Eyes on the Street: A Refresher on the Carlton Ave Bike Lane

Reader Joanna Oltman Smith sends this pic of the guys who recently refurbished the Carlton Avenue bike lane in Prospect Heights. The bike lane got a fresh coat of Thermoplast from Flatbush to Atlantic. Since the Carlton Avenue Bridge re-opened in September — after an absence of nearly five years due to Barclays Center construction — one of the better northbound bike connections across Atlantic Avenue in this part of Brooklyn is once again available. It’s a light-traffic street and the intersection with Atlantic is less stressful to cross than nearby Vanderbilt.

This picture also reminded me of a faded-out piece of bike infrastructure near the Streetsblog office: Parts of the Lafayette Street and Fourth Avenue bike lane are next to invisible. It could really use a new coat.

Update: Here’s a look at the current state of the Lafayette Street lane between Prince and Spring:

  • Anonymous

    Glad to see that some old bike lanes are getting some attention. The bike lane on Frederick Douglass Blvd. (8th Ave north of Central Park) is nearly invisible too. On the other hand, St. Nicholas Ave. got its lanes repainted after it was resurfaced, sometime last year or early this year, and they actually improved the design by narrowing the car lanes and adding left-turn lanes. I didn’t see that one mentioned on Streetsblog, but maybe I missed it.

    It’s great for the DOT to say that they added X miles of new lanes, but if old lanes literally fade into oblivion, they should be subtracted from the total.

  • kevd

    That Lafayette lane should just be made parking protected.
    The buffer is very big, and the paint is basically invisible now.

    Bedford Ave. is pretty gnarly in places, too.

  • Guest

    I think this is a powerful example of why separated, built infrastructure is vastly superior to paint. If the green paint on Kent Avenue or PPW disappeared, you’d still have parked cars or pedestrian islands to protect cyclists.

    Ironically, separation might keep some bike lanes free from future politics, since one can imagine a DOT chief under Bill “Incrementalism” DeBlasio not exactly seeing a faded bike lane as a problem in need of an immediate fix.

    Over time there’s probably a cost saving, too, since crews don’t have to return each season to repave and paint.

  • Without good markings, even protected bike lanes stop working well. Look at how the contractors working on the third water tunnel have replaced the original Grand Street bike lane with an inferior version sans buffer zone (fodder for a future post). You would need grade separation to lessen the importance of maintaining good markings.

  • Joe R.

    @BenFried:disqus I’ve been advocating for grade separation for a long time, particularly at intersections. Once something like that is built out, it pretty much becomes immune to future politics. And I’ll bet good money it’s more cost effective in the long run.

    Regarding inferior bike lanes, one near me on Underhill Avenue recently changed for the worse. The entire stretch of Underhill Avenue from 164th Street to the LIE was repaved late this summer. That part is good because it was sorely needed. However, when three speed bumps were replaced, unlike their predecessors which didn’t intrude in the bike lane, the new ones take up half the lane. End result is I’m squeezing into about 18 inches of space right next to the curb when I pass them. Also, the old lane was painted entirely green, while the new one is just marked with a single white line.

  • Anonymous

    the Lafayette Street lane between Prince and Spring.
    You guys really work out of Bike Habitat?  What dedication. 

    No, but seriously, that lane sucks.  It was the queue for the gas station in the post-sandy Chaos. 

    And it’s also a passing lane for impatient cars and the site of the last time I was hit by a car on my bike (who didn’t realize he was in a bike lane as he throttled north on Lafayette to pass someone on the left when the light changed . . except i was in the way . . . and he did $200 of damage to my bike!). 

    Man, I get so angry when I think about the time I got hit of Lafayette.  I was pretty much fine (minor scrapes) and, since I was in a hurry and I was ok (and I didn’t realize my bike was damaged) I was like ok, whatever man.  But what the fuck. He could’ve killed me.  Some dude, in a bike lane, accelerates and hits me from behind, lifting me into the air.  And to him, it’s a 3 minute delay (oh, my bad).   

    And even better!  That intersection is where the NYPost did their stake out where they counted all the bicyclists who violated traffic laws (to say nothing of the cars, who are the invaders, in cramped pedestrian overrun SoHo).   So,  NYPost goes out of the way for some bs about killer/reckless bicyclists, at an intersection, where I could’ve been killed by an idiot driver.  

    God, I cannot wait for bike share.  Not just for the convenience.  But for the democratizing effect it’ll have on our population.  Biking will no longer be some “niche”.   It’ll be viewed as another option for people to get around.  As it should be. 

  • Guest

    @BenFried:disqus Absolutely. Separation is not a cure-all, and some lanes are always going to be better than others, but I’d argue that Grand Street is an extreme example of a failed separated lane. There’s barely an inch of the street that doesn’t suck for anyone on a bike or in a car. What piece of infrastructure could survive what’s going on there? They can’t even get the crosswalks right.

    One of Brad Lander’s suggested compromises to the PPW fight was to “let the green paint fade” in order to appease those who opposed it on aesthetic grounds. That lane wouldn’t suffer for a lack of green paint at all, especially with the built pedestrian islands.

  • To clarify, by “grade separation” I meant putting the bike lane at sidewalk grade, like on Allen Street or Sands Street. Not building elevated bikeways.

  • Joe R.

    @BenFried:disqus Putting the lane at sidewalk grade would most likely mean problems with pedestrian intrusion unless you also put in a demarcation of some sort, perhaps raised concrete a few inches high.

