Re-designing streets works for all

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How did New York City improve road safety by re-designing streetsRe-designing streets in New York City is no easy task. A test project showed how rethinking road space could make pedestrians and cyclists safer. Turns out, it was also good for traffic flow, business, and city budgets. Launching a new era of safer, more functional road design in a city which doubles its population with commuters and visitors every week day.

In 2007, New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg hired Janette Sadik-Khan as chief transportation official. Tasked with figuring out how the city could re-design streets to accommodate another million people expected by 2030 was her mandate. How to get them around, and still manage quality of life in neighbourhoods and business districts was part of the ‘PlaNYC’.

Nothing much had changed on New York streets in sixty years.

Changing lanes in the city that never sleeps

New York City a hazardous place to cycle before Janette Sadik-Khan got to work re-designing streets back in 2007

Vox video of Janette Sadik-Khan interview

Running the length of Manhattan is a grid of numbered crosstown streets and avenues. In the city that never sleeps, there is always traffic, taxis, delivery trucks, buses, cyclists and lots of pedestrians.

Alternating in one direction, most east-west streets are small and quick to walk across, even when sidewalks are crowded with pedestrians. Trying to cross a broad avenue on foot, however is a mission to get across all the lanes while you have the right of way.

Cycling in the city was considered an ‘extreme sport’ when Sadik-Khan arrived.

Its almost like you were a cast member from Escape from New York.

Sadik-Khan knew more people walking and cycling were going to be important to the transportation plan’s success, but they also had to be safe.

A New Design on Ninth Avenue

She took inspiration from a visit to Copenhagen. It is the world’s most bike-friendly city, according to the aptly-named Copenhagenize Index. Currently, more than 60 percent of Copenhageners commute to work or school by bicycle on 187 km of ‘cycle highways’. Arriving back in New York, Sadik-Khan got out a tape measure to convince chief traffic engineer how re-designing streets could be achieved.  It just took a re-allocation of space already on the road.

They both knew it would also take a change in New Yorkers’ attitude about who their streets were for.

2014 Ne2014 DOT report protected bicycle lanes in NYC

NY DOT report 2014

In 2007, DOT, the Department of Transportation for the City of New York, ran a pilot with dedicated bicycle lanes on 9th Avenue between 16th and 23rd Streets. Prior to the test, Ninth was a one way running south (downtown), there was permit parking on both sides of the street, and four lanes of traffic.

Following Copenhagen’s approach to re-designing streets, a parking-protected bike lane was created next to the curb. Parking was placed between the bike lane and moving traffic lanes. Slowing areas (bus bulbs) were added, and helped keep buses moving. Widened sidewalks created pedestrian plazas, taking some of the parking spaces on one side of street.

Parking is among the toughest of the cultural change she faced:

There’s always a battle when you try to take away parking space. People get really passionate about it.

All round road safety success

DOT 2014 report on protected bicycle lanes

DOT measures of improved safety

The pilot on Ninth Avenue in New York was a resounding success in safety and on all forms of transportation, and more.  According to DOT analysis, it was much better for pedestrians because it was a shorter distance to cross. Cars had dedicated turn lanes, which kept traffic moving better. A dedicated lane for bikes encouraged bicycle volumes to increase by 65 percent. Crashes with injuries decreased by a whopping 48 percent.

And here’s the kicker: for businesses operating along the bike lane corridor, retail sales increased almost 49 percent, compared with control sites. It was so successful, it launched a new era in urban street design all cities can learn from.

Fiscally frugal

Re-designing Ninth Avenue revealed one more advantage: the cost. Bike lanes received 80 percent of funding from the federal government, and took only 1 percent of the City of New York’s capital budget.

Bike lanes were like 99 percent of our headlines, but they were only 1 percent of the budget. I don’t think there is a better investment. If you want to build a better city, you can start by building better bike lanes–Sadik-Khan interview in September 2018 of Vox.

Montreal and Vancouver make the 2019 Copenhagenize List

In New York today, protected bike lanes make up ten percent of roughly 1,200 miles of bike lanes. After re-designing more streets including sections of 9th, 8th, Broadway, Columbus, 1st and 2nd Avenues, the 2014 DOT report shows an overall twenty percent decrease in injuries.

New York made the 2011 Copenhagenize List of the top twenty most bike-friendly cities in the world.  Since then, many more cities are improving road safety by re-designing streets. In 2019, two Canadian cities made the list: Montreal, which has consistently been ranked in the top 20, ranked #18. For the first time, Vancouver made the list at #19.

Be Alert by Trimtag

As cities re-design streets to encourage more use by pedestrians and cyclists, injuries are still occurring. Be Alert!  is our own initiative to create high-visibility and reflective decals (shown left) and stickers. They are easy to apply to bike helmets, backpacks, and clothing  and vehicle windows, even take out containers. Our program aims to encourage awareness and active attention to road safety, especially for the most vulnerable road users: children, pedestrians and cyclists. See our Be Alert products here, or contact us about a custom program for your own safety program.