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. Period. This Sunday’s Times carried a letter from Noah Budnick, the Deputy Director of New York City’s Transportation Alternatives, refuting Allen’s claims:

To the Editor:

A Nov. 12 letter claimed that riding a bike in a physically protected bike lane is more dangerous than biking in traffic.

I strongly disagree.

In fact, physically segregating bikers and drivers is often a safety imperative, particularly on streets with high-volume and high-speed traffic.

A recent study of the last 10 years of bicycle crashes in New York City by the city departments of health, transportation, police and parks found that fatal bicycle crashes rarely occur in marked bicycle lanes (1 out of 225 cyclist fatalities in 10 years).

Furthermore, physically protected bike paths greatly promote cycling. Since the car-free Hudson River Greenway opened in 2001, daily cycling on it has increased 27 percent, and, during the same time, cycling on Manhattan’s avenues has increased 30 percent.

While driver and cyclist education and enforcement are part of the equation to increase cycling in New York City, New Yorkers will not be encouraged to ride if they perceive streets and traffic to be scary and uninviting. More protected space will make city streets more inviting to bicyclists of all ages and abilities.

Would you feel comfortable biking on Sixth Avenue without protection from traffic?

Noah S. Budnick

Photo: Aaron Naparstek

59 thoughts on The Debate Over Physically-Separated Bike Lanes Continues

  1. Unless I misunderstand something I feel like it is a weird misdirection for Noah Budnick to cite the statistics on bike lane safety when they refer to New York- a system mostly composed of _unprotected_ lanes.

    He then further undermines his agrument by citing an increase in traffic on the Class 1 bike lane on the Hudson River Park BUT also citing a greater increase on the unprotected bike lanes of Manhattan avenues. (Does this also include avenues without bike lanes?)

    I think the introduction of barrier-separated bike lanes is worth study in New York but Budnick’s argument seems either sloppy or deceitful to me.

    (Am I correct in assuming that John Allen is okay with normal bike lanes but just not barrier-separated bike lanes?)

  2. Noah’s argument is that only 1 cyclist died in a Class 1 bike lane in the last ten years (224 other bikers died in a variety of places). That proves that Class 1 lanes are the safest possible place to ride. Period.

    His other argument is that these Class 1 lanes increase the overall # of cyclists. The Class 1 lanes are very safem therfor more people actually get on their bikes. How do you count how many more people are riding in general? Well, good old street traffic ought to be one indicator.

    As usual, Noah’s right on the money.

  3. Actually, the text of the bicycle study suggest that one death occured in a Class 1 and a Class 2 together:
    • Only one fatal crash with a motor vehicle occurred when a bicyclist was in a marked bicycle lane.

    In any case, John Allen wasn’t protesting the creation of Class 1 bike lanes like the Hudson River Greenway- he was saying that on-street bike lanes should not be separated because these lanes are more likely to be obstructed by deliverymen and pedestrians. Furthermore, he claims that the intersections are more dangerous than New York’s existing type of bike lane.

    Noah Budnick seems to take these arguments as an attack on bike lanes in general and fails to respond to the arguments.

    (I’ve got no horse in this race but I think Aaron’s photographs of Copenhagen do a much better job at showing that protected bike lanes can work than Budnick did- but of course American cars are twice as large and harder for bikes to see over)

  4. My initial question with bike lanes and especially physically segregated bikes lanes is always, accessibility? How am I supposed to get to my destination if the bike lane does not go there? I am only just getting into this conversation now, but have been involved with similar studies and arguments here in Seattle, and have ridden in NYC a time or two. Will I be breaking a law if I ride outside of the bike lane? Or ride on a street that has a barrier-separated bike lane? The initial solution I have always felt was education of drivers (and cyclists) about our presence and rights to the road through the licensing process and through ample signage and street paint (Share the Road, Sharrows, etc.) I’m a big proponent of taking the lane and mixing with traffic, keeping as visible and aware as possible.

    But like I said, we’re sort of working out the same issues here in Seattle.


  5. P is right. Both of Noah’s points made me go, “huh?” I think there’s little doubt that Class I (physically separated) lanes are significantly more dangerous than Class II (on-street painted) lanes, and could even be safer (more research is needed where on-street Class I sidepaths have been implemented worldwide). And little doubt that NYC should certainly give Class I sidepaths a try to see how they do. However, as P points out, the facts Noah used to try to make these arguments do not appear to support his contention. As opposed to what Jason said, Noah appears here to have, UNusually, either misunderstood or misrepresented the facts, unfortunately.

  6. The problem, from the point of view of design, is not really the lanes themselves, it is intersections. Of course being completely separated from cars is safer, but even a shared lane, so long as it’s straight, is reasonably safe, though a bit scary. The real problems start happening when cars and bikes cross paths. The problem with separated sidepaths, especially ones that are behind a row of parked cars, is that a turning car would have a tendency to just ignore the sidepath if there aren’t any bikes immediately in the intersection at that very moment. Which would result in a lot of accidents where a turning car hits a bike, or a bike runs into a turning car.
    Also, to some extent separated paths are dangerous in that they lead drivers to assume that if there are special paths for bikes, then bikes should ONLY be on those special paths, thus making it more dangerous for the cyclists on the remainder of the road network, since the separated paths can’t be everywhere, especially at first.

