Council Member Carlos Menchaca: Let Cyclists Go on LPIs
New York City Council Member Carlos Menchaca introduced a bill today that will hopefully make one of the easiest, low-cost bike safety ideas around a reality: letting cyclists treat leading pedestrian intervals (LPIs) as greens.
The bill, which is co-sponsored by Council Members Antonio Reynoso and Brad Lander, lets people on bikes piggyback on the safety benefits of LPIs, the 3 – 7 second head start that pedestrians get at some intersections to help reduce conflicts with drivers.
As I’ve written previously, cyclists across the city are already taking advantage of LPIs to keep themselves safe. Menchaca’s bill would merely codify a practice that, while technically illegal, really works.
“As a bicyclist myself, this small head start over traffic provides me with an added sense of security,” said Menchaca in a statement, calling his proposal more than just a matter of safety. “This bill is part of a larger conversation we are having as a city through the Vision Zero plan.”
While I’m sure the tabloid angle on this will be that Menchaca wants to let cyclists “blow through red lights” and terrorize pedestrians, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Menchaca stressed that his proposal “in no way alters the fact that pedestrians have the right of way when cyclists are in motion.” As I wrote in September:
In most cases, cyclists who proceed through an intersection on an LPI would be traveling in the same direction as people crossing the street on foot. Turning cyclists would still have to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk, which is no different than what’s expected at an intersection without an LPI. Any confusion that might exist in the initial days or months after the passage of such a law would diminish over time. As it stands now, some cyclists start pedaling on LPIs while others do not, simply because it’s illegal. Codifying this practice under the law would eliminate this uncertainty and quickly turn it into a common, accepted practice.
Antonio Reynoso, who introduced resolution in November calling for a change in state traffic laws to allow New York City cyclists to treat stop signs as yields and stop lights as stop signs, added that this new bill “is a step toward acknowledging that cyclists are not cars, and that we should have sensible rules that address their needs and promote their safety.”
Brad Lander, another staunch supporter of safe streets, underlined the safety benefits that LPIs accrue to both pedestrians and cyclists. “Leading pedestrian intervals are already working well, providing people with an important window of protection when they are most vulnerable crossing dangerous intersections. Extending this protection to cyclists who are vulnerable in intersections in the same way is an important step — and has the added advantage of allowing cyclists to get ahead of traffic as the proceed down the street making them much safer that way as well.”
Some of the tools in the city’s Vision Zero toolkit are costly and time-consuming, such as pouring concrete to build a protected bike lane. (And that’s after going through a potentially lengthy community board process.) Others, such as lifting the restrictions on speed cameras, require intense lobbying in Albany and a way around the Cuomo/de Blasio feud. But allowing people on bikes to take advantage of LPIs is something that can be instituted by DOT almost overnight, should the City Council give the agency the green light.
Fellow advocate Dave “Paco” Abraham put it best. “Council Member Menchaca’s bill is a much needed step forward on the road to Vision Zero. It will give people who bike a brief head start as they contend with multi-ton vehicles beside them. It will give those who drive a few extra seconds to notice their fellow New Yorkers who are more vulnerable to danger, all while preserving a pedestrian’s right of way when crossing our city streets. If the mayor and City Council want to continue reducing unnecessary risks on our streets, I urge them to approve this bill immediately.”