    Nevertheless, the big problem remains at intersections, whether you have bike lanes at sidewalk grade or not. The lanes need to come back down to street level at intersections. The only way you can permanently demarcate them at intersections is by using a different type of surface (and this is often done in Europe). All that said, I still maintain that full-fledged bikeways either above or below street level are sorely needed in NYC due to the limited space, excessive number of traffic signals, and general congestion at street level. No matter what you do, cycling at street level during much of the day in NYC is never going to be either pleasant or efficient. Like I said, cars have expressways, and cyclists should have something equivalent.

  • Anonymous

    @BenFried:disqus 
    Oh, the Grand Street bike lane.  Hahahhaha.  That’s a joke.  

    There’s always construction, Chinese merchants, and chickens in that bike lane.  And I swear it used to be green too.

    Yah, cannot wait for the update.  it’s like a cruel joke.  Grand St was supposed to be a good one.  And now . . . blah.   

  • Joe R.

    Checking Google Earth, both the Sands Street and Allen Street lanes run in the median. The lane on Ocean Parkway does the same. A sidewalk-level median lane isn’t going to have the problems with pedestrian intrusion which a lane adjacent to the sidewalk would. Median lanes are also amenable to having intersection bypasses by dipping about 7 feet under street level at intersections, effectively giving all of the benefits of full-grade separation at a fraction of the cost, and without elevated structures which might encounter opposition on aesthetic grounds. Of course, only a limited number of streets have wide medians, but this might be a concept worth looking further into.

  • Anonymous

    kevd  is right:”That Lafayette lane should just be made parking protected.
    The buffer is very big, and the paint is basically invisible now.”

    And it should be made to two-way.

  • To clarify again, the point I wanted to make in my original comment is that you need to maintain the markings on protected bike lanes as well as the un-protected bike lanes. I don’t think raising most bike lanes in NYC to sidewalk level is a cost-effective or good idea.

  • J

    In Chicago, they are taking every opportunity they can find to create protected bike lanes. Here, we look for excuses to not create protected lanes. We restripe the double parking-clogged buffered bike lanes on Hudson Street with the same buffered lane setup, even though there is tons on local support for them to be converted into parking-protected lanes and they connect to other protected lanes. We’ve been waiting for years for the 1st Ave lane in the UES and East Harlem to be installed, even thought the CBs have approved it THREE TIMES! We let existing protected lanes on Grand Street fade into oblivion, even the advocates and the city went through hell to put them in and keep them. All this is happening under Sadik-Khan. Imagine what will happen when we get a mayor and commissioner that aren’t friendly to bikes.

  • So glad to have Carlton back from Bruce Ratner, and the thermoplast refresh, of course, is helpful as well.

    I can’t believe anybody uses Vanderbilt Ave. between Atlantic and Flushing. Narrow lanes and tons of motor traffic in both directions.

    I strongly recommend Carlton NB and Adelphi SB (no bike lane on the latter, but one wide lane and extremely light motor traffic (due partially to the speed bumps, no doubt.)

  • Joe R.

    @BenFried:disqus “To clarify again, the point I wanted to make in my original comment is that you need to maintain the markings on protected bike lanes as well as the un-protected bike lanes. I don’t think raising most bike lanes in NYC to sidewalk level is a cost-effective or good idea.”

    I agree wholeheartedly on both counts. The bike lanes on 164th Street near me have pretty much faded into oblivion roughly 5 years after they were striped. I wonder if there’s anything better than thermoplast as far as longevity goes?

  • Joe R.

    @BenFried:disqus “To clarify again, the point I wanted to make in my original comment is that you need to maintain the markings on protected bike lanes as well as the un-protected bike lanes. I don’t think raising most bike lanes in NYC to sidewalk level is a cost-effective or good idea.”

    I agree wholeheartedly on both counts. The bike lanes on 164th Street near me have pretty much faded into oblivion roughly 5 years after they were striped. I wonder if there’s anything better than thermoplast as far as longevity goes?

  • Guest

    @BenFried:disqus I think we’re in agreement. Raising most bike lanes would make them flush with the sidewalk and while that works in some cities – Berlin, Copenhagen – I think they’d just become sidewalk extensions here.  Witness 8th Avenue above 42nd St.

    The point is to push for separation where it makes sense and where space is available.  Even Copenhagen has a lot of lanes on side streets that are just painted  Lafayette, Hudson Street…it would seem to make a lot of sense to turn these very wide buffered lanes into separated lanes.  That would mostly erase the urgent need to repaint – paint would last longer too, since there would be fewer incursions from heavy cars and trucks.

  • Guest

    @BenFried:disqus I think we’re in agreement. Raising most bike lanes would make them flush with the sidewalk and while that works in some cities – Berlin, Copenhagen – I think they’d just become sidewalk extensions here.  Witness 8th Avenue above 42nd St.

    The point is to push for separation where it makes sense and where space is available.  Even Copenhagen has a lot of lanes on side streets that are just painted  Lafayette, Hudson Street…it would seem to make a lot of sense to turn these very wide buffered lanes into separated lanes.  That would mostly erase the urgent need to repaint – paint would last longer too, since there would be fewer incursions from heavy cars and trucks.

  • Thomas040

    report faded bikelanes here: http://on.nyc.gov/XJQuCJ 

  • chris mcnally

    WAY better than Vanderbilt. I have been taking this street rather than Vanderbilt for weeks now. Traffic is light and there is more room for bikes. When I cross Atlantic at Vandy I feel like my chances of getting hit are high, but the Carlton Ave crossing is a piece of cake. 

    Thanks for highlighting this important bike route. 

    A rider showed me Waverly for the ride home. It is much calmer than Vandy on the way home. It leaves me at Fulton, then I have to take Fulton to Grand to continue south. I don’t mind it. I even take Clinton sometimes because it seems to have less traffic than Vanderbuilt.

