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After reportedly admitting to almost killing a bicyclist “who came out of nowhere and cut [him] off” traveling down Coney Island Ave. one morning, New York State Senator Simcha Felder began prepping a series of transportation bills that address nearly the opposite of the real problem of traffic violence. As Curbed wrote in a recent article, instead of a solution that might take away space from the vehicles with the potential to kill those outside of it, Felder dropped a four-bill package in the New York legislature “attempting to stifle the ‘growing number of completely unregulated bicycles, e-bikes, electric scooters, and dirt bikes/ATVs.’” He claims micromobility has turned New York City streets into “the wild, wild West.”
Among Felder’s bills, three of them would require all of New York City’s bike and scooter riders to wear a helmet and carry a license and a registration, including a plate that’s prominently displayed on their vehicle. The fourth bill would require the DMV to add bike and scooter awareness to the driver’s-ed exam. However, as Curbed notes, it’s unclear why it was introduced when an identical bill has reportedly already passed in the State Senate.
These bills, at first glance, seem like a sensible idea. In California, bike and e-scooter users must follow the same rules and regulations as drivers of cars and trucks, for example. “If everyone has to follow the same rules, surely streets would be safer, right?” Curbed asked. But as has been the case not only in New York but also in California and much of the country, regulating motorists doesn’t necessarily prevent deaths. Regulations for operating a car or a truck have been the same for years yet the death rates only increase every year. As Curbed noted, this is due to the problem being the streets themselves, “the overly wide, lockdown-emptied roads — that encouraged such deadly driving.”
Adding regulations for cyclists and scooter riders is not only missing the point, it also raises concerns about how such laws might be enforced. In New York, lower-income New Yorkers rely on bikes for work, which will ultimately result in police harassment. Moreover, multiple studies have proven that adding more requirements actually deters biking and scooting and, in fact, ends up making streets less safe by nudging people into cars instead.
Bike-share, for example, is one of the greatest transportation success stories in U.S. history precisely because it encourages inexperienced riders to try it while requiring low barriers to entry, namely no purchase nor required gear use. Not to mention it’s also one of the safer modes of getting around. In New York, Citi Bike reportedly surpassed 100 million trips last summer and only had two deaths reported on the system — something that many researchers attributed to new bike lanes that accompanied the system’s expansion.
Los Angeles, of course, can’t relate, being one of the country’s most cyclist-unfriendly cities — though we are making strides. A new report published by LADOT shows more concrete signs of bicycling being on the rise in Los Angeles — or at least in locations near new safety and complete street projects. Reflecting data collected in 2019, the results of LADOT’s first biennial walk and bike count show a 22% increase in cycling citywide compared to conditions from two years earlier.
As Curbed proposed, the only proven way to prevent drivers from killing people on bikes, e-bikes, e-scooters, dirt bikes, or ATVs is “traffic-calming infrastructure that creates protected paths for everyone not in a car, while forcing everyone in a car to slow down.”
California is especially hostile towards bike lanes and lower speeds enforcement. For example, the California Appropriations Committee recently killed a bill that would have created a pilot program to use cameras for speed enforcement.
Speed cameras have been shown to be effective deterrents to speeding in states where they are allowed. Studies have reportedly found that vehicle speeds decreased and injury crashes declined between 8% and 50% in areas that implemented them. Pedestrians hit by drivers traveling at speeds over 58 miles per hour or more die at least 90% of the time.
Moreover, California’s bicycle accident statistics are alarming and demonstrate the dangerous reality that many bicyclists face. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2018 California was the second state with the most pedalcyclist deaths in the country. And in 2017, the city of Los Angeles experienced a total of 1,918 bicycle accidents that resulted in 17 fatalities, according to the California Highway Patrol’s Annual Report.