Do Pedicabs Belong in Bike Lanes?

pedicab.jpgA pedicab (sort of) makes use of the Broadway bike lane.
Photo: Brad Aaron

Last week’s collision between a pedicab and a yellow taxi in Brooklyn was followed by a renewed, or at least better publicized, interest from Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council in enforcing long-awaited pedicab industry standards.

The rules, initiated by pedicab companies themselves, are intended to protect passengers, pedicab drivers and the general public through, among other measures, the issuance of operator licenses and requirements related to vehicle safety. The City Council adopted the regulations in 2007, but enforcement lagged after a protracted legal battle between the city and the industry over a now-abandoned cap on pedicab licenses. 

On Tuesday, the Post ran an editorial opposing one aspect of the laws, which bar "pest-i-cabs" (ha, get it?) from bike lanes.

"[T]he bike-lane prohibition seems a little odd," Post editors wrote. "Mayor Mike’s recent green-themed streetscaping means that such lanes occupy nearly half of many blocks in Midtown — surely there’s enough room for pedicabs on them."

The New York City Pedicab Owners’ Association agrees.

"The NYCPOA officially is in favor of removing the restriction on pedicabs operating in bike lanes and actually believes it is safer for pedicabs to operate in bike lanes when they are available," spokesman Chad Marlow told Streetsblog. Marlow added, however, that the trade group supports keeping pedicabs out of tunnels and off bridges, even when the bridge has a bike lane — as the regs dictate.  

What do you think? Should bike lanes be open to pedal-powered commercial traffic, including pedicabs — or, for that matter, cargocycles — or should they be reserved for citizen cyclists? 

  • I can’t see what benefit there is for cyclists by keeping them out of the bike lanes. Surely it’s safer/easier for a single bicyclist to pass a slow pedicab then it is to have a slow moving pedicab in a regular traffic lane.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I don’t object to the pedicabs.

  • The number of pedicabs I’ve seen in bike lanes is minimal. I see no reason for excluding them.

  • Hey, the more, the merrier.

  • Let them in. Why would they not be allowed in? Because they’re slow and fat? So am I.

  • rlb

    I have no problem with them using class 2 lanes, but Pedicabs are too wide for the bridge bike paths. They should not be allowed to use them. I would also say that they are too wide for the grand st. and broadway bike lanes, but that goes without saying because regular bikes are too wide for those also.

  • mfs

    They are wider than the normal on-street bike lanes, no?

  • Sure, they should be allowed in, but there needs to be enforcement on pedicab drivers who travel the wrong way in the broadway bike lane, and sit around for 5 minutes blocking the bike lane like this :

  • rlb – According to the proposed Pedicab rules they would also be banned from bridges and tunnels.

    According to the Mainstreet Pedicabs website, which seems to be one of the more popular manufacturers, the Broadway pedicab is 50 inches. That’s probably wider than the Sixth Avenue bike lane!

    Ever wind up behind a pedicab on the Ninth Avenue cycle tract? They’re slow and can be very difficult to pass. I’d also imagine making bike lanes, or the Greenway for that matter, pedicab friendly would eliminate the use of bollards in some places.

  • Good point Liam. I was in Central Park yesterday doing laps when I came across a Pedicab going the wrong way in the recreational lane near 72nd Street. Fortunately he yielded and allowied me to pass. Otherwise I would’ve been forced out into traffic.

    Even so, on a scale of what’s most annoying, I’d say a wrong way pedicab in the bike lane is more annoying than a pedestrian, more annoying than a two wheeled cyclist, and more annoying than a wrong way jogger.

  • Julie

    I hate to be the voice of dissent, but I support the law. Pedicabs are either carrying fares, stopped, or phishing. Either way, it is impossible for them to be vigilant and put the ambiguous biking laws first. Imagine a fare’s response when they were told they couldn’t turn into a bike lane because it’s against traffic.

    Additionally, the stopping and starting of the pedicab is very dangerous to a cyclist. It’s hard enough dodging cyclists in the bike lane, let alone a double-wide.

    If there were a law preventing them from stopping in bike lanes and fierce enforcement against riding versus traffic, then they should absolutely be let in. But ultimately, the drivers are more concerned with money than safety or the cycling community.

  • ddartley

    I disagree with my friends at NYCPOA. Unless/until bike lanes are as wide as car lanes, NO, pedicabs should not be allowed in bike lanes. Bike lanes are too narrow.

    Also, I think the combination of the city officially recognizing pedicabs PLUS requiring that they stay in the street will help further establish and legitimize them as part of the transportation system.

