Dear Streetsbloggers: How Do You Spread the Word About Bike Lane Rules?

To assist in the ongoing effort to better articulate a set of social norms for the endless variety of circumstances one encounters on city streets, we’re passing on this request from a reader. "Midtown Biker" asks for advice on the best way to handle these situations:

  1. Another biker is riding the wrong way on a one-way street (West 90th Street) and
    hogging the bike lane. I tried "Please ride with the traffic" and got cursed at.
  2. I’m riding in a bike lane. A car cuts me off, then stops short,
    double-parking in the bike lane. The street is now impassable. I tried, "Please
    don’t block the bicycle lane." The doorman from the driver’s apartment building
    said to the driver, "You do whatever you want. You want to park here, don’t
    listen to him." Any suggestions?
  • No. 1: I always get the same response. I don’t like getting cursed at either, and so I’ve stopped noticing the wrong-way riders.

    No. 2: The entire street is impassable? Unlikely. Take advantage of your bicycle’s ability to ride in tight circles and either go around, or if completely impassable, use the sidewalk until the next fire hydrant.

  • Red

    No. 1: Have you considered shooting the salmon rider in the helmet?

  • NattyB

    (1) Just bike safely and pass by each other. Sometimes, you need to go down the wrong way on a bike lane for short distances, otherwise, you might have to go Around the block (4 blocks) or something like that.

    (2) Hit the back of rearview window with your lock, if it’s out, or hit the glass window with your hand, if you’re wearing a glove. ALSO, pretending to spit, by making the spitting noise, is also good, if there window is open. Oh, and for vehicles that refuse to leave the bike lane, you can always slash their tires (since they like that spot so much, they can stay there), but, I don’t usually carry a knife on me, so I’ve never actually done that one.

  • golden rule

    Same answer to both questions: maneuver around the obstacle and don’t get your knickers in a twist. Urban cycling can and should be fun and relaxing. No need to take the bait if someone else is being rude.

  • Brooklyn

    I’ll take a flexible approach with salmon. When I see them on an otherwise empty street (like a pizza deliveryman on State St last night) I pay them no mind. If I can get by, so can they.

    It’s a different story if I encounter a wrong-way ignoramus on a bike-laned, busy street like Sackett or Hoyt, where I’ll be riding with traffic on an otherwise clear lane. If I swerve, I’ll avoid the salmon but might get sideswiped by a passing car.

    So I don’t swerve. I yell something gutteral (“Hey!) to make sure they’re paying attention and stay straight, forcing them into the side of a parked car, or forcing them into the oncoming traffic. If we both can’t get by, I’ll make sure I do.

  • Kevin Love

    Why not use the parking violation stickers available from this site:

    A quote from the site:

    “Our ScrapeIt™ stickers use a strong adhesive that the driver must use a blade to remove. Yes, this is doable – but a real nuisance.”

    The number of cars parked in the bike lanes in my neighbourhood has taken a sharp drop downwards since I’ve started putting these stickers on their windscreens.

  • molly

    1. I’ve stopped verbal confrontations in this situation. When I see salmon approaching in a bike lane, I ride as close to parked cars as possible, forcing them to pass me by riding closer to oncoming traffic.

  • t

    In a passing, fleeting moment, I don’t think you can change behavior. One, the person breaking the rule is probably not in a state of mind to hear criticism and two, even a polite, well-meaning reminder could stoke someone’s anger. Each situation has to be judged on its own merits. There’s on one-size-fits-all solution, especially on the individual, face-to-face level.

    Piggybacking on golden rule’s advice, you risk escalating what is otherwise a passing situation if you become Mr. (or Mrs.) Enforcer. And hitting a car with a lock or slashing tires? Come on.

  • J. Mork

    I usually try to put a stick into their spokes and push them under the wheels of a truck.

    Hahahaha. Just kidding.

  • I’m troubled by some of the responses above about double-parked cars. Exacerbating the stereotype that the car is the ultimate enemy of all cyclists will never help us gain respect and equality on city streets. Rather than resorting to vandalism, energy would be better used lobbying for the NYPD to enforce the law.