  • Anonymous

    I didn’t realise that the Cartlon Ave. bridge was back. Great.

    Regarding bike lanes that need to be re-striped: the last few blocks before the Williamsburg Bridge are in pretty sad shape. Once you get to S.4th St. from Borinquen Pl., the lane is not so visible. The worst part is the sidewalk section, on the east sidewalk of S.5th Pl., which is meant to carry bridge-bound bike traffic. The lack of clear markings creates confusion at the intersection of S.4th St. and S.5th Pl., where more and more bridge-bound bicyclists ride in the street on S.5th Pl., going the wrong way on the on-street bike lane.
    And how about the Dean St. lane? Has that been repainted after the repaving? The last time I was on that street, which was about three weeks ago, there was no lane at all east of Nostrand Ave.

    If I may return to Williamsburg for a moment (and apologise for going a bit off topic): what can be done about the badly-placed “East” sign on Roebling St. that directs northbound cyclists to turn right at S.3rd St? Whose idea was this? If you turn right at that corner, you get to Borinquen Pl., where you are deposited on the westbound side of the street The bike map says “Eastbound Use Sidewalk”; but there are no markings for this. In practice, the sign just leads to more wrong-way cycling on the street.

    Clearly, the “East” sign on Roebling belongs at S.1st St.  Making a right turn there leads a cyclist to Marcy; another right brings you south, across Borinquen, where you can make a left to continue east on Borinquen Pl. / Grand St.

    I wrote to the DOT about this, and I got a form reply.  Does anyone here have a thought about whether there is any hope of improving this situation?

    Anyway, it doesn’t matter; it’ll all be gone in a few years when the next mayor comes in.  As a daily Williamsburg Bridge commuter, I want to weep every time I emerge on the Manhattan side and I see all the westbound bicyclists zooming onto the one-way mid-street Delancey St. bike lane that’s meant to be used only eastbound, as the large “Wrong Way” signs clearly indicate. These idiots ignore these signs, riding right between them onto the bike lane, and then zoom into the left lane of westbound Delancey.

    Every bicyclist who behaves like that is contributing to the certain end of our bike infrastructure — the general public, seeing this kind of bicycling behaviour, comes to the conclusion that there is no point in preserving or extending bike lanes, since bicyclists so often abuse them. I wish I could say that these people were wrong.

    (Sorry for going on. It just makes me so sad to see this destructive behaviour on the part of my fellow bicyclists.)

  • jrab

    Ferdinand, call 311 to report problems like bike lanes that need paint. Save the tracking number, then call the local community board and repeat the complaint, giving them the tracking number. Some CBs have online forms that you can use for complaints, with a box for the 311 number.

    To touch on the more general points you raise about the future of bike infrastructure: I believe that as bicycle advocates we need to advocate for bicyclists, not for paint and signs. It is often frustrating to see bicyclists riding the wrong way. As advocates, however, we need to advocate for all bicyclists and come up with safe routes that they can ride, instead of blaming bicyclists for not using routes that they find inconvenient.

    There is plenty of room along Delancey Street for a median two-way bike lane like the one on nearby Allen St. Changing the street to meet the riders’ needs should be the modus operandi, not changing the riders to meet the motor vehicles’ needs.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the suggestion about 311 and the Community Boards. Maybe I’ll try that.

    About the infrastructure: from a philosophical standpoint, you are entirely correct that the streets should be designed for riders’ needs. However, I was talking in terms of strategy. Even though a two-way mid-street bike lane certainly could work on Delancey St., the lane as it exists right now is not two-way, but westbound only. We bicyclists need to acknowledge that, for our own good.

    An analogous situation exists with respect to red lights. Obviously, a reasonable policy would be that bicyclists should have to treat red lights as stop signs, coming to a full stop, and then proceeding when safe. But, that is in fact not the state of the law, which requires bikes to stop and wait at a red light.

    This is, of course, absurd. Nevertheless, our behaving as though the reasonable stop-sign policy exists will not get us any closer to actually having it; rather, this type of behaviour will only make it less likely that we’ll ever get there, by providing drivers with dinner-table conversation about those crazy bicyclists who don’t follow the law.

    I won’t claim to be 100% perfect on this score at all times day and night. At midnight on Myrtle Ave. in Queens when no one is around, I sometimes go through before the end of the red-light period. But, most of the time — such as when I ride on Manhattan avenues during the day, being seen by hundreds of people at any given moment — I surely do wait the full period at all red lights.  And it might surprise you how often I get thanked by pedestrians and by drivers! Evidently, pedestrians and drivers expect to see bicyclists flouting the law, and are often surprised when this doesn’t happen.

    This tells me two things:

    1) Every bicyclist is in a sense an ambassador to the general public. The public sees any given bicyclist as representative; so each of us has a responsibilty not to act foolish. 

    2) We are in big trouble, as the next mayor is bound to pander to this widespread public perception of cyclists as scofflaws, and to roll back most of the positive changes that the current administration has brought in.

    The sad truth is that we are far from the point where we can say that bicycle infrastructure has arrived as a permanent part of the fabric of the City. All of it could be gone at the stroke of a pen. So it’s incumbent upon us not to blithely throw our infrastructure away by giving the next administration reasons to remove it. 

  • Joe R.

    @FerdinandCesarano:disqus “An analogous situation exists with respect to red lights. Obviously, a reasonable policy would be that bicyclists should have to treat red lights as stop signs, coming to a full stop, and then proceeding when safe. But, that is in fact not the state of the law, which requires bikes to stop and wait at a red light.”

