November 19, 2008 | Hunter College
A new study released today by Hunter College found that as New York City is seeing an upsurge in cyclists, many of them do not obey traffic and helmet laws. Children under the age of 14 years are required by law to wear a helmet while riding a bike, however almost 50 percent do not. The same law applies to commercial cyclists such as messengers and delivery workers, and only 27 percent of those cyclists observed were wearing helmets. A noticeable sex disparity in helmet use was also evident. Approximately one-half of the females use helmets compared to just a third of the males. These results are found in a Hunter College study co-authored by Peter Tuckel, a Professor in the Department of Sociology, and Bill Milczarski, an Associate Professor in the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning. Abundant research has been carried out on obedience to traffic laws by city drivers. Surprisingly, though, few systematic studies have been conducted on the behavior of urban cyclists.
Cyclists, too, must obey the traffic laws: stopping at a red light, riding in the same direction as traffic, and not riding on sidewalks. Only 43 percent of cyclists observed stop at red lights. Overall, about 13 percent of cyclists were observed riding against traffic, and children under the age of 14 were the most likely to ride in the opposite direction of traffic at 26 percent. Children under the age of 14 were disproportionately found among those who pedaled on sidewalks at almost 56 percent. Altogether, almost 13 percent of cyclists were observed riding on sidewalks.
Professors Tuckel and Milczarski collaborated with Hunter students in their Introduction to Research Methods course in the Department of Sociology, and a graduate course entitled, “Urban Data Analysis” in the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning, respectively. The results are based upon observations of 2,928 bicyclists at street intersections, bike lanes, and bike paths at 69 different locations in New York City from October 1-29, 2008.
“Given the findings presented in this study that the overwhelming majority of cyclists in the city are not wearing helmets and the attendant risks of injury or even death, it is important that greater efforts be expended by governmental agencies and other responsible parties including parents, schools, cycling clubs, and sport retail outlets to encourage greater helmet use,” said Professor Tuckel.
“Greater adherence to these traffic laws would not only help to safeguard the well-being of cyclists but at the same time would reduce the increasing tensions between cyclists, motorists and pedestrians. Recently, several accounts from cities across the country have surfaced of conflicts between cyclists and motorists,” said Professor Milczarski.
The student researchers were also tasked with observing cyclists at a street with a bike lane, and nearly 14 percent did not use the designated lane while an additional 5.7 percent used both the designated lane and another street lane. Children under the age of 14 were the most likely not to use the bike lane, however, many children ride their bikes on the sidewalk. After controlling for “riding on the sidewalk,” delivery workers were found to be the most likely group not to ride in the designated bike lane followed by general riders, 15.2 percent and 9.3 percent, respectively.