  7. I’m not convinced by Allen that physically separated bike lanes are more dangerous than painted lanes, or no lanes at all. His arguments include the fact that physically separated lanes tend to be “blocked by pedestrians, trucks or their delivery ramps.” However such blockage is the problem in the first place. He cannot seriously contend that a physically separated bike lane tends to be more blocked than a painted one, or no bike lane at all.

    His other argument is that physically separated lanes reduce visibility and foster accidents at intersections. But I don’t see why barrier needs to reduce visibility–wouldn’t those 36″ high removable plastic bollards do the job? They wouldn’t diminish visibility. As for the lane-changing problem crzwdjk raises, as the user of a physically separated lane I would not mind going to the far corner, waiting for the light to change and turning left with the peds as a trade-off for the physical separation during the bulk of the ride. As for the right-turning vehicle, I don’t see how the situation with a physicially separated lane is worse than that with no lane at all.

    Allen also rests his position on “national design standards” and the position statement of his organization. I have checked out his organization’s website and the sources cited in support of the position statement, and I don’t see any safety arguments advanced against physically separated bike lanes (though the sources cited are voluminous and I may have missed something). I would appreciate it if Allen or someone would respond with citations to the research that Allen says “consistently supports” his position, to help develop the dialogue.

    Interestingly, Allen’s position statement “opposes laws, policies and plans which in any way restrict bicyclists’ rights to the road by forcing bicyclists to use special bicycle facilities,” though conceding that “in some instances, bike lanes and shared use paths (sometimes called bike paths) enhance the road system for some bicyclists if designed and constructed in accordance with the national and state standards referenced below.” This opposition to physically separated bicycle lanes seems to be just one facet of a general aversion for bike lanes as the leading edge of a movement to banish bikes from the roads used by motorists. Indeed, the statement calls for “expanding the rights of bicyclists to use limited access freeway shoulders where no other reasonable alternative routes exist.”

    As a bicyclist in New York City I certainly would not enjoy being pushed off the regular grid into a limited network of physically separated bike lanes. At the same time, as a parent I know I would choose a physically separated bike lane when commuting with my kids to school every time (and I doubt I would take them on the freeway even if Allen won me the right to do so). The answer to this political problem is to demand the separated lanes without giving up the right to the road. I am confident New York’s biking community could accomplish this. Putting aside the political issue, I am left unconvinced by Allen’s letter, position statement and other authorities that physically separated bike lanes are unsafe.

  8. Steve-
    I think you put your finger on it: Allen is unclear in his rhetoric whether he opposes all bike lanes or simply protected bike lanes.

    I interpreted his editorial to be an attack only on protected bike lanes. I assume Noah Budnick was responding to other writings that attack bike lanes in general.

  9. The question is not of physical separation, but whether they’re pushed to the side.

    When bike lanes are on the sides of major streets, that’s when they’re often rendered useless by all sorts of non-cyclist parties. Sure, they may be relatively safe from fatal crashes, but only because you can’t move in them at all.

    Even if New York experiments with physically-separated lanes, I can’t imagine the City spending all the money and time that would be necessary to design and rebuild lanes that are both protected AND useful. We all know they throw down some paint and expect us to act like it’s Christmas.

    Still working on my panacea middle-of-avenue, car calming bike lane design. I’m not a designer, so it’s taking a while…

  10. ddartley:

    I’m a fan of Paris’s bus/bicycle only lanes. They are protected but much more generous than a typcial bike lane.

    Of course they demand the elimination of a lane of parking so forget about it.

  11. There are a number of studies that support Mr. Allen’s position. For example, a study of the “red lanes” of Milton Keynes, (a planned town) where bike lanes were designed in from the beginning, shows the grade separated lanes to be about 4x more dangerous than on road cycling. In general the sort of collision that a separate lane would reduce are already some of the rarest out there. (hit from behind).

    They make intersection collisions much more likely, by introducing several bad features. They put straight thru bicycle traffic to the right of right turning motor traffic, increasing the likelyhood of “right hook” collisions, already the most common cyclecar collision. They also encourage cyclists to make left turns from the extreme right edge of the lane, again a dangerous move.

    Its basic traffic design, that you separate traffic by *DESTINATION* not type. You then try to avoid having their tracks cross. The typical bike path breaks this rule by its very nature.

    Bike lanes were originally proposed as a way to get “bikes out of the cars way” by motorists organizations, not as a safety measure, but as a way to increase speeds. They amount to a form of Jim Crow. Unfortunately they have been adopted by some that think they are promoting cycling.

    As to promoting cycling, the same Milton Keynes studies showed lower rates of utility cycling in the town with the bike lanes, compared to nearby towns that lacked the modern facilities. (and were at comparable economic and density levels).