  • I get a lot of salmon joggers in the bike lane on my commute. I tried stopping and trying to start a polite dialog for a while, pointing out that it’s not safe for either of us, Some people would listen politely, some would blow me off, some would curse. I’ve given up mostly. When its a same way pedestrian, I pass them like I would a slower biker. When it’s a salmon, I will just stop a few feet away from them in the middle of the bike lane and make them pass me by going into traffic. I feel like this points out to them that they’re in the wrong and puts the onus of going into traffic on them.

  • J

    #2… Feeling brash? Stop within earshot of the doorman, and call 311 to report the illegal parker and the doorman. Probably won’t accomplish anything, but it will put the doorman on notice.

  • Peter Flint

    #1 – I encountered this situation this morning on W. 10th Street when a skateboarder decided to come the wrong way down the bike lane. Normally on an empty street we can find an accommodation, though I’ll usually keep to the left side and force them to the middle. Today, there was a lot of traffic moving past me and I was pulling my child trailer so I didn’t have much room to manouver so I ended up playing chicken with him. I figured he’d slow or step between parked cars for a minute as I passed, but no he keeps coming at me and swerved into the traffic at the last minute, looking none too pleased. His problem, not mine.

    #2 – If there clearly room for them to pull to the curb on either side and not block the lane, I’ll stop and politely ask them to do so. If there’s not room and I can go around, I’ll take the whole car lane and pass them. If they get rude when I talk to them, I back off and remind them that I’m being polite and they’re not, though it sometimes take a great deal of willpower not to swear back at them. About half the time the polite approach works.

    I would strongly advise against touching, or sticking stickers to cars. We should all know from the stories here that it’s a very good way to get yourself arrested by the NYPD who are ever-vigilant to protect the paint jobs on cars in the city.

    Now, how about situation #3, parts A and B:

    A. The livery driver in the protected bikelane on 8th Avenue BACKING UP down the lane. He completely ignored me when I talked to him.

    B. The NY Sanitation truck driving up the 8th Avenue protected lane picking up the corner garbage, who got rude with me when I confronted him about it. I’ve seen this twice in the last week. “Where am I supposed to go?” he said. I don’t know…when it’s a one lane street, they have no problem blocking the car traffic to pick up garbage. Do the same thing on the avenues.

  • Geck

    I generally ring my bell excessively as I pass cars stopped in a bike lane-a nonverbal protest with the added benefit of insuring that my presence is known. I usually just glare at the salmon. My polite comments are too often met with hostile responses and the angry ones don’t seem to accomplish much.

  • People do respond to public remonstration. I certainly do, when I get called out for riding on park pathways or waiting for a red light within the crosswalk.

    For bike lane salmon, like the previous commenters I ignore them when conditions are not crowded, but in situations where the salmon are creating risks I hew to the parking lane, make them go out into traffic to pass, and meet eyes with them while shaking my head as they pass.

    I go a bit further with the motorists blocking the bike lane. I have videotaped and posted some of my interactions with bike lane blockers. I still deal with blockers this way (when I’m not in a rush), though I have stopped videotaping.

  • David_K

    Regarding #2 and #3 (parts A. and B., from Peter Flint) —

    These are distressing situations becasue they happen so frequently. Why is it the cyclist’s responsibility to confront these drivers? Speaking for myself, I don’t want to stop and engage a driver about responsible behavior….

    Let’s face it: Cyclists are doing a huge favor to both drivers and public transpo users(contributing to reduced congestion on roads, less crowded subways): at the very least, the city should segregate all bike lanes. Why is this such a big deal? Park cars outside of bike lanes, and be done with it. We all know that by doing so, a ton of people who still consider biking a risky proposition will hit the roads, creating a positive feedback loop of even less congested streets/subways, healthier people, etc. In the end, I think even drivers would be thankful.

