Reality Check: A Small Fraction of NYC Streets Have Bike Lanes

kramer_PPW.jpgKramer on the "already-congested" Prospect Park West.

Cross motorhead journo Marcia Kramer with sidewalk-hogging Brooklyn Beep Marty Markowitz and this is the unholy offspring that you get: A skewed news segment on the proposed Prospect Park West bike lane, where facts don’t matter and wild assumptions go unchallenged.

Kramer followed up last week’s hack-job on the city’s public plaza program with another error-riddled report last night. At one point, she gestures at the wide-open expanse of Prospect Park West and tells the audience that "what the transportation commissioner wants to do is eliminate two full lanes of traffic." Actually, the project will take away one traffic lane, and more than a thousand people have asked DOT to do it. Is anyone checking facts at CBS2?

The segment is basically a platform for Markowitz to condemn the expansion of New York’s bicycle network. When the Beep claims that the city is "putting bicycle paths on every single block of New York City," and the reporter makes no attempt to question the assumption, you know you’ve crossed into paranoia-land.

What Kramer neglects to mention is that, even after the addition of 200 lane-miles in the last three years, the NYC bike network — including sharrows — covers about five percent of the city’s streets, probably less if you apply some rigorous math.

(The city has about 420 lane-miles of on-street bike routes, and 6,375 linear miles of streets. That works out to about 6.5 percent, but two-way bike lanes like the ones on Allen Street, Kent Avenue, or Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn get counted twice, so the actual percentage is smaller.)

While Marty imagines that ubiquitous bike lanes have "stigmatized" drivers, and Kramer, standing in front of the free-flowing traffic on PPW, wants her audience to believe that it’s "already congested," we don’t hear a word about the dangers of walking and biking on a street where most drivers speed, nor a citation of the mounting evidence that NYC’s new bike-ped improvements are reducing injuries to pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists. Plenty of commentary from people who don’t know anything about bicycling for transportation, though.

By the time Kramer gets to the shot of DOT spokesperson Seth Solomonow’s disembodied voice, the piece feels like total self-parody. Up in the McMansion-land that she calls home, though, this stuff probably still comes across as a good faith attempt to conduct journalism.

  • fdr

    Seth Solomonow’s voice was disembodied because he refused to talk to Kramer. Maybe the piece would have been a little more balanced if he had.

  • What shoddy journalism. And I’m really at a loss to understand why Markowitz is making enemies among Brooklynites who bike. In the end, it will only hurt him. I went from having little or no opinion of him to wanting him gone from office in one day.

  • Marcia Kramer’s reporting is not news, it’s at best infotainment. But by representing her distortions as “facts,” she’s crossed the line into highly unethical behavior that does great disservice to her profession.

  • J

    I agree that this is a sharp disservice to journalism, and I wrote CBS2 to tell them the same. I don’t understand what they have against this project. Is she serious? It doesn’t reduce capacity much at all. The parking loss is minimal.

    Are they actually ideologically opposed to people riding bicycles? I just don’t get it. Maybe this will finally wake Brooklynites up to the fact that Markowitz is crazy, and has no respect for anyone’s opinion other than his own.

  • da

    Brooklyn Community Board Six supports the PPW lane.

    The Park Slope Civic Council supports the lane.

    Park Slope Neighbors supports the lane.

    1000+ residents who signed PSN’s petitions support the lane.

  • Angry Pete

    WCBS 2 doesn’t give a damn what Marcia Kramer reports. No one checks her shoddy work, she’s been there forever and won’t be gone until she’s no longer cost-effective. She’s just a nasty piece of work who should probably be working for Westchester 12 or whatever it’s called up there.

  • Conrad

    Markowitz simply realizes that the self-image of Brooklyn has changed since his election. The borough that used to consider itself “the real New York” is now a cosmopolitan, rich city in its own right. We don’t need a buffoon master of ceremonies as our nominal figurehead. His only hope is to incite some kind of culture war among the “real Brooklynites” (south of Prospect Park) and the Williamsburg/ParkSlope/Boerum Hill interlopers (who, for the most part, cannot even be bothered to respond to the census, let alone vote).

    My concern for these bike lanes? I fear that they will be as bad as the “protected” bike lanes on Broadway. Broadway in Manhattan used to be usable; a cyclist could usually claim a lane, what with all the double-parking delivery trucks. Not anymore. The bike lanes are, in my opinion, a disaster. They are never cleaned, and pedestrians simply use them as an extra buffer to jaywalk. It’s unsafe to travel at more than a leisurely coast. Surely I’m not the only who feels this way.

