Driving in Manhattan Stank Yesterday, It Stinks Today, It Will Stink Tomorrow

This just in from the crack investigative team at ABC 7: Driving in Manhattan stinks!

Why is this news? Because a recent NYC DOT report suggested that driving became a little more fluid on some streets where bike lanes were recently added. Unlike when a driver kills a pedestrian or cyclist and anonymous police sources blame the victim, this is a claim that our local broadcast media feel compelled to investigate.

Ripping off rival CBS and its “Mobile2” unit, ABC’s Jim Hoffer set out to show that New York bike lanes are not, in fact, making it a breeze to drive in the middle of the nation’s largest city. Hoffer did a few time trials from 96th Street to 77th Street on Columbus Avenue, and get this: It took a little more than six minutes, on average, to drive that one-mile segment. Six minutes!

For everyone keeping score at home, that means if you’re driving toward the heart of Midtown Manhattan during the morning rush on Columbus Avenue, you can travel at an average speed approaching 10 mph, which is 20 percent faster than the average speed of a New York City bus. Maybe that’s because Columbus Avenue still has four motor vehicle moving lanes during the a.m. peak, same as it did before the protected bike lane was installed in 2010.

Hoffer thinks he’s scored a point because he couldn’t duplicate DOT’s quicker drive times. But ABC’s runs on Columbus don’t prove anything about the effect of the bike lane, since Hoffer timed himself in September, and both the “before” and “after” data for the DOT report came from July. It’s no surprise that traffic moves slower on September mornings, when vacation season is over and parents, chauffeurs, and yellow bus drivers are taking kids to school again.

Say what you will about the time trial method (it’s rather iffy since results can vary widely and are usually based on small sample sizes, not to mention the fact that it can easily be gamed by reporters), Hoffer didn’t even make an apples-to-apples comparison.

More to the point, driving time is a dirt-poor way to measure the impact of the Columbus Avenue bike lane, or just about any other urban street redesign. Safety, transit effectiveness, and economic performance are the metrics that matter for city streets.

The crappiness of driving in New York is one of the great constants of the universe. It was aggravating before a few avenues got protected bike lanes, and it’s aggravating now. The things that make New York a great city — its walkability and incredible concentration of people and activity — make it a terrible place to drive.

We should concentrate on making streets less aggravating, intimidating, and dangerous for everyone who’s not in a car. When there are transitways, pedestrian streets, and all-ages bike infrastructure criss-crossing the whole city, driving will still stink, but hardly anyone will have to endure it.

  • Eddie

    Protected bike lanes and road diets are meant to slow down car traffic, not to speed it up. It’s foolish of the DOT to claim that the bike lane speeds up traffic on Columbus. Anyone who has ridden or driven Columbus both before and after can tell you that traffic is moving slower now — which is a good thing.

  • The argument is that while your top speed may be lower (due to narrower lanes), total travel time will be unchanged as you spend less time switching lanes behind turning vehicles due to the addition of left turn pockets. Of course, it’s not the bike lane itself that helps, just the removal of a few parking spaces at the end of the block for a left turn pocket, so the branding may be a bit misleading, but the fact is the protected bike lanes and turn pockets do go hand-in-hand.

  • Jeff

    Remember the motorist mindset: If it weren’t for that damn bike lane, traffic would be moving fine! If it weren’t for that damn bus stop, I’d have found a place to park! If it weren’t for that damn crosswalk, I would have had to stop here!

    When a motorist is stuck in traffic and sees a bike lane, in their mind, if it weren’t for the bike lane, that lane would be 100% free and clear for their own personal use. No, not that you would simply have four jam-packed lanes of automobiles as opposed to three: In their mind, you’d have three lanes jam-packed with *other people*’s automobiles, and a fourth that is exclusively for *them*.

  • BBnet3000

    You’re confusing top speed and average speed. The increase in average speed also wasn’t because of the bike lane, it was because of the turn lanes they added when they added the bike lane.

    This is still a justification we should not be using. We SHOULD be improving cycling and putting in cycling infrastructure even where it negatively impacts driving (which we have never done as far as I know of). That isn’t to say that I want to screw over drivers. The end result I see is far fewer private cars and necessary delivery trucks driving fairly smoothly around the city (and at a low top speed).

  • Sadly this kind of reporting makes sense to the generally middle-aged outer-borough demographic watching the local news. They come into the city maybe once a month at best, and when they do it is invariably by car, so this is what they see. But they are not the majority of the street users on Columbus Ave. To the majority of street users, the improvement is self-evident.

  • Eddie

    Not many cars are turn left on Columbus between 96th and 77th, except on 86th and 81st.

  • Jesse

    Right. In the motorist mindset everything caises traffic except for motorists.