  • Clarence Eckerson

    Wow Molly, I basically do the same thing. Especially in Brooklyn’s Clinton Street curbside bike lane, where abuse is rampant. I hug the curb and make the salmon go around me and closer to on coming traffic. If they want to ride the wrong way, then they can be the ones to risk their necks, not me.

    This usually works for me because 1) I am bigger and 2) I am bigger.

  • Uhhh duh, for #2, post to For #1, I just grumble under my breath and ignore it … or give the obligatory “wrong way buddy” shout as I ride by.

    I also have employed the play chicken w/ the wrong way cyclist (also w/ the cyclists who bike on sidewalk).

  • Fran Taylor

    For bike lane blockers, always carry a pen and some paper, ride around to the front of the car, and stand there writing down the license plate number, make of car, etc. It also helps to check your watch and write down the time. In the case cited, the address should be added as well. Be as obvious as you can and just ignore the snide, “Whaddareyou, a cop?” comments from the driver and doorman.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “I basically do the same thing. Especially in Brooklyn’s Clinton Street curbside bike lane, where abuse is rampant. I hug the curb and make the salmon go around me and closer to on coming traffic.”

    So do I, in general. After all they can see the traffic coming from behind and I can’t.

    When driving, what really worries me is cyclists who ride at night in dark clothes with no lights. Although I’m only 48, I’ve noticed a decrease in my ability to see well at night while driving, especially since I almost never drive at night.

    I suppose what I could do is put a set of lights and a vest from LEDTronics like the one I have, along with some receipts, in the back of the car, and try to catch up with cyclists and make them buy them from me. That’s what I’d like to see the police do — buy it with a 50% markup or get a ticket.

  • Good discussion!

    In my younger and slightly more angry days, when a driver cut me off or blocked the lane, I’d give the mirror or window a good thump, but that didn’t accomplish much. It would either make drivers angry (because nothing makes drivers angrier than touching their cars), or startle unaware drivers who didn’t know they were somewhere they shouldn’t be.

    I mostly accept it as a fact of city traffic, and merge in with the cars to pass, but when I’m feeling a little indignant, I might try to squeeze between the stopped car and the curb to make the driver’s actions clear to them. At least, I’ll give them a “get out of the bike lane” shout.

    Riding down Bleecker the other evening, a car was stopped in the bike lane. A cyclist in front of me rode by the window and yelled at the driver, which prompted me to do the same. After passing, I heard a cyclist behind me yell at the driver as well. Nice moment, there.

    As for the reverse riders, I’ll generally give a polite “don’t ride against traffic, please” or “the bike lane is one-way.” Some will tell you to shut the eff up, but it wouldn’t be New York City otherwise.

  • Well, here’s what to not do:

    > energy would be better used lobbying for the NYPD to enforce the law.

    I sass salmon. But I often yield the bike lane to them, especially if I can keep up with automobile traffic and safely merge in. Salmoning annoys me not because it’s illegal, or unnatural, or unwarranted, but because it’s unsafe in our current configurations; I feel the bike lanes should in many cases be bidirectional and two feet wider. But, they’re not, so, sass.

    In #2, depending on (my mood and) whether I can get by the parked car, I’d probably slap it with the palm of my hand. My plausible deniability for the palm slap is that their engine is running and I think they might be in gear, and they’ve demonstrated they’re a threat to me by being in the bike lane; I want to let them know not to pull out into traffic while I’m passing them.

    Once in a while I skid-stop and fall softly but loudly into the offending car like it’s some cyclocross stunt, and then — while picking myself up and pedalling away — yell, without obscenities, that this is his fault and that he should get out of the bike lane.

    I am under the impression that any accident involving a car in a bike lane, where the bike cannot safely pass, and the bike has skid its tires attempting to stop, is the fault of the car’s driver automatically; but I am not a lawyer.

    Larry is right that salmoning while dark is the most dangerous thing. Folks with no lights, salmoning, routinely enter intersections while cars are accelerating to their their green-lit right of way; it is as if they are asking to be killed; they must have no sense of just how dangerous it is.

