De Blasio Doesn’t Need to Defend His Bike Policies, He Needs to Take Action

DOT will add 18 more miles of protected lanes to this map in 2016, but there's a lot of work left to do to create a cohesive citywide network of safe bike routes. Map: Jon Orcutt
DOT will add 18 more miles of protected lanes to this map in 2016, but there’s a lot of work left to do to create a cohesive citywide network of safe bike routes. Map: Jon Orcutt

Two days before a mass demonstration and bike ride to demand more action from the de Blasio administration to prevent cyclist deaths, the mayor and DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg made a media play that seems designed to deflect pressure, announcing that the city is on track to build a record 18 miles of protected bike lanes this year.

With bicyclist deaths on the rise, the mayor should be redoubling his efforts to redesign streets for safer cycling in order to achieve his goal of zero traffic fatalities by 2024. Instead he’s getting defensive.

It’s true that DOT’s progress in 2016 stacks up well compared to previous years, and the current batch of projects includes important new protected bike lane segments on streets like Queens BoulevardAmsterdam Avenue, and Chrystie Street.

The fact remains, however, that recent additions to the bike network have not been sufficient to prevent a troubling increase in cyclist deaths this year. For two years running, de Blasio has refused to increase the budget for street redesigns and accelerate the implementation of projects that are proven to save lives. If the mayor chose to make street redesigns a higher priority, DOT could improve safety on many more streets each year.

A press release from City Hall notes that the 61 miles of protected and painted bike lanes to be installed this year will match the total mileage of the last three years of the Bloomberg administration combined. But the political and media climate was much more hostile toward cycling at that time than it is now. And besides, de Blasio’s stated goals for street safety are not about outdoing the previous administration — they’re about eliminating traffic deaths.

“They put the bar there, right?” said Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White. “And now they’re comparing themselves to Bloomberg, which is pre-Vision Zero.” City Hall’s commitment to 10 new miles of protected bike lanes each year is “paltry,” he said.

In March, TA called on the city to increase its investment in “operational” street redesign projects (the type that can be done quickly with low-cost construction) by $52.4 million annually, and to spend $240 million annually on capital projects to redesign the dangerous arterial streets DOT identified in its Pedestrian Safety Action Plans.

The City Council echoed TA’s recommendations, but to no avail. The de Blasio administration did not adjust its budget. “We very much feel we have the resources we need,” Trottenberg told the council.

Notably, none of this year’s 17 cyclist fatalities occurred on streets with protected bike lanes. Only two occurred in Manhattan, reflecting the need to expand the reach of the protected bike lane network outside the central city.

In today’s announcement, the mayor conceded that there’s still more to do. “No cyclist death is acceptable and that’s why we’ll continue raising the bar to keep riders protected,” he said. To make good on that promise, he’ll have to do more than defend his record — he’ll have to allocate more resources to safe streets.

On Thursday, you can ride with TA to demand more action from the mayor. The demonstration begins at the Fountain of Pomona at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue at 6 p.m., and will set off for Washington Square Park at 6:30.

  • JudenChino

    It’s a failure of leadership. Two planks that should be implemented off the top —

    Design — whenever any street has work done by the DoT, DDC or hell even the MTA, there should be, efforts to customarily see if “low hanging fruit” changes could also be made. Chicanes, neck downs, concrete pedestrian refugees, speed bumps.

    Get off the drug of “free street parking”– Make it an MOU, a policy document from the top, or what have you. But as a policy matter, we need to make street side parking the lowest priority! loading zones – yes. Private car parking, no. And for fucks sake, can we do something about resident street parking? About 1/10 of the cars I see parked overnight in Park Slope are not NYC plated. Even though, by law, if you live in NYS, you are required to register your car in NYS. Thus, a simple, extremely large zone parking based on your residency, would go along way towards, “freeing up” some parking while also aligning it with the actual residents who want to use it. We’ve all need the photo of the NC Plate Hummer in Park Slope. We need to get off of this drug man. Free street parking is the enemy. Shit, it’s even worse at
    choke points like Jay St: https://www.google.com/maps/@40.6899102,-73.9882643,3a,73.2y,55.11h,75.75t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sHgxiJlth6AhWYPlnic6jxg!2e0!7i13312!8i6656!6m1!1e1

    Like why are there 6 parking spots there, literally next to a large surface parking lot. At that precise point, we have sharrows and no PBL (even on the new “Jay St PBL”) and I can personally attest that the busses get super jammed up there. Why! Why are we harming bus riders, bicyclists and yes, even other road users like private car drivers and taxi’s/livery cabs, so that we can have 6 or 7 spots there? We need real fucking leadership.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    That map does a good job of showing just how dotted and discontinuous the protected lanes are, even in the supposed core of the bike network. Before you know it we’ll be celebrating a decade of these lanes being in and yet none of them are comprehensive.

