Streetfilms: NYC Bike Lanes 101

Bike lanes: In some cities people are so desperate for them they’ll go so far as to mark their own. Here in New York City, it
feels like every time I get on my bike there is a new bike lane —
sometimes on the left, sometimes buffered, and sometimes completely
separated from automobile traffic.

I recently had
the opportunity to go for a ride with the NYC DOT bicycle boys, who
explained the classes of bike lanes and showed off some of these
inventive facilities.

  • Davide-NYC

    Why is it so hard to accept that a minimum road width (wider than Grand Street) should be required for a protected lane?

    Ninth Ave works. Grand Street does not. What’s that big deal?

  • Great video. Living in Chelsea, I’ve seen many bikers take advantage of the protected bike lanes on both 8th and 9th avenues. I believe the general consensus is that they make cycling safer. DOT and have the stats to back those facts.

    However, I was at the UWS Community Board meeting with protected Bike Lanes on the agenda, and heard an interesting take on these lanes.

    A few residents said that NYPD’s involvement would swing their vote (The Community Board, as you know, in favor of the lanes). They were worried that even though there’d be a protected lane, cyclists would abuse the lane and not follow the flow/direction of traffic–no doubt opening the possibility of some pedestrian accidents.

    I’d love to hear the DOT’s take on that.

    I’m also interested to hear the DOT’s take on businesses who oppose the bike lanes. I think there are some in Chelsea who have been pretty vocal.

    If any of you guys have the time, check out my blog post which covered the voting on the UWS.

  • Michael1

    I would think that the Class 1 on Grand Street makes sense. Let’s say if a Class 2 standard unprotected bike lane was implemented, it would automatically be pointless. Double-parking trucks and cars loading and unloading things would use the bike lane as their space, thus demeaning the bike lanes purpose. This isn’t hard to understand, it’s just common sense; that’s what a motorist would do. By upgrading it to Class 1, it makes it a strict bike passage crosstown to the Williamsburg or Manhattan Bridges, which is definitely a safer alternative to either Canal or Delancey Streets.

    As for the other post, it is surprising (or not surprising) that NYPD is having a say in bike lane implementation, since their own vehicles block sidewalks, crosswalks, bus and bike lanes, which one way or another inconveniences others just so the cops have a place to park. They are law enforcement and they go and give tickets to persons who break the laws that the NYPD breaks themselves. Obviously, it depends on the cop but just in general, the NYPD shouldn’t just do whatever they want whenever just because they can. They should be more responsible than that, and maybe they’ll gain a few respect points.

  • Why is it so hard to accept that a minimum road width (wider than Grand Street) should be required for a protected lane?

    Because the minimum road width has nothing to do with the bike lane. It has to do with double-parking.

  • Clutch J

    Thanks for posting this. That’s a cogent explanation of what is happening in NYC.

    As someone who has developed strong street cycling skills, I might find these facilities very confusing. But I also understand that they have great appeal to slower, less educated, more fearful cyclists.

    Is the city doing a good job of sweeping or otherwise maintaining the new bike facilities?

  • As the blog entry you cite reports, Alex, there was a “whopping” 80% reductio in sidewalk cycling associated with the installation of the cycle track. I have no idea whether there is any affect, positive or negative, on counterlow bicycling associated with a cycle track. My gut tells me that there is more counterflow cycling in the cycle tracks, but most counterflow cyclists are riding at low speeds so I don’t see it as a source of serious bicyclist-on-pedestrain injuries. I doubt NYPD is going to shift their law enforcement priorities to target this problem, given the other traffic situations that are much more likely to cause serious injury, nor should they, in my view. Peer pressure form other cyclists is sufficient to deal with 90%+ of the problem.

  • v

    Clutch J –

    While I can understand your feeling that ‘once you’ve mastered riding in traffic, these sorts of facilities are not that valuable,’ even sharrows do create much safer routes for you as well. Both by alerting cars to your presence and space rights, and by slowing traffic through narrower car corridors. And the more people on bikes, the safer each bike will be.

    I’ve found bike lane areas to be as maintained as other street areas in NYC…some places are good, others aren’t.


