Eyes on the Street: Working Out the Kinks in the Columbus Ave Bike Lane

Quality Florist blocks the Columbus Avenue bike lane between 81st and 82nd on __. Other photos show it's hardly an isolated phenomenon.
The Quality Florist van blocks the Columbus Avenue bike lane between 81st and 82nd last Thursday morning.

Upper West Side residents can ride with a new sense of safety and comfort on the recently installed Columbus Avenue protected bike lane, but between 81st and 82nd Streets, the bike lane has been consistently blocked by a minivan owned by Quality Florist, a local business located on that block.

A tipster sent us pictures of the van blocking the lane three different times in the past week: last Sunday afternoon, last Thursday morning, and this morning. Each time, the driver has come to a stop right under a bright red “No Stopping Anytime” sign. The van can park there because the line of parking that protects the bike lane ends before that point in the block to make room for a left-turn lane.

I spoke with the manager of Quality Florist today and he didn’t try to deny it. “Now that they put the thing down, that’s where we do our deliveries,” he said. “Going down Columbus on the left-hand side, on this particular block, there’s no parking spaces at all.” The manager repeatedly asked what he was supposed to do, given that there wasn’t any parking on the block.

Quality Florist’s bike lane blockers seem immune to enforcement efforts. The manager said the store has received between 10 and 15 tickets for parking in the bike lane already but he sees that as an indignity, not an incentive to unload on a side street. “How fair is it for someone who’s been running a store here for 41 years to be ticketed left and right?” he asked. Perhaps a delivery zone a few feet away on 81st might be in order.

  • Rob

    I agree with the idea of a loading zone down the block. The question is, why doesn’t he just park in the left-turn lane?

  • Marco

    Well done, Noah – this is great stuff we won’t get anywhere else.

    Do you think you might do the same interviews for the delivery guys who ride on the sidewalks (or the restaurants they work for)? Not everyone on the site’s a cyclist or driver, but everyone’s a pedestrian, and more insight into that would be cool as well.

    Thanks!

  • Keeping local business support for the bike lanes mean we can’t just vilify the bike lane blockers. I like the side-street loading zone idea or any similar viable solution…maybe a loading area in the leftmost travel lane. Let’s make this street work for all its users.

  • Streetsman

    I’m not sure I understand why they can’t do what most other businesses do every day – roll your goods to and from the building and the available parking spot using a cart or a hand truck.

    A high-quality stainless steel, multi-shelf delivery cart costs about the same as 15 parking tickets, and it will work forever:
    http://durable-medical-equipment.medical-supplies-equipment-company.com/product/ppf/id/16306/new_prod_full.asp

    Check this guy out!
    http://www.core77.com/blog/object_culture/handtruck_hacks_5970.asp

  • Streetsman

    In fact there is an entire city with 1/4 million residents that has no cars and some of the streets even have stairs, yet businesses still manage to get deliveries around:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/ebuie/3656158443/

    You need to break free from the notion that walking goods between a store and a motor vehicle parked at the curb directly in front of the store, at any time you want, is the only way to handle deliveries. Once you break out of this assumption, there is a world of possibilities that don’t involve parking in a bike lane. It just requires some willingness to adapt.

  • J:Lai

    Streetsman: the answer is laziness.

    I support the creation of dedicated loading zones in order to reduce double parking (whether in bike or auto lanes).
    However, evidence from other cities that have created such zones (notably San Francisco) suggests that many commercial drivers will continue to double park even when the zones are available.
    I suspect that the penalties are not large enough, or the enforcement not frequent enough, to make it an issue for the businesses employing the drivers.
    It takes quite a lot to overcome natural human laziness.

  • Peter F

    Agreed that we don’t want to vilify and alienate small businesses. Loading zones should be part of the streetplan.

    But YESSSS to Streetsman’s comments! Many of us haul all sorts of stuff all over the city without being able to pull right up to the door or even having a car.

    There are all sorts of hand carts available which hold great quantities of stuff. Many of them will fold flat also for easy storage in your delivery van. Perhaps we need to start offering constructive ideas to these businesses along with our criticism.

  • Joseph

    Why can’t we vilify and alienate businesses who do this????

    They are braking the law. They are putting people in danger. Do you realize that cyclists (including many children and elderly cyclists) using this lane are forced to go around this truck into the turning lane where cars are doing 30-50 MPH?