    Worse, the city still hasn’t discovered traffic filtering (eg bike boulevards), which in many cases are more desirable than a protected lane but particularly so if no one is willing to remove street parking. Thus the vast majority of gridded Brooklyn/Queens and crosstown routes in Manhattan will never see low-stress cycling.

  • Reader

    If “no cyclist death is acceptable,” as the mayor says, then the death of any person on a bike should be cause for an immediate redesign of the intersection or corridor where such a tragedy happened. Period.

    Sadly, the mayor has had 16 chances this year to take a hard look at locations where people have been killed, mostly by bad design. He’s missed every one.

  • JudenChino

    So approximately half of the mileage in Brooklyn comes from Eastern and Ocean Parkway? Over 100 years old and that’s some of our best infrastructure today. So pathetic. It’s quite obvious that the people who push this ish out don’t actually ride in the city on a regular basis. That’s the tone deafness of it all. Regaling us with mileage counts isn’t for our consumption.

  • Joe R.

    I’d personally like to see more and more of the city made off limits to nonessential motor vehicles. Protected bike lanes are actually an admission of failure on the part of leadership to do anything about motor traffic levels. We should start the ball rolling by eliminating nonessential motor traffic in Manhattan below about 60th Street, and in the downtown parts of the outer boroughs like downtown Flushing, downtown Jamaica, Jay Street, etc. As we do this it becomes easier to remove parking, traffic signals, stop signs, basically all the things which make cycling miserable or dangerous in this city. The overall goal should be to have all of Manhattan and at least half the outer boroughs free of private automobiles within, say, a decade. That will do more for cycling than any network of protected bike lanes (which incidentally don’t really work all that well in NYC anyway).

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    I don’t find Ocean Parkway to be particularly great either, though it’s better than 10 straight miles of door zone on Bedford. Besides the constant looking over the shoulder for a high speed hook and blockage by cars at many cross streets, who the hell puts steep ped ramps on a bike path?

  • Joe R.

    Plus you have the ticket traps at the traffic lights. The original concept was probably sound back when Ocean Parkway had horse drawn carriages, but the nods to modern motoring, particularly the traffic signals, have turned the bikeway into something the original designers certainly didn’t intend.

  • notsurprised

    De Blasio has no intention of pursuing Vision Zero beyond lip service.

  • The lights on Ocean Parkway apply only to the centre roadway. They do not apply to the service road, which is governed by stop signs. Here is an example, looking south at Cortelyou Road.

    https://www.google.com/maps/@40.6387373,-73.9735054,3a,75y,163.45h,83.19t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sN2wREOz4tCINQ7ClFY2c2Q!2e0!7i13312!8i6656!5m1!1e4?hl=en

    When I take Ocean Parkway, I ride on the service road. But presumably the light doesn’t apply to the bike lane, either.

  • Joe R.

    You’re probably correct but I recall reading about cops saying the pedestrian signal applies to cyclists in the bike lane (and giving tickets when cyclists violated it). I’d probably ride on the service road also. It doesn’t seem like the bike lane offers any real advantage over the service road.

  • Vooch

    This is the most powerful map ever.

    Protected Bike lanes versus UNprotected bike lanes

  • “A press release from City Hall notes that the 61 miles of protected and painted bike lanes to be installed this year.”

    Does “painted bike lanes” include sharrows or shared lanes? They included them when they announced they had hit 1000 miles of bike lanes.

  • AlexWithAK

    The administration and DOT also continuously miss easy opportunities for protected bike route expansion when streets are repaved. 9th St is Park Slope is more than wide enough for protected lanes and several blocks just underwent a repaving recently. And yet the same flawed painted bike lane design that’s chronically blocked by cars was maintained. Same thing on Shore Road in Bay Ridge. It should have been a no-brainer to paint in a parking-protected 2-way bike lane along the bay side of the street when they repaved it last year. It would have provided a long, continuous bike route almost completely isolated from car traffic for a very low cost and effort. Again, the status quo was upheld. Why?