    The enemy of the bicycle is not the motor vehicle but rather the idiot, and idiots use all forms of transportation.

    This was a great post, the replies have all been really interesting.

  • We’ve recently launched which allows cyclists to create a letter that includes a personal note, traffic laws and advice from the DOT for drivers on how to share the road with cyclists. The idea is that cyclists carry this letter in their back pocket and when they are in a dangerous situation with a car, hand the letter to the driver. We’ve been toying with the idea of expanding it to address errant bikers + pedestrians as well. As an active cyclist myself I find that each presents their own dangers and are worthy of thoughtful communication. One thing I think the letter does is allow for time-shifting, so that people don’t just respond from a place of being “wrong” or feeling attacked – they can look at the letter in a cooler moment and consider what it says and hopefully not view it as a personal attack. The letter also includes an email contact, so they can follow-up with the person who passed it along and engage in a dialogue, so its not just one-way communication.

    We’d welcome any ideas/feedback you have on our project. You can provide feedback via a survey we have up here: or via email.

  • ED

    I’m with David K on this one. Segregate car traffic from us ‘soft-traffic’. It’ll be safer and easier for everyone, mainly because it’ll be so much clearer for everyone involved in the equation. People here, then bikes, then cars/trucks. Simple. Sure you’ll have to give up some precious parking space or a lane of traffic but I think we can all agree this city has a major shortage on space and way too much car traffic hogging it.

  • Steve O.

    Rather than yell angrily lane-blocking drivers, I often just say “where’s your bicycle?” in the happiest tone that I can achieve. I guess the idea is by the time they figure out what I’m getting at, I’ll be too far away for them to try to run me over.

  • Did Transportation Alternatives bribe God or the They Corporation to attach the “Biking Rules” virus to the one which causes H1N1?

    25 responses yet only one suggestion – thanks, Kaja! – that one-way streets (with one-way bike lanes, and also no contraflow for cycling on narrow one-way streets) might not be the ideal set-up?

    How ’bout some cool videos with the high-production standards of some in the recent contest showing people responding constructively – rather than reactively – to the totally stupid monodirectionalingualism of many streets in Manhattan and all over NYC?

    Real salmon are acting instinctively to propagate their species. It is natural, just like taking the shortest line as possible between A and B.

    I wish I could help, but I am in “Europe” fighting my own battles against stupid mobility and public space practices. I can only tell you what to do. 😉


    Regarding the car blocking the bike lane, or any illegally/dangerously-parked car, the most important rule is keep your level of harassment below what would cause them to call 5-0 and risk a ticket on their own bad behaviour , e.g. not crapping on their dashboard GPS or giving them some concrete overshoes, etc. In Prague on illegally parked cars I used to put notes covered with mustard along with the text “No parking. Mustard police.” It is so stupid that they would not call the police to complain…

  • In general, getting confrontational with anyone is not going to solve anything. Your best bet is just communication with your community and spreading the good word — start demanding enforcement from police and traffic enforcement.

    Conversations with your friends is crucial. Bitch about it! We love to bitch. Atrios / Duncan Black is actually doing the world a favor when he bitches about cyclists going the wrong way on a one-way — you’re asking to get killed. I’m not hearing that “four blocks” excuse. C’mon bikers, we’re not that lazy, WTF?

    Anyway, if you don’t want to end up as a road-rage or friday carnage stat, DO NOT go getting confrontational, you have no idea what you’ll be dealing with and chances are nothing good will come of it.

  • Todd, I think one-way streets are a great way to keep peds and more safe, not less so…

    > It is natural, just like taking the shortest line as possible between A and B.

    What’s natural about it? We’re talking about busy streets here, by now you’re used to traffic laws, right?

    And like it or not, they are shared by lots of different people. Including people who look left when they step out into the road because the traffic is coming from the left and then you crash into the kid or the old lady or your sister because you’re coming from the right. And from there one of you is probably bleeding and sometimes people die this way.

