Leading the way: City kicks off program giving cyclists a head start at boro intersections

Leading the way: City kicks off program giving cyclists a head start at boro intersections
Photo by Caroline Ourso

And they’re off!

Cyclists can now start pedaling through some Kings County intersections 10 seconds before the drivers next to them, city transit leaders announced this week at one of those junctures in Boerum Hill. The head start, which already exists for pedestrians at more than 2,000 crosswalks across the five boroughs, makes it safer for bike riders because it allows motorists to see them before they put pedal to metal, according to a local civic guru.

“It allows someone on a bike to get into a driver’s field of vision,” said Eric McClure, the head of Community Board 6’s Transportation Committee, who also runs the street-safety group StreetsPAC. “Just a significant improvement — gives pedestrians and bikers time before drivers head out.”

The Department of Transportation is installing “cyclists use pedestrian signal” signs at 19 Kings County intersections — including at Atlantic Avenue and Smith Street and along Fourth Avenue at Dean, 18th, 19th, 21st, 29th, 30th, 35th, 36th, 37th, 38th, 40th, 41st, 42nd, 43rd, 46th, 59th, 62nd, and 63rd streets — where the head starts, or so-called Leading Pedestrian Intervals, are already available to those traversing the pavement on foot. At these intersections, the walk signal for pedestrians appears seven-to-11-seconds before a red light turns green, allowing people to move before vehicle traffic starts driving in the same direction.

The Brooklyn signs giving cyclists that same advantage are among a total of 50 being rolled out at junctures across the city as part of a seven-month pilot program announced on Tuesday, during which Transportation Department bigwigs will collect data they will then use to formulate more permanent traffic-flow fixes, according to the head of the agency’s bicycle and pedestrian programs.

“We will be watching the results closely, and measuring the various impacts of the pilot to determine next steps,” said Sean Quinn.

And some statistics already prove a head start can save a life — a 2016 study found the number of fatalities dropped by more than half at intersections equipped with leading-pedestrian intervals, according to the Transportation Department, which still requires two-wheelers to yield to people on two feet in any crosswalk.

In 2017, 22 people suffered injuries in crashes at the Kings County intersections in the pilot program, five of whom were pedestrians or cyclists, according to data from the city’s Vision Zero initiative.

The Transportation Department is bringing the head starts for cyclists on Fourth Avenue as it begins to install long-awaited bike lanes on a Park Slope–to–Bay Ridge stretch of the road — from 65th Street to Atlantic Avenue in both directions — this spring.

And a local councilman — whose district includes many of the Fourth Avenue intersections where cyclists can start pedaling before motorists pump the gas, and is known to ride local streets on his own two-wheeler — cheered the launch of the program as the start of a process that he hopes will end with leading-pedestrian intervals for pedal pushers at crossings citywide.

“As an avid bike rider, I understand the dangers of bicycling in New York City, especially at intersections,” said Councilman Carlos Menchaca (D–Sunset Park), who in 2016 introduced now-stalled legislation to create similar head starts for bikers across the city. “This pilot program is a good step in the right direction. I look forward to hopefully having LPIs for bicyclists implemented permanently in New York City.”

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.