Peabody award–winning journalist Andrea Bernstein is Senior Editor for Politics & Policy for WNYC News. She has previously served as Metro Editor, Political Director, Director of Transportation Nation, and Senior Reporter.
Manhattan Borough President: Bike Lanes Misused 1,700 Times in Two Days
Friday, October 08, 2010 - 01:55 PM
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) If you ride a bike in New York, you know that bike lanes are pretty much seen as suggestions, not rules. Now comes a report from Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer that says, in just two days, the bikes lanes they surveyed were misused 1,700 times. Stringer's researchers found unmarked police vehicles in non-emergency citations, "motor vehicle encroachment and speeding," a school bus, and "rampant pedestrian encroachment."
But bikers have their own problems. On Grand Street in lower Manhattan Stringer found there were more bikers going in the wrong direction than the right one.
Says Stringer (all caps his) "CLEAR THE PATH."
Read his press release below:
BOROUGH PRESIDENT SCOTT M. STRINGER RELEASES UNPRECEDENTED REPORT ON BIKE LANE INFRACTIONS
“Respect the Lane – Clear the Path” Survey Shows Flagrant Violations and
Infractions Plague Manhattan Bike Lanes
After receiving numerous constituent complaints from motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists, Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer today released an unprecedented survey of bike lane safety in Manhattan. The verdict was clear: while bike lanes bring a tremendous benefit to New York City, misuse by all parties—motorists, pedestrians and cyclists—undermines their success.
Data was collected at eleven Manhattan bike lanes during recent morning and evening rush hours, and the most common infractions in bike lanes included: motor vehicle blockage, pedestrian use and cyclists going the wrong direction.
“I strongly support bike lanes, because they enrich the environment, quality of life and health of New York City residents,” said the Borough President. “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.
“New Yorkers who rely on bike lanes need to know that fellow riders, motorists and pedestrians will join them in honoring the rules of the road,” Stringer added. “We need to develop a bicycle-friendly culture where New Yorkers RESPECT THE BIKE LANE and CLEAR THE PATH”
The Borough President’s survey found a range of bike lane abuses including:
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 lane 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.
Data was compiled during morning and evening rush hours between October 5 and October 7 at eleven bike lane locations, including: Centre Street and Chambers Street; Grand Street and Bowery; St. Marks Place and Second Avenue; 14th Street and First Avenue; 23rd Street and Eighth Avenue; 36th Street and Broadway; 77th Street and First Avenue; 94th Street and Columbus Avenue; 115th Street and Fredrick Douglas Boulevard; 116th Street and First Avenue; and 145th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue.
Over the course of a three day observation period, staff from the Borough President’s office observed over 1,700 infractions at these locations. The highest infraction frequencies by location and the total number of infractions were:
Bike Lane Blockages – 117 infractions at 145th Street & St. Nicholas Avenue; 353 total infractions
Pedestrian in bike lane – 240 infractions at 36th Street & Broadway; 741 total infractions
Cyclist going wrong way in bike lane – 53 infractions at Grand Street & Bowery; 242 total infractions
Cyclist running a red light – 100 infractions at Centre Street & Chambers Street; 237 total infractions
Dooring (car doors opening as a cyclist approaches) – 19 infractions at St. Marks Place & Second Avenue; 77 total infractions
Cyclist riding on sidewalk – 11 infractions at 94th Street & Columbus Avenue (tied with Centre & Chambers); 42 total infractions
Cyclist riding wrong way on the street – 27 infractions at 77th Street & First Avenue; 89 total infractions
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.
Additionally, 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. These findings indicate that protected lanes may provide a safer cycling experience.
“New York City needs more bike lanes,” affirmed Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives. “The data shows clearly that bike lanes make the streets safer for everyone—people walking, driving and cycling. When cop cars, taxi cabs and delivery trucks double-park in bike lanes, it compromises the good they can do. We encourage cyclists to ride the right way and always yield to pedestrians. Bike lanes are good public policy and together we can maximize their benefits.”
Assemblymember Kavanagh said, "In light of Borough President Stringer's report, it's clear that we need to do more to make our streets safe for bicyclists and pedestrians. The value of bike lanes and other improvements is diminished when public awareness is limited, enforcement is lax, and the lanes are not respected by drivers."