    Actually, a reasonable policy is to allow cyclists to treat red lights and stop signs as yields. Most intersections have good enough lines of sight so that slowing to 10 or 12 mph is sufficient to enable you to stop in time should you see something coming. Coming to a complete stop is only needed in places with poor or nonexistent lines of sight. Signs could be posted to that effect at such intersections. On a trip of any length coming to a complete stop at every red light just isn’t physically possible even for the strongest cyclists. That’s the real reason the law needs to be changed. The law as it stands now is effectively asking cyclists to do something they just can’t physically do except on the shortest trips, and then penalizing them when they don’t. In NYC it’s quite possible to end up stopping at ten lights in the course of going only a mile. A trip of ten miles could entail 100 stops. This is well nigh impossible even for Bradley Wiggens.

    I can’t agree that continuing to treat reds as stops or yields will make it less likely that we’ll actually get the law changed. If cyclists were all to obey red lights unfailingly, legislators would likely say there doesn’t seem to be an issue with cyclists following the law, so why should we change it? Most unjust or nonsensical laws are changed only because large segments of the population ignore them. For example, New York State raised the speed limit on the Thruway from 55 to 65 mph exactly because most drivers weren’t obeying the lower speed limit. Paris recently changed the law to allow cyclists to treat reds as yields (with the reasonable provision that a cyclist can’t sue a motorist or press charges if they get hit doing this). NYC could do the same. Most of the objection on the part of motorists to allowing cyclists to pass reds is due to concern that their insurance would go up if they were sued after colliding with a cyclist passing a red light.

    It’s also important to remember much of the ire directed at cyclists running red lights isn’t due to people really caring if cyclists follow the letter of the law. Most motorists don’t, and pedestrians certainly don’t, yet you don’t hear conversations about “jay-walking pedestrians”. Rather, it’s because of the relatively few jerks who fly through reds at crowded intersections without even looking or slowing down. Under any scenario this type of behavior is dangerous and illegal. These idiots make an impression on people, whereas the many cyclists who slow or stop as needed at red just blend into the background.

    Just getting rid of most of the traffic lights and stop signs would really be the best solution here, but I’m not seeing that happening any time soon.

  • Joe R.

    To add to my last comment, while also touching on what jrab said about advocating for cyclists rather than for paint and lines, we need to take a cue from great cycling countries when designing bike infrastructure. One thing I’ve heard repeatedly is the line “bikes flow like water”. In other words, you should design infrastructure to enable that natural flow. Requiring complete stops is a tool which should be used very sparingly, and then only when there’s no reasonable alternative. The problem with a lot of NYC’s new bicycle infrastructure is the fact that it really doesn’t take this into account. Striping a lane, or even  moving the parking lane over to make a protected bike lane, doesn’t magically turn a street into a great bike route, not when you still have red lights every 2 or 3 blocks at average cycling speeds. You either need to get rid of the lights, or build a grade-separated route. If you fail to do either of these things, then don’t be surprised when cyclists routinely ignore red lights. On the flip side, when you build a great route, the cyclists will come. Witness how popular the West Side Greenway is. Incidentally, I rode the Belt Parkway Greenway for the first time on Sunday. While not ideal (the roadway is too narrow on some of the bridges and there should be a bridge over Flatbush Avenue instead of a signalized crossing), it’s worlds better than anything else I’ve ever been on. Not needing to stop or slow down for 8 miles makes for quick, relaxed trips. We need a lot more of this type of bike infrastructure. Maybe if we had it, cyclists would actually obey the one or two red lights they might encounter once off the greenways.

  • Past a certain point, the idea that moving around this city on a bicycle entitles you to break the law is just strange. I mean, what’s the real determining factor that frees individuals from the constraints of the law? Not having a motor? What does that mean for e-bikes?

    Again: why is that all these places that have the kinds of bike infrastructure we love–like Copenhagen, Berlin, Paris, on and on–are also places where almost everyon stops at reds?

    Again: there’s a reason it’s called the Idaho stop–because it’s, uh, a bit less dense in  that entire state than it is here. And density matters for something like this.

    Probably the best thing to do would be to pass a law that doesn’t allow bikers to stop at lights. That’ll get folks stopping.

  • Anonymous

    Riding a bicycle doesn’t entitle you to break the law, but you are always free to break laws that you believe are wrong. It’s called civil disobedience.

    That said, there is a difference between civil disobedience and selfishness, and it is that if you are engaging in civil disobedience you have to be prepared to accept the consequences. No whining that the cop chose to ticket you, and no pretending that you didn’t run the red light. Go and tell the judge: I chose to run this red light because I believe the law is wrong. This won’t get you off the hook (and it shouldn’t), but the idea is that if enough people do that, eventually the powers that be notice and change the law. Will it work in this case? I doubt it, but that’s the idea.

    Do they have traffic lights every 80 m (250 ft) in Copehagen, Paris, and Berlin? I’ve visited all three but I didn’t ride a bike and this topic wasn’t on my mind, so it’s hard for me to tell.

  • Joe R.

    @twitter-951559544:disqus “Again: why is that all these places that have the kinds of bike infrastructure we love–like Copenhagen, Berlin, Paris, on and on–are also places where almost everyon stops at reds?”

    That’s easy to answer-in those places by design cyclists don’t encounter red lights every 2 or 3 blocks like they do on practically every street in NYC. I’ve read about some 15 or 20 mile velomobile commutes in these places where you’ll typically stop ONCE. If you don’t think there’s a world of difference between stopping every few miles versus every few blocks, then you just don’t understand the problem. A cyclist who doesn’t stop at lights every few miles just doesn’t want to but certainly can. A cyclist in NYC who is told they must stop every few blocks according to law and infrastructure simply *can’t*, as in is not physically able. I’ve been riding for 34 years. As such, I’m in reasonably good shape. On a good day *maybe* I can do about 20 or 25 complete stops and starts before issues like leg cramps come up. Fortunately, if I play my cards right, I can often only do a handful of stops even on a long ride. If I stopped and waited at every light, then I’ll be hitting five times the number of red lights. After a few miles, I’ll have already reached my limit.