  • The Future will not be televised by CBS2

    If Marcia Kramer wanted, she could stand out on PPW for an hour (or even just ten minutes) and realize it is NEVER congested. NEVER. EVER. And we could bring out a speed gun with her and show cars traveling 10-15 mph over the speed limit.

    But she isn’t interested in that. She really doesn’t care. I mean she could have easily just looked at the DOT’s before and after plans and realize that there is only ONE lane being removed. That’s either being biased or sloppy journalism, either one makes her look bad.

    She belongs on FOX news. And it is great – many people I know have told me they just aren’t gonna watch CBS anymore because they have a reporter with a vendetta.

  • vnm

    This is not scientific, but I was curious to see how congested Prospect Park West was when Google Maps’ Street View truck went through there. LOL: I clicked on a random spot, and this is the first image I saw.

  • It seems that, much of what you need to know about Marcia Kramer’s worldview can be found on her husband’s blog:

    http://kalechblog.blogspot.com/2010/03/another-storm-another-birthday-another.html

    From this, it looks like she lives in a McMansion in suburban Westchester and has a “big SUV.” In other words: She is not a New Yorker. She is a suburbanite. These anti-urban, anti-bike/ped pieces that she keeps doing represent the concerns of the man-on-the-street in Westchester, not Brooklyn.

    Marcia reminds me a lot of State Assemblyman Richard Brodsky who killed congestion pricing — not on behalf of his relatively wealthy Manhattan-bound car commuting constituents — but on behalf of downtrodden poor and middle class Outer Borough New Yorkers (that Marcia drives past on her way in to work in the morning).

    http://bit.ly/cxMVLt

    Questions for CBS2: How about finding some actual New York City residents to be your beat reporters? Marcia is completely out of touch with what’s happening in NYC and is no longer an actual investigative reporter. She’s just a cranky, elderly, ideological axe-grinder. These stories she’s doing represent the views of an audience that is dying as quickly as your entire industry. How is it a good business decision to let her continue to destroy your credibility?

    And I’m taking bets: How does Marcia get to work from White Plains to Midtown?

    a. Metro-North?
    b. Drives.
    c. Is driven.

    I’m figuring CBS doesn’t have the budget to pay for drivers anymore, so I’m going with b.

  • Clarence

    vnm – that street view of P’Park West is an absolute laugh out loud shot.

    Still- non-rush hour I have seen times when the roadway looks like that.

  • Michael Steiner

    VMM,

    from the same viewpoint in StreetView, turn around 180 degree and you know why there are no cars, they are all waiting behind a light the intersection before. In fact, looking at that other view you could have made the argument that the road is at 100% capacity … 😉

  • Angry Pete

    I have to agree with Conrad that the Broadway design is simply a disaster for bike commuters. I was initially enthusiastic but now avoid it completely.

    Still, most protected bike lanes work well. I particularly like Manhattan’s Eighth Avenue and Allen Street and Sands Street off the Manhattan Bridge. Each has considerably less pedestrian traffic than Times Square though.

    I do think a two-way protected design will work on PPW — assuming Marty and Marcia don’t stage an angry SUV love-fest there.

  • da

    Also, Park Slope used to be friendly turf for Markowitz.

    But we went our separate ways over issues like Atlantic Yards and he’s had it in for us ever since.

    He likes to say that “reasonable minds can disagree”. Just don’t disagree with him; he will remember it forever.

  • BicyclesOnly

    Conrad and Pete,

    I find the Broadway bike lane just fine when heading downtown with my kids. My son’s 6th Grade class also used it for a bike field trip. It was also perfect for taking family from out of town on a short bike trip to midtown.

    Cycle tracks are for novice and intermediate cyclists, not experienced cyclists looking for the most efficient commute. The dedicated cyclist signalheads are not timed to a logical speed (such as 10 MPH). And naturally, the Broadway cycle track is overrun with pedestrians, because that whole section of town is thick with pedestrian tourists who don’t understand what an NYC bike lane is.

    I’m satisfied with the Broadway cycle track because it provides the only safe passage downtown for kids and novice cyclists east of the West Side Bike path, and improves the pedestrian environment.