  • Eddie

    No, I’m not confused. Cabs do still speed down Columbus late at night when traffic is light. On the other hand, during rush hour, whenever a truck is double-parked in order to make deliveries, traffic is reduced to two narrow lanes, which creates traffic jams.

  • I’m so glad they kept the EXCLUSIVE banner up all the way thru. BTW: I wonder how long it takes a bicycle? Maybe they should get on a bike?

  • Arguing that fast, convenient driving is vital to the New York City experience should be something that gets you laughed out of town, like insisting that everyone here root for the Red Sox, eat deep dish pizza, or take a Lender’s bagel out of the freezer.

  • More relevant, there are far more users of Columbus Avenue who are local to the Upper West Side than there are from the outer boroughs / neighboring counties, and, regardless of what their car trip found, the one constant in the local network news coverage is that it’s like the mega-CBDs don’t even exist.

    To consume Manhattan and Brooklyn-based blogs and community newspapers is to hear a COMPLETELY different story of life from what the evening news programs cover. It’s not just a case of broadcast area spread/sprawl, it’s also a case of the broadcasters having demographic priorities. The suburbs are completely their audience, and they’re not at all concerned with audiences in central Manhattan, central Brooklyn, etc. I guess they assume all these people have lives and wouldn’t bother with TV anyway. But, indeed, there are 2-3 million mega-urban city dwellers who practically don’t exist in TV news coverage.

  • Joe Enoch

    As someone who bicycle commutes down Columbus Ave every morning, let me tell you, the times along that stretch of Columbus Ave have NOTHING to do with the bike lanes and EVERYTHING to do with whether there are deliveries at the Pioneer grocery store at 74th st. Without question every weekday morning there are trucks double or triple parked there. Once I even saw them quadruple parked — yep, three trucks in Columbus Ave and one in the bike lane.

    It’s an insanely dangerous scenario for bicyclists and it completely chokes traffic during the busiest possible time of the day on Columbus. I don’t understand why they schedule their deliveries for that time of day.

  • It’s nice to see bikelash is back! The windshield reporting in this town (where such a small percentage of people actually use a car for every trip every day) is horrible. But you know who uses their cars/vehicles for every trip/every day in NYC? That would be news reporters. They believe everyone goes thru what that they do every day and it is the norm. It is not. They need to get out of their vehicles and experience what the average NYC resident does to get to work and play feels like.

  • Did ABC7 ever mention one time in the entire story that if the NYPD wrote tickets and got the illegal double-parkers off the Avenue it would be much clearer? No.

  • Joe Enoch

    Actually, I am usually the last one to defend the NYPD, but I actually have seen them out there from time to time writing tickets. Occasionally I will stop and suggest they head over to the grocery store and clear up the mess there and they’re usually receptive.

  • Plus, reporters generally have parking placards so they don’t even have to suffer the indignity of searching for free parking like those “real” New Yorkers I’m always hearing about.

  • SomeoneWhoKnowsThisSubject

    It’s actually legal under many circumstances for commercial vehicles making deliveries to double park. You see lots of double-parked trucks with tickets in the windshield, but many of the tickets get thrown out (or automatically reduced if the company is enrolled in certain programs with the City).

    The whole delivery/enforcement/curbside-space-allocation paradigm is very convoluted, and often seems to work at cross purposes with mobility.

  • qjk

    This, a million times this. That supermarket is a ridiculous bottleneck throughout the a.m. rush—I’ve been blocked by tractor-trailers in the bike lane between 73rd and 74th as early as 8:30 a.m. and as late as 10:00 a.m.

    Happens almost every day of the week. Is this even legal? Perhaps DOT could give them a loading zone along Columbus or one of the side streets?

  • BBnet3000

    Double parked trucks also make biking a pain with regular bike lanes/sharrows/no infra.

    One thing we could do to help existing cyclists in NYC as well as drivers is to turn a lot of street parking on commercial corridors into loading zones.

  • Morris Zapp

    “It’s foolish of the DOT to claim that the bike lane speeds up traffic on Columbus.”

    Concur. Trying to appease drivers is a fool’s errand. It can’t be done. But it’s like the tendency is embedded in DOT’s DNA.

  • Call me crazy, but . . .

    Do you think this piece could have anything to do with the fact that the Columbus Avenue protected bike lane currently stops just short of Channel 7’s studios and they REALLY want to keep it that way? Nah.

  • Albert

    Double parking is the symptom, not the cause. The cause is the free or cheap curb parking enabling long-term squatting by everyone *but* those who use it for shorter-term commercial purposes.

  • Kevin Love

    I have to partially disagree with this. I suspect that bicycle traffic is moving a lot faster. Perhaps a major media outlet should do a “before and after” comparison of cycle traffic speed. As well as how much more convenient and pleasant is the result of the street improvement.