    I can of course appreciate the store’s frustration, but they should take up their frustration with the DOT or whoever else can provide them with relief, rather than putting people in danger.

  • latron

    They should start doing deliveries by cargo bicycle (preferably with a dedicated loading area separate from the bike path and away from pedestrians). I think they’d find that they’re able to deliver their flowers faster and at a lower cost — no parking tickets, for starters!

  • AlexB

    Yeah, this guy is a lazy jerk. Sorry, no sympathy. The more this guy is ticketed the better.

    Park somewhere else – side street, opposite side of the street, whatever. Or, he could make deliveries by some bicycle + cart device that carries flowers.

  • Welcome to New York, where the rules only apply to the little people.

  • Driver

    It is likely that if there was a reasonably close legal parking alternative, the business would use it rather than pay tickets at $115 a pop. That’s a lot of money to any small business.
    Loading zones are not an easy fix solution either, as they often fill up with work vans and delivery vehicles. Many of these vehicles do get ticketed in the loading zones as well for not actively loading/unloading. Mechanical and service companies are between a rock and a hard place when it comes to parking. They need their vehicles for the equipment they carry, but there are very few places they can legally park, even when working. The point is even with a loading zone on the side street, the spaces would likely be monopolized by work trucks parking for hours at a time and not always available. Don’t get me wrong, we could definitely use more loading zones, I’m just pointing out that they won’t always be magically available for this (or any) particular business all the time.
    I’m not saying parking in the bike lane is right, but for lack of a reasonable legal alternative, if one must park illegally and risk the cost of a ticket, then it is done at the location that provides the most convenience and minimizes the time illegally parked. In this case it happens to be in the bike lane.

    On another note, the floating parking lanes on Columbus Ave, 1st Ave, 2nd Ave etc. are dangerously close to the traffic lane. Driving in the left lane is now very dangerous. There is VERY little room between the moving vehicle and the parked cars, and there is no room to maneuver at all if someone opens their door (even a little) or gets out without looking. Obviously the real danger is to the person exiting the vehicle, and this may come as a shock to some street bloggers, but as a driver, the safety of those around me is of tremendous importance. This is a dangerous situation that should be addressed by the DOT before people get injured or killed.

  • Joseph

    Driver, no. If anything they should park in the car lane. It’s a lot safer for a car to veer around a parked car, than a cyclist to do so. This is a danger issue, not simply a “bicycle advocacy” issue.

    On other issue you addressed, you are partly correct. But drivers getting out of the shotgun seat always had to deal with a tight area next to traffic. They lost maybe 2 inches with this new redesign.

  • Jay

    At what point does impounding a vehicle for persistent violations become an enforcement option?

    The NYPD is charged with public safety, not with generating revenue for the City. If the vehicle continues to put cyclists at risk, they need to take appropriate action to ensure the safety of the cyclists.

  • donnie

    No offense DOT, but I’m not using that bike lane anyway because there are countless more cars and trucks barrelling down Columbus Avenue and making left turns without looking. I wouldn’t bother wasting energy and attention toward a small business owner when there is clearly a more dangerous (and anonymous) villain out there.

  • Driver

    Joseph, they definitely lost more than 2 inches. The parking lane is much narrower than the shoulder which was the traditional parking lane. If possible I will measure the floating lane and a traditional shoulder parking lane. I suspect there is close to a 2 foot difference in width. Have you seen trucks park in the floating lane? They do not even fit within the lines. They either stick out into the street, or into the buffer zone. A typical truck can park next to the curb (with a few inches between the truck and curb) and still have a buffer zone between the truck and the street traffic. The new spots are significantly narrower.

  • Joseph

    Driver, perhaps you are correct (although 2 feet is stretching it), that there was a loss of clearance to traffic in the way Columbus Avenue used to be, and it is now. But it is really no different (give or take a few inches) than most areas in Manhattan, especially downtown.

    Besides, is it so hard to look before opening a door? I don’t see the problem. Like others above have said, this is just laziness. Simply look if a car is coming. If it is, then wait. If it’s not, then go. Very easy really.

  • How much space do these people need? We give them acres and hectacres of public space dedicated for the storage and movement of their vehicles, and then they have the audacity to complain that they don’t have enough room to enter and exit them? Do they want a friggin’ red carpet rolled out for them everywhere they arrive? Do you want to see how much space I occupy when I dismount and lock my bicycle to a sign post?

