Bike Lanes Actually Kinda Dangerous

busy bike lane Bike Lanes Actually Kinda DangerousRecently, blogger Felix Salmon spotted a baby–yes, someone’s newborn child–set down in its baby carrier in the middle of a bike lane. And not just any bike lane but Grand Street, one of the busiest and most notorious streets in Chinatown.

As a new study by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer shows, that mother could not have picked a worse spot, as the majority of cyclists on Grand Street bike the wrong way.

Obviously, cyclists are partly to blame for this, but so too are the pedestrians and motorists Mr. Stringer criticizes in his new report on bike lane abuse.

The Bloomberg administration has done an astonishing job expanding bicycle lanes in the city in recent years, adding thousands of miles to the bike network that make New York one of the preeminent cities for two-wheeled travel. At the same time this increases safety for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists–although some have not exactly been thrilled by the changes.

Completely taming New York’s free-for-all streets seems unlikely (remember Giuliani’s war on jaywalkers?), but Stringer hopes to bring some sanity to bike lanes at the very least. Among his astonishing findings:

  • Unmarked Police vehicles in apparent non-emergency situations cutting through protected bike lanes, to circumvent traffic stopped by a red light.
  • Motor vehicle encroachment and speeding through bike lanes. The bike lane at 145th and St. Nicholas Avenue was the most encroached, with 117 infractions surveyed.
  • A school bus idling in a bike late at 116th and 1st Avenue for 7 minutes
  • At Grand Street and Bowery, wrong way bicycle traffic in the bike lane outpaced the correct use of the bike lane for a full hour.
  • Pedestrian encroachment on bike lanes in the Herald Square area was rampant, with over 240 occurrences recorded during a two-hour period.
  • Of the 353 bike lane blockages observed, over 275 were motor vehicles. Of those 18% were attributed to taxi or livery cars and 13% were city owned vehicles.
  • Locations with protected bike lanes were found to be half as likely to be blocked by motor vehicles and, on average, had about 30 fewer infractions.

“I strongly support bike lanes, because they enrich the environment, quality of life and health of New York City residents,” Stringer said in a statement. “But we must respect the rules and regulations surrounding them. Unfortunately, chaos reigns in bike lanes across the city, making them an unpredictable and unprotected method of transportation.”

The borough president has proposed seven initiatives to improve bike lanes (with the Real Estate Desk’s wager on their viability):

  1. Increase enforcement against motorists who drive in or obstruct bike lanes. (Great, but not gonna happen, at least during a recession when the mayor is talking about budget cuts. Not to mention that the NYPD has a well-known animosity toward cyclists. Then again, this could mean more tickets, which means more money, so maybe the cops’ll go gangbusters on it.)
  2. Enhanced street signage for cyclists, pedestrians and vehicles. (A good one, and something already happening in places with new lanes, like First and Second avenues. Still, money seems to be a question here as well.)
  3. Taxi Cab Public Awareness Campaign on Dooring. (Hallelujah! Except the only people who hate bikes more than cops seems to be cabbies and their passengers.)
  4. Reserve parking spots for deliveries along commercial streets to discourage potential bike lane blockages. (Intriguing and totally doable.)
  5. Increase the frequency of Bike Boxes along bike routes. (Another good and relatively simple solution, but also one that can heighten road rage.)
  6. Where appropriate, DOT should strive to develop bike lanes that reduce mixing of cyclists, pedestrians and motorists. (Bring it on.)
  7. The city should make available data related to bike lane safety and conduct regular surveys similar to this study to ensure greater transparency and accountability. ($$$)

mchaban [at] observer.com / @mc_nyo