Making cities safer for cyclists and pedestrians: Today’s NYT’s “Room for Debate”


Photo shows Kinzie Street less than two months after opening a protected bike lane here. This represented a new design direction for Chicago’s streets. I explored this direction more in my article for Architect’s Newspaper

“It Starts With Better Design”. I agree.

I said this in Safer roadway designs: How Danes make right turns and When you build for youngest, you build for everyone. Today’s “Room for Debate” on the New York Times website features four experts talking about how to make cities safer for cyclists and pedestrians. Each of the four have a different response to the introduction’s strategy for reducing fatalities, which is that New York City should take a “broken windows” theory approach to cracking down on traffic violations. Much credit is given to this theory and the police’s approach to petty crimes in the 1980s and 1990s in reducing crime overall, citywide (read more about this).

I like Peter Calthorpe’s strategy about design. Here’s his opening paragraph:

Suburbs have reduced pedestrian and bike injuries by largely eliminating pedestrians and bikers a solution, but not a great one. Streets there are designed for cars, and other users are secondary. However, in New York City, pedestrians remain a powerful reality, and bikers are making a comeback. Policy and design must be combined to balance these groups’ claims on public space. “Complete Streets” — the idea that roads should be balanced in use and provide for user safety — is being pioneered in the city and supported by the federal Department of Transportation. [continue reading]

In my ongoing crash analysis, I’ve noticed that some intersection where there have been fatalities and about which I hear constant complaints about the lack of safety, I see few crashes reported to the police. One hypothesis I’ve developed is that the number of people crossing that intersection is just extremely low: people are avoiding it because they believe it’s so bad. (The intersection in question is Logan Boulevard and Western Avenue.)

New York City has a lower overall traffic fatality rate than Chicago, including a lower pedestrian fatality rate. However, I’m not aware of their bicycling fatality rate. New York City has estimated that there are more than 150,000 people cycling daily (for all trips). Chicago hasn’t made a similar estimate (all I can tell you is that there are about 14,000 people cycling to work each day). This online debate is also part of recent news and a City Council hearing there that tells of how the New York City Police are botching investigations of fatal crashes, or not investigating.

How do we make Chicago safer for cycling and walking?

Here are the other three experts


People cycling towards downtown via Kinzie Street and Milwaukee Avenue. 


This two-way bike lane on Prospect Park West, protected by a buffer and parked cars, has become the most contentious bike lane in New York City. Why? Because it removed a travel lane that made double parking for residents more difficult. Read more about this on Steven Can Plan.

I found this story idea via #bikeCHI, from @JohnAmdor. Sometimes I see an idea and I’ve gotta write about it.

2 thoughts on “Making cities safer for cyclists and pedestrians: Today’s NYT’s “Room for Debate””

  1. I think part of getting people to shift modes is getting them to recognize trips that they already make that could be made more quickly and more enjoyably by changing habits. The person who drives a mile to a gym to use a treadmill is making odd choice from an economic standpoint. Maybe some fun, positive advertising pointing out the real time economic and time cost benefits of making short trips by walking/biking vs. making short trips by car could be helpful here?

  2. Better design can help a lot, but as we’ve discussed recently, significant changes in design often need to be accompanied by education aimed at the general public, so that folks understand how the new configurations are supposed to work.  When someone on the street (whether they’re cyclist, pedestrian, driver or police officer) looks at a new type of pavement marking or street configuration, says “WTF is that?” and guesses wrong in how to interpret it, the redesign doesn’t quite accomplish its intended purpose.

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