Today’s Headlines

  • SUV Owner Arrested in Attempted Times Square Bombing (NYT)
  • Keeping Explosive-Laden Vehicles From Targets a Seemingly Impossible Task (Room for Debate)
  • Adolfo Carrion Takes a Demotion to Get Closer to NY Politics (News, MOP)
  • MTA Laying Off or Reassigning 450 Station Agents (News)
  • Let’s See How Albany Bungles the Three-Foot Passing Bill (LoHud)
  • Ed Glaeser Critiques Jane Jacobs’ Search for the "Proper" Urban Density (Economix)
  • Baltimore Pundit Says Car-Free New Yorkers Need Wal-Mart (News)
  • Downtown BID Proposes Reclamation of Water Street (Post)
  • DOT Adds to Cobble Hill Sidewalks (B’stoner); Mixed Results for Flatbush and Church Revamp (YN)
  • Manhattan Cyclist Takes Pleasure in Stopping for Red Lights (NYT)
  • Can Oprah Get Drivers to Put Down Their Phones? (USA Today)

More headlines at Streetsblog Capitol Hill

  • P

    Um, your first headline is a little silly.

  • red means red

    The author of the NYT piece about honoring red lights either hasn’t been doing it for more than a few days or is just plain fibbing. I always stop for red lights (as in wait for them to turn green, not as in pretend they’re stop signs), and while I am certainly in the minority, I am FAR from alone among cyclists

    Riders who habitually blow through red lights might not believe there are many of us, perhaps because they’re too busy blowing through the lights to notice us stopped at the line, but we’re there. And we get where we’re going almost as fast and a whole lot more safely.

  • We have the 3 foot law here in Florida. This law sounds good in theory but is virtually unenforceable. It’s more of a feel good law than anything else. Most police officers are not aware of it. Those that are aware of the law will not enforce it. Unless the cyclist is hit itis very difficult to prove.

  • Larry Littlefield

    There was a New York Post article on overtime abuse at the MTA, while there are service cutbacks.

    http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/ot_bonanza_at_strapped_mta_Rp3aEeMgzPAV5kYDkkntnM

    Most of the massive service cuts, and layoffs, mentioned are at New York City Transit. Meanwhile, most of the overtime abuse mentioned is on the LIRR and TBTA. Don’t think people don’t notice. A long-time motorman I correspond with is furious that the MTA always looks for savings from the subway, while the excess costs are elsewhere.

    This takes me back to the debate over Fidler’s working people only tax to fund the MTA. What it has done is allowed disingenous suburban populists to blame New York City for their problems, and perhaps justify disproportionate sacrifice for the city as the fiscal crisis unfolds. All the money is going to New York City, they say.

    Nonsense. All the money is going to tax-exempt debts, the tax-free retired, and more heavily subsidized services.

    If the MTA had gone bankrupt rather than being “rescued,” the most effecient service — the subway — could have continued to operate by covering its operating costs with the same layoffs, service cuts, and fare hikes that we will be getting in the end anyway. Those pols outside of the subway service area would have been left to justify why those inside should sacrifice to subsidize them, rather than claiming that they are subsidzing us.

    And don’t think they didn’t know this.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “We have the 3 foot law here in Florida. This law sounds good in theory but is virtually unenforceable. Unless the cyclist is hit itis very difficult to prove.”

    Perhaps education is more important than the legal system. People should at least be be told to stay three feet away, and that they will be blamed if they pass too close and injure someone. I say that as someone who was knocked off a bike by an SUV mirror, which is positioned at cyclist elbow level.

  • Erin

    Concerning the article about waiting through red lights while on a bike: Yes, the author is not the only one. I usually do it too, so do several of my friends. When my boyfriend and I bike with his son, we definitely do it. I can get to work without arriving too sweaty when I stop at lights. During certain times of the day it is much safer to just stop and wait. It’s stress reducing to wait, at least when you’re riding in a bike lane. I stop, I take a sip from my water bottle, I breathe. It’s nice sometimes.

  • Peter Flint

    I’m another habitual red-light-stopping bicyclist and what always baffles me about those who blow right through is that 75% of the time, I catch right back up to them within a block or two anyway so it’s not like they’re getting where they’re going much faster because of it. It’s not that I’m a particularly fast rider; just that we all inevitably run up against busy avenues, garbage trucks, etc where we have to wait anyway.

    I would venture that for most bicycle trips of two miles or less (which are probably the majority of bike trips taken in the city), the difference between running red lights and waiting amounts to 30 seconds or less saved time. Hardly worth the risk.

    So why not spread some good will among pedestrians and drivers and lower our own risk at the same time?

