The Daily News Settles It: NYC Needs More Protected Bike Lanes

Strip the conclusions from Alex Nazaryan’s bike lane review in yesterday’s Daily News — by my count, the 434th “Vicious Cycle” headline of the past three years — and you actually come away with some observations about NYC streets that I think most people who bike in the city would agree with.

Nazaryan, you may recall, is the Daily News editorial page staffer who turned a tremendously dull ride over the Manhattan Bridge into a “battleground.” His bike lane prose is still rife with warfare metaphors (this time it’s “an army of farmers’ market shoppers” and “a battalion of MacLarens and Bugaboos”), but based on yesterday’s dispatch, Nazaryan probably sees eye-to-eye with bike-riding New Yorkers and livable streets supporters on the following statements:

  1. Protected bike lanes like the ones on Prospect Park West and First Avenue in Midtown are the best, especially when people don’t walk in them.
  2. It’s also quite enjoyable to bike on streets with low traffic volumes.
  3. You’re better off finding routes that avoid high-speed traffic sewers like Coney Island Avenue and the Bowery — they’re scary to bike on.
  4. There’s something about riding a bike that’s very different than driving a car.
  5. Compared to protected bike lanes, painted bike lanes lead to a much more stressful riding environment, where you have to constantly be on the lookout for double-parked cars and other incursions.
  6. Don’t you hate it when you’re riding somewhere and a great bike lane dumps you into high-speed, swerving traffic before you reach your destination? Wouldn’t it be great to have a bike network that got you from point A to point B without having to deal with that kind of stress?
  7. The Hudson River Greenway: insanely popular.

Of course, this is the Daily News here, so there’s no mention of how the new bike lanes — especially the protected ones — have reduced traffic deaths and injuries. There’s nothing about the rising rates of cycling into the Manhattan CBD.

Data like that might lead one to conclude that the bike lanes are working. There would be a clear imperative to keep on calming traffic and providing safe space for cycling on high-speed streets. (After all, biking on First Avenue used to feel pretty much identical to biking on the Bowery, until the damned DOT came along and made it safer.) Those gaps in the bike network would have to be plugged. The pressure on the Hudson River Greenway and other places where pedestrians and cyclists vie for scarce space would have to be relieved somehow — by providing more room for all those thousands of New Yorkers who want to walk and bike, perhaps.

None of that is in there. Instead, all of Nazaryan’s observations somehow turn into one more installment in the paper’s endless campaign against transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.

Nazaryan, it seems, falls into what bike planners would call the “interested but concerned” demographic — he might bike, under the right conditions. There are probably millions of New Yorkers who, like him, would bike if they felt safe enough out on the streets. When Portland transportation planners surveyed residents about attitudes toward cycling, they found that most people feel the same way:

Graphic adapted from PBOT by ##http://blog.bicyclecoalition.org/2011_03_01_archive.html##Philadelphia Bicycle Coalition##

Widespread “interested but concerned” sentiment would help explain why two-thirds of adult New Yorkers support bike lanes, while far less — one in six — report riding on a regular basis, according to the most recent New York Times poll.

As NYC’s bike network expands, it’s increasingly possible for interested but concerned New Yorkers to make whole trips without riding on stressful streets. So for all you tentative cyclists in NYC who don’t have an ax to grind with the current NYC DOT leadership, Christopher Robbins at Gothamist has three routes to get you started on overcoming your concerns.

  • Anonymous

    It his complete lack of self-awareness in what he is saying that is so shocking, and disappointing.

  • These newspapers have become little more than tools of political bigwigs who have a common interest in undermining JSK (about 40% motivation) and Bloomberg (about 60% motivation). I don’t think the papers or the pols care much about bike lanes that aren’t situated in places where they need to go. And the only people that are opposed to them regardless of locale/impact are simply cranks. One thing you can say in favor of the biking minority, it’s that their true opponents are far more scattered and flimsy. But it’s a shame that newspapers and local TV stations get away with all kinds of ax grinding like this and no one questions their authority. I, for one, give them zero authority by default, and their coverage has to be pretty thorough in order to be considered convincing. And Nazaryan continues to have no credibility on this topic, considering this was published on the same day as the NYC Century… funny that!

  • MD

    He’s a hack.  They hired him as a former teacher willing to bash teachers and boost the mayor’s agenda. Believe it or not, the stuff he writes about education is even worse.

  • Joe R.

    I fall into the “strong and fearless” category here but I recognize the importance of making cycling appealing to the 60% “interested but concerned”. If we can win them over, then bicycling infrastructure becomes a political third rail. Even though it wasn’t intentional, Nazaryan made the case for certain key components which are needed to attract that 60%:

    1) You need to both be safe and feel safe. In general, this means keeping both cars and pedestrians away from bikes. Protected bike lanes are only part of the answer. Without widening the sidewalks, pedestrians will wander into them, with predictable results. And protected bike lanes spill cyclists into a road junction every 250′. Junctions are where the most conflicts and accidents occur. We need to think in terms of minimizing junctions, particularly junctions with motor traffic.

    2) You need a connected network. This means community boards objecting to bike lanes on their streets shouldn’t have the final say. If every group who objected to a road had a say all we would have is a bunch of disconnected pieces of road. In the end the DOT, and only the DOT, should have the final word. This may at times seem overbearing but it’s the only way things will get done in a reasonable time frame. Even though I dislike much of what Robert Moses did, we need a Robert Moses of bike infrastructure at this point or we won’t have a comprehensive network in my lifetime.

    3) You need to keep stopping and slowing to a minimum. Anyone who has ever ridden a bike, at any speed, knows how much more pleasant the trip is when you can just hold a steady pace. This is sadly the one thing which is lost on the current DOT. In their effort to build more and keep costs down, they’ve opted for quantity over quality. There’s a reason the Hudson River Greenway is enormously popular. It’s free of cars and mostly free of junctions. It’s still not optimal, but despite this it attracts cyclists, some of whom may even detour several blocks just to do most of their trip on the Greenway. Why not build a few high-quality trunk lines to an even higher standard (absolutely no lights or junctions) along key routes in the city, and then have those supplemented by protected bike lanes for the last few blocks of the journey? Cycling here will boom when one knows they can do 90% of their journey without stopping. Moreover, you will greatly increase the radius for all cyclists because continuous motion is both faster and less energy intensive than starting/stopping.

    Not mentioned by Nazaryan, but you also need safe bike parking. All the infrastructure in the world is useless if you can’t store your bike at the destination confident it’ll still be there when you return.

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  • Eric McClure

    Alex Nazaryan will be much happier when he takes a job at the Houston Chronicle or the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Christopher Robbins’s Gothamist piece is well worth the read, too.

  • krstrois

    Agree with you, Eric.

    It’s interesting that they were able to find such a young person to spout such hidebound and fearful stuff on a regular basis. Young fogey.

  • Rhubarbpie

    Nice summary. As someone falling into the “interested but concerned” category, I read the piece almost exactly the same way. The most enjoyable ride he described was in a protected bike lane that a handful of “concerned citizens” had tried to kill as if it were the coming of the Westboro Baptist Church. There’s definitely room for critical thinking about a lot of the Bloomberg agenda, but a lot of the objections to the DOT initiatives seem like displaced anger.

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