2019 has been a dangerous year for Buffalo-Niagara cyclists. Across the nation, pedestrian and bicyclist deaths are at all-time highs. State officials have introduced the Vehicular Violence Accountability Act to hold drivers more accountable, remove privileges from dangerous drivers, and empower victims.
(Photograph used with permission from Ben Cliff, a GObike recycle-a-bicycle instructor and avid cyclist who was run off the road by a careless driver in August 2019. Ben is still in recovery from the collision but hopes to return to work in the next month or so).
New York State Senator Timothy M. Kennedy, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., and New York State Senator Brad Hoylman, along with Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets, announced the introduction of a bill establishing a new article in the State’s Penal Law entitled “Vehicular Violence,” which establishes four new offenses including the class A misdemeanor “Death by Vehicle,” and class B misdemeanor “Serious Physical Injury by Vehicle.”
“While other types of crime drop to historic lows across New York, we are experiencing an epidemic of vehicular violence… Today, we are announcing a bill which fixes laws that are fundamentally broken, so that more drivers who injure or kill can be held accountable,” said bill author D.A. Vance.
Indeed, our streets are becoming increasingly unsafe for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Though we do not have collision data yet for 2019, in the past few weeks, reported incidents include:
A bicyclist was struck by a car between Symphony Circle and Union Place on Saturday, October 26, around 7:30 pm. The cyclist was sent to ECMC with serious injuries.
A bicyclist was struck by a motor vehicle at Delaware and West Tupper in the late afternoon on Friday, October 25. We do not know the condition of cyclist.
A bicyclist was critically injured by a Buffalo police officer on Grant Street and Potomac Avenue on the evening of Friday, October 19.
Over the summer:
An 86-year old cyclist was fatality hit on Hyde Park Boulevard in Niagara Falls. The intersection at which the collision occurred is a known problem area due to excessively wide street widths, speeding motor vehicles, and high pedestrian and bicyclist volumes due to the adjacent park entrance.
A 17-year-old cyclist was the victim of a hit-and-run in the Elmwood Village. The Black Explorer hit the girl and continued to drive. Thankfully, she only suffered non-life threatening injuries.
A 74-year old man was fatally hit while trying to cross the 1-90 with a shopping cart of returnables.
This list is by no means comprehensive and instead represent a handful of incidents that made the news.
Increased conflict between cyclists, pedestrians and motorists are on the rise nationwide. According to a new report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, fatalities of non-occupants (their wonderfully dehumanizing term for cyclists and pedestrians) are at their highest since 1990. In 2018, 6,283 pedestrians and 857 cyclists were killed in collisions with motor vehicles, a 3.4 and 6.3 percent respective increase from 2017. For comparison, 387 people in were killed in American mass shootings in 2018.
There are some general things we can do to ensure we’re practicing safe cycling, which include, but are not limited to:
Be predictable. Obey street signs, signals and road markings.
Lights are life savers—though state law requires a white front light and a red rear light between dusk and dawn, 24/7 usage is a good idea.
Wear a helmet—it could save your life.
Bicyclists, always ride in the same direction as traffic.
Ride in a position on the road where other users can see you. You have the right to use the road and take the space you need to safely operate.
GObike offers Smart Cycling classes which dives in deep on the above safe cycling strategies as well as other tactics to reduce conflict between different types of road users.
The fact is, a cyclist or a pedestrian can do everything right and still be struck by a vehicle. The media and law enforcement have a well-documented tendency to victim blame—just check out NYSDOT’s pedestrian safety corridor evaluation for Niagara Falls Boulevard, where 1,559 crashes have occurred in five years, including 50 that involved a pedestrian or bicyclist, and five fatalities. Though admitting in the report that, ”half of the pedestrian and bicyclist crashes indicated contributing factors related to pedestrian or bicyclist error, while more than half of the crashes also indicated improper driving by the vehicle operator,” NYSDOT continues to outline pedestrian errors, including statements such as:
“The pedestrian appeared to be stumbling while crossing the southbound lanes.”