    So they aren’t safer, they don’t appear to increase levels of cycling, and they increase motorist harrasment of cyclists that know better than to use them. Why are we wasting money building them, money that could be spent on education, and providing useful cycling facilities, like secure bike parking, and encouraging employers to install shower facilities for cycle commuters.


  12. Jeff: you nailed the problem with the “right hook” turns. The bike lanes can only accomplish that safely if either they have their own light cycle, or else there are enough cyclists to form a continuous stream and block right turning cars. The blocking of the bike paths issue is a major problem in NYC. If a delivery truck ramp blocks the separated path, you have to stop, walk your bike on the sidewalk around the obstruction. If the truck blocks a regular painted bike lane, you just go around it. I think at this point, the best solution is the buffered bike lane, which is the width of a full car lane, and better enforcement of said lanes.

  13. Like so many things, details matter as does “location, location, location.” NYC has a great seperated lane /off-street path at the B side of the Bklyn Bridge and is getting more at Sands Street by the Manh Bridge and the Queens side of the Queensboro Bridge. Bridge and greenway approaches are ideal places for separated lanes, as they provide a safe crossing of typically high traffic arterials. Are seperated lanes likely in Midtown? Probably not — except for maybe some crossing points near Madison and Union Squares, maybe East Houston and a couple of other choice locations. Everyone wants to be in Manhattan S of 60th, and that’s the problem. But are lots of other big scary streets in NYC where separated lanes can be tried.

  14. Jeff- you raise an important point: The bicycle accident study found just one death “occurred when a bicyclist was in a marked bicycle lane.” Upon reflection it seems that the wording probably does not include cyclists who are riding in a designated bike lane but are actually killed in the middle of an intersection and not ‘technically’ in a bike lane. I hope I’m wrong- but if I’m not the study’s conclusion is deeply flawed.

    However, regarding the Milton Keynes study I have doubts. Even with the understanding that correlation does not imply causation it seems significant that cycling as increased as the number of safe places to cycle has increased. Furthermore, safety is not the only consideration in the Level of Service acheived by a bicycle lane. Among other things comfort is increased in a bicycle lane, particularly for the 90% of the population that would not bike without a dedicated lane. The safety in numbers effect then could provide benefits to all bikers as less expert bikers take to the street.

    I’m aware that the previous argument is somewhat of a strawman attack: Allen does not advocate maintaining the status quo. He seems to be a big advocate of bicycle boulevards. I have to agree that the prospect of a network of bicycle boulevards throughout the city is much more alluring than just simple bike lanes. So the question remains whether bike lanes in New York are the best thing but I think most of us agree they are a good thing.

  15. P:

    The Milton Keynes data has the same skew that most bikelane data has – collisions in intersections aren’t included in the bikelane total (even if the cyclist was using the path). Despite this bias, the lanes show as much more dangerous. (the study does mention this source of bias, but does not attempt to adjust for it)

    The only sort of cycling that dedicated paths encourage is recreational. In many places (not NYC) this can increase auto traffic, with cars hauling bicycles to the head of the path.

    There is a basic difference between comfort and safety, and one does not imply the other. Many cyclists are more comfortable riding on a separate lane, and they think they are safer. This is one of the places where “common sense” isn’t.

    Why is there such a bias against cyclist education? Every time I bring it up with a path advocate, the vibe I get is that it is either elitist or impossible. Its not like its a huge time commitment, current cyclist education classes can be completed in a single day, by almost anyone over the age of 10. (contrast this with the 30 hours of classroom, and 6 hours behind the wheel required of motorist training) We don’t build separate, special facilities for untrained motorists. Why are we so set on building them for cyclists? I contend that the real reason is not cyclist safey, but motorist conveneince.

    I think that any increase in non-recreational cycling is just an effect of general increases in traffic levels, and the cost of operating a motor vehicle. It gets bad enough, people try other things.


  16. All the bike lanes I know enable car culture.

    They say to cyclists, “stay out of the way of real street users.”

  17. There are a lot of commuters on the West Side Greenway – I am on it for 7 or 8 miles every evening on my way home from work. I take the East Side Greenway in the morning, and there are much less bikes on that side probably because it is so unfinished and doesn’t make it all the way uptown. I even rode with a messenger for a few miles on the West Side Greenway last week, and we talked about the bike paths and the greenway (which he uses all the time – “its the easiest way to ride”, he said referring to the Greenway)…so this idea that the only type of cycling done on a Class 1 is recreational is simply not true. I mean how many delivery guys do you see downtown on the greenway with that plastic bag hanging off the handlebars? These cyclists are only trying to do one simple thing. Avoid cars!

    I think Steve is exactly right, we need more dedicated paths – but we as cyclists will reserve the right to ride with cars if we want to. And I also agree that the community can definitely acheive this.

    Being out there on the road, I inceasingly desire seperated paths. I used to ride my entire commute on the street (about 9 miles) – but as time went on I tried more and more to find a route with less cars. Big reason for me is the fumes that I am forced to breathe when I am out there…how about a study to figure out how unhealthy that stuff is for cyclists? Also, aggressive drivers can ruin an otherwise pleasant riding experience – even if you only encounter 1 or 2 jerks a day.

