Department of Transportation Hits Back At John Liu's Bike Share Criticism (UPDATE)

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Yesterday, the Voice brought you news that Comptroller John Liu vehemently slammed Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration and the Department of Transportation, claiming that City Hall had not done enough to promote safety with New York's forthcoming bike share program.

"Recent studies have found that over a third of bicyclists run red lights, bike lines are blocked 60 percent of the time by cars, trucks, and taxis and that New York City is one of the most dangerous cities in the United States for bicyclists," his office said yesterday.

Transportation reform advocates shot back at Liu's statements: They said that he put the safety burden on cyclists by calling for mandatory helmets, as well as casting them in a negative light. They also claimed that he need to do more to address dangerous driving, as vehicular accidents are 356 times more likely to cause injury than bicycle-pedestrian crashes.

Now, the Department of Transportation has taken issue with Liu's charges, too.

"Instead of suggesting last-minute barriers to a safe and low-cost transportation option for New Yorkers, the comptroller should support efforts that even his own report acknowledges have made our streets safer," DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan told the Voice in a statement.

"Our streets have gotten safer as biking has grown four times over the last decade, while serious crashes have remained stable. These concerns come two years into the bike share process and two months after the Comptroller registered the contract and the fact is that our streets have gotten safer through sustained action and not by muddling numbers."

The DOT pointed to several stats which, if accurate, would belie Liu's arguments about the dangers of NYC cyclists.

Indeed, the number of bike crashes does not seem to have seriously increased despite the quadrupling of bike riders since 2001, instead representing a more than 70 percent reduction in risk over time, according to info gathered by the department.

Also, that DOT data furnished to the Voice seems to suggest that the number of pedestrians visiting hospitals because of bike crashes has not gone up despite the growth in bike riders.

The DOT also noted that it has carried out driver and cyclist education campaigns, such as "That's Why it's 30; "You the Man," "Heads Up; "Don't be a Jerk," to prevent speeding, drunk driving, distracted cycling, and illegal biking, respectively.

When asked yesterday why Liu hadn't brought up these concerns earlier, as his detractors have wondered, the comptroller's spokesman told us: "The contract has been registered with the comptroller's office. We're not saying we're anti-bike share. We're simply saying that before this program hits the streets, there's a real opportunity to bolster the city's safety initiatives. More safety will lead to less claims against the city."

UPDATE: Liu's office told us, "The fact that DOT has already dismissed these common sense recommendations which would only help increase safety on our streets is quite troubling; especially since it should be their primary concern. Many of our recommendations, which have been based on extensive research and consultations with leading experts, can be easily implemented and we hope DOT will put aside their petty differences and take them seriously."

Follow Victoria Bekiempis @vicbekiempis.

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