  • Dynamic Rider

    I’ll add to Clutch: as a long time – and what I would consider educated rider like myself – I prefer these wide separate cycletracks myself. The provide a nice “breather” from the usual tumult from the streets. When I see them I ride in them and enjoy the safer commute, even if for only a dozen blocks. You should too. Stop making it difficult, there is nothing confusing about them. Just ride in them (after all you are required to when provided unless you can justify to a cop that riding in them was either impossible or there was a dangerous situation you had to avoid.)

  • ddartley

    Dear Bicycle Boys of DOT:

    Once again I’ll plug my own bike lane design, which I think would work on a wide, one-way Avenue that is not slated to undergo major physical changes, but that DOT would like to make more bike-friendly:

  • Clarence Eckerson


    Eeeeep! That looks mighty dangerous. I’d never want to ride in the middle of a one way road like that. Now on a two-way Street in the middle (like to DOT is doing on Allen Street) it looks like in that case it will work very well.

  • I’m finally starting to come around to the idea of putting the bike lanes on the left side of the road even though I’m not buying the “better visibility drivers have of cyclists” argument that is often given besides the dooring argument. (I do consider the bus conflict rational to be totally legit BTW).

    While in town for the Walk 21 Conference I was nearly left hooked 3 times by drivers who overtook me at the last moment at intersections while riding in left side bike lanes. I understand that driving in NYC is truely and completely “different” then anywhere else but this continues to be a real problem in my eyes. Three of us on the APBP NYC bicycle facility tour were nearly hooked by a driver on the new center median lanes on Allen Street even though we were in front of driver for some time as we waited for the light to change.

    Also, I really like NYCDoT’s bold use of sharrows and fell that they really help in most locations where DoT has installed them. However, I personally feel the sharrow markings on Thompson St could have easily been better placed. When I rode those for the first time I immediately felt that they unnecessarily put me in the door zone. If the travel lane is too narrow for a car to pass a cyclist anyway why put the sharrows so close to parked cars? Yeah if all the cars are parked correctly and you ride your bike in the center of the sharrow everything should be fine but that is not a real life situation. Those sharrows on Thompson might be better if they are placed more than 11ft from the curb. Maybe something like 1/3 the way across the lane from that left white stripe, so the right side of the sharrow is just to the left of the center of the lane.

    That’s my 2cents. Otherwise keep up the good work. It’s nice to ride in an American city that is finally starting to have something of a comprehensive bicycle network.

  • ddartley
    There a one block bike lane on Far West Houston street that runs up the middle of the street. That’s also the block where Houston runs under a long building which forms a dark underpass. I can understand the logic – bicycles headed for the Greenway avoid traffic turning north and south onto the West Side Highway, but I have to admit any time I see tractor trailers under there I choose the sidewalk. Traffic doesn’t seem to respect bike lanes when they’re in the center of the street any more than when they run alongside the curb.

    Andy B from Jersey
    Thompson Street really is a one-lane street except for a few hours per week when alternate side of the street parking rules force drivers to clear one side or the other. Did DOT really believe cyclists would ride to the left?The only function I see in the Thompson Street sharrows is that it makes motorists more aware that bicycles use that route – that is, if most drivers actually know what a sharrow means.

  • This video is great, and should be part of a much bigger education campaign by the city and the DOT, to get the word out to New Yorkers on the new rules of the road. A long term campaign to encourage everyone to slow down, be aware, and respect the rules of the road could save many lives. Way too many New Yorkers are in a rush to their deaths, and it is senseless. As this video shows, the streets of NY are changing and now is the time to get out in front and set the tone for how the new streets are to be used. Start next spring with a build up to the Summer Streets events using a massive media blitz. It would be worth the investment.

  • ED

    I love what DOT is doing – thank you very much. I’m just confused as to why the protected bike lanes are so built up. Not that I’m complaining at all, I think the 9th Ave. lane is great and ultimately the safest option.
    But couldn’t we make much more protected lanes if they were simpler? Just moving traffic over 5 feet, a little curb for the bike lane and then another curb for the sidewalk. More like Grand Street I guess.
    These ‘segregated’ lanes are the best option. (don’t know what to call them) Painted lines are often not recognized by motorists when they are they still must use them to parallel park.