    If you want to take a lane and commute downtown, use 5th, 7th, or 9th. They’re much faster than Broadway ever was, because of the sequenced timing. When traffic is fluid, cruise at ~25 MPH and you’ll find you can travel a mile or more without having to stop for a light. And if you do it following behind a pulse of motor vehicle traffic, it’s pretty safe, and certainly pedestrian-free.

  • @Michael Steiner,

    Yes, the light is red at 5th Street in that Google Street View photo, but looking south, there are zero cars on the road. When DOT presented the original plan last April, they reported that peak vehicle usage on PPW amounts to about 1,100 cars per hour, or fewer than 20 per minute. Since it takes about three minutes to drive from one Grand Army Plaza to Bartel Pritchard Square at the speed limit, that means that at any one moment during peak volume, there are about 55 cars on PPW: about one car per lane per block over the length of the park. Somehow, I think that the road can handle one-and-a-half cars per lane per block.

    And here’s video we shot on PPW last March, on a Saturday afternoon and just before 6 p.m. on a weeknight. Clearly, this street is not “already congested” — quite the opposite. It’s abundance of capacity encourages driving well in excess of the speed limit.

  • Sean

    I ride on Broadway’s protected bike lane each morning from 59th Street to Times Square and I certainly would not call it a disaster. I don’t see debris and I can ride at a reasonable pace. It’s midtown Manhattan so I don’t expect to be sprinting.

    Roaming pedestrians can be troublesome, but I theorize that this will become less of a problem over time as more cyclists use the lane and pedestrians become accustomed to their presence. (The same with bikes lanes elsewhere too.)

    The Broadway lane does make a difference to me. I rode this same route about a decade ago; before the protected bike lane was installed. It was miserable dodging taxis and double parked trucks and I chucked commuter cycling all together. Lanes like this made me come back and I imagine I am not alone.

  • Isn’t it remarkable that the charitable description of this woman and her ilk is that they’re clueless fools?

  • And I’m taking bets: How does Marcia get to work from White Plains to Midtown?

    Knowing nothing about her, I’m going to go with Metro-North, which has 85% of the rush-hour-commute-to-the-CBD market East of the Hudson.

  • Emily Litella

    What a sad day for Markowitz, joining the yahoos that equate desperately needed traffic calming with “elimination of all cars”. This man is supposed to be a leader, not the head torch bearer of an angry mob.

  • Conrad

    Sean and Bikes Only: I’m gratified that you use the bike lanes on Broadway. It is true that I’m thinking primarily of my own experience. How great to have a way for kids to safely ride bikes in Manhattan.

    I think that my disappointment stems from two factors.
    1. I see Broadway usually in the day, after rush hour, and the bike lane is virtually unused. For those who want to see it as a failure of lofty ideals to mesh with reality — well, there’s evidence that the bike lane is a failure. I really worry that the Marcia Kramers of the world will do an “exposé” on the underused and derelict bike lanes that ruined traffic and cost the taxpayers. And she wouldn’t be totally wrong. That stings.

    2. Broadway is clearly the fastest way downtown, and now that there are official “bike amenities” I can’t use it! (Even worse than the bike lanes in the 40s and 30s is the pedestrian zone around Macy’s. That’s an extra 10 minutes of slo-mo navigating on a bike. But it is a vibrant public space. Alas.)

    And yes, 5th and 7th and 9th are available for the fast biker, but let me tell you I have to really haul ass to hold my lane. I don’t see many others willing to pedal at 28 mph for 20 blocks.

  • Conrad,

    Over the two miles from Columbus Circle to Madison Square, you have to have a 20 mph increase in speed to save 10 minutes. So the “extra 10 minutes of slo-mo navigating” that you cite means that you’re going from an average speed over the whole corridor of 28 mph down to an average speed of 8 mph. Seems unlikely in both senses. To go 28 mph on average means that you would have to be doing more than 30 mph in order to make up for time stopped or slowed at lights. To retard your speed to 8 mph on the whole trip means not taking advantage of the lack of pedestrian traffic on Broadway south of 34th, where you could easily do 13-15 mph in the bike lane.

    But enough about speed. I too like to go fast, but as a bicycling advocate, I’ve reluctantly decided that building high-speed bike infrastructure just isn’t my priority right now. I think there are a lot of people out there who would be happy to have a safe 10 mph route to work from home, free from cars so they can dawdle along at their own pace, or pull over and stop (for water, taking off sweater, scratching under helmet, using cellphone) whenever they want. Let’s advocate for them for a change.