  • Driver

    I agree about the looking before opening part, but the reality is people often don’t use caution or common sense. I’m sure we can all agree on that much. This still does not address the slower moving elderly or people with loading/unloading needs or children. Exiting in a traffic lane is a dangerous proposition, even if one looks and exercises care. A 5′ buffer on one side and 0 buffer on the other replaces one dangerous situation with another.

    The traffic lanes on this section of Columbus were unusually wide at 12′ across. They were reduced to 10′ which is the standard lane width in the city.

    http://gothamist.com/2010/06/03/protected_bike_lanes_coming_to_uppe.php

    According to this diagram, the floating lane was proposed (and I assume implemented) at 8′ wide compared to the 11′ shoulder lane on the other side. I’m not sure if the typical shoulder/parking lane is 10′ or 11′ but either way it is a 2-3 foot width reduction.

  • Driver

    Jeff, you shouldn’t have to be in a traffic lane to enter or exit a car. These are the same traffic lanes that everyone claims are too dangerous to bike in.

  • Driver, you bring up a good point. In addition to the large amounts of land required to move and store these things, in order for them to work effectively, more land must be dedicated to ingress and egress to and from them. All things considered, I am therefore forced to conclude that private automobiles, along with helicopters, tunnel boring machines, and elephants, are simply not suitable tools for urban transportation.

  • Tila

    There is ALREADY a loading zone on that side of the block. In the photo, behind the illegally parked van, there’s a phone booth, then a car (partially obscured by a blue balloon(?)). That car is in the loading zone; it is about 35 feet long and was part of the design for this block. The florist for some reason thinks he’s entitled to not have to move his goods forty feet down the block to use the legal loading zone specifically set up for merchants here.

  • Streetsman

    That’s a good point Tila – there is already a loading zone, but no surprise it is occupied. What we are seeing time and time again – on Grand Street, Prospect Park West, Columbus Ave, Henry Street – is that bike lane projects are exposing the on-street parking management problems of the city we all know are there, and turning them into blatant safety issues. SOP for many businesses and residents is to double park or stand in illegal spots to make deliveries, a problem that is exacerbated for drivers and cyclists alike by squeezing in new bike infrastructure to the limited street width. If only there were more available spaces to park, delivery trucks wouldn’t have to be double-parking and in the bike lanes, not just flagrantly flouting traffic laws but now flagrantly endangering cycling New Yorkers who are expecting a protected facility. It is high time we saw a more aggressive attempt at pricing and managing on-street parking, in at least a very limited test area for a short time, to see if it can have the impact of alleviating these dangers imposed on the city’s new bike lanes. Going from $1.00 an hour to $1.50 an hour is not going to get the job done.

  • Marco

    Joseph – while what you’re saying seems logical, it’s really dangerous to double-park on the floating lane side near an Eastbound street. For pedestrians crossing Columbus, it’s hard enough to see through the lane of parked cars to watch out for cyclists “interpreting” red lights. If there were two lanes of parked cars, it would be pretty much impossible. Unless there’s better red-light compliance in the bike lanes, pedestrians need to be able to see through the line of parked cars to see what’s coming down the road.

  • Marco

    Sorry – I mean Westbound. Eastbound has the turning lane.

  • In the picture, to the right of the phone booth, there seems to be an empty space. Why not block the beginning of the left turn lane instead of the entire bike lane and part of the left turn lane?

  • Driver

    As I stated earlier, …if one must park illegally and risk the cost of a ticket, then it is done at the location that provides the most convenience and minimizes the time illegally parked.
    I’m not condoning it, it’s just how people generally think and act imo. Why would the driver increase his time parked illegally and further increase the risk of a ticket?

  • Joseph

    Marco, what are you talking about? there wouldn’t be 2 lanes of parked cars in the scenario I posed. It would be as follows: sidewalk, then bike lane, then illegally parked florist truck, then moving traffic. The pedestrians would still only need to see through one ONE parked car as usual.

  • BicyclesOnly

    I’m not sure I know what Marco and Joseph are talking about, but I think it relates to the striped “no parking” buffered area in the floating parking lane that lies immediately upsteam of the mixing zone. These buffered areas provide crucual daylighting of oncoming left-turning motor vehicle traffic for cyclists and pedestrians alike. I ride this lane with my son to school each morning and trucks illegally parking on these buffered daylighting spots are a big problem.

