Report frets about safety of Citi Bike plan

A cyclist crosses 42nd street in Manhattan, sharing A cyclist crosses 42nd street in Manhattan, sharing the road with a taxi. (June. 25, 2012) Photo Credit: Nancy Borowick

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The city has been making a big push for its upcoming bike-share program, but City Comptroller John Liu warned yesterday that it could be both a safety and financial liability.

Liu sent a report to the city Department of Transportation urging the agency to improve the Citi Bike plan, which will offer New Yorkers 10,000 two-wheelers for rent at 600 kiosks in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan starting next month.

Although Liu said he supports the program, he accused the transportation officials of not making sure the program was fully secure for bike riders, drivers and pedestrians.

"Being pro-bike must go hand in hand with being pro-safety," he said.

Liu made several recommendations, including mandating helmets for all Citi Bike users.

DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan slammed Liu's report and said the bike program is safe, even without a helmet mandate.

"Instead of suggesting last-minute barriers to a safe and low-cost transportation option for New Yorkers, the comptroller should support efforts that even his own report acknowledges have made our streets safer," she said in a statement.

In 2010, there were 368 bicycle related crashes, 19 of which caused a fatality, Liu's report said. From 2004 to 2009, the city had the highest fatality rate from bike wrecks in North America -- twice those in Chicago and Washington, according to a Rutgers University study Liu cited.

"Riding the streets of Manhattan isn't comparable to riding the streets of any other city," Liu said at news conference.

The report's other recommendations include:

Raising Citi Bike's insurance liability, now set at $10 million a year.

Increasing education for bike riders and drivers about the rules of the road.

Ordering tougher enforcement of traffic laws.

Melissa Brasier, 30, of the financial district, who regularly bikes, agreed that it can be scary to pedal around Manhattan. "It's because cars don't pay attention to bikers," she said.

Transportation Alternatives, the bike advocacy group that helped the comptroller's office with the report, is also calling for better safety education.

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