    Density is completely irrelevant here. The only difference between NYC and Idaho with regard to red lights is in NYC *sometimes* the cross traffic will be too heavy to safely pass the light. The same principal still applies-slow down, look, stop if it’s not clear, continue if it is. Lots of times, especially in the outer boroughs, there’s no cross traffic on red.

    The determining factor here which should free cyclists (and pedestrians) from the constraints of the law is their much greater visibility and slower speed. Waiting the full cycle on red serves no valid safety purpose if nothing is coming. Most motorists don’t pass red lights not because they don’t want to, but because it’s often suicide with their poorer visibility. Also, a car can start and stop as many times as needed without issue. E-bikes are a gray area. There’s no fatigue issue associated with repeatedly starting and stopping. On the flip side, they have the same great visibility as regular bikes, so waiting at reds if nothing is crossing serves no valid safety purpose.

    The only reason these entire issue exists is because NYC has failed to use pedestrian and vehicle detectors at traffic signals. A light should never be red unless something is actually crossing. If we engineering things this way, cyclists would know a red light means something, and nearly everyone would be stopping.

  • Joe R.

    @qrt145:disqus I’ve never been to any of those cities, but in European cities in general they don’t use traffic lights all that often, opting instead for roundabouts. Mostly you might have a lot of traffic lights only in the very densest parts of town. Also, when traffic signals are used on bike routes, it’s often to give bikes priority via detectors over motorized traffic, not to stop them. On the other hand, NYC even by the standards of the US grossly overuses traffic signals. We have more signalized intersections than New Jersey, Connecticut, and upstate NY combined.

  • Joe R.

    Here’s the link about the new red light law in Paris:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/9067129/Paris-cyclists-given-right-to-break-traffic-laws.html

    The article mentions if the scheme is successful it will be applied to 1700 crossroads in Paris, so I assume that means Paris has only 1700 signalized intersections, compared to NYC’s 12,000+.

  • Anonymous

    Joe R.: “On a trip of any length coming to a complete stop at every red light just isn’t physically possible even for the strongest cyclists. That’s the real reason the law needs to be changed. The law as it stands now is effectively asking cyclists to do something they just can’t physically do except on the shortest trips, and then penalizing them when they don’t.”
    I don’t get why you say that stopping at every red light “isn’t physically possible”. How is that so taxing? I mean, it’s annoying; but it sure isn’t impossible. As I mentioned, I stop at all red lights, with occasional exceptions during the overnight, and then only when there is no one around. Understand that I am not all that afraid of getting caught (though I did once get a ticket); rather, I am unwilling to be a bad advertisement for bicycilsts.

    Today I rode 33 miles all through Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn; and I stopped at every red light. This past summer, I did several days of over 80 miles, and two days of over 100 miles, including my longest trip ever, a 117-mile ride to Seaside Heights. (Little did I know that that would be my last chance to see that place in its then-current condition!) And I stopped at every red light during all of those trips.

    From the physical standpoint, stopping at a red light is not at all impossible, or even diffucult. It is only an annoyance, as I mentioned.

    Joe R.: “Most unjust or nonsensical laws are changed only because large segments of the population ignore them.”

    You are correct about that; widespread lawbreaking often has a beneficial effect in society. For example, the widespread use of marijuana has had a positive effect on the legal landscape, helping to create a climate in which legalisation is not unthinkable.

    However, you are ignoring the differences in scale: a huge percentage of people smoke or have smoked weed, quite possibly a majority. Whereas, only a fraction of that number are bicyclists. Indeed, one of the arguments about the continued criminalisation of marijuana is that it has the absurd effect of making this huge segment of the population guilty of criminal acts. If bicyclist constituted a majority / near-majority of the public, then we’d be similarly positioned to fight unjust laws by means of widespread lawbreaking.
    Joe R: “For example, New York State raised the speed limit on the Thruway from 55 to 65 mph exactly because most drivers weren’t obeying the lower speed limit.”

    Well, we see there that even sensible laws can be altered by widespread lawbreaking, as long as the lawbreaking is done by a huge portion of the population.  Unfortunately, we bicyclists just ain’t got the numbers.

    Joe R. “Paris recently changed the law to allow cyclists to treat reds as yields (with the reasonable provision that a cyclist can’t sue a motorist or press charges if they get hit doing this). NYC could do the same.”

    Yes, it could — jf there were the political will here. But there isn’t. For all the welcome increase in bicycling over the last decade, and for all the good that the bike infrastructure has done to help accustom motorists to our presence, we bicyclists are still a small minority, and are even considered weirdos by many (i’d guess most) motorists.  Without selling short the heroic political work of bike advocacy groups, I would remind you that it wasn’t the masses’ political will which has got us this far; it was simply the good fortune of having the visionary Janette Sadik-Khan in the Bloomberg adminstration.

    Joe R.: “Most of the objection on the part of motorists to allowing cyclists to pass reds is due to concern that their insurance would go up if they were sued after colliding with a cyclist passing a red light.”If only motorists’ objection to such a scheme were based in something so reasonable; if it were, it could be answered easily.  In reality, most motorists harbour a contempt for bicyclists. They see bicycles as toys which do not belong on the road, which are “in the way”; and they see bike infrastructure as impeding the proper uses of streets. (Let’s remember that these were the underlying assumptions of every professional in the DOT (and everywhere else in City government) before Sadik-Khan.) Motorists’ objection to allowing bicyclists to treat red lights as yield signs (or even stop signs) resembles xenophobes’ objection to amnesty for undocumented immigrants: why should we reward these people for breaking the law?

