StreetFilm: How to Use a Bike Box

The New York Times doesn’t seem to have noticed, but DOT has been quietly rolling out dozens of bike boxes all over the city. As many cyclists don’t seem to know exactly what bike boxes are or how to use them yet, StreetFilms thought the time was right for this instructional video.


  • rex

    Check the light before you move into the box. This is critical on multi-lane boxes. The last thing you want to have happen is to get half way to the right most lane and have the light change.

    I know it sound like common sense, but I have had it happen.

  • steely

    you win by a knockout, C! way to stick and move and step to those rabbit-punching motorists. We NYC cyclists are lucky to have you in our corner! I’ll be your cut man any day.


    I think bike boxes also help with bike/pedestrian space issues. No need to pull up into the crosswalk and navigate through pedestrians when positioning for a turn or trying to move ahead of traffic.

  • Clarence

    Update straight from the DOT – the official number of bike boxes in the city currently is 60!

  • Sam

    Could that guy of made biking seem any less cool?

  • Red

    Well, you’ll always have Copenhagen Girls on Bikes… I mean, “Copenhagen Cycle Chic.”

  • Chris in Sacramento

    Well, I don’t know what to say. Wait, I do!

    First, the bike lane is on the left?! is that typical in NYC?
    Next, the enthusiastic, even charming spokeman is recommending suicidal behavior by urging bicyclists to remain to the far left in preparation for a right turn. Sooner or later, as per rex, that red light will turn green just as you have crossed in front of a motorist. Kapow. Down goes Frazier!

    This could be averted if pedestrians were always given an advance signal that would warn bicyclists that the vehicular signal was about to turn from red-to-green. Absent either that or an advance bicyclist-only signal, the local authorities have created a dangerous condition, and pro-bicycling attorneys should be enlisted to notify them as such.

    So, are either the LPIs (leading pedestrian indicators) or advance bicycle signal heads in place?

    Or, perhaps the bike boxes are more frequently used in situations where the bike lane is on the right (leaving the danger of crossing in front in preparation of making a left turn)?

    If not, proponents would seem to be betting the house that the number of cyclists will increase to the point where motorists will become hyperaware of their presence and will not hit the gas pedal when the light turns green but will instead first look for cyclists passing at strange, unexpected angles. I, for one, won’t make that bet.

    And, yes, I’m familiar with safety-in-numbers. The author is a neighbor and friend of mine. I’m mentioned in the report as a contributor.

    Look, there are wonderfully interesting things happening in NYC, some of which are going to succeed and spread across the USA; otherwise, I wouldn’t bother visiting here.

    But in this instance we’re simultaneously letting unjustified hopes (i.e., that America is about to become a nation of mass cycling) and our fears (exaggerated assessment of the dangers of bicycling) cloud our judgment.

    Or, if you prefer, we’re back to Sinatra. With these Eurostyle facilities, it’s all or nothing at all. Doing them half way is a recipe for disaster. Short of having a bike-friendly R. Moses-style autocrat in charge, the more typical democratic process of give-and-take often produces unacceptable results for bicyclists.

  • Ian Turner

    Before I read the comments or watched the video, I thought that “bike box” referred to these:

  • Owen

    I don’t think this video was right at all. The purpose of the box is, as mentioned in comment 3, the collect all the cyclists in the front, instead of interweaving them with the stopped cars. As cycling gains popularity in the city, we’ll see these become much more useful.

  • Eric

    I think the reason most bike lanes are on the left is to avoid conflicts between buses, which normally stop on the right, and bikes. I’ll admit that when I was less experienced there were a few times when I moved over to the right to get out of the way of a bus only to realize that I was pulling into the bus stop and causing even more consternation for the cranky bus driver.

  • This vid is the hype Clarence! Don’t ask me why the NYT can’t figure out the NYC beat us to the uh, punch. We here in Portland would be happy to have a video half as cool as this.

  • Ian D

    What would we do if we had a video spokesmodel who had a sense of shame…unlike Clarence! The entertainment value would plummet!