“Bike lanes have the potential to get bikes off the sidewalk, safeguard seniors and other pedestrians, and green up the city. The weak links are enforcement and education,” said Councilmember Gale Brewer. “Big changes take time and effort. We need the cooperation of bikers, motorists and pedestrians as well as the city agencies to make them work well.”
“As a bike commuter, I greatly appreciate the lanes,” said cyclist Dave Holowka. “But vehicles parked in a bike lane force cyclists to swerve out into traffic, creating a pinch point between their vehicles and pedestrians in parallel crosswalks.”
In order to reduce the number of bike lane blockages and improve cyclist safety, the Borough President is making the following recommendations:
Increase enforcement against motorists who drive in or obstruct bike lanes. Of the criteria surveyed, the most significant threat to bike lane safety is misuse of the lanes by motor vehicles. Surveyors noted dangerous obstructions ranging from cars double-parked in lanes to potentially life threatening incidents such as cars using unprotected bike lanes to pass other vehicles – and cutting off cyclists in the process. Currently, the fine for blocking a bike lane is $115.
However, there needs to be significantly increased enforcement and ticketing of vehicles that abuse lanes. During the 22 hour survey period, over 275 motor vehicle blockages were noted but only two tickets were observed being issued.
The City should pilot a dedicated bike lane patrol. A bike patrol would strategically place traffic enforcement agents on bicycles to patrol bike lane blockages, improper cycling, and other infractions. Placing traffic enforcement agents on bicycles would allow for rapid responses to blockages compared to agents on foot. [Additionally, this policy change would provide agents with the same incentives to keep bicycle lanes clear as officers in police cars have to maintain traffic safety.]
Enhanced street signage for cyclists, pedestrians and vehicles. Observers noted some signage in their survey areas; however, ample room for improvement exists. Specifically, DOT should provide enhanced road signage to mitigate wrong way bicycling in bike lanes and on roads, motor vehicles traveling through or encroaching upon bike lanes, and additional yield to pedestrian signs.
Taxi Cab Public Awareness Campaign on Dooring. Dooring (the act of hitting a cyclist with an open car door) is one of the most frequent cyclist complaints. The sudden nature of these collisions creates an especially dangerous environment for cyclists as well as passengers exiting vehicles.
DOT has indicated that it plans to launch a public awareness campaign to address bike safety issues across the City. The Taxi and Limousine Commission should follow suit and launch a similar public education campaign in yellow taxis and livery cars in order to prevent injuries to cyclists caused by dooring in TLC vehicles.
Reserve parking spots for deliveries along commercial streets to discourage potential bike lane blockages. Currently, parking spaces adjacent to protected bike lanes provide parking on a first come, first serve basis. A lack of designated parking for deliveries exacerbates bike lane blockages. To remedy this problem, DOT should designate delivery only parking spaces in protected bike lanes with appropriately placed curb cuts to minimize the necessity to pull dollies and hand carts through bike lanes. Bike lane blockages caused by deliveries are impossible to eliminate in most locations. However, this simple policy change could significantly reduce delivery blockages.
Increase the frequency of Bike Boxes along bike routes. Cyclists often report that for their own safety they must get a head start on motor vehicles at red lights. To address these concerns DOT has created Bike Boxes. Bike Boxes are marked traffic boxes at intersections along bike lane routes that provide cyclists with a safe area to cyclists waiting and drivers ahead of cars during red lights. This simple change to the configuration of the streetscape allows cyclists to avoid existing dangers at red lights without putting themselves and others in unnecessarily dangerous situations. DOT should improve on this worthwhile initiative by painting the boxes so they are clearly visible. Where appropriate, all future bike lanes should include bike boxes.
Where appropriate, DOT should strive to develop bike lanes that reduce mixing of cyclists, pedestrians and motorists. The Borough President’s survey found that protected bike lanes are half as likely to be blocked by motor vehicles. DOT should conduct their own analysis of the effectiveness of protected bike lanes and publish their findings. These findings should be included as part of a comprehensive community consultation process around the selection of appropriate locations for future bike lane locations.
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. Currently, the City does not collect or disseminate important statistics on bike lane incidents, including cycle-vehicle and pedestrian-cycle crashes. This data is necessary for policy makers, transportation advocates and concerned members of the public to measure whether our City’s bike lanes are functioning at their maximum potential.