Does Summer Streets Need a “Fast Lane”?

fastlane.jpg

This weekend, on the second Saturday of Summer Streets, the first thing my wife Jennifer and I noticed as we ascended the ramp from 42nd Street to Park Avenue was the quiet. I mentioned to Jennifer that I had come across a blog comment likening the scene to the New York portrayed in the post-apocalyptic Will Smith movie "I Am Legend," minus the super-human zombies. Plot holes notwithstanding, that didn’t do it justice. The absence of engine noise and incessant honking didn’t seem eerie, or even surreal. Just blissful.

The second thing we noticed was an event "marshal," stationed in the middle of Park Avenue at 40th, cheerfully repeating this instruction to passersby: "Bikers to the left, walkers to the right." Based on all I’d read about cyclists and pedestrians co-mingling peacefully during the first week of Summer Streets (which we missed), this seemed odd.

Not for long, though, as Jennifer and I were nearly hit by speeding bikes no fewer than three times between 40th Street and low 20s. Though we stayed to the right in the designated "slow lane," we were passed on the right more than once. Bells were few and far between, while verbal warnings, in our experience, were non-existent. Realizing that a half-step toward either curb at the wrong moment could result in injury, we learned to look over our shoulders before making any lateral moves. Crossing a street from corner to corner, meanwhile, felt less life-threatening but not much more convenient than any other day, as pedestrians, for the most part, yielded the right of way to oncoming bike traffic. We found conditions calmer around Union Square, but by that point we were pretty much sticking to the sidewalks. We were not alone.

Lest this post set off a modal prejudice-fueled flame war: I come in peace. While we encountered a handful of cyclists behaving irresponsibly, it goes without saying that we were passed by hundreds more who were courteous and respectful of the potential for bodily harm, to pedestrians and themselves. And no doubt there were plenty of incidents when those on foot carelessly endangered oncoming riders. Ben Fried has described Summer Streets as "a 7-mile classroom in ped-bike etiquette and sharing the road," and that’s a more than fair summation at this point. Summer Streets is still an experiment, and with cars removed from the equation (even intermittently), pedestrians, cyclists and the city must figure out how to manage a population accustomed to being relegated to the margins.

So, Streetsbloggers, how do we do it?

Photo: Brad Aaron

  • I tried to link to the Ciclovia Streetfilm in the previous comment, but the link didn’t work. The URL is http://theslowbicycle.blogspot.com/

  • Sorry! The link is:

  • david

    Since pedestrians can walk “all” the time safely on the sidewalks, I saw this as a bike orientated closure. Clearly anyone who is a serious biker would do well to avoid this mess. Many bikers are morons who ride way too fast for the conditions.

  • Spud Spudly

    It may have been “modeled” on Ciclovia, but it’s not Ciclovia, it’s Summer Streets. DOT’s Web site calls it “part bike tour, part block party.” Fine, but you can’t have a bike tour through a block party. So separate the two.

    But all in all it’s a great event that should take place every weekend on more streets than just Park Avenue. On Saturday the kid and I made the most of closed streets. We walked down Park and then came back up to a street fair on Washington Square North, then up through another street fair on Sixth Avenue between 14th and 23rd. Three large stretches of closed streets.

  • John

    There should be a way to allow all cyclists ( fast and slow ) to share the road. Sometimes one have to get someplace fast because he/she is late for something. Or just wanna a good workout. You can’t fault the fast cyclists out there.

  • Summer Streets, as it stands, is no more than an extension of the Central Park training loop. If it is really supposed to promote meandering, strolling, wandering, rambling, promenading, chilling out etc, the following things need to happen:

    * Get rid of the connection between Central Park and Summer Streets
    * Move Summer Streets to a street where there is actually a reason to go for a slow wander. A bunch of office buildings hardly promotes strolling and window-shopping. Unless you want to look at the beautiful dinosaurs in the Ferrari dealership, and that kinda goes against the whole point of Summer Streets. If we can’t have Summer Streets somewhere with shops & attractions, then import them. Food/drink/vendors on the closed off side streets would be a good start. At the moment the only reason to stop is the artificial “rest stops” and all you get there is ‘conductorcise’ demonstrations. Wow…
    * Set up a beer garden somewhere so we can sit and relax over a pint. And have big-screen TVs showing the Tour de France or Olympic cycling. Go Team GB!!!
    * Portaloos!
    * How about leaving Park Ave for the cyclists and shutting down Bleeker for the pedestrians?
    * And for the cycling participants: Slow down, chill out, relax, and let the pedestrians cross the street occasionally!! Leave the TT bike at home and break out the beach cruiser.

