When José Alzorriz, a 52-year-old bicycle safety enthusiast from Spain, was killed in Brooklyn due to a driver running a red light, it marked the 19th cyclist death in New York City this year. This represents a troubling trend– only ten cyclists were killed in all of 2019. Mayor Bill de Blasio has described the deaths this year as an “epidemic.”
New York City has recently expanded its Citi Bike program and added more lanes for cyclists. Rates of cyclists on the streets have reached an all-time high. However, with the rate of deaths seen so far this year, many are pushing for policy reforms in order to keep these cyclists safe. Cycling advocates are pushing for stronger laws, as well as a cultural change similar to the one around drunken driving.
The change in traffic patterns is affecting pedestrians as well. In 2018, 114 pedestrians were killed in traffic fatalities in New York City; none were killed in collisions with cyclists. In 2019, two pedestrians have been killed by bikes so far.
According to New York prosecutors and defense lawyers, drivers who cause fatalities are almost never criminally charged unless there are aggravating circumstances, such as driving under the influence of alcohol or other substances or purposefully harming another individual.
Most driving offenses which ultimately result in collisions with cyclists are minor infractions which carry a small fine. Failing to yield to pedestrians and cyclists carries a penalty of up to $750. The practice of opening a door in the path of a moving cyclist or car (“dooring”) carries a $150 fine. Some advocates believe that drivers who cause collisions resulting in a death should face more serious penalties. The driver who ran a red light and killed Mr. Alzorriz is facing manslaughter charges. However, others argue that drivers are simply making mistakes and should not face such serious penalties because they do not intend to do harm to cyclists.
While there may be a split on the best policy measure to handle the problem, all can agree that the trend of cyclist deaths is troubling, and more should be done to keep everyone safe on the road. Cycling collisions can be catastrophic for the cyclist. The problem is not confined to New York City; as cycling continues to rise as an affordable and environmentally-friendly way to commute and recreate, more cyclists are getting injured or killed. Earlier this summer in Frederick County, a 59-year-old woman was killed while participating in the fundraiser Firefighter 50, a group bike ride benefiting the Pleasant Valley Community Fire Department in Westminster. The occupants of the car were not injured, while the woman was pronounced dead at the scene.