  • Katharine

    What an awesome video! I ride my bike everywhere and don’t know why more people aren’t catching on. I even get commuter benefits at work through Commuter Check that actually pay for the costs to park my bike and keep it maintained (tires, brakes, etc.) You guys should look into this!

  • Nice one, also pleasant representatives talking about the solutions.

    Towards the end one of the guys mentions traveling through a whole section of the West Side towards Soho or Tribeca etc without leaving a cycling facility, but what I am curious about is 1 – How long a trip takes/average speed, 2- How many times a cyclist stops on average and 3 – If DOT is considering any kind of Green Wave-type solution…

    On the contrary philosophy-wise (no pun intended) regarding contra-flow, cyclists do it because it is shorter. (To paraphrase a well-known quote: “It’s shorter, stupid!”) The majority of streets in Manhattan are one-way, the new cycle lanes mirror or follow that, and so the shorter a trip is, the higher the proportion of it which could be faster if all the narrow crosstown streets and other narrow one-way streets were contraflow for cyclists and the major avenues were either bi-directionalised (ideal) or had two-way cycle facilities.

    It would be great if someone did a computer simulation of this, focusing on time-savings (or “time-earnings”, i.e. going slower but reaching somewhere at the same time as with the current set up due to shorter distance travelled).

  • Shemp

    Andy, saying “I was nearly hit” is the same as saying “I was riding in NYC.”

  • mike

    Agreed with Blaise: This should be part of a whole education campaign by the DOT. If they plan on bike share and more bike lanes in the future, they will need a large outreach program.

  • “I personally feel the sharrow markings on Thompson St could have easily been better placed.”

    I agree, they should be dead center. Last time I rode Thompson I was honked at while riding in the center. I glanced back at an automobile whose driver and sole occupant then yelled, “the bike lane’s on the left!” It’s not a bike ‘lane’, for obvious reasons. Normally I would ride nearer the sharrows, because why not, but that day I was riding next to my spouse. There is no room to be overtaken by a car no matter where you ride; the suggested position only gives raging motorists enough room to try to run others off the road.

    So yes, center the markings please on the next repainting. Thompson should be made as nice as possible, to channel bicycle traffic from the west side to Grand Street and the Manhattan Bridge.

  • Shemp,

    Yeah, I totally agree with you on that one. Like I said, traffic norms in NYC are “different.”

    Still, I do have concerns that some of the facilities may leave some newbie riders with a false sense of security particularly facilities that leave cyclist on the inside of turning cars that then make them vulnerable to hooks.

    I’ve got over 20 years daily riding experience, so I was expecting the left hook 2 out of those 3 times (one of those times I was forced to kick the cab that did it in self defense since it was that close). The time I didn’t expect it was on the new Allen St lanes. Even though the driver could clearly see myself and the two other riders in front of me (and in front of her) waiting for the light, she gunned it a recklessly hooked us, thankfully without contact. I never thought that anyone would be that reckless around a group of casual cyclist (no roadies in our group) and I’ve got plenty of urban riding experience.

    I guess that just leads me back to what Shemp said about riding in NYC.

    Oh well.

  • shishi

    Looks like some great improvements. Contra flow bus and bike lanes on the Avenues would change NYC for good, and in the right way.

  • Hey will this work in NYC? “A sharrow’s not a bike lane, like a hug’s not a kiss, just ’cause that boy’s circumsized don’t mean he had a bris.”

  • I am Board Member of New Jersey Bicycle Coalition and an avid cyclist in NJ & NY. I am a beneficiary of the great NYC DOT work done on establishing bike lanes, signage and sharrows. As a member of NJBC (, we are trying to initate similar programs in towns and cities in NJ. For example, we would love to see similar use of bike paths, sharrows along a 5+/- mile street from Edgewater in Bergen County to the Weehawken Ferry in Hudson County – all along River Rd. I hope to use some of your video in my upcoming meeting with the Hudson County Freeholders in November as well as utilize some of it in presentations to local town meetings.
    Anyone interested in our work in NJ, please go to


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