  • spike

    Both horse drawn carriages and pedicabs should be banned from NYC. They are too wide and far too dangerous when in traffic. The drivers of both rudely ignore traffic laws. And pedicabs are certainly far too wide for bike paths. I’ve seen pedicabs side by side in central park entirely filling the roadway there, too.

  • I have not seen many pedicabs in bicycle lanes, but when I have, they have been a hazard. I do hope to see more pedicabs, but not in commuter lanes.

  • Many pedicabs are stored in Brooklyn or Queens. If they can’t use the bridge paths, how do they get to and from Manhattan? Does anyone think it would be safe for them to be in a car lane on one of the bridges?

    Also, I’m glad that pedicab fares will soon be posted. I’ve never ridden in one, in part because I have no idea how much it costs and didn’t feel like asking.

    I have occasionally felt like taking one home to Queens, so I was disappointed that this crash looks like it will discourage people from doing that.

  • ddartley

    Spike, watch what happens to the rude ignoring of traffic laws by pedicabs once the rules start getting enforced. (I’m not saying I know for sure, but I am very hopeful that within some months from now, you won’t be able to make the same observation anymore.) What you have seen in the past two years is a population of unlicensed pedicab operaters accountable to almost no one. My hope is that once the rules get enforced, you’ll hardly see any unlicensed operators.

    And regardless, what you have seen does not mean pedicabs should simply be banned. It means they should be regulated.

  • Cap’n Transit
    Sorry. My previous statement about bridges wasn’t entirely accurate. According to the official release Pedicabs won’t be allowed to carry passengers on bridges or in tunnels.

    The same day as the Williamsburg Bridge pedicab crash the Daily News ran a story about a confused pedicab driver who was ticketed for using the Holland Tunnel. So I guess, regardless of NYC laws, using POrt Authority tunnels is also a no-no.

    Last summer, when the temperature was 90+ and it was too hot for carriage horses to work, I saw flatbed trucks dropping off dozens of pedicabs on Central Park South. Obviously where there’s a will (and a few bucks to be made) there’s a way.

  • sam

    I don’t mind pedicabs in the (wide) bike lanes if they’re ferrying passengers and traveling in the right direction, but they should be prohibited from trolling for passengers by camping out and/or pacing back and forth in the lanes.

  • @Julie,

    Imagine a fare’s response when they were told they couldn’t turn into a bike lane because it’s against traffic.

    Most taxi passenges are cool, I assume, when cabbies refuse to drive the wrong way on one-way streets, so a pedicab’s sticking to the prescribed bike-lane direction ought not raise too much ire.

    Obeying the rules is the price of entry, in my mind.

  • Meech

    I have no problem with pedicabs in the bike lanes. I DO have a problem with bike lanes being used by pedestrians, delivery carts, double-parked cars and cop cars.

    You observe all the above on 8th Avenue, any day of the week. Last night at rush hour, there were more walkers in the bike lane than on the sidewalk — no exaggeration.

  • Streetsman

    I think what most of these problems center around is that there are not enough bikes in the bike lanes. If there was a steady flow, peds would not be walking in them, and pedicabs wouldn’t be going the wrong. We just need to be patient and get the number of cyclists on the road to increase and the lanes will start to function better.

  • Most pedicabs are Main Street Pedicabs from Broomfield CO. They are exactly 48 inches wide and fit nicely in bike lanes.

    I own one and really want that margin of safety!

    The current law bans us from bike lanes. But that same law bans us from other boroughs, bridges, even Midtown at Christmastime! I have long suspected that the bike-lane ban and all the other restrictions were written into the law simply to make it impossible to make a living driving a pedicab. The bike-lane ban, specifically, would not only annoy the hell out of motorists stuck behind me, but would have cops fine me up to $2000 and a night in jail for giving my passengers the safety that they deserve.

  • Erin

    Compared to the stopped cars and trucks, pedicabs in the bike lane are no problem at all. If the bike lane were wider (5′ is standard here, although some are narrower), there would be even less of an issue. But it seems that engineering in this city is done to the standards – meaning no better than the standard… at least that’s been my overwhelming experience, working on city projects.

  • Erin

    Oh, and I definitely sympathize with Tourguide Stan about one point in particular: tourists are vulnerable in the backs of the pedicabs, just like the rest of us non-tourists are vulnerable on our ‘normal’ bikes and even walking around. The real solution, of course, is to slow traffic down so that traffic crashes don’t kill so many people, on or off wheels.

    When cautious driving is the norm, it’s easier and safer for autos to go around a pedicab (yes, maybe even passing in the bike lane) than it is for bikes to go around pedicabs, entering the lanes of faster traffic.