  • Ken

    If the loading zone on this block is the striped area at the 82nd St. end of the block, it’s going to get reduced in size because a pedestrian refuge is going in there soon. After that installation, it looks like there will be room for only one vehicle.

    A better solution for the florist or anyone else on that block who gets deliveries (such as the liquor store nextdoor) is for the DOT to wrest from the NYPD some spaces on 82nd St. just the east of Columbus. The precinct, which is on 82nd to the west of Columbus, has appropriated 11-12 parking spaces on the east side of the avenue for its officers to park their personal vehicles: “No standing anytime; police vehicle use.” A couple of short-term loading zones could be put in on the north and south sides of that corner. It’s 60-steps to the florist from there (I walked it). As a bonus, we might get a few more cops commuting to work by mass transit.

    As for the current conditions, before the lane there was metered curb parking on that block, so likely any delivery vehicles would have had to double park anyway. The extra width of the lanes meant you didn’t protrude into traffic as much as a double-parked vehicle might now, but I think it’s better that a driver be slightly inconvenienced than a cyclist’s life be put in danger by having to suddenly swerve into traffic.

    This change in the streetscape will inevitably beget other beneficial changes and shatter many assumptions about “the way things have to be.”

  • Marco

    Joseph – I think we misunderstood each other. I thought you were suggesting double parking “in traffic” alongside the floating parking lane, which can be super dangerous for everyone.

    If you’re just talking about parking in the left turn lane, I don’t think I’ve got the same issues, but it still strikes me as a bad idea.

    BicyclesOnly is being more articulate about this general issue than I am – there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of remedy to the places where the bike corridor can become visually disconnected from the rest of the street users. Frankly, I’d like to see them pull back a couple of floating parking spots at each intersection, just to give a little more visibility when there’s not a left turn lane.

  • Driver

    Ken, there is no reason a double parked car or any other obstacle should force you to suddenly swerve into traffic. You should be able to see approaching obstacles and use your perception and judgment to analyze the situation and merge into the traffic lane when it is safe to do so, or come to a stop and wait until it is safe to pass. The idea that you are forced to swerve dangerously into traffic because of an static obstacle does not make sense. Even in a vehicle one does not just swerve into traffic, but makes the same judgments I just described. Sometimes you have to wait for an opening. I understand that it is an inconvenience, but it should not be this critical danger that you describe.

  • Joseph

    Driver, but why should cyclists be “inconvenienced” in a protected bike lane?!?! So someone else can do something illegal?

    Just so you know, it is not illegal to temporarily double park, if you are dropping someone off, etc. In that situation, a cyclist must do the procedure you laid out (wait till the cost is clear). But it is ALWAYS illegal to stop in a bike lane for any reason whatsoever (unless you are an emergency vehicle). That is why cyclists fight to have these protected lanes installed.

    And anyway, it is dangerous, and if you ever had to do it, you would agree 100%. Starting a bicycle up from coming to a full stop (or almost a full stop), in order to veer into a lane where cars are doing 30+, is hardly safe. And cyclists don’t have lots of metal and seat belts in the event that there is a collision (even a very minor one). It’s the difference between death, and trading insurance papers over a fender infraction.

    Why do you keep condoning (or at least apologizing for) blocking a bike lane (a protected one no less!). It is illegal and dangerous, and it is only done out of pure laziness and neglect for others. Can’t cyclist have one place where they can be safe?

  • Driver

    I’m not condoning it, and I don’t block bike lanes myself. I’m not arguing the letter of the law either. This is a city full of inconveniences for just about anyone working or living in it, so I don’t have much sympathy for this particular inconvenience over any other. Cyclist are not magically exempt from being inconvenienced.
    Perhaps you represent the (I assume) small minority who only bike within the new protected bike lanes and nowhere else. Everyone else on a bike usually navigates streets and traffic at some point or another. Does having the protected lane cause the skills needed to ride in traffic to suddenly vanish?
    You shouldn’t have to come to a stop and then re-start to move into a traffic lane anyway. You should easily see from a block or two away that the bike lane is blocked and use that distance to maneuver appropriately. In this case that shouldn’t even be necessary as this is a turning lane, and does not have the same volume of traffic as the through lanes.