  • Billy: Wide one-way streets (e.g. Manhattan avenues) are designed primarily to speed up motorized, private vehicles. Sure, taxis benefit too but this makes cyclists also go one way which slows them down in so many ways (having to go over to the next avenue, walking, or “salmoning”.)

    Anyway, I thought it was pretty clear that I was not advocating salmoning, but just noting that it is a sensible (if partly selfish) way of letting us know that the one-way-ism is – or that car-induced one-way-ism – is nonsense.

    What you seem to be saying is that private car driving should be optimized because it has the additional side effect of allowing pedestrians to look only one way before crossing the non-pedestrian part of a street (some will wait for signals and never cross at mid-block… but not my friends.)

    Also, a technical note: Try making up some new words or phrases (hyphenated or not). It does wonders for one’s argumentation strategies.

  • Brian

    I have to agree that confrontation seems to get us no where. If it is safe, I pull out into the traffic lane, slow down, and hope that someone behind me will notice that the offending car is causing them to slow down, hoping that next time they will think twice before they attempt the stunt themselves.

    I often also find that I have to pull into traffic against a “salmon”, as in the US it doesn’t make immediate sense to someone who is obviously slow anyway to reverse the natural flow of traffic (riding on the left side). Today, a lady was carrying her son, helmetless, on an xtracycle riding the wrong way down the already-too-narrow bike lane on Lafayette street north of Houston. She apologized by endangered everyone’s lives by doing this.

    Point being, let’s work together, get NYPD to do a ticket blitz for bike lane offenders, give the money to the MTA, and build protected two-way bike lanes. Bikers should not have to feel as though they are patrolling the streets.

  • OBA

    For driers in the bike lane, I tend to just yell or smack the window, but after reading a lot of comments here, will print out a bunch of these official NYC Bike Lane Regs PDFs and either hand them out or stick them under the driver’s windshield wipers:

  • Create educational resources for other cyclists! We’re in the middle of production on the third video in our ‘Bikes-Riding-With-Bikes’ PSA series. I think it’s up to us to talk with and influence our friends who ride bikes to practice safe, courteous, and predictable riding technique. My hope is that resources like these PSAs will help guide the discussion between road users, once they’re off the road.

    Education ‘on the roll’ as described in this question is not very effective, particularly with other cyclists, because of higher adrenaline levels. We all get pretty defensive on the road, especially when someone tries to correct us! I think this is why we have so many incidents of road rage and even hostility between people riding bikes.

    Of course, there is always leading by example!

  • The Opoponax

    1. If the salmon isn’t doing anything especially dangerous or egregious, I’ll let it go. If the salmon IS doing something horrible like talking on a cell phone or otherwise risking someone’s life, I’ll usually just toss out the customary ‘dangerous behavior’ bitching and moaning. I feel like a lot of n00bs don’t realize how dangerous going against traffic can be, and that it can put others at risk in addition to oneself.

    2. Re cars double parked in the bike lane, this only really bothers me enough to get a rise out of me if the car is idling in the bike lane surrounded by plenty of available parking, but just can’t be arsed to parallel park. Which usually gets a similar “you are risking lives out of selfishness!” outburst, if the idler has their passenger window open.

  • Not living in an ideal world or a real world, and as mentioned earlier, cycling the wrong way in a bike lane can sometimes be the safest way and the cyclist should go slow and take the utmost care, look out for pedestrians not looking their way, and turning cars etc; and, there might be one other benefit.

    Cyclists traveling the wrong way on bike lanes tend to prevent cars from driving in those lanes especially, when cyclists take possession of the lanes (i.e., when cars are not driving fast in the bike lane which is often the case) and order car drivers out.

    Even if cars are driving fast in the bike lane about a block or more ahead the car drivers tend to realize that they are wrong or at least tend to not want to kill or maim the approaching cyclist and ultimately get out; or at least maybe don’t want to experience the minor inconvenience should they kill or maim a cyclist . . . ; or, have some other good and or obscure reason.

  • 1) Salmon go slowly and you can make eye-contact, go around.