    The Class 1 lanes have made my daily commute immeasurablely more enjoyable, safer and cleaner.

  18. Yes, I did feel comfortable biking on Sixth Avenue without protection from traffic, noting that when I’m biking on Sixth Avenue I _am_ traffic.

  19. I don’t understand the idea that bike lanes somehow enable car culture. Perhaps I’m missing something but I don’t think the goal is “a separated bike lane on every street.” If that were the case than this might be an acceptable objection.

    But rather, I thought the goal was separated bike paths along strategic routes, forming sort of separate “bike highways” – it seems to me that with larger mass transit arteries (be they rail lines, highways, or bike lanes) function better when the types of traffic are kept separate, considering the different speeds, sizes and conventions of the vehicles.

    On the other hand, once you get closer to your destination and you get off the main artery, it makes more sense to start merging types.

    It’s like how big highways have HOV lanes but small streets don’t. Duh. Dedicated bike lanes along main routes would be safer and more efficient. But I don’t see any call for dedicated lanes on every little street.

  20. [O]nly 1 cyclist died in a Class 1 bike lane in the last ten years (224 other bikers died in a variety of places). That proves that Class 1 lanes are the safest possible place to ride. Period.

    Not true. Zero cyclists have died while cycling on the moon — therefore it is the safest place to cycle. Exclamation mark.

  21. In my letter, I used the descriptive term “barrier-separated bike lanes”. I am distressed by Noah’s use of the expression “physically-protected bike lanes”, which carries a value judgement and therefore rates as propaganda rather than only description. He also deflects my well-supported statement about the poor safety record of barrier-separated lanes — see the research cited at by pointing to data on Manhattan’s current marked bike lanes. To an uninformed public, he creates the impression that a barrier-separated bike lane must be safer then one that is only delineated by a painted stripe.

    I agree with Noah that bicyclists and motor traffic do better to be separated under *some* conditions. But I can’t agree with the way he has presented his argument, or the consequences it is likely to have for public policy in the many out-of-the-way places where the New York Times is read.

    In answer to the question another commenter raised about how I feel about striped bike lanes, the answer is that the devil is in the details. I consider the restriping of Manhattan’s Avenues with bike lanes to be an improvement in having moved the left travel lane over so motorists can now overtake bicyclists without merging to the next lane. Problems remain, however, with parallel parking, with intersections and with motorists’ parking in the bike lanes, or in the adjacent travel lane. Bike lanes work best where there isn’t cross traffic or parking.

    My dream solution to Manhattan’s traffic problems would involve a serious reduction in discretionary driving, through a congestion charge, and also conversion of a couple of the smaller avenues into “bicycle boulevards” open to all types of vehicles, but not to motor vehicles for through travel. I can’t see that happening any time soon, though.

  22. When I take another look at the photograph at the top of this post, I find it hard to believe that the barrier-separated lanes such as the one illustrated in Copenhagen actually increase the risk for those riders. Why do these lanes seem to work in Europe, but not here?

    Also looking at that photograph I can’t believe the only kind of cycling these lanes encourage is recreational.

  23. Cars doing a right turn must always yeild unconditionally to pedestrians and bikes in Denmark. Whether crossing the bike-lane at a traffic light or anywhere else.

    I don’t know the details of US traffic rules, but isn’t this the case? Yeild’ing seems oddly underused in the US compared to “stopping”. I can’t remember the last time I saw a stop sign in Denmark. Have probably been replaced by round-abouts or traffic lights almost everywhere.

  24. My recent experience of “separate” lanes for bikes is limited to Zurich, Switzerland, where they work very well. It’s actually quite an interesting implentation. On a given street, the bike lane might be physically separate for a while, then it might turn into just a striped lane, then it might actually go up onto the sidewalk. It’s all very ad hoc and takes into account changes in traffic levels, geometry, etc. In addition, there are separate signals for bikes pedestrians, and cars, so everybody knows who’s turn it is to go.

    I’d say there are three elements there that make it work that would be hard to replicate here:

    1) The street system is by and large not a grid. There are curves everywhere and many intersections with angles

  25. i did not read through all comments but want to direct a response to some of the commenters toward the top, discussing noah budnick’s comments.

    i think it’s worth noting that Noah is probably *not* looking to be engaged in a subtle, nuanced argument over the issue, but rather to counter from a public-relations standpoint the possibility that Allen’s comments could get read as “bike lanes do not help.” considering TA’s very public, very careful image, i think that it’s a more likely scenario, rather than Noah Budnick’s inability to discuss the issue with complexity. after all, it’s letters to the editor.

  26. BTW — How about junking the Class 1,2,3 thing and just calling them on-street, off-street , physically separated, signed etc. The Class 3 isnt much used outside NYC. Lastly, what works in certain levels of traffic, ped use and pop density doesnt work in others. So, since NYC is so vast, there are multiple models for what works. Stop equating NYC with Manhattan south of 60th.