  • Danny G

    I have found multiple reasons to stop for red lights. They include:

    – Checking out women
    – Listening to the music coming out of the car next to you
    – Making small talk with drivers who have their windows open
    – Making drivers who stop in the crosswalk look bad
    – Seeing people’s pets

  • Jason A

    “If the MTA had gone bankrupt rather than being “rescued,” the most effecient service — the subway — could have continued to operate by covering its operating costs with the same layoffs, service cuts, and fare hikes that we will be getting in the end anyway. Those pols outside of the subway service area would have been left to justify why those inside should sacrifice to subsidize them, rather than claiming that they are subsidzing us.”

    Considering how many stations in the city are a dilapidated mess, and how many trains are stuffed to capacity, was anyone else offended by the suburban bitching over the potential loss of the Metro North bar car?

  • NYC cycling needs more Danny Gs!

    More cyclists behaving like him while stopped at red lights will illustrate to more New Yorkers that people on bicycles are more human than people in cars.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    I think the TA needs a bar car. Running trains may not make money but selling beer definitely does. You could even have a Bud car, a Miller Car, a Guiness car, a Dos Equis car. I’d like the Brooklyn Chocolate car.

  • Danny G

    That being said, if there are no people, pets or cars in the crosswalk, no oncoming traffic, and no music from someone else’s car, I will roll through the light.

  • I just tried an experiment: I walked from my office at 42nd and Lex up to 54th, then over to 3rd Ave and back down, assiduously following every walk signal. In other words, a bit more than 20 blocks of walking in middown during mid-day traffic, only setting my foot off the curb if I had a walk sign.

    I was kind of suprised how ridiculous it was. There were only 3 blocks in the entire walk where it was even necessary to wait for the light (crossing 42nd twice, and crossing Lexington once). I tried take the “smell the roses” attitidue that seems to be working for the model citizen in the NY Times, but there weren’t any roses to smell. Just a hot sidewalk and a lot of people, none of whom waited for the crosswalk light to change like me.

    For what it’s worth, I do go through red lights on my bike when it’s safe. I do not weave through pedestrians who have the crosswalk though — if there are multiple people crossing, I just stop and wait for them.

    Also (for what it’s worth), I feel less safe when I have to pedal from a full stop at a new green light: contending with a bunch of cars that are accelerating a lot faster than I can seems a worse gamble than already being in front of them, occupying part of a lane at a fairly steady pace.

  • I just hope Times editors will accept my forthcoming pitch on being the only pedestrian to wait for walk signals at empty intersections. Oh, the deep conversations with cap drivers at red lights I will have, and appreciative looks from “moms with strollers” I will conveniently receive! All I have to do is keep this inane behavior up for a week or two “to see if it can be done”, and an op-ed with a mention of my forthcoming children’s book is in the bag.

  • I always stop for the full cycle of all red lights–day, night, rain, snow, right turn or left. And I long ago realized why I’m the only one I ever see doing this (aside from the obvious reason that it’s not the norm): because I end up following the rhythm of the lights, so anyone else who’s doing this is following a different rhythm, which I’m unlikely to sync up with.

    I honestly don’t understand how someone could publish something with the idiotic claim that he or she is the only person who does this.

  • The Times author is clearly incorrect in claiming he’s alone in stopping at reds. But it is surprising to hear from so many who wait out the entire red signal.

    My primary mode with red lights is to treat them as stop signs, but I take it a little further by always waiting until all of the pedestrians have passed, and only crossing through the intersection behind pedestrians. I also work hard to use eye contact and hand signals to assure pedestrians that I see them, that I acknoweldge their right of way, and that I will not enter the crosswalk until they have passed.

    I’m open to taking the final step and waiting out every signal, but I do harbor doubts as to the effect on my speed. And it does feel a bit artificial, given how I and the rest of New York, traveling as walkers, treat “don’t walk” signals as no more than “yield” signs. I guess I’ll have to try it!

  • Whenever I’m in traffic, I stop at red lights for the full cycle with the following exceptions, when I treat them as rolling stops:

    (1) If I’m on the Hudson River Greenway
    (2) If I’m on the side of a T intersection where there is no interruption
    (3) If I’m at a crosswalk-only intersection (and the crosswalk is empty)

  • Oh, and I should have added (4) If I’m in Central Park during car-free hours

  • If anything, it sounds like Carrion has been, at best, ineffectual in the Obama administration and wants to get back to his cozy, grease the palms and help yourself to the till, political circles in New York.

  • David_K:
    I’ll just say that when I take off from a full stop at a red, I feel safer knowing that all these cars have seen me and have at least some reason to think my behavior will be predictable. When I switched from standard NYC riding to waiting at lights, I felt like I was given wider berth from the cars immediately next to me at lights. And I had already noticed that those were most of the cars I was around during my commute.

    That said, I have all the usual safety complaints of an NYC biker, so I know that stopping for lights isn’t anything like a panacea.