  • Marty Barfowitz: Great find! (The Marcia Kramer’s husband’s blog). Although I am getting nauseous. And I’d bet she drives.

    Conrad: I work on the east side of mid-town. The last time I biked down the Broadway bike path was a several days after one of the snows we got a couple months back. It was definitely days later, not right after the storm. The path was not cleared in places and was poorly cleared in others. I was disappointed.

    vnm: That is an absolutely awesome google map photo of PPW. I almost wish it showed just one vehicle, that of Marty Markowitz with siren blaring atop his SUV.

  • I like the 8th and 9th Avenue protected bike lanes very much, but I also have taken to avoiding the Broadway bike lane based on some negative impressions. From what I remember, the protected lane vanishes in Times Square and Herald Square, and it was painful trying to negotiate a path through the pedestrian plazas. If the separated lanes were maintained in those spaces, then that would solve the problem.

    Broadway also cries out for a counterflow lane since it is uniquely useful in connecting uptown and downtown (for example, the UWS, Columbus Circle, Union Square, and the Financial District). I would consider building out the protected lane to make it two-way, or making the protected lane counterflow while integrating downtown-bound cyclists with traffic.

    But really, the truth is, we need more protected lanes overall. The West Side Greenway is fabulous but very far west and not practical for short-distance interior commutes. That leaves 9th Avenue, 8th Avenue, and Broadway, again all situated to the west. The East Side Greenway last time I checked had attractive moments but was in terrible disrepair in many places, suffered from huge gaps, and was difficult to access, so even less practical than the west side for any kind of commuting. How about Lexington and Madison?

  • Conrad

    Jonathan: Thanks for the math, which, frankly, is beyond me. I’m sure it’s correct, although I’m not sure why you hve me starting my commute at Columbus Circle. (Unless…are you offering me a job up there??)

    Anyway, my ideal commute isn’t only about going quickly; I’ll happily take the scenic route if I can have a smooth, uneventful ride. Crazy as it sounds, it’s far more stressful for me to be traveling slowly in a protected bike lane (where there is no way to bail out and where pedestrians blindly lurch into the path) than racing against traffic.

  • Conrad, thank you for the nice words. I started at Columbus Circle because that’s where the Broadway separated bike path starts.

    I agree with you 100% about the stress of the narrow bike lane. I prefer the 59th-to-47th-Streets lane to the 42nd-to-35th-Streets lane because there’s room to maneuver around pedestrians, and riders aren’t right on top of them. Having to slow down for the blindly lurching pedestrians is a super chafe, but the long way around (via 9th Ave down to 23rd St) would take you a mile out of your way. My math suggests that from a starting point at 63rd & CPW, if you bombed down 9th Ave and then east on 24th St at 18-20 miles per hour you would probably beat the Broadway cyclist.

    Or you can look at it the other way and say, “Hey, Broadway is so direct that even if I mosey along at an average 10 mph and walk my pony briskly through the pedestrian area from 44th to 42nd, I get there just as fast as a rider booking it down 9th Ave.”

  • MW in NY

    I don’t watch CBS2 news, but CBS studios are all over on 57th and 11th, so I’d doubt she takes MetroNorth in….working on a reporter’s schedule (long hours, late nights and very early mornings, very unpredictable) and the relatively poor connectivity in getting across from Grand Central to the far west side (it’s two miles of walking/cabbing or two subway transfers and a long walk from Columbus Circle to 11th Ave) would make driving one of the few good options for her commute.

    That said – I’m sure she drives in, and is incredibly frustrated with how painful that kind of daily commute is…so anything that she perceives as slowing her down in any way is her enemy. I wouldn’t be surprised if she advocated for replacing the Hudson River Greenway with another lane of traffic in and out of the city.

  • MW, don’t give her any ideas!

  • TV news is more about hearing some random bitch tell you shit in a nice voice,while pictures of matching shit flash on the screen. Or sometimes the bitch appears on camera to tell you shit in person. But the b-roll has to match the shit the bitch says, or else it doesn’t match. Fact checking is cool, but it takes a lot of time away from matching the b-roll to the bitch.

  • Bolwerk

    MW is probably right.

    And higher-income professionals probably disproportionately represent much of the commuting-by-car population. Those are the types of people who can afford large, distant suburban houses while still affording the commuting costs of driving to Manhattan.

    Naturally, these are the people the MSM most readily associate with the broader American “middle class.”

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