Local pols introduce bill that could keep bicyclists safer

The wheels have begun turning on legislation that would allow bicyclists to follow pedestrian control signals instead of traffic signals.

The bill, which was introduced on Friday, February 5, by Sunset Park Councilmember Carlos Menchaca, and two other Brooklyn pols, Antonio Reynoso and Brad Lander, and comes as part of Vision Zero, is designed to increase bicyclists’ safety.

As written, the legislation includes allowing cyclists to move during the leading pedestrian interval (LPI) that gives pedestrians a three to seven-second head start when entering an intersection before the corresponding green signal allows motor vehicles to move.

Some street safety advocates are optimistic about the plan. “By reducing mid-intersection conflicts between people on bikes and turning vehicles, this bill, if enacted, is certain to reduce injuries and fatalities on our streets,” Community Board 6 member Joanna Oltman Smith said. “It is an elegant, no-cost way to further New York City’s Vision Zero goals.”

However, some Sunset residents believe that the bill would have a minimal effect on the area.

“It allows bikers to get a seven-second head start along with pedestrians, but it’s already taking place and they’ve been doing that already,” said longtime resident Rob Aguilar, who hosts a podcast on the neighborhood. “I’ve never seen an officer give a biker get ticket because he or she is going along with pedestrians. I don’t know how much of an impact it will have. Maybe it will, from a legal aspect, but I’ve never seen it enforced.”

Others feel that a lack of communication makes the bill a bit convoluted for locals.

“Of course, we want to increase the safety of bike riders, but the councilmember has never discussed this here in the community,” said Tony Giordano of Sunset Parker. “When elected, he spoke about ‘conversations’ to engage the residents of Sunset Park on issues. But we didn’t hear of this until he introduced the bill.”

Aguilar feels that there are more effective ways to improve bike safety. “A true way to help bike riders is to make a protected bike lane on Fourth Avenue in Sunset specifically,” he said. “We see it all over Manhattan on Second and Third Avenues. Prospect Park West and other neighborhoods have them and it is safe for both pedestrians and bikers. It’s a good way to make Vision Zero a reality.”

Elected officials are confident that the bill would keep riders safe.

“As a bicyclist myself, this small head start over traffic provides me with an added sense of security that the streets on which I travel are being made significantly safer for bicyclists like me in the city,” said Menchaca. “This bill is part of a larger conversation we are having as a city through the Vision Zero plan and I invite every New Yorker to join this conversation and these efforts to make our commute safer.”

“Leading pedestrian intervals are already working well, providing people with an important window of protection when they are most vulnerable crossing dangerous intersections,” added Lander. “Extending this protection to cyclists who are vulnerable in intersections in the same way is an important step — and has the added advantage of allowing cyclists to get ahead of traffic as they proceed down the street, making them much safer that way as well.”

Questions still remain, though.

“We don’t know where in Sunset this would be utilized,” Giordano added. “Personally, I don’t understand why he would push this but not push a study to see about a protected bike lane along Fourth Avenue.”

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