GObike News

June 24, 2019

Dangerous by Design: Buffalo’s Streets

A bicycle-motor vehicle collision put a bicyclist in critical condition and shut down Kenmore Avenue early this morning. We sincerely hope for the cyclist’s speedy recovery and restoration to full health.


The article on the crash notes the cyclist was riding against traffic on a bike without lights. Though the article states the bicycle was “dark-colored,” no mention of the color of the SUV was made. These victim-blaming statements are not only frustrating and inappropriate; they paint a scenario that's far too simplistic. These types of crashes are not any single road users fault but the fault of our street design and policy.  We can and must design safer streets to reduce speed, encourage rule-following by all road users, and keep everyone safe. 

In New York State, riding against traffic is illegal as is riding without lights at night. These laws, however, are rarely enforced nor required to be taught in New York State’s road safety course. Imagine a city where no traffic laws for motorists were enforced; speed limits would be exceeded, traffic lights would be ignored, and people would drive and text with abandon (Err, wait, sounds like Buffalo).

People break the law. People make mistakes. People shouldn’t get injured or die because of it. We can design our transportation system to keep people safer while encouraging road users to better follow the rules. For example, protected bicycle lanes with arrows indicating direction of travel keep cyclists physically separated from motor vehicles while also encouraging safe bicycle positioning both in and out of the bike lane. Protected bicycle lanes also narrow the street width, encouraging drivers to slow down and follow the speed limit. We currently have no protected bicycle lanes in the Buffalo-Niagara region.

We should not shrug these incidents off as an inevitably of our modern transportation system or as the fault of a cyclist for riding a “dark-colored” bicycle. We can design our streets and our transportation policies to keep everyone safe, from the pedestrian pushing a stroller to the SUV-driver headed to a soccer game. In 2018, 40,000 people died on American streets, roads, and highways. We also experienced our highest pedestrian death count in 28 years: 6,227, up 4% from 2017 (an increase correlated to the rise of the SUV).

Forty thousand people dying each year from motor-vehicle collisions is 40,000 people too many. Many Americans agree—more than 40 cities around the country have passed Vision Zero policies as an approach to completely eliminating traffic deaths. The central tenet of Vision Zero is that everyone has the right to move safely in their communities, regardless of their mode of travel or the color of their bicycle. Vision Zero strategies are developed in accordance with their communities and their transportation systems but basic elements include:

  • Road strategies and policies should be designed with the assumption that humans will make mistakes but mistakes should not result in fatalities
  • Road system design and policy development should be multidisciplinary, bringing together diverse and necessary stakeholders to address complex problems
  • Many factors contribute to safe mobility—including roadway design, speeds, behaviors, technology, and policies—so clear goals must be set to achieve the shared goal of zero fatalities and severe injuries

In New York State, only New York City has a Vision Zero policy (see a map of Vision Zero cities here). The policy was implemented in 2014 concurrent with a decreased speed limit on all NYC streets to 25 mph. Though traffic fatalities have decreased overall since the policy’s passage, critics state the city is still not doing enough to quickly improve street design and hold drivers accountable. 

Traffic crashes are not accidents—they’re preventable. Through smarter street designs and prioritizing the safety of ALL road users instead of designing streets to solely move motor vehicles, we can eliminate traffic deaths.

To help improve the quality of our bicycle network, please provide input on the Buffalo-Niagara regional bicycle master plan and ask for protected bicycle lanes. To help improve the safety our pedestrian infrastructure and streets, please talk to your elected officials.

Dangerous by Design: Buffalo’s Streets