Study: Bikes Hurt 1,000 Pedestrians a Year in New York

By CHRIS HAWLEY | September 21, 2011

Injuries caused by bicyclists are far more common than previously thought, with an average of 1,000 pedestrians hurt annually in New York state alone, a new study shows. New York City accounted for about half of those injured.

One quarter of those injured were under age 10, and in New York City many of the victims came from poorer neighborhoods like East Harlem, according to the study by two Hunter College professors.

The report adds fuel to a debate over the role of bicycles in New York City, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg has overseen construction of new bike lanes and a bike-sharing system that is due to debut next summer. The projects have pleased environmental groups but frustrated motorists and some neighborhood activists worried about speeding cyclists.

“There are a surprising number of injuries,” said Bill Milczarski, an urban planner at Hunter College in Manhattan and one of the co-authors of the study. “It’s something that has to be thought about if we’re going to put thousands of cyclists on the street in addition to the ones we have now.”

In all, 4,121 pedestrians were injured by bicycles in New York state between 2007 and 2010, according to Milczarski and his co-author, Hunter College sociologist Peter Tuckel.

That’s far higher than a previous study by the same authors that put the number of injuries at 1,000 annually nationwide. The earlier study was an estimate based on a nationwide sample of 100 hospitals and had a large margin of error, Milczarski said.

For their new study, the researchers used data collected by the New York Department of Health from all emergency rooms in the state.

The data track pedestrian patients involved in bicycle collisions, but not the cyclists. They also give no information about who was at fault. The records include the patient’s home ZIP code, but no information about the location of the accident.

In New York City, the 10029 ZIP code in East Harlem had the most injured during the four-year period, with 52. ZIP codes 10002 in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and 11206 in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint area were tied for second with 44 injuries each.

Another ZIP code in the Lower East side, 10009, was tied for third place with 11211 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Both had 43 injuries during the four-year period.

Milczarski said the researchers were unsure why East Harlem had so many accident victims. It could be that poorer residents are on the street more often because they are less likely to take taxis and don’t have cars, he said. With only one subway line, East Harlem also has fewer mass transit options than other parts of Manhattan, he said.

Nancy Gruskin, an activist whose husband was killed by a bicycle messenger, said the study should raise questions about the city’s bike-share program. That program will allow cyclists to rent and return bicycles at about 600 automated racks around the city.

“I very much question launching this program before we ultimately know it is safe,” Gruskin said.

Gruskin originally suggested the study to the two professors, but her foundation did not fund it, Milczarski said.

Transportation Alternatives, a pro-cycling group, noted that the study shows a general decline in total injuries since 2008, even as bicycle use in New York City has increased. The number of injuries statewide declined from 1,112 in 2008 to 927 in 2010, researchers said.

Meanwhile, motor vehicles cause 70,000 injuries in New York City annually, Transportation Alternatives said.

“We can ignore that number and bash bikes, or we can get serious about safety and work to stop all traffic casualties,” the group said in a written statement.

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