    “And anyway, it is dangerous, and if you ever had to do it, you would agree 100%”
    This may come as a shock, but I grew up riding a bicycle. I always rode a bike as a child, and rode for both recreation and transportation in my teens, and have probably covered thousands of miles in my lifetime. I still ride sometimes, though not as often as I should. Although most of my biking was outside of Manhattan, I am no stranger to riding in traffic or navigating situations on a bicycle. Having to leave the bike lane to navigate around one car should not be that big a deal.

  • RS

    Just use a bike to do your deliveries. Not sure why he wants to be stuck in traffic and getting tickets all the time anyway.

  • Joseph

    Driver, so by your logic, it would be okay (or merely just an everyday inconvenience), if large trucks regularly pulled onto the sidewalk to park or load/unload, blocking pedestrians from walking, and forcing them to go out into the street where cars drive 30+. You know, the pedestrians should see the large truck blocking the sidewalk from a block a away and plan accordingly.

    NO! It is 100% illegal for a truck to park on the sidewalk EVER. It’s illegal for a reason – SAFETY. Just like, as I stated above, it is illegal to EVER park in a bike lane, but not to double park (for very few specific reasons).

    I really don’t want to argue with you anymore. You make decent points, but you seem to not want to grasp that blocking a bike lane, for any reason whatsoever, is illegal, dangerous, selfish and just plain arrogant. As I stated in an earlier post, if you need to pull over, do it in the middle of the street (or at least the lane closest to the curb), but NOT in a bike lane. Think of them as sidewalks. The law does, in the sense that it is illegal to EVER park or stop in them.

  • Marco

    Joseph – pedestrians share sidewalks all the time with wheeled hunks of metal, including delivery vehicles. Like I said earlier, it would be great to have a parallel post about those hazards.

    That said, in NYC, people just deal with stuff. Is it okay? No. Is it worth flipping out about? Probably not.

  • Joseph

    Marco, I have lived in Manhattan for all of my 34 years on earth, and never saw a delivery vehicle on the sidewalk. What are you talking about?

    Also, I’m not flipping out, I’m just trying to make the point that everything has it’s degree of hazard. Parking/stopping in a bike lane is illegal/dangerous, not just a “big-city” inconvenience, like rats and roaches.

  • Driver

    Joseph, sometimes large trucks do block the sidewalks, when backed into loading docks that are too small. Against the law? Yes, but it is done. People do not stop and cry about it, they just walk around (in the street).

    “You make decent points, but you seem to not want to grasp that blocking a bike lane, for any reason whatsoever, is illegal, dangerous, selfish and just plain arrogant.”
    You must have missed the part (or maybe I wasn’t clear enough) where I mentioned that I do not personally block bike lanes. There is also a slight irony to your statement, as those terms could easily be applied to many cyclists.
    It’s just a matter of fact that these situations exist, just as cyclists break traffic rules and risk the safety of others all the time despite laws put in place for the purpose of safety. BTW I don’t have a problem with that either, I just make sure to pay attention to my surroundings and I have no problem.

  • Joseph

    Okay, enough already. You’re wrong and I’m right!

    No, but really, I don’t know how many more times we have to hear about cyclists dying to wake people up about this stuff. I drive a car every single day (mostly just to look for alternate side parking), so I’m not one of those anti-car people. I’m just using common sense here. Cars do not belong in bike lanes or on the sidewalk, ever.

    Let’s agree to disagree. peace.

  • Driver

    Let’s agree to disagree. peace.
    Agreed =)
    Let’s wait for the story about the cops blocking the bike lane and ticketing cyclists for going around them on 1st Ave. Then we can finally agree on something.

  • Mike

    Joseph – delivery bicycles riding on sidewalks are all over the place. I know some people are all about the two wheels good, no wheels bad, four wheels worse, but I find it hard to get worked up about one immobile delivery van when there’s a lot of delivery vehicles of all types doing stuff they’re really not supposed to.

    I don’t think that flower guy should have his van in the lane at all, but I think there’s value in putting this kind of thing into perspective.

  • Lane

    When will the van be towed as opposed to ticketed?

  • Emily Litella

    no excuses, get the f out of the lane!! The street is for transportation purposes. Parking is NOT a transportation purpose.

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