    I advocate bicyclists’ obeying the law, but not out of any ideological desire to be consilatory.  I would be correctly defined as a “radical” in many respects.  In my ideal New York City, the majority would be bicyclists, and there would be few private cars — none at all in Manhattan south of 110th Street. Motor vehicles would be used mainly for their legitimate uses: buses, delivery vehciles, and emergency vehicles.

    My position that we bicyclists ought to obey the laws (even the stupid laws) is a strategy designed both to protect the gains which we have seen, and to avoid instigating a backlash which would undo these gains.

    Furhtermore, there is an ethical component: if we want the bike lanes and other infrastructure, we have to agree to use this infrastructure “correctly” — that is, in keeping with the law in its current state, even as we work to change the laws.

    But, if we bicyclists forget that we are a small minority, with a fraction of the political clout of motorists (even in a city where the majorty of residents do not own cars), and if we behave as though we are operating from some kind of position of strength, then not only will we not make progress, but we will see the progress we have thus far made wiped out.

  • Joe R.

    @FerdinandCesarano:disqus Two questions-how many lights did you stop at today (roughly), and how long did it take you to go 33 miles? I’m asking for two reasons. One, it’s not physically possible for me to stop more than maybe 20 or 25 times in a ride even if it may be possible for you. My normal continuous output power is in the range of 180 to 200 watts. I can operate at this level for over two hours. On the other hand, if I do any accelerations from a dead stop, I’m hitting my legs for upwards of 700 watts getting back up to speed. After doing this 20 or 25 times, that’s it. Any more, I could get leg cramps which leave me stranded miles from home. Two, even assuming I could physically stop for every light, it would make cycling so slow and tedious for me I’ll just as soon not bother. 33 miles on a good day takes me about two hours. That’s doing “Idaho stops”, or “Idaho yields” if you will. I’ve stopped at every light on some roads just for kicks a few times. In most cases the end result is it cuts my average speed by a factor of 2 or even 3, as well as making me expend considerably more energy.

    I hear you on the concept of being a cycling ambassador. Outside of passing red lights and stop signs, I’m pretty law abiding. I always yield to pedestrians. I almost never ride the wrong way or on sidewalks. And most of my red light transgressions aren’t done at times when lots of people see me. However, the hard fact is given the sheer number of times I might have to stop for lights, even here in Eastern Queens, I’ll just as soon not bother riding were I to obey the law to letter. First off, most of the time I’m riding after 9 PM when nearly nobody is around to see me. Second, it’s totally silly to stop and wait to stare at empty space, especially now that many roads have “double stops” Just as soon as the light on one block turns green, the next one turns red. 2 minutes to go 2 blocks? That’s beyond ridiculous. It’s incumbent on the DOT to engineer road safety in the least intrusive way possible, not use blunt instruments.

    Since you mentioned cycling infrastructure, remember we’ve gotten almost nothing here in Eastern Queens, and not much in the borough as whole. I don’t ride in Manhattan or downtown Brooklyn where most of the new infrastructure has been installed, nor do I ever plan to. These areas are just too congested for enjoyable cycling, and the streets have too many traffic lights. I’ll put a question to you-why should I ride in a manner which would be both tedious and possibly detrimental just to avoid negatively influencing people on the fear that cycling infrastructure I will never even use might be taken away? Remember where I ride now I have next to nothing except for a few door-zone lanes on some streets. The Belt Parkway Greenway is about the only cycling infrastructure I’m likely to use, and then only when I visit a friend in Brooklyn. It was here long before JSK, and it’s not going anywhere.

    I’d love to see some of the things you mentioned like a mostly car-free Manhattan. In the meantime though I suspect cycling numbers will continue to grow. Already I think you’re wrong that much of the gains we’ve made will be erased in the next administration. Many people are only one fare increase away from using their bike to get to work. Cyclists don’t need to be a majority, just a very vocal significant minority. I’ll advocate too, but for the type of cycling infrastructure which benefits me most-cycling “expressways” without lights or stop signs interconnecting both the outer boroughs and Manhattan. If we won’t change the red light laws for cyclists, then we need to give them roads with the same benefits as expressways currently offer cars. I’ll also advocate for vehicle and pedestrian sensors at all red lights so they only go red when something is crossing. We could get motorists with us on this one as they’ll benefit also. Remember I have zero problems stopping at the few red lights when something is actually crossing, but the amount of times I would have to stop just to stare at empty space is absurd. It’s bad traffic engineering as well.

  • Joe R.

    One more thing here regarding the infrastructure. NYC isn’t operating in a vacuum. If you look, you’ll see cities across the country and the world installing bicycle infrastructure. NYC’s next mayor will have to continue to build on the work of JSK, regardless of the feelings of a few cranky constituents, just to keep NYC from being seen as falling behind on this issue. In the end it might be one-upsmanship, rather than genuine desire to help cyclists, which gets a lot of new infrastructure built. London or Paris or Chicago or Beijing will do something, then NYC will turn around and say look, we can do it better. The beauty of cycling infrastructure is that it’s relatively cheap, even if you go the entire nine yards and make it grade-separated. We might not be able to afford to outdo China with subway construction, but we could make them envious of our bicycle network with very little money.