  27. Jeff,

    Thanks for pointing out the John Franklin study of Milton Keynes (available here: I agree with a lot of what Franklin has to say. However if your contention that grade separated lanes are about 4x more dangerous than on road cycling is based on the findings of Franklin’s survey of bicyclists, then there are a few potential problems.

    The study states that within the study area, half of all bicycling is on the segregated bike paths and one-quarter is on the grid roads. Franklin acknowledges that greater use of the segregated paths would tend to result in more people having experienced injury on them–even if those paths were safer–but he argues against adjusting his survey results for this use differential, because 43 per cent of respondents in the survey “said that they cycle on grid roads at least once a week.” To me, that survey response is not inconsistent with the study’s finding, based on an actual physical count, of 2X the volume of cyclists on segregated bike paths vs. roads. So failure to adjust the survey responses to reflect the volume differential exaggerates the injuries associated with the segregated bike paths by 2. If I was going to use the survey in the Milton Keynes Study to compare risk of injury on segregated bike paths to that on roads, I would compare the percentage of survey respondents who reported at least one injury on a local or grid road (6% + 3% = 9%) with one-half the percentage of survey respondents who reported at least one injury on a segregated bike path (27%/2 = 13.5%). This 9% to 13.5%comparison suggests that segregated lanes are half again more dangerous as bicycling on the road.

    However even this calcuation would be misleading because the survey only measures the respondents who have suffered at least one injury in bike lane vs. road, not the total number of injuries in either location. If you look at the police statistics and hospital statistics on bicyclist injuries presented by Franklin in Tables 1 and 2 of the study (which actually measure the number of injuries instead of just the number of people with at least one injury), and make a similar volume adjustment by dividing segregated bike lane injuries by two, the injury rate in the segregated lanes is comparable to or lower than that on the road. Franklin urges that these police and hospital statistics should be discounted due to under-reporting, but he makes no attempt to quantify the underreporting.

    More broadly, I don’t think Franklin’s analysis is applicable to New York City. As far as I can tell, the segregated bike paths known as “redways” in Milton Keynes that were the subject of the study are not segregated lanes on the road, but rather a completely separate network of pathways for bicycles that are off the motorists grid. Franklin describes them as follows:

    “In the majority of cases Redways cross grid roads by underpass or bridge, although at-grade crossings have become more common in the later phases of development. Almost all estate road crossings are at-grade, including those on cross-city routes which are often situated immediately adjacent to grid roads and within the national speed limit.”

    If you search “Milton Keynes redway” on flickr, you should get ten results showing what these segregated redways look like.

    Franklin has also stated that the prime danger posed by the redways of Milton Keynes are posed by bicycle-pedestrian conflicts:

    “Fewer than one in six cycle crashes involves a motor vehicle . . . . There was no other vehicle involved in two of the six crashes in which off-road cyclists have died in Milton Keynes over the past decade. The most common causes of cyclist injuries are poor surfaces and the inability to control a cycle properly. Providing for cyclists away from roads does not, therefore, address the great majority of crash circumstances. To the contrary, off-road paths generally have poorer surfaces, worse discipline, fewer traffic signs and markings, and numerous other factors which make control of a cycle more difficult and injury more likely.”

    See Letter from John Franklin to John Grimshaw, available at

    So, the dangers of segregated bike paths described in the Milton Keynes study don’t appear to have much to so with visibility issues and how bicycles and motorists share the road, but rather with the poor construction and maintenance of the lanes themselves and the dangerous practices of bicyclists and pedestrians on them.

    I still can’t shake the idea discussed above of a limited network of Class I bicycle arteries here in New York City, separated from motorist lanes by flexible plastic bollards like the ones on Third Avenue between 56th and 58th Street that separate the right-turning traffic from the through traffic. The bollards should be spaced so that they are permeable to bicyclists but not to cars. They should end ten yards or so before each intersection to allow for left-turning bicyclists to get left. Under existing NYC rules–bicyclists are permitted outside the bike lane whenever it is reasonable to do so. Under this traffic regime, segregated lanes would create an option, not a ghetto. The bollards would dramatically reduce the amount of double parking in bike lanes (which in my experience is the #1 obstruction in bike lanes), as I doubt whether many SUV owners would want to roll their precious machine over the bollards. The segregated lanes would allow bicyclists to move more quickly than auto traffic, a major factor that increases bicycling in motorist-congested traffic environments. With a “permeable-segregated” lane, bicyclists would have the option of relative safety when they are traveling with kids or other unskilled bicyclists or carrying a large package, but also the option of leaving the lane if it was blocked. Sure, some motorists might be a bit more aggressive in trying to force bicyclists into a segregated bike lane than if there were no lane at all, but that minority of nasty drivers couldn’t get that much nastier, and most motorists would be FORCED to stay out of the bike lane–not a bad trade-off, in my view. I understand the point that segregated bicycle lanes can be “Jim Crow” in service to “car culture,” but on a practical level I think permeable segregated bike lanes would be a net win for bicycling in New York City.