    Yes, I know. When pigs fly. Or cycle. Gotta find the photo of Miss Piggy cycling…

  • Kevin Love

    DOT appears to not understand the concept of induced
    demand. In other words, if another car lane were to magically appear, it would be immediately clogged with car
    traffic. On the flip side, despite all the whining, removing a car lane does not make much difference to car drivers either. But it can make a huge difference to people by improving the street for foot and cycle traffic.

    And just making the street a more pleasant
    place to work, live and travel through.

  • com63

    What about all the drivers circling the block looking for free street parking? 😉

  • xraytwonine

    Theres simply no reason to drive in manhattan unless there is commercial interest involved, and even then, there is a flood of such traffic. We can’t divide or redesign roads with set width to make things smoother. We need to add another level. What is now known as ground level should become the “basement” level. All traffic remains underground and the upper level should be for pedestrians, bikes, anything non motorized. The basement level can now rid of its sidewalks, making way for two additional lanes, but NO parking except for commercial loading/unloading. The car/basement level should experience much smoother speeds as there is much much less or zero pedestrians at each intersection.

    They should really try this somewhere midtown, even for just a few blocks.

    And perhaps back up on some ave/st are caused by bottle neck further down from that locale, the 59th st bridge landing is a complete mess because it was never designed to handle that much traffic.

    What is also interesting is that in the past decade, the MTA have added less than 10 stops. If more trains stops and connections were to be considered that would definitely encourage the usage of public transit as opposed to cars/taxis or even busses (also, why aren’t there more double deckers in NYC?)

  • True. Every day motorists get into cars and cause traffic congestion, then complain bitterly that it’s everybody’s fault but their own.

  • Kevin Love

    Ditto politicians!

  • Eddie
  • Tyson White

    TIL that Jim Hoffer apparently can’t drive as fast as a taxi!

    #READtheDamnData!

  • Joe Enoch

    So I figured out what the problem here is. I normally am riding my bike past Pioneer about 8:45 am each morning, when there is always a minimum of four trucks unloading. This morning I had to be at work early and rode by at 7:45. There were a couple of trucks there, but they were idling in the loading zone doing nothing because the place hadn’t opened yet. Ends up they don’t open until 8 a.m. — so naturally all the deliveries come in at that time. If they would just open a half hour earlier, they could start unloading their deliveries before traffic ticks up and spread it out rather than create that immense clusterfuck each weekday at 8:45 am on Columbus Ave.

  • John..

    Nothing ever will appease the motorist!! First the motorist wants free parking space, once they get it, they want faster speeds even thought that will injure or kill others, so the speed limits are raised. Then they will want a straight line from point A to point B and demolish everything in between, which is called a highway.. What’s next?

  • John

    Thank God the flying cars are not ready yet.. If so, cars crashes will be raining down on poor pedestrians every few minutes.

  • Michael Bifano

    No citizen should have the right to drive in a city such as New York. Find an alternate means or suffer whatever delays. That’s the choice. Why are you so special that you should be able to drive a giant hunk of metal to get YOU around where there’s limited space and myriad options? The sense of entitlement by cagers is astonishing!

  • Kevin Love

    In New York State, driving is a privilege, not a right. See, for example:

    http://dmv.ny.gov/sites/default/files/legacy_files/broch/c-12.pdf

  • TONY ALDO

    “No citizen should have the right to drive in a city such as New York.”

    NYC driver here and frequent commuter to NJ to pick up my son, work, etc. I paid the taxes to pave the roads, put up street lights, paint lanes. I also paid for the privilege to hold a NY DMV issued vehicle licence to drive. So yea, with that I damn well deserve the right to drive where ever I want in NY whenever I want

    “Why are you so special that you should be able to drive a giant hunk of metal to get YOU around where there’s limited space and myriad options?”

    I prefer to sit on my ass in my own car and drive at the pace I want whether there’s traffic or not. I’m special because I paid for it and you haven’t, or maybe you have and you just want to vent. Which is okay.

  • Ian Turner

    Roads are paid for out of general taxes, by all residents, not just drivers. Drivers are actually highly subsidized:

    http://usa.streetsblog.org/2013/01/23/drivers-cover-just-51-percent-of-u-s-road-spending/

  • TONY ALDO

    I know, but when you factor in tolls, gas, insurance, monthly payments we actually contribute more to taxes but whatever those taxes are being spent on who knows.

  • lop

    Not enough to cover the direct costs of the roads. Never mind the opportunity cost of wasting all the space on you.

  • TONY ALDO

    America..land of the free where I can own whatever I want that’s legal. I’ll remember you while sipping hot chocolate and enjoying my heat on full blast as I drive around this winter.

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