    BicyclesOnly:
    Stopping for the full cycle of all the lights on my thirty-minute commute made it a thirty-five minute one–to me, a negligible difference.

  • Ian Turner

    David: It depends on the direction you’re walking and the timing of the lights. Walking North on 6th avenue, I have to wait almost an entire cycle at every intersection, while walking South, I almost never hit a light. The difference is perhaps 2X in overall speed.

  • dporpentine: I hear you. That’s why I prefaced my comments with “for what it’s worth” — because I don’t know what my perception of safety is worth (whether or not what kind of feels safer to me is actually making me any safer). I do think though that traffic lights are designed for cars, and I don’t feel like I owe them strict obedience, either as a pedestrian or as bicyclist — but I also admit that I don’t have a watertight moral or legal argument for taking that position.

    Ian: that is pretty interesting, because it seems that the same variables are in play. I mean, whether you are walking north or south, you’ll have some cars turning north and some turning south. I wonder why walking in one direction yields a 2X speed increase over walking in the other direction?

  • um Ian, I meant to say, some cars turning north and others going straight.

  • @Urbanis,

    Calling Adolfo Carrion “ineffectual” is an insult to the ineffectual! I agree with the rest of your assessment 100%, however. The Office of Urban Affairs has been a waste of space for 16 months — let’s hope the Obama administration can do better the second time around.

    As for red lights, I think my own behavior is closest to BicyclesOnly’s. It is more relaxing to observe red lights, and in most cases, the time “lost” for good behavior is inconsequential. But it’s fairly rare for other cyclists to stop next to me.

  • I also always waits at red lights. Always, always.

    I’ll add to Danny G’s list of perks, perhaps the best reasons:

    – respect from pedestrians who see it

    Most pedestrians are pleasantly surprised when they see I’m not about to roll past them in an attempt to run a red. A smile from them and a smile back is enough to make this noisy chatoic city seem a lot more calm and civilized. And that’s one less person who’s likely to have the “insane cyclists” stereotype anymore.

    – respect from motorists who see it

    Like my use of hand signals (ok, yes, I’m a nerd), I’ve found that most drivers pass me with much more distance and respect when they see that I am following the rules of the road. Perhaps motorists identify with me then, as a fellow road user bound by the same constraints and situations?

  • J:Lai

    How much it increases your safety vs. how much it costs you in time to stop for all red signals depends a lot on where and when you are riding. In Manhattan rush hour traffic, it makes you significantly safer while not usually costing too much time. Late night in Brooklyn, usually the other way around.

    People riding the wrong way against traffic seems to be a more ubiquitous and potentially more hazardous behavior.

    Also, I’m just curious how most people treat 4-way stop sign intersections.

    Since I know that any drivers coming through also have a stop sign, I usually slow down (just in case someone is blowing through the stop sign) but don’t stop unless there are people crossing right in front of me.

  • eLK

    Chris Raschka, the 50 year old virgin. Please spare me.

    I agree that we are in dire need of better bicycle manners but posturing as the Holy Virgin in New York bores me, alienates others and, like “red means red”, sounds like fibbing. I don’t know where the NYT finds these guys, along with Robert Sullivan.

    Like many here I’m all for stopping at red lights, riding with traffic, and not wearing headphones. We have a moment in time to change the city and the way we live here.

  • J:Lai

    Also, Brooklyn doesn’t need Wal Mart.
    Wal Mart is excellent for rural and suburban areas that lack options for basic retail. The lower prices WM offers consumers, while partly due to the economcy scale and efficient supply chain management, owe quite a lot to externalizing costs that are borne by the community.
    I believe that most big-box retail, like a lot of the tourism industry, is a net negative for New York City.

  • Sean’s right about the importance of signaling in getting respect and a wider berth from a larger percentage of motorists. In my view, signaling is not nerdy–an emphatic point at the road space you intend to occupy, held for a few seconds, commands attention and respect. It’s unfortunate that the NYC road surface is often so poor as to render signaling at speeds in excess of 10 MPH hazardous.

    As for waiting out the entire red cycle of a light, it does mean (if you ride in the center of a traffic lane, as I generally do) that the motorists behind you have to wait for you to accellerate after the light turns green, and some of them deeply resent it and will try to pass unsafely as a way of expressing their irritation.

  • BicyclesOnly: I’m glad to hear someone finally connect terrible road conditions to how difficult it can be to signal. I signal a lot! But not every time–just as a matter of survival.

  • What are you talking about, J:Lai? Brooklyn totally needs a Wal-Mart. New York has too much small business, and most of it is owned by immigrants. It’ll be a lot better if those immigrants just work at Wal-Mart for $7/hour. As we all know, big business is much better for the community than small business.