  28. If those permeable segregated lanes were more universally described as car-free lanes (and if cops, cabbies, and truckers understood that that means them, too), I’d be more confident that they would not be taken to lessen bicyclists’ rights to use the other travel lanes. If bike lanes were regularly cleaned and plowed the same as general travel lanes, if paths weren’t designated as recreational, to be shared with walkers, joggers, and skaters, I’d be less concerned that non-bicyclists understand that this is about transportation. (The Parkways were originally designed for recreational motoring, and folks do drive for reasons other than getting from point A to point B, but the roads are still maintained to standards that allow transportational use.)

    I’ve never heard a motorist tell a bus driver or a carpooler to stay in the bus or HOV lanes; I’ve never seen an official instruction at a gap in a bus or HOV lane telling the operator to get out of his vehicle and push it until such lane resumed on the other side of the intersection.

  29. David,

    I can’t understand the view that installation of bike lanes in NYC undermines their right to be on the road. The law here establishes bike lanes as a one-way option for bicyclists in most circumstances. Bicyclists are permitted to leave the bike lanes “When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (including but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, motor vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, pushcarts, animals, surface hazards) that make it unsafe to continue within such bicycle path or lane.” 34 Rules of the City of New York (“RCNY”), Section 4-12(p)(1).

    In my personal view, if I am biking faster than 10 mph or so, the likelihood of an errant pedestrian, a parked car door or a through traffic vehicle suddenly obstructing the bike path without an opportunity for me to stop in time to prevent significant injury constitute “conditions . . . that make it unsafe to continue” in the bike lane. In those circumstances, I “ride big” (at least when traffic is moving) as Sean would say. On the other hand, I find it reasonably safe to bike in an unobstructed bike path at speeds under 10 mph, and that’s where I bike with my kids. Other bicyclists might set the cutoff at somewhere other than 10 MPH, but the point is the bike lane is only mandatory when from an objectively reasonable standpoint riding there is safe. I know a lot of NYC cops don’t understand this, and there is even a statement on the NYPD webiste that contradicts this, but the bottom line is the cops are wrong and they have to be educated.

    On the other hand, the prohibition against motorists and pedestrians interfering with the safety or passage of a bicycle in the bike lane is clear and unequivocal. Sure, compliance is terrible, but no one can seriously contend that a bike lane has no impact on motorist behavior (admittedly it has very little on pedestrian behavior). If the bike lanes were protected by bollards, they would have an even greater impact. And bicyclists use of them would still be optional.

    So the major downside of more bike lanes appears to be the added hassle and danger from motorists angered by a biker exercising the one-way option to the roadway. Is that so great that it justifies opposing the installation of bike lanes? If you have let aggressive motorists get under your skin so deeply that you oppose bike lanes in the hope of firming up your claim to the middle of the road, the aggressive motorists have won. You also will have discouraged biking by families, many seniors and others who want to go slow. I admire experienced bicyclists who can safely command the road and hold their own with traffic–they are the best proof that biking is fastest, cheapest, cleanest, and coolest way to get around NYC. I try to emulate them when it’s safe for me to do so, but sometimes it isn’t. Why the conflict?

  30. “I know a lot of NYC cops don’t understand this, and there is even a statement on the NYPD webiste that contradicts this, but the bottom line is the cops are wrong and they have to be educated.”

    I’d much rather take my chances with the motorists than with the NYPD. (NYPD is a lot of why I left NY 20 years ago, and they seem to be nastier to bicyclists now.)

    I do agree that long skinny parks are nice for kids and for those who want recreation. Rail trails have the advantage of tending to go between points that people would actually want to travel between. But I still worry that the downsides of marginalization are strong, and that the opportunity cost versus efforts to make the existing roads more useful for bicyclists are considerable.

  31. Fair enough David, though I don’t think it’s fair to marginalize my comments as applicable only to “long skinny parks.” I bike with my son to school 2+ miles 4-5 days a week on city streets and use bike lanes whenever they are available and safe. When they’re not available because someone is blocking them, I move out into traffic and try to unblock them. Check it out:

    Also check out the new “semipermeable” bike lane on West 77th Street:

    this protion of the bike lane, between Central park West and Columbus Avenue, has a buffer zone and broken line on bicyclists’ side and solid line on motorists’ side. I take this to indicate that the bicyclists are permitted to move out past the buffer into vehicular traffic whenever it is not safe to use the bicycle lane (double-parked cars, potholes, risk of getting "doored" by parked cars, etc.)

  32. if “marginalization” includes the creation of space for bikes that would dramatically increase cycling for both transportation and recreation, the “downsides” are well worth it. and the number of cyclists would result in a level of consciousness from both motorists and pedestrians that will never be achieved any other way. people in amsterdam JUMP and move out of the way when they hear a bicycle bell, because they know that bikes rule the road. why? because almost EVERYONE in amsterdam owns a bike and uses it daily. without increasing the number of cyclists – and i’m talking about tripling, quadrupling at lest – we will never achieve something comparable in NYC.