    I had fun. I’ll go again on Saturday and have fun again. It’s not as bad as some people are making out. Sure there are quite a few bikes out, but that just shows how much this city is crying out for safe places to ride. The only places I really saw crowds of people was when they bunched up at cross-streets that were still open. Take a look at my pics at http://www.flickr.com/photos/depechetraff and you’ll see that there’s plenty of room for everyone.

  • do you smell bacon?

    I thought that this was supposed to be a group exercise in remapping the possibilities of the city landscape. Why would we prematurely ruin it by imposing the exact same quasi hierarchical order of traffic modes that so burdens the city most of the time? What has caused the warped perceptions that allow us to even consider this a traffic problem?

    I went both days, and like most of the incredibly thoughtful posters that regularly appear here I was a bit dismayed at the extent to which faster cyclists seem to be slowly taking over the street. But I am far more worried about the pork, the totally unnecessary overtime for the boys and girls in blue, that may keep this baby from being sustainable. More silly cones and rules will inevitably lead to calls for a constant if not heavier police presence. The sooner the NYPD switches from a crowd control mode to an everyday enforcement, ticket writing (bikes off sidewalks, yield to peds) and revenue generating mentality the better. My suspicion is that most of the fast cyclists are fairly new to riding in the city and will eventually figure out what its all about and that they can do the entire distance at a very leisurely pace and still make their brunch appointments.

    I am still awed by the sheer number of novice (‘I would ride, but’) cyclists, the children sitting and drawing with chalk in the middle of Park Avenue and the political masterstroke that this may represent in terms of defusing the confrontation between critical mass and the police. If the slope from Grand Central going downtown is a problem in terms of speed perhaps the tunnel should be opened up for our inner zoobomber? If this is going to continue, the wrong way, running against the lights on the downtown bound stretch of 4th/Lafayette/Centre should probably be addressed at still open crosstreets in a clearer, more understandable and reliable way than cops on overtime or volunteer marshalls. Whatever you do, don’t pinch me.

  • I think we of human-powered modes do best with each other when the absence of speed-designating lane markings send the signal that we’re responsible to look out for each other…instead of looking for something to tell us how, we deal face-to-face and figure out how to flow together!

    Speedy road cyclists are OF COURSE in need of places to go all out, but these mornings on Lafayette and Park are a gift of civic seamlessness, where the idea is to tie us together, NOT separate us out into pelatons and packs. unfortunately, i missed this past week’s event, but witnessed far more looking out for each other during the 8/9 events than it seems was witnessed by streetsblog readers here. for a full report about why we cyclists and peds do fine without cars, from my experience on 8/9 see:

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2008/08/12/summer-streets-bikes-and-pedestrians-get-along-fine-without-cars/

  • The term “fast” or cruising/casual speeds for the purpose of summer streets needs to be better defined. Many cyclist can easily go over 20 mph, and normally do when riding.
    imo 20 mph is way to fast for the summer streets setting.
    Bicyclist should be keeping to a speed under 10 mph when the roadway has a lot of peds.
    This keeps the need for cyclist to be calling it out to a minimum and using a polite “inside” voice.
    It is unsettling to peds to continuously hear “on your right” “on your left” as they try to walk down the road. As I stated before peds should be walking facing the cyclist, this makes it less stressful for peds and facing the bicyclist enables eye contact,(Ipod Town) which also prevents collisions
    As congestion increases, or when kids are around you have to be able to stop on a dime.
    For me that is less than 7mph.
    Peds facing bicyclist also removes the anonymity and we see happy smiling faces, which IMO causes people to be a bit more neighborly.

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