    And for #7, 9 (and a little 10) – we go over this all the time so please help me share it. Your town might be different, but here we are dealing primarily with a network of one-way streets. The biggest reason that bike lanes are on the left (and cyclists should ride to the left on one-way streets by default) is the dooring danger is much reduced on the left. Every car has a driver that opens the left-side door, but only a small number have a passenger that will open the right-side door. Buses are a secondary factor, as is the visibility benefit from riding on the driver’s side of a car (the driver is less-likely to misestimate the clearance).

    Bike boxes serve several purposes, but the most important is what Clarence details in the video. It is becoming standard practice for the DOT that whenever two bike-network streets intersect and would require the cyclist to cross the vehicular traffic, a bike box is installed. Take a look, for example, at the newly-resurfaced segment of Fifth Ave. below 23rd. St. – at 9th St. where a cyclist would turn from the left-side bike lane across the vehicle lanes to turn right onto the 9th St. bike lane, a bike box has now appeared.

  • Clarence beats that OTHER celebrity biking spokemodel hands down:

    Still, I’d like to see him inject a bit more sex appeal into his videos, the way Karen McGovern does . . . you know, a few bum shots . . .

  • Clarence Eckerson

    Ian and all,

    Thanks for the kudos. We kinda did this piece on a complete whim, to try out a new editing style and, well, I guess it kinda worked. (at some point I will have to post up some outtakes of people’s reax of me boxing, pretty funny)

    As Ian points out, we do have bike boxes that are serving a markedly different purpose then the ones to be placed in Portland. And that is an important distinction to note.

    Also, just want to point out that vid was shot by my comrade Elizabeth and we came up with some good stuff on the fly with little planning. Thanks!

  • al

    what i really don’t understand though, is what do you do if the light -isn’t- red. you just have to wait for a red light? or you have to weave through -moving- traffic?

  • al, I think bicyclists do either of those things depending upon their comfort level. Some will wait for the light to change, others are comfortable signaling and making the merge through the motor vehicle traffic.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Al, don’t forget that there’s a bike lane (or two) there. The cyclists will ride down the bike lane, which will be free because the cyclists in front of them all spread out in the bike box. (And because there are never cars blocking bike lanes.)

  • In response to the bike lanes, all NYC bike lanes on a one way street (with the exception of 2nd Avenue now) are on the left since the driver sits on the left side of a car. It makes it more easier to spot a bicycle on the left side of a car than on the right. This holds true in every borough for a bike lane on a one-way street.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Well at least I’m not the only one who says left side bike lanes are crazy. To let Ian D and every one else know, New York City is the ONLY place I’ve ever seen in the Western World that puts bike-lanes on the left side of a one-way streets as a matter of standard practice. Busses and dooring be damned, this always screws me up every time I ride in NYC! To make matters even crazier, there are some one-way streets with the lanes on the right! WTF!

    I still can’t believe a tourist or newbie to the city hasn’t been killed because of this and successfully sued. I know if I was involved in a bike accident in NYC on a left side bike-lane street I’d have my lawyer hit up the city first. This practice flies in the face of every standard I’ve come across in my professional studies in bike planning.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Also I’m pasting below the comments that John Allen said about Clarence’s video on the APBP listserv. For those of you don’t know John Allen, lets say that he is considered to be one of the more respected critical experts in the bicycle facility design field but I feel he sometimes drinks from the vehicular cyclist’s cool-aid a bit too much at times

    I think he makes some very valid points but then is a total jerk about some of the things he says about Clarence (Clarence, your cool with me!). I just thought some of you (especially Clarence) would be interested in reading what some the real “experts” in the field are saying.

    As per John Allen:

    I agree with Steve that a bike box in the cross street (facilitating a two-point left turn) is a more satisfactory treatment for turns across traffic, and can be a preferred option at some intersections/for some bicyclists but I’ll also say that vehicular left turns should not be prohibited for bicyclists unless prohibited for other vehicle operators. A cross-street bike box needs to be *after * the crosswalk. My Web page treats of this issue and others in detail.

    But as to this video — I note the following:

    (BTW , note that this bike box is on a one-way street with a bike lane on the left side).

    * Bicyclist entry to bike box is from a left-side door-zone bike lane on a narrow one-way local street where a more appropriate treatment would slow traffic and reduce traffic volume, favoring normal vehicular interactions, with bicyclists turning right normally from the right side of the street.

