Walking or cycling in Manhattan should soon be a lot safer following a vote by New York City councillors to build about 400 km of protected bike lanes and redesign 2,000 road junctions to make them safer for pedestrians.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson proposed the changes to “break the car culture” in New York and encourage more people to cycle, walk and use public transport. A quarter of adult New Yorkers own a bike and half of bike owners ride the city’s streets regularly.

The number of adults in New York who ride a bicycle.
Image: City of New York

Each day almost half a million journeys are made by bike and the number of cycle commuters is growing despite an increase in fatal accidents involving cyclists. As of November 2019, 26 people have been killed riding a bicycle in New York, compared to 10 deaths in 2018.

After reaching a record low of 200 in 2018, the total number of road deaths in New York was up 25% by the end of August this year compared to the same time last year, with 70 pedestrians killed by cars and trucks.

“We have lost too many New Yorkers on bikes this year and our buses have been slowed to a crawl, which is why we need to take a strong stance to provide the necessary infrastructure to save lives and get our residents moving faster,” said Donovan Richards, chair of New York’s public safety committee.

A growing number of New Yorkers commute to work by bicycle.
Image: City of New York

Cycling to work has grown nearly twice as fast in New York as it has in other major US cities. The number of journeys made using New York’s Citi Bike cycle-hire scheme grew by 8% last year with 17.6 million trips.

The new cycling lanes will be protected by physical barriers to keep cars at bay. So far, less than half of the existing almost 2000 km of cycling lanes in New York City are protected. Work on the 10-year $1.7 billion road safety programme is due to start in 2021.

What's the World Economic Forum doing about the future of cities?

Cities represent humanity's greatest achievements - and greatest challenges. From inequality to air pollution, poorly designed cities are feeling the strain as 68% of humanity is predicted to live in urban areas by 2050.

The World Economic Forum supports a number of projects designed to make cities cleaner, greener and more inclusive.

These include hosting the Global Future Council on Cities and Urbanization, which gathers bright ideas from around the world to inspire city leaders, and running the Future of Urban Development and Services initiative. The latter focuses on how themes such as the circular economy and the Fourth Industrial Revolution can be harnessed to create better cities. To shed light on the housing crisis, the Forum has produced the report Making Affordable Housing a Reality in Cities.

Take the bus

To encourage more people to use buses, the council voted to create around 240 km of bus lanes and to give buses priority at 750 road junctions in the city, with the goal of cutting journey times. Bus stops will be upgraded with shelters, seating and real-time information displays, as well.

Traffic lights at 2,000 road junctions will be redesigned to make them safer for pedestrians and accessible pedestrian signals will be installed at 2,500 intersections. The plan also calls for the creation of 9.3 hectares of new pedestrian space across the city.

There will be new parking controls aimed at preventing vehicles from obstructing cycling lanes and there will be fewer on-street parking places in order to discourage car use.

The American Lung Association’s 2019 State of the Air Survey warned New Yorkers that the air they are breathing “may put your health at risk.” The city was ranked 10 out of 228 metropolitan areas with the highest levels of harmful ozone and 30 out of 203 cities for particulate pollution.

New York is a member of the new G20 Global Cities Alliance hosted by the World Economic Forum. The Alliance will produce a set of core guiding principles for the implementation of smart city technologies to improve life in conurbations worldwide.