  33. Increasing the number of cyclists is very good.

    Doing things the lack of which non-cyclists merely say are keeping them from being cyclists won’t necessarily make them cyclists. New Amsterdam isn’t Old Amsterdam, that’s not an option.

    Repeating my response to you 10 days ago on the prior thread:

    Does the average citizen use a bicycle for transportation when there ARE separated lanes?

    My understanding is that as always the difference between theory and practice is much greater in practice than in theory. That is, people say they would ride more if there were bike lanes, but when bike lanes (parallel, separated, or painted) are built they don’t make that much difference. You could argue that there just aren’t enough bike lanes — what is the critical mass, and where have they made the difference? Where is it that people are actually riding because there are protected bike lanes? (As opposed to where people are not riding and blaming the lack of such facilities.)

    (IIRC, Davis California is cited as having the most bike paths and bike lanes. How much do people ride there, as compared to California college towns with fewer bike paths and lanes?)

  34. David, Why don’t you dig up the data? I don’t know the answer. But the photos posted on this site are instructive, aren’t they?

    Places like Amsterdam, Utrecht, Copenhagen and Montreal have lots of very thoughtfullly designed physically-separated bike lanes. They also have lots of “average citizens,” elderly people and children riding bikes around the city at a much higher rate than anything we see in the U.S.. These city’s planners have been working for 30, 40, 50 years to design urban bike infrastructure. Separated bike lanes is the solution that they’ve come up with in many cases.

    So, you do the math.

  35. “But the photos posted on this site are instructive, aren’t they?”

    No more than would be a picture of me, or my elderly father, or my young son, riding vehicularly as part of traffic, or a picture of a badly designed separated path (see under for an example in Cambridge, a relatively flat city with lots of undergraduates who already ride as traffic.)

    There are a lot more differences — confounding factors — between the European (and Francophone) cities you list and New York than the presense or absence of physically-separated bike lanes. If you must go European, what do they do in Paris and Rome?

  36. Some quick digging found the Rhode Island DOT report at RI has similar weather, but less density, than midtown. Figure 1 shows 76% of the riders using the path said they did so for health and exercise, 42% for recreation, and 4% for commuting. Even if none of those 4% would ride were it not for the path, that’s not a lot of users.

    Steve wrote:
    When they’re not available because someone is blocking them, I move out into traffic and try to unblock them.

    I could be reading too much into that, but it seems Steve prefers the path/lane, but is still willing to ride in traffic at least some of the time. I’m more interested in the rider who says “I use them when they’re available, but if they’re blocked I turn around and go home” — for sure THAT rider is only going to travel by bike if there is a path. (Granted there are riders who do ride 1/4-mile on street, plus 5 miles on dedicated, plus 1/4 mile on street who would use a different mode if they had to do the whole 5+ miles on the street — that is, they already have the time, the ability, the weather, and the shower at work, as well as the ability to ride in the street if necessary — but none of the anecdotes presented point to that kind at all, let alone hint at their number.)

  37. come on, david. we know what it looks like, you riding your bike in the middle of the street. or we can, at least, easily imagine it.

    we don’t necessarily know what a really well-designed separated bike lane looks like. this is why the pictures are so instructive.

  38. I agree with you David, that there are some people who invent excuses for not biking, such as “I don’t bike because there aren’t enough bike lanes,” who probably would not bike even if there were lots more bike lanes. Some people are like that about everything. But people who are already bicycling bicycle more when there are lanes. That’s the case with me. So installing bike lanes does increase bicycling, if not bicyclists. As for increasing the number of bicyclists, that probably rests more on person-to-person advocacy by bicycling advocates. If you have had success in convincing people to bicycle by extolling the virtues of riding in the middle of road, regardless of whether there is a bike lane, and showing all the drivers who’s boss, God bless you! I personally have had concrete success convincing people to begin bicycling for transportation based on the expansion of bike lanes and the added safety they provide for beginners.

  39. david, i personally have grown increasingly unwilling to risk my life on my bicycle in nyc traffic, especially after a string of life-threatening incidents on one single ride last summer. if there were anything resembling the west side greenway that i could ride on from my home in brooklyn to my office in manhattan, i would be commuting on it several days a week (and probably using it for recreation, too… an equally valid use in my opinion). i find, to my chagrin, that the longer i stay off my bike the harder it is to get back on and brave the insanity of sharing the road with automobiles. if someone else feels that being treated like any other vehicle is worth the danger that comes with it, more power to them… but i don’t feel that way. i want to feel the way i feel when i read in holland or germany: sharing a dedicated portion of the street with other people on vehicles like mine makes me feel MUCH more safe.

    so, if you are looking for an example of someone who doesn’t commute because of the lack of protected bike lanes and would do so if they existed, i present myself as one such example.

    david, i must say i am baffled as to why you seem to have such a personal investment in what cyclists in new york city “SHOULD” want if you haven’t lived here for 20 years. many of us who are living here NOW would welcome a network of protected bike lanes as a major quality of life improvement for the city.

