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Department of Transportation Begins Planning for Safer Intersections

A new NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) study found that despite concerns from cyclists, combining bicycles and cars at crossroads in a “mixing zone” is the safest way to manage these traffic areas.

The study, titled Cycling at a Crossroads (PDF) provides a comprehensive look into the workings of the intersections of protected bicycle paths and car lanes. Over the past few years, cyclist safety initiatives like the DOT’s expansion of the number of protected bike lanes across the city have helped push down the number of injured and killed riders in New York City, leaving these types of intersections as the final key problem – according to the report, approximately 97 percent of all collisions involving bicyclists occur at these intersections.

This study was part of the DOT’s ongoing efforts to improve the safety of these intersections. This most recent push came as a response to the death of a 31-year-old cyclist who was killed when a truck driver turned into her while riding in a protected lane. After that tragic accident, the DOT installed semi-protected intersections at West 85th Street and Amsterdam Avenue and West 70th Street and Columbus Avenue. These new installations force approaching drivers to slow down to make a sharp turn, putting cyclists right ahead of them rather than off to the side.

“We’re trying to give [cyclists] more precedent,” DOT Bicycle and Greenway Program Director Ted Wright said of the design. “We’re treating them like pedestrians.”

These semi-protected intersections make cyclists feel more comfortable than the mixing zone intersections, but far too many drivers still take those turns at dangerous speeds. On top of that, the way these intersections are designed leads cyclists to believe that they should be yielding to cars.

“This is likely related to the short reaction time, where bicyclists are unsure whether a driver will yield to them and thus make a cautionary stop,” the report says. “It is also not designed to allow for bicyclists to go behind the turning vehicle, the typical movement at mixing zones, likely increasing the number of bicyclists stopping for turning traffic.”

The DOT plans to continue its work improving intersections across the city, and remain committed to finding the solution that best promotes safety for cyclists. A key step towards that goal is finding a way to clearly indicate who has the right of way when approaching the intersection.

“You have an inherent conflict where you have a vehicle [the bike] going straight, and vehicle [the car] making a right turn around that other vehicle,” Wright said. “All this stuff here — the massive amount of information that’s in this report — can be broken down to solving that riddle.”

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