    Both of these represent opportunities to vastly improve safety without spending much money or encountering the resistance that comes with removing parking spaces and car lanes and there are similar examples around the city. If de Blasio’s DOT isn’t directed to take advantage of this low hanging fruit, how can we expect them to take on the bigger, bolder projects we so desperately need?

  • David Meyer

    No, it does not. There are also 14 miles of shared lanes/signed routes being installed this year.

  • Thanks. That’s good to hear.

  • AlexWithAK

    You hit all the points! The street parking issue is huge and difficult to crack. Many NYC pols exist in driver echo chambers and we all know that complaints about parking ring louder than complaints about cyclist and pedestrian deaths. Clearly de Blasio is in this camp. He needs to remove the plank from his own eye on that one if he wants to prove he’s serious about Vision Zero.

    The city also needs to end its unofficial policy of bike lanes, crosswalks, sidewalks, and plain old double parking serving as de facto loading zones where official ones don’t exist. That’s another area where the mayor needs to be a leader and say “We’re not doing this anymore” and direct the NYPD to stop looking the other way.

    And yeah, parking permits are just common sense and exist in most every other big city. They should be an easy sell, too. Promote them as keeping “transplants” from bringing their cars and taking up parking spots. The big Cadillac with DC plates and Chevy Suburban with SC plates that park near me being gone would free up 3-4 spots for regular sized cars!

  • qrt145

    Or maybe the owners of the big Cadillac with DC plates and Chevy Suburban with SC plates would finally “legalize” their vehicles and get NY plates.

  • J

    And even in Manhattan, where there are lots of protected lanes, they seldom connect to each other to form a network, so to get anywhere, you need to use some pretty awful streets.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    I find it easier to catch a bunch of greens on the bike path than to stop at literally every block on the side road.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    At least that would mean proper insurance.

  • JamesR

    IIRC per NYS law, Residential Parking Permit programs require approval by the NYS legislature on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis. I’m not sure if any of these programs actually exist anywhere in the state currently. The law basically makes it impossible to enact a city-wide RPP system.

  • van_vlissingen

    I think a lot of folks have hit on a similar issue.
    DOT should have to by default include cycle infrastructure on any street on which major work is being contemplated. If they don’t they should provide an on the record explanation of why not.

  • Vooch

    residential parking permits are bad policy, much better to charge market clearing prices for parking including overnight on all streets.

    on UES & UWS, a market clearing price would be around $25 for 7pm to 7am

    until 1952, it was illegal to park over night in Manhattan

  • ahwr

    Some cities with residential parking permits only require that the vehicle be registered in your name (or someone with the same last name), and that you have some utility bill/lease etc…proving that you’re living in the area. The car doesn’t always have to be registered in the parking permit area. Watch the details of any proposal as it develops, you might be disappointed with the way it turns out.

  • Bernard Finucane

    Back in the 80s my sister lived in Washington Heights, and she parked an unused, very old station wagon with Tennessee plates on the street for years.

    I supposed things have improved a bit though.

  • MatthewEH

    My strategy on Ocean Parkway is to ride in the rightmost lane of the main roadway, taking the lane. The only conflict you have with other road or path users there on your green light is with people coming the other direction making left turns, and at least you’re in a place with clear lines of sight to you where such drivers are looking for oncoming traffic. On the bike path (particularly northbound) this is a big problem; you just don’t stand out visually to northbound drivers turning westbound onto the cross streets.

    People get *ticked off* if you do this, because it seems like you’re turning up your nose at a “perfectly good” bike path (yeah, not really), but hey, if they honk, they saw you.

    The service roads are problematic. Apart from the “stop at every damned intersection” problem mentioned upthread, and the visibility problem I mention here (though not as bad as for the median path), you have to deal with motorists pulling in and out of parking spaces along both curbsides, and sometimes blocking the lane entirely if they’re waiting for a spot or doing a quick dropoff. This last issue is more a question of maintaining efficiency and speed rather than it tending to be a contributor to real danger, though.

    But really, I usually just go over to Argyle Road/Rugby Road, which continue as E 13th/E 14th Street south of Avenue H. Or over to Bedford starting at Brooklyn College or so. Bedford is… a nice ride on Shabbos? I don’t live in Brooklyn, so this is a place I do some of my weekend warrior’ing rather than ordinary commutes.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    Albany has a residential parking permit program.