  • Anonymous

    I couldn’t tell you how many lights I stopped at yesterday. And, I’m afraid that I didn’t keep track of my total riding time, as I made several prolonged stops at different places. (I have no idea how to calculate my power output in watts — or even what that means.)

    I can say that I tend to keep a pace of around 10 miles an hour. My daily trip to and from work is 10 miles; and I make that trip in about an hour. On a typical summer day of riding all day without extended stops, I do 50 miles in 5 hours, 60 miles in 6 hours, etc.

    On the two 100-mile days, I consciously started slowly, so as not to risk burning myself out. (For example, on the first of those days, I did miles no. 81 through 90 in less time than I did miles no. 1 through 10.) On those trips, I kept careful track of my riding time, subtracting out the periods of extended stops. And I found that I did the trip of 100 miles flat in 11 1/2 hours; and I did the trip of 117 miles in 13 hours.You mentioned eastern Queens.  I grew up out there, in Queens Village. My mother still lives there; so I am sometimes out there. While I liked QV when I was very young, I must admit that, by the time I was about 16 or so, it started to feel veeeery remote from civilisation. When I started riding my bike to Jamaica, and getting the feel for a real urban setting, my discontent grew rapidly.

    Also, living a bus ride away from a subway was not pleasant for me. I moved out of QV when I was 20; and each subsequent move has brought me closer and to a subway, until I landed in Woodhaven, right on the J train. Which I love.

    Woodhaven is like the centre of the universe. It is right on the Brooklyn-Queens border; so almost all places in both boroughs are reachable in an hour or less.  And all the bridges are virtually equally distant: the Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg, 59th St, and Triborough Bridges are all roughly 7-8 miles away.

    If you are avoiding riding in Manhattan and Brooklyn, you are missing out.  The bike lanes have transformed those places which have them; in Manhattan, Second, Eighth, and Ninth Aves. are unlike anything I could have dreamt of when I was a kid in the 70s. And the Williamsburg/Greenpoint network of on-street bike lanes is nothing short of dreamy.

    In addition to this, there are several streets without bike lanes which are nevertheless very good bike streets. In Brooklyn, Bushwick Ave., Kings Highway, and Flatlands Ave. come to mind; in Manhattan there’s Madison Ave.

    Of course, there are streets that are totally unbikeable, such as Flatbush Ave. and Pennsylvania Ave. in Brooklyn.  But there aren’t very many of these.

    (And you shouldn’t ignore the Bronx, either! The Grand Concourse has been completely tamed by a bike lane. The experience of riding it now bears no resemblence to earlier times. And the bike lane on 167th St. gets you across the borough without hitting too many of its famous killer hills.)

    Sometimes I take the Belt Pkwy Greenway; and I’m glad it’s there. I make a point to jump on it at least once a year, just to experience it. But, still, that sort of thing isn’t really my cup of tea; it ain’t my idea of “bike riding”. I have a similar lack of great enthusasm about Manhattan’s Hudson River Greenway.  Those places are just way too remote for me.

    I’m a New Yorker; I love the feel of being on our City’s streets.  When I go down to Coney Island, I prefer taking Kings Highway, Flatlands Ave., Bedford Ave. (with its great bike lane), or some other street route over using the Belt Pkwy Greenway.  If I’m riding on the West Side, I much prefer Eighth Ave., Ninth/Columbus Ave., upper Broadway, and Riverside Dr., etc. to the Hudson River Greenway.  (However, I do like the Harlem River Greenway, which goes between 155th St. and Washington Heights. That’s a great way to beat the hills.)

    It’s true that there aren’t many bike lanes out in eastern Queens — though I used the one on Winchester Blvd. the last time I was out that way. And the Vanderbilt Motor Pkwy between Alley Pond and Cunningham Parks is a nice little stretch of totally car-free riding. If Bloomberg could be mayor forever, then the bike lanes would eventually reach everywhere in the City — and if your prediction that the next mayor will continue his example on bike issues is correct, then the lanes will eventually get to you.

    Still, even without bike lanes, eastern Queens has lots of streets that are already very good for biking.  I wouldn’t want to be quoted as saying that there is no need for bike lanes out there; but, really, Francis Lewis Blvd, Springfield Blvd, and Union Tpke are good as they are.  The only major street out there which has great need for bike lanes in order to tame it is Northern Blvd.

    I hope that your prediction is indeed correct, and that my prediction (that the bike lanes will all be gone with the next mayor) is wrong.  So, on the assumption that your prediction is sound, my thesis stands: it’s in our interest to obey the laws, so as not to stoke any backlash that would halt that which would otherwise be the steady progress of bike lanes in the rest of the City.

  • Joe R.

    @FerdinandCesarano:disqus Thank you very much for the response and especially for your life story. As such, I feel obligated to tell you a bit more about myself. When I was very young, we lived on Melrose Street in Brooklyn. I don’t remember much because we moved to Woodside Houses in Astoria when I was about 3 or 4, in the mid 1960s. We stayed there until we moved to our present location-a private house in Flushing, located in the area near Jewel Avenue and 164th Street, in 1977. I therefore spent a lot of my childhood and youth in a solidly urban setting. When we moved out here, it initially felt like the boondocks. The subway was a 2.5 mile bus ride away instead of a few blocks walk. I missed the street life of Astoria. Eventually I got used to it. The good part is this area is centrally located. I can be in Manhattan in 35 minutes via bus/subway. Or I can walk to downtown Flushing in about the same amount of time if I want to experience a vibrant urban setting. Jamaica is also within easy walking distance. I would ride to these places instead of walking if only decent, safe bike parking existed (that’s really a problem citiwide, not just here).

