mayor de Blasio announced an additional $58 million will be targeted to building more bike lanes and providing better enforcement in areas that are high-risk for cyclists.

Aubri Juhasz, NPR News.

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