“Although the pedestrian was utilizing a marked crosswalk to cross the roadway, they were crossing against the signal.” (An audit by the Town of Tonawanda found pedestrians have to walk too far to get to intersections with signals and crosswalks and they have to wait too long to cross when they get there. And even for those who do use intersections with crosswalks, some signals don’t give people enough time to safely cross the road, which is five or seven lanes wide).
“The crash involved one vehicle traveling northbound on Niagara Falls Boulevard that struck a pedestrian using a three-sided walker with an oxygen tank crossing Niagara Falls Boulevard in the westbound direction. The pedestrian stopped in the travel lane and was crossing the roadway without a signal or crosswalk” (e.g, the person using a walker with an OXYGEN TANK struggled to cross the FIVE LANE highway). The documented contributing factor for the crash was pedestrian error/confusion.
Any corridor with more than 300 collisions per year is not a safe road for any one, regardless of their mode of travel. It is critically dangerous for those outside of a car. One victim’s family is suing Amherst and Tonawanda, contending the towns allowed “unreasonably dangerous” conditions on Niagara Falls Boulevard to remain in place for years. Yes. Rightly so.
We know pedestrians and bicyclists make mistakes. So do motorists. People make mistakes. But allowing their mistakes to turn deadly or result in a life-changing injury is a gross failure. We need infrastructure, technology and policy to limit the impacts of the inevitable mistakes made by humans. And we know what interventions work to fix this, with mountains of empirical research to back up these proven solutions: slow down cars through better street design, technology and enforcement and build infrastructure to prioritize access and absolute safety for pedestrians, bicyclists, and the mobility impaired.
And yet, we continue to ignore it. This year, the Town of Tonawanda rejected bike lanes on Englewood Avenue, despite overwhelming residential support, to save a handful of parking spots. The lackadaisical pace at which we move on right-sizing of the Scajaquada and Kensington expressways—urban highways that have torn apart our communities and continue to levy heavy impacts on our economy, health, and quality of life—to allow cars to move a maximum one minute faster is more evidence the Car is King. The number of bicycle infrastructure projects in the City of Buffalo that have been dead on arrival due to on-street parking impacts (either real or perceived) or the need to lessen road width to a reasonable 10 to 11 feet are too many to count.
Car is King nationwide, too—people inside motor vehicles have never been safer, according to NHSTA. Meanwhile, those outside the vehicle (pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, and others) have never been more likely to die, with “non-occupants” now accounting for 34% of traffic deaths.
The Vehicular Violence Accountability Act legislation, should it pass, is a start. Drivers must be held accountable when their negligence results in a fatality. We urgently need to prioritize people over cars. We must design streets with the safety of people as the top priority, not to maximize motor vehicle speed. Instead of blaming people for wearing dark clothes (heaven-forbid) or crossing against a signal in an area where signals are frequently broken or poorly timed, we should ask what conditions led to this collision and what we can do to fix them.
Want to get involved? Here are some things you can do:
Attend a public meetings and let local leadership know you support safe streets for everyone! These meetings are taking place in the next few weeks:
A public information session will be held on Middle Main Street on Monday, November 7, the Health Sciences Charter School (1140 Ellicott Street). The walking tour starts at 3:30 pm with the public workshop beginning at 5 pm.
NYSDOT and the Hon. Crystal People-Stokes will present their desired design alternatives for the Kensington Expressway on Wednesday, November 13, from 6 to 8 pm at the Buffalo Museum of Science.
If you haven’t already, sign up for our newsletter for updates on infrastructure projects and public meeting announcements.
You can also:
Live in the City of Buffalo? Let your Councilmember know you want safe streets! Live in a neighboring suburb? Let your elected officials know you want safe streets, too.
Live in the region? Let Governor Cuomo know you want our deleterious urban highway system removed.
Call, email, or use the app to report unsafe infrastructure to 311.
Use the Safe Lanes platform to report cars blocking bike lanes.