  • JudenChino

    It works perfectly fine in DC. The Zones are quite large and if near “borders” then the street signs will say “Zone 1 and Zone 2 parking” or what not. When I lived in DC, I had to register my car in DC, I paid what was about a $100 annual residential parking permit and if I had guests visiting I could get a guest pass online for cheap.

  • Jonathan R

    Careful what you wish for. Once motorists are paying money for parking, it will be absolutely impossible to remove a single parking space for any reason as lowering the number of parking spaces available to permit holders lowers the value of the permit.

    I’ve been hearing the argument against “transplant” cars for years and it’s unpersuasive. If the insurance companies wanted to crack down on the “insurance fraud” of folks registered in SC but driving full-time in NY, they can easily do so. As someone who doesn’t own a motor vehicle and has no plans to get one, the cost of insuring a (notional to me) vehicle is not a cost that I care much about.

    The most expedient alternative is what Dr. Vooch suggests: charge a market rate for parking. Just use existing muni-meter technology.

  • AlexWithAK

    This is my thought. You’d get some people who would bite the bullet and register properly. That’s better than the status quo.

    And there would be a certain number who just give up their car. I don’t know what the real rate is, but anecdotally I know plenty of people who’ve said, “If I couldn’t keep my car registered in [wherever] I couldn’t have it.” Even if it’s a small percentage it’s well worth while.

  • AlexWithAK

    I’ve had that thought. My question would be how has that played out in other cities that already have permit parking? Cities like DC don’t seem to have any more or less trouble removing parking than NYC. And if you’re creating a permit system out of a real commitment to more livable streets, then you should be prepared for these kinds of arguments. And honestly, it seems like it would be just one more hollow argument against removing parking added to the pile you hear today.

    And I’m all for the market rate parking approach. Though I’d say the permit is just a bulk solution for that. Rather than installing thousands of muni meters you’re having people add a window sticker for their zone with each zone priced according to its market rate for parking.

  • Flakker

    huh? Do you not realize the point here is liability? As in, I’m fraudulently registered in Florida, then I hit you with the car, then GEICO announces that since I was fraudulently registered they won’t pay.

  • notsurprised

    My favorite gap on that map is 1st ave ~56th-59th Streets, where DOT takes a protected lane, goes ¯_(?)_/¯ and funnels cyclists into 4 lanels of turning/merging traffic on an uphill, and then turns back into a protected lane just in time for the Queensboro Bridge. I don’t know how DOT can celebrate anything while they are still putting people directly in harm’s way just because a fully protected design is “hard.”

  • Andrew

    residential parking permits are bad policy, much better to charge market clearing prices for parking including overnight on all streets.

    Fully agreed. Residential parking permits formally designate streets as underpriced storage space for the private property of local residents (but only if that private property is a motor vehicle; for all other sorts of private property, owners are fully expected to plan ahead and rent or buy sufficient storage space at their own expense), perhaps for days or weeks* at a time, rather than as short-term storage space for people who are visiting an area by car.

    If we wish to set aside public space to accommodate travel, surely the latter is a higher priority than the former. And if we don’t, then neither is a priority.

    *Technically, it is illegal to park a car in the same space, without moving it, for over a week, but this isn’t enforced, except where alternate side steps in. But moving your car across the street twice a week for alternate side isn’t an actual use of the car, anyway; if that’s all you’re doing, you’re functionally storing the car long-term.

  • Vooch

    well said – thank you for the eloquent argument against parking permits

  • Andrew

    Glad to be of service.

  • Vooch

    “Residential parking permits formally designate streets as underpriced storage space for the private property of local residents (but only if that private property is a motor vehicle; for all other sorts of private property, owners are fully expected to plan ahead and rent or buy sufficient storage space at their own expense”

    this needs to be repeated

  • Andrew

    If you insist:

    Residential parking permits formally designate streets as underpriced storage space for the private property of local residents (but only if that private property is a motor vehicle; for all other sorts of private property, owners are fully expected to plan ahead and rent or buy sufficient storage space at their own expense

    There! I repeated it, complete with missing close-parenthesis!

  • neroden

    Someone should point out that Complete Streets policies, which are encouraged by the federal government, actually *require* them to do this.

  • neroden

    Yeah. If the person hit by the car has a good lawyer, the next step is to sue the (fraudulently registered) car owner for *everything he’s got*, including his home, car, clothes on his back, the lot, and get it all, plus a permanent lien on the car owner’s paycheck for the rest of his life. Unfortunately if the fraudulently registered car owner is poor, this doesn’t help.

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