Gridlock Sam Tells the Story of NYC’s First Bike Lanes

Last weekend, former DOT Deputy Commissioner "Gridlock" Sam Schwartz wrote an op-ed in the New York Times urging the city to start creating bike lanes that physically separate cyclists from motor vehicle traffic at some locations. This weekend, as DOT laid down a brand new "shared lane" design on Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn, a letter to the editor from a regional director of the New York and New England League of American Bicyclists criticized Schwartz arguing that physically-separated bike lanes are more dangerous than riding in the street (it’s worth noting that the writer lives in Waltham, Massachusetts, not New York City).

It seems to be a good moment to check out this short interview in which Gridlock Sam Schwartz tells the story of how New York got its first bike lanes in the early ’80s and why Mayor Ed Koch ultimately ordered that they be taken away.

The Bulldozers Came Out and We Removed the Bicycle Lanes
A Clarence Eckerson Street Film
Running time: 5 minutes 43 seconds

Over the last year or so I’ve been riding a very young child to daycare on the back of my bike three days a week. Increasingly, I find myself unwilling to ride in the street with the baby on board. Here’s a snippet of Sam’s interview that really sums up the argument, for me:

Yes, the very experienced rider in Manhattan traffic can do just fine and mix with the traffic and weave in and out of the traffic, but in 1980 I was a young father. I had a three year old son and he often rode on the back of my bike. I’d rather be in a protected lane. If you’re inexperienced you’re better off in a protected lane. As long as the lanes are ubiquitous enough it makes a lot of sense to have dedicated to roadway space for the bike riders. And I know all of the arguments.


The Right Way to Double Park a Delivery Truck

This handy illustration, courtesy of DOT via "Gridlock" Sam Schwartz, should be in the training curriculum for every delivery driver who does business in New York. Streetfilms’ Clarence Eckerson, who came across this graphic last week, says his appeals to delivery drivers stationed in bike lanes are often met by the excuse that it is […]

This Week: Gridlock Sam, Sandwiched By Bike Lane Proposals

On the Streetsblog calendar: In between community board meetings about bike lanes in Manhattan and Brooklyn, you can learn more about “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz’s plan to rationalize NYC’s toll system. Tuesday: DOT will present a plan for expanding the bicycle network in Brownsville and East New York to Brooklyn Community Board 5. CB 16 has already voted […]

This Week: Fixing Amsterdam Avenue With a Safer Design

Tomorrow, NYC DOT is expected to present a plan for a protected bike lane and pedestrian islands on Amsterdam Avenue to the Community Board 7 transportation committee. It’s been a long time coming: Locals have pressed for a redesign of the dangerous, high-speed conditions on Amsterdam for many years, with the community board passing three resolutions […]

Advocates Outline a Progressive Transportation Platform for the Next Mayor

Ahead of this morning’s mayoral debate on transportation, sustainability, and livability, a coalition of transportation advocates, community groups and environmental organizations released a set of priorities for the next mayor yesterday afternoon. Key components of the plan include: Expanding Select Bus Service: Noting that SBS routes have seen ridership and bus speeds increase while other lines stagnate, the […]

The Debate Over Physically-Separated Bike Lanes Continues

A physically-separated bike lane on a shopping street in Copenhangen, Denmark Two weeks ago "Gridlock" Sam Schwartz wrote an op/ed for the Sunday Times advocating for physically-separated bike lanes in New York City. The next weekend, John Allen, a Waltham-based regional director for the League of American Bicyclists replied that separated bike lanes are dangerous and bad idea. […]

JSK: Plaza Program Will Expand; Gridlock Sam: Backlash Nothing New

Last night’s Municipal Arts Society panel, “Shared Streets: Making It Work,” mainly covered familiar ground for those who have been following the city’s efforts to repurpose its streets over the last four years. Participants touted the improved bus speeds along Select Bus Service routes, the safety gains where protected bike lanes have been installed, and […]