    * Diagrams show a collision when bicyclist swerves in front of a motor vehicle without bike box, but magically, no such collision occurs when there is a bike box and bicyclist swerves more sharply in front of a motor vehicle.

    * Entrance to the bike box has bicyclist turning across a steel grate (slippery when wet)! Nice choice of a demonstration location indeed!

    * The video shows no concern whatever for the issue of the use of a bike box without an early warning for bicyclists that the light will
    turn green, as in Europe, or of the problem of a bicyclist’s being stuck on the left side of the street when arriving shortly after the
    light turns green.

    * General tone of the presentation is promotional rather than informative, a clown act distracting from design/engineering/safety
    issues which must be understood to use a facility safely or design one that is appropriate and safe.

    * The comedian making the presentation is standing illegally in the middle of the street!

    John S. Allen

    Regional Director for New York and New England, League of American Bicyclists League Cycling Instructor #77-C and Member of the League’s Education Committee

  • Some of Allen’s points make sense in the abstract but seem divorced from the realities of retrofitting a complex traffic grid like NYC’s with bicycle infrastructure.

    We have door zone lanes because we aren’t building from scratch, and motorists as of yet are a political obstacle to “cycle tracks.” We have left hand lanes to limit the dooring hazard (fewer disembarking motorists on right hand side of car) and other hazards (less conflict in left hand lane with bus traffic, beter ability to communicate audibly with driver from driver’s side of car). We have things like storm grates and all other kinds of fixtures on the road and there’s not much that can be done about it (sorry, this isn’t the parking lot you took your drivers’ ed test in!).

    Allen has a point that one does not want to zip into the bike box from the lane just as the motor vehicles are getting a green signal. I think most people know that, and are able to avoid it simply by monitoring the pedestrian crossing signals which provide the requisite notice on most NYC streets (except Park Ave. in midtown). Perhaps that could have been worked into the video.

    As for the tone, I doubt whether a sober instructional video would be as effective in educating the population the video is trying to reach. I don’t recall seeing any instructional bicycling materials Mr. Allen has produced; I’m not sure if it’s because he hasn’t produced any or they are forgettable.

  • Clarence

    Andy B,

    Thanks for posting the comments, no harm done of course. I’ve been forwarded them from over a dozen sources, most people intimating that if we followed Mr. Allen’s recommendations verbatim that there would be hundreds of people biking in cities instead of many thousands. Other comments said about him I will not repeat.

    Some of his ideas do have merit of course. And if we had more time and planning, well maybe we would have included a few, but the purpose of the video is to 1) raise awareness that the bike boxes are out there, 2) show how to use them in a bare minimum sense of making that right hand turn and 3) have fun! Advocacy doesn’t need to be boring.

    And, look, it was needed. After all even the NY Times didn’t know bike boxes were out there. I’ve had many experienced cycling friends say, “I had no idea what they were until I saw your video.”

    As for Mr. Allen calling it a “clown act”, etc. again, he has a right to his opinion. However, I am not about to make a 5 minute extensive video that will put people to sleep and do nothing for public consciousness. I leave that to Mr. Allen if he wishes. Besides, as we now approach 1/2 million watches of our streetfilms videos since last year, I have no doubt our advocacy has done positives for the cycling world. Nothing he says can negate that.


  • Julian thebikepirate

    I’ve never before seen the lanes on the left. While it seems peculiar to me and if I were planning those streets, I would put slower moving traffic on the right, as is generally custom; I’ve never ridden in NYC, so I can’t really make informed comment on its effectiveness. I would suggest, however, that a two-way example might bring up less confusion. As a bicycle safety instructor for children, it struck me immediately that Clarence did not signal which way he was going, when turning. I’m not really one to tell anyone how to ride, but if it was accidentally overlooked, it may be a benefit for future safety videos.

    The other thought that I have, being an advocate in, I believe, the third city in the States to get the boxes (Albuquerque), is that I was under the impression that bike boxes were to help prevent right-hand hooks by unaware motorists who are left of a bike lane (or inexperienced/uninformed cyclists who don’t take the lane at intersections).



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