    Anyway, when I lived in Astoria I stopped riding a bike much once I was in middle school. Moving out here in Eastern Queens, I rediscovered my love for riding, partially because there just wasn’t as much to see or do as there was in Astoria. And like you, I tended to explore more urban areas than where I lived. I rode many times to my old neighborhood. I did and still do ride along Jamaica/Hillside Avenues for the return part of trips out to Glen Cove Road in Long Island (I take Union Turnpike going out).

    The truth is I would most certainly find riding through many of the areas you describe infinitely more interesting than many of the places I currently ride. The big problem has been the marked increase in auto traffic since the 1980s. This has turned riding through urban settings from something which was relatively pleasant into a chore. Many roads where I used to be able to make quick, stress-free trips are now clogged with double-parked cars, crazy drivers, and about three to five times the number of traffic lights. I used to ride Queens Boulevard frequently, for example, sometimes all the way to Long Island City. At one time I could make that trip in not much over 30 minutes. Now Queens Blvd. is a mess, full of potholes and unsynchronized traffic lights which seem to stay red forever. It’s much the same on many other urban routes I used to take. Now mind you, I don’t expect to average 25 mph in an urban setting, but expecting to average 15 mph or so isn’t entirely unreasonable, and in fact I used to sometimes do better than that. Now if I try riding some of these roads in the daytime, I’m lucky to average half that. Many times, I can walk as fast, especially if I stop at all the lights. This is why I now pretty much just ride after 9 PM, and on roads where the traffic lights are sparse. Yes, it’s limiting, but riding on the roads I used to love is now nothing but a tedious chore. I might love to see those bike lanes in Manhattan, but getting there means putting up with over 10 miles of tedious riding unless I go late at night (and I’ll still need to pass many red lights if I want to make reasonable time). Late nights I wouldn’t be experiencing much street life anyway, so what would be the point?

    That brings me to some greater points about our bike network. I regularly ride all of the streets you mentioned in Eastern Queens, and yes, they’re not bad as is. Same thing with the LIE service road, where I can often average 16 to 18 mph without passing red lights simply because you only have lights every 10 blocks or so, and they seem timed for my riding speed. We probably don’t need all that many bike lanes here because traffic is often light, particularly on side blocks. What we do need, and what I would like to see, are a few trunk routes similar to the Belt Parkway Greenway. Manhattan suddenly becomes a viable destination for me if I can just ride, say 5 blocks to the LIE, then hop on a grade-separated bike lane, haul a$$, and cover the 10 miles in maybe 30 to 35 minutes (or even under 20 minutes with a good velomobile). Or use the same route to go to points east. Add in a few north south bike highways connecting to the east-west ones. Now maybe anywhere within Brooklyn and Queens you’re within a mile or so of an express route. These may not seem like riding to you, but for me it would be nirvana. I may want to take it easy and see the sights once I’m in Manhattan, but I also like to get there as fast as my legs will allow. At the same time, we also engineer away the red light problem by reducing the number of times a cyclist will have to stop on any trip to a handful. I personally feel that’s why we have poor red light compliance among cyclists here-there are just too many red lights. Once you make cycling quick and safer with the bike highways, you may well experience greatly reduced motor traffic on regular streets. Now you can eliminate a lot of those traffic lights, making things better yet again for your average cyclist.

    We both want the same thing. It’s just a matter of getting the political will. A lot of factors are in our favor. The rising price of gas, general disenchantment with the automobile, high cost of building more subways, and so forth will drive more people to self-powered transportation.

  • Anonymous

    JoeR. — Ah, so you live near 73rd Ave, which not only has a bike lane nowadays, but also was one of the few streets that had Koch-era bike lanes.

    You do make several good points.  Dedicated bike highway would be cool for rapidly crossing the big boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn when one’s destination is little tiny Manhattan. (By the way: I’m often reminded of how small Manhattan is compared to Queens and Brooklyn. And it’s funny to hear how people who spend time only in Manhattan perceive distance; to these people, going from 14th St. to 59th St. constitutes a long trip!)

    And it’s true that, while while there are more bikes on the road than ever before, there are also more cars! QB can be pretty hairy during rush hours.  I actually did take QB in to Manhattan yesterday; but I chose that street only because I didn’t leave home until about 10:30am, and so didn’t get to QB and Woodhaven Blvd. until nearly 11:00.  The level of traffic was more-or-less tolerable.

    On a bit of a side point: you mentioned a velomobile.  Do you have one of those?  I have read about them; but I have never seen one, much less communicated with someone who owns one.

  • Joe R.

    @FerdinandCesarano:disqus Yes, I’m two blocks from 73rd Avenue, and that bike lane is usually where I start my rides. I stay on 73rd Avenue until Springfield Blvd., go left on Springfield, then right onto the LIE service road. I take that until East Hampton Blvd, then turn around and take the LIE service road back the other way, all the way to Main Street. I turn around at Main Street, then usually do a few ~8 mile loops (LIE service road-Francis Lewis Blvd-Union Tpke-Main Street, and back to the LIE service road). Other times I choose different routes just to make things interesting, like taking Francis Lewis Blvd to Whitestone, or taking Union Tpke past city limits. Sometimes I just randomly ride to explore new streets.

    I don’t own a velomobile but it’s on my wish list, and for now well out of my price range. I’d probably choose between the Quest or the Go-One Evo K. I’ve never seen a velomobile, either, but they look like a blast to ride. I did purchase a nice, used titanium Airborne bike with a Dura-Ace gruppo on eBay in August 2011. For me it was a big upgrade over my rusting 25+ year old Raleigh. I’ve already put over 3800 miles on it. Great bike, plus I never have to worry about rust!

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