  • Here’s an example of why I don’t think pedicabs belong in bike lanes:

  • I’m with Liam and Sam: I would allow pedicabs in bike lanes, provided they stop riding counterflow, parking or stopping suddenly for fares in the bike lane. Once there are some kind of reasonable regulations implmeneted for pedicabs operators should be trained on these points. In the meanwhile, bicyclists should try to educate pedicab operators on this whenever the opportunity presents itself; I find that most of them will listen (much more so any taxicab operators I have tried to educate). If these problems are eliminated, pedicabs in the bike lanes make traffic safer and cleaner by adding to the bike traffic and to modal shift, while adding jobs and revenue to the “bicycling economy.”

  • Some of your (plural, folks) arguments against pedicabs in bike lanes are as specious as the arguments that are constantly waged against all bike lanes: as long as “all” bikes ride illegally, they don’t deserve safety.

    Do I believe that pedicabs operating dangerously and carelessly are a problem? Yes! Do I believe that cyclists riding (at anything less than snail’s-pace) in the wrong direction or blowing through lights and disregarding pedestrian (and other vehicle) priority put myself as a cyclist and pedestrian at risk? Yes!

    Do I think that therefore we should make the city less-safe for those who are being responsible? Can you answer that yourself?

    And as a cyclist, once in a while you can’t slow down for a little while – seconds? – until there’s a safe place to pass a slower-traveling pedicab? Are you really *that* important?

  • And I meant to add:

    I said: “And as a cyclist, once in a while you can’t slow down for a little while – seconds? – until there’s a safe place to pass a slower-traveling pedicab? Are you really *that* important?”

    That’s exactly the attitude of drivers in NYC who honk endlessly when they have to pause for a second, say, when someone is hopping out of a cab or an ambulance is scraping up the previous driver’s roadkill.

  • ddartley

    I think pedicabs will do more for overall street safety and traffic calming if they’re in the car lanes.

    Put pedicabs in bike lanes and they’re “out of my way,” thinks the entitled-feeling driver, which is what he also thinks about bicyclists.

  • spike

    I am well aware how dangerous riding a bicycle is in NYC. The drivers are nuts. I have had several friends badly hurt on bicycles in the last year in NYC. The problem with pedicabs and horse drawn carriages is the passenger is utterly unprotected in any crash and they are slow and hard to navigate. These vehicles are no cheaper than a cab. They are no greener than a cab because they impede traffic so much that all the vehicles use more fuel. I’d be curious how many people at this web site have actually ridden in a pedicab in NYC. They are little more than a dangerous carnival ride on the city streets.

  • Spike, you seem to be making a big value judgment: only vehicles that meet some sort of established passenger safety standards are deserving of NYC street space. Now that doesn’t sound crazy, but it’s at the center of your problem with pedicabs and I think you’re wrong. City streets are not highways. In my opinion, they should be used differently from highways, and people should not expect them to conduct traffic the same way highways do, and so there should be room for vehicles that are not reinforced with millions of dollars of engineering to protect passengers. Indeed there have been very few injuries to passengers in NYC pedicabs at all.

    Also, I have real doubts about your claims that pedicabs are no greener and that they impede traffic in a way that makes cars burn more fuel. Yes, I’ll grant you that for moments at a time, clusters of them can hold up a few individual limos in the theater district around curtain times, but I honestly doubt that that, or any effect like it, causes more emissions than usual car congestion does. The fact that I have been a passenger in a pedicab in NYC a couple of times does not give me authority to disprove those claims of yours, but those claims sound like you don’t have data to prove them either.

    Incidentally I’m with you on banning horse-drawn carriages, but only because I don’t think it’s a humane life for the horses!

  • I’ll be the first to admit I’ve never ridden in a pedicab and I would not be surprised if spike’s characterization (“dangerous carnival ride on the city streets”) is often, if not always, true. I don’t need some guy who just moved to New York to give me misinformation about the city at a dollar a minute. But the tourists undeniably love pedicabs, and they seem to have given rise to surprisingly few serious injuries.

    And I disagree that pedicabs cause motorists to use more gas. Vehicles conserve gas when cruising at a single speed, and waste it when they brake and accelerate. The main culprits behind incrementally greater gas use and pollution are not the small number of pedicabs, but overall congestion (stop-and-go) and aggressive motoring styles.

  • Spike seems to give some great justifications for banning taxis and other non-essential vehicles from Midtown – they reverse the green benefits of pedicabs and endanger the safety of those utilizing them!


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