    2) If a car is double parked, go around. It’s NYC, for the love of god. We invented double parking. (Try biking any busy street in Asia. You’re not entitled to obstacle-free city cycling.) Get over it!

  • 1. as suggested earlier, this is a failure of street design, so blame the responsible party, not another victim of bad street design — that is, blame the DOT. so, stay inside or outside, whichever you feel safer in — let the salmon go around you — since they can see on-coming cars. if they chicken-game you, then just come to a complete stop as you are about to crash, or crash right into them, depending on how frisky/fighty you’re feeling. generally speaking, let this one go — unless it escalates, then dial 911. if they’re not in a car, they’re on your/our side — no need to be a ****. just nod your head when you pass, acknowledging that the other person, for all their salmony spirit, is probably awesome because they’re riding a bike, and keep going on your merry way. when you get to your destination, call or email DOT and tell them to get to fixing NYC — two-way all the one-way streets. also, write to your local email list and convince them to undo the damage that GM and the highway losers did to the city over the past 100 years. ask Streetsblog to talk more about the one-way vs. two-way saga of NYC’s streets.

    2. ditto for this one, too — probably. every block should have a loading zone temp ‘parking/loading’ space that is at least a couple of car lengths wide. if that is not the case, then remember to call DOT when you get home and let them know what’s up. it’s possible we should put parking meters at these locations, even and especially in residential neighborhoods. cops on bikes can check them efficiently. or use road sensors. in SF, I’ve seen UPS trucks *not* block the bike lane, and just kill a lane of traffic on a multi-lane one-way. I’m not sure i’m crazy about this, but i appreciate the gesture. maybe our Euro-based bike nerd friends can offer some advise on proper protocol? if you want to fight and possibly die, then slap/punch/kick the car as you pass by. otherwise, just roll by. or stop and take a pic and post to there are plenty of battles to fight. a disapproving stare can work. a little shrug of the shoulders can be nice. a hands-up shrug with the raised eyebrows in a ‘WTF?’-type glance is nice, and you still won’t get shot (probably). if i actually thought some piece of junk blocking the bike lane was all that dangerous, i’d be bent, but there are many other more dangerous road hazards we need to worry about — and most of it goes back to pressuring the Mayor/DOT to make better road design choices, etc. i generally don’t want to be bothered getting into my ‘fight or flight’ mode when i just want to chill on the way to my destination — it always ends up amping me up for at least another hour, so the way i see it, i lose if i go there. if i just chalk it up to ‘experience’, then i can speak and write with vigor and authority on bad road design — every experienced injustice is just more motivation to rid the earth of cars. and we have to allow a little bit of time for car folks to adjust their thinking, to understand that blocking the bike lane, while not the end of the world, is kind of rude, not such a nice thing to do, and a little bit dangerous. as more people take up the bike, there will be more people to get your back, so next year, if they’re still parked in the bike lane, then we’ll all just hop off our bikes and pick up the car and move it out of the bike lane. by any means necessary. i kid. i kid. really. what is the fine for parking in the bike lane? let’s lobby to up it by next year to something stiff — something worth the City’s time. $150 at least. put some cops on bikes and start collecting cash. put an APB out on the local tv stations and say that cops on bikes are now going to be ticketing drivers who park in the bike lanes and endanger the lives of kids and parents riding to school, and other folks just trying to get from Point A to Point B in one piece. “This is a public safety hazard — bikers are moving around this city making the city a nice place to live work and play — and we’re going to do our best to make sure bikers stay safe out there.” listen, i’m not the biggest fan of cops, but if you want to get serious about getting some respect from the authoritah! — then get some cops on bikes. watch the bike lane culture change overnight. oh, and tell the cops to skip on the uniforms every once in a while — see what it’s really like out there as a normal person. man, would i love to see this scene play out: undercover confronts car loser in the bike lane — “Hey buddy, you know you’re in a bike lane, right?” “Yeah, what of it?” “Sir, step out of the car.” 😀 [cops on bikes, by the way, is an excellent policy decision for about 1,001 reasons, and we should be pursuing that policy with the police.]


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