How Can Brooklyn Become Safer for Cyclists?


The sister of a cyclist killed in a car accident launched a petition this week to install a bike lane on Classon Avenue in Clinton Hill, saying the death could have been avoided if the city had installed a bike lane on that busy street. This accident highlights the necessity for safer bicyclist infrastructure in Brooklyn, where the city’s largest number of bicycle commuters reside.

A motorist hit and killed Lauren Davis in April while she cycled to work. Davis is just one of many deaths so far this year, which has already surpassed the number of deadly cycling accidents in 2015. Even more unsettling is the fact that eight of these cycling deaths — including the Davis’s — occurred in Brooklyn, a borough generally considered “bicyclist friendly.” However, recent incidents, poor biking infrastructure, and hostile attitude towards cyclists in this borough point to the contrary.

While Manhattan is becoming a safer place to ride due to its protected bike lanes, much of Brooklyn still suffers from a lack of proper bicycling infrastructure, some say. Experts point to the lack of bike lanes as the potential cause for these fatalities — something that, they say, is unacceptable given the efforts of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan.

Lack of Bike Lanes in Brooklyn

While some parts of Brooklyn are well-covered by designated bike lanes and greenways, much of Brooklyn — particularly South Brooklyn — lacks safe bicyclist infrastructure. It is in this southern area of Brooklyn that three cyclists have been killed this year.

Those areas that do contain bike lanes usually only have painted-line bike lanes, rather than truly protected bike lanes, and there are often gaps between them. This means that cyclists are vulnerable for at least part of their travels, even if they do try to stick to bike lanes. Manhattan, by contrast, has a network of protected bike lanes that are separated from traffic by a solid barrier or parked cars.

Brooklyn vs. Manhattan: A Very Different Story

Brooklyn has 83.8 miles of protected bike lanes to cover its approximately 70 square miles, compared to 121.9 miles of protected bike lanes in Manhattan, a much smaller borough of just under 23 square miles. And these bike lanes make a major difference. Protected bike lanes have been shown to reduce injuries to pedestrians and cyclists as much as by 20 percent, according to the NYC Department of Transportation.

Fortunately, NYC DOT has plans to add an additional 5 miles of bicycle lanes to Brooklyn each year under Vision Zero, but until a fuller network of bike lanes is installed, cyclists could remain at risk.

Disagreement Over Who’s the Problem: Bikers or Drivers?

Others blame the rash of cyclist fatalities on a lack of police enforcement, pointing to the increased citations on cyclists, yet a permissive attitude towards instances of dangerous driving. Some cyclists even said they feel the NYPD blames them for these fatal accidents. The day following the hit-and-run death of Brooklyn cyclist Matthew von Ohlen in July, police officers cracked down on cyclist violations on the intersection where he was killed, but not dangerous motorist behavior, according to a New York Times report.

“There’s an assumption that it is always the cyclist at fault, ‘those darn bikers,’” explained Paul Steely White, the executive director of advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, to the New York Times. “Most of the time it’s errant and lawless motoring that is to blame.”

Educating Motorists

While NYC DOT has targeted education campaigns towards cyclists through their “Bike Smart” brochures, a similar campaign towards motorists to shift negative attitudes towards those on bicycles has yet to be seen.

There are a number of factors that create these dangerous cycling conditions in Brooklyn, but cyclists and advocate groups alike can only hope that future installations of protected bike lanes under Vision Zero, along with a shift in motorist hostility towards cyclist, will improve the safety of everyone on the road.

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