Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Study Finds Cyclists Disobey Traffic Laws
NY Times City Room Blog/ By Sewell Chan
New York City is witnessing an upsurge in the number of cyclists, but many of them do not obey traffic and helmet laws, according to a observational study by students and professors at Hunter College.
Among the more important findings of the study, which was released on Wednesday:
Nearly 57 percent of the cyclists observed failed to stop red lights.
About 13 percent of cyclists (and a quarter of cyclists under the age of 14) were observed riding against traffic.
Almost 13 percent of cyclists (and more than half of cyclists under the age of 14) were observed riding on sidewalks.
Nearly 14 percent of cyclists did not use a designated bike lane when one was available.
Only 36 percent of cyclists wore helmets. About half of female riders wore helmets, compared with just about one-third of the males. Nearly half of the children under the age of 14, and nearly three-quarters of commercial cyclists — like messengers and delivery workers — did not wear a helmet, even though the law requires that both groups use helmets.
The study was conducted by Hunter students in research methodology and urban data analysis courses, and was based on observations of 2,928 cyclists at street intersections, bike lanes and bike paths at 69 locations Oct. 1-29.
Peter Tuckel, a professor of sociology, and William Milczarski, an associate professor of urban affairs and planning, oversaw the study and wrote the report. They said that the behavior of drivers had been studied much more extensively than that of cyclists, and called the findings “troubling” and “disturbing.”
Professor Tuckel said:
"Given the findings presented in this study that the overwhelming majority of cyclists in the city are not wearing helmets and the attendant risks of injury or even death, it is important that greater efforts be expended by governmental agencies and other responsible parties including parents, schools, cycling clubs and sport retail outlets to encourage greater helmet use."
Professor Milczarski said that “greater adherence to these traffic laws” would help to reduce reports of “conflicts between cyclists and motorists.”
One methodological drawback: The observations were not a random sampling of all city cyclists. However, Professors Tuckel and Milczarski said the cyclists observed represented a broad cross-section of them.
The students were instructed to choose cyclists they observed within a given location on a random basis without employing subjective criteria, and they were told to remain as inconspicuous as possible. The students observed cyclists at intersections, at traffic lights and on bike lanes, and the observations were made on both weekdays and weekends and at peak and off-peak times.
The students recorded demographic information about the cyclists and also recorded whether the rider wore a helmet, stopped at a red light, went in the same direction as traffic, rode on a sidewalk, used a designated bike path, and talked on a cellphone or ate or drank while riding. (Some good news from the study: Only a very tiny proportion of cyclists used handheld cellphones or ate or drank while riding. The students observed many cyclists listening to iPods and other music devices, although the iPods were not a formal part of the study.)
In 2006, there were 773 bicycle fatalities in the United States (98 of them were children under the age of 14) and an additional 44,000 injuries of cyclists in traffic accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
A study by the Bicyle Helmet Safety Institute found that nearly all cyclists who died in New York City were not wearing a helmet and that only 13 percent of those seriously injured while cycling were wearing a helmet.
“With the ranks of cyclists growing in the city and the amount of street space becoming even more fiercely fought over, it is imperative that all three groups — cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians — abide by the traffic laws and be more respectful of the rights of others who share that space,” Professors Tuckel and Milczarski wrote in their conclusion.
They also emphasized the need for better training of both drivers and cyclists and the incorporation of bike-safety lessons in school curriculums.
Wiley Norvell, a spokesman for Transportation Alternatives, a leading advocacy group for cyclists and pedestrians, said, “It’s our philosophy that good street design gives us better behavior.” Dedicated bike lanes will encourage cyclists to stay off the sidewalks, he said, noting that children under 14 are permitted to ride on the sidewalks.
“Obviously it’s incumbent for cyclists to obey the laws: they have the same rights and responsibilities as pedestrians and motorists,” Mr. Norvell said. “The most important rule is to yield to pedestrians, always, no matter what. It gets under my skin if a bicyclist doesn’t yield to a pedestrian.”
As for running red lights, Mr. Norvell said, “It doesn’t surprise me to see high rates of traffic infractions on streets that do not have provisions for bicyclists