Respect Bike Lanes—Clear the Path

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New survey shows more than 1,700 abuses in three days

By Scott M. Stringer

For anyone who spends time on the streets of Manhattan, the congestion in our bike lanes has become a familiar sight: Cars and buses block the lanes for minutes at a time, sometimes longer. When motorists open their doors without checking for oncoming bikes, collisions can injure passengers and riders alike.

Pedestrians also clog the lanes, even as cyclists approach. And bike riders contribute to the problem by riding the wrong way in designated lanes.

I am a big supporter of bike lanes. They enrich our environment and boost the quality of life and health of New York City residents. But misuse by all parties, including motorists, pedestrians and cyclists, is undermining their success.

That’s why, in response to numerous complaints by constituents, my office recently conducted an unprecedented survey of bike lanes in Manhattan. We found more than 1,700 abuses at 11 separate sites, based on observations by my staff during morning and evening rush hours over three days in October.

On the Upper West Side we found motor vehicles and pedestrians repeatedly blocking lanes, misuse of the lanes by city vehicles, cyclists riding on the sidewalk and other safety hazards. Over three one-hour observation periods, surveyors noted 156 total infractions at 94th Street and Columbus Avenue. Of those, 116 were motor vehicles and pedestrians. Surveyors also observed a DOT vehicle parked in the bike lane for an entire hour and an unmarked police vehicle in an apparent non-emergency situation cutting through protected bike lanes, to circumvent traffic stopped by a red light.

For the Upper West Side community and the rest of our city, the bottom line is clear: We need to develop a bicycle-friendly culture where New Yorkers respect the bike lane and clear the path.

The Department of Transportation has done a great job in creating bike lanes. But we need to make sure they are working properly, so they can be enjoyed in all of our neighborhoods. My office has made the following recommendations:

  • Increase enforcement against motorists who drive in or obstruct bike lanes. This was the most significant and prevalent threat to bike lanes found in our study. During our survey, we observed 275 motor vehicle blockages in bike lanes, but only two summonses were issued.
  • Provide enhanced street signage for cyclists, pedestrians and vehicles. In particular, the Department of Transportation should provide signs that warn riders against cycling the wrong way in bike lanes.
  • Taxi Cab Public Awareness Campaign on Dooring. Dooring, the act of hitting a cyclist with an open car door, is a serious threat to bicyclist and passenger safety. The Taxi and Limousine Commission should launch a campaign to educate drivers and the public about the problem.
  • Reserve parking spots for deliveries along commercial streets to discourage potential bike lane blockages. This would help reduce a serious cause of obstructions in many Manhattan bike lanes.
  • 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. DOT, in response, has created Bike Boxes that give riders a safe place while waiting for traffic signals to change. We need more of them.
  • Where appropriate, DOT should develop bike lanes that reduce the mixing of cyclists, pedestrians and motorists.

Finally, I urge DOT to conduct regular surveys such as the one by my office, so we can have a more reliable source of information whether our bikes lanes are working properly.

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Scott M. Stringer is an Upper West Side resident and Manhattan Borough President.

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