On a recent night, we were leaving the office in The Observer Building (too late, as usual) when, turning onto Eighth Avenue, we noticed something unusual: the new protected bike lanes had begun to be installed.
We first noticed it a week or two earlier, as the old lanes, on the outside of the parked cars, were ground off the asphalt, but it took a bit of time for the new parking lane to be painted, then that bright green strip. The lane used to stop south of 40th Street, but now would run all the way to Columbus Circle, with a sister lane headed south on Ninth Avenue.
Already, cars had moved into position, even though many of the markings still remained to be installed. Bikers would be zipping along the route any day now. Or not. When we saw the lane in day light, an unusual thing happened.
It is nothing new for an intrepid New Yorker, maddened by the insanity and inanity of Times Square, to walk in the bike lane. Even when it ran alongside the traffic lane, people would do it, especially at rush hour. It was a bit disconcerting, too, for it would only drive cyclists out into the onrushing cabs and cars to their right.
Still, at least there was forward progress. Protected bike lanes have been a boon everywhere, where they separate bike riders from cars, thereby providing added protection. Well, anywhere but here. On numerous occasions, The Observer witnessed dozens of pedestrians clogging the new bike lanes, making them virtually impassable. In more than one instance, a cyclist had to come to a stop, cease pedaling and do that slow walk astride their bike as people passed, the lane theirs.
Seth Solomonow, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Transportation, noted that the little white bicyclists have yet to be added to the thoroughfare, so people not yet be aware of their actions. “There can be an adjustment period while we implement new projects and in this case we have yet to sign and stencil the new lane,” he said in an email.
Yet these were clearly outta-my-way New Yorkers in too much of a hurry to be slowed down by the line outside Shake Shack and the barkers handing out free passes to Lace next door (what a wholesome stretch). Will they really obey the rules of the road when the time comes?
Mr. Solomonow points out, quite rightly, that the lane is still a boon for bikers. “Protected paths elsewhere on 8th and 9th avenues have reduced injuries upwards of 40 percent,” he said.
We have seen this before, on the fight for busy Grand Street and its bike lane, where once a baby was left, and people, or at least diplomats, still park in the lane. But mostly it works, so there is hope here, too. But at the same time, this is Time Square, one of the busiest corners of the planet. Every experienced rider knows it is a fools errand to try and bike down Broadway between 48th Street and Herald Square. Both Five Borough blowhards and tittering tourists use the bike lane as an extension of the sidewalk.
And maybe they should. This whole ordeal reminds us yet again of something Mitchell Moss is fond of saying, that what the city really needs to do is not implement congestion pricing or add more bike lanes but just extend the sidewalks. It will aid New Yorker’s largest transportation constituency, the pedestrian (by far the majority of road users) as well as cutting down on road congestion because the conversion of traffic lanes into sidewalks will mean less room for vehicles, and therefore, less vehicles.
Eighth Avenue, one of the city’s main transportation corridors, has already sacrificed a lane to bikes, so the odds that another will go to walkers seems impossible. Still, look at the transformation of Times Square when it was totally shut to cars. When the situation gets bad enough, it seems anything is possible.