  40. I’m nostalgic for the city of my birth. I maintain the best Co-op City web site, and actively participate in Co-op City, Bronx, and Bronx Science forums, some of which deal with current events.

    I suppose I could just mind my own business here in flyover country. An op-ed in the nation’s paper of record left off relevant facts regarding bike lanes about which I had personal knowledge. I’m involved with bicycle issues up here. But if New-Yorker-bicyclist-advocacy is that different from and unrelated to rest-of-the-country-bicycle-advocacy then I ought to mind my own business, since your bike lanes can’t possibly impact bike dollars or motorist-bicyclist relations up here.

    I wish you luck. A path away from cars can be very pleasant. I enjoy several that go where roads shouldn’t be.

  41. David, I had understood your position to be a principled one of opposition to bike lanes because they undermine bicyclists’ right to the middle of the road. Now you are surfacing the notions that my bike lanes are coming out of your transportation budget, and that the bike intrastructure needed at Co-op City may be different than that needed on the Upper West Side. I’d be interested in non-petulant dialogue on those topics.

  42. I’m sorry I gave the impression that I’m talking about Co-op City (other than to give an example in my answer to Anne’s bafflement.)

    The two issues (limited infrastructure budget and equal rights to the middle of the road) are two sides of the same coin. If bicycles are seen as vehicles, bicyclists are seen as having a right to be on the road. If motorists see their gas tax dollars going to bike lanes (and I have heard more than once that bicyclists don’t pay for the roads, as though one can’t be a bicyclist some time and a motorist other times, not to mention that gas taxes, registrations, and similar fees only cover a portion of costs of the infrastructure [not least of which is the cost of petroleum-focused diplomacy]) motorists are more likely to think that since there is a bike lane, bicyclists oughtn’t to be taking up space on “their” roads.

  43. David, I think in terms of two different discursive realms–the public media/blogosphere and the streets. I suppose I have encountered in the former realm the argument that motorists pay for the streets so they have a pre-eminent right to them, but I would be floored to get that sophisticated an argument on the street from a driver I’m counselling. However if ever I do hear it on the street, now you’ve armed me with the good counter-arguments! Another counter-argument is that bike lanes take up about 0.01% of the NYC road space as compared to whatever bicyclists pay directly and indirectly in road taxes. Wouldn’t you agree that the “drivers pay more in road taxes so bicyclists stay in the bike lane” argument is a specious makeweight unlikely to undermine bicyclists’ right to the middle of the road when the choose it, notwithstanding the existence of bike lanes? Not enough to justify bicycling advocates opposing bicycle lanes? After all, the arugment can be made whether there are bicycle lanes or not–in that case, the argument is simply “get off the road,” not “stay in the bike lane.”

  44. Some people go with gut feelings, intuition, fuzzy logic, or what-have-you. In that space, a lot of half-truths can add up to one truth. ANY marginalization hurts the cause of bicyclists in the minds of people who think like that. (I have witnessed the “aha” moment of such, when she was my passenger in a car, and we saw an adult bicyclist riding as part of traffic, and she remarked that he was riding like he belonged there and she wouldn’t have a problem sharing a road with him. [I have a problem sharing a road with someone who rides or drives unpredictably.])

    But I don’t want to digress away from your point. That is, it’s not the tiny percentage of road costs that go to any sort of bicycle stuff, but we are discussing (I think) whether that tiny portion should go to segregated facilities or education. I guess we’d both like to see the tiny portion be bigger, but it can be fair to say that the portion is limited, and spending on one (facilities or education) takes away from the other.

    (That’s a broad stroke. I would like to see bike-specific facilities at the endpoints, for instance appropriate secure places to lock up a bicycle when you get there.)

  45. Protected bike lanes have to be a lot safer. Painted-on bike lanes are worthless for young children, the elderly, and handicapped.

    Good design is key to making them work.

  46. Just to throw something else into the mix, there’s a lovely rail-trail in my area. One summer day I took a ride on it with three young riders, at the time 5, 7 and 9 years old, and it was a lot more work than the usual letting them loose in a parking lot to ride in circles. It’s a popular trail, and we had to regularly give way to pedestrians and joggers, and also keep right and try to active predictably so that faster bicyclists could pass us safely.

    The trail has a number of grade crossings with roads, and we regularly played the “After you, no after you” game with motorists who treated us like pedestrians.

    There were a lot fewer exhaust fumes, and a lot more trees and quiet, which was nice. If we were actually going somewhere rail-trails are nice because they tend to be straight and unhilly and go to town centers. I suppose some people, who are particularly scared of cars, would have found it less scary.

  47. Gecko, I’d be interested in hearing more of the details behind your conclusion that “Painted-on bike lanes are worthless for young children, the elderly, and handicapped.”

  48. Ever watch a person in a wheel chair cross a street with cars turning etc.?

    Would you let a 5-year old ride down a painted lane with you on a city street?

    Do you think most 80-year olds even in real comfy recumbent tricycles would feel safe venturing out into virtual bike lanes?

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