Reading Between the Lines on East Side’s Missing Bike Lanes

New bikes lanes dont make it above 34th Street in current plans for the East Side, though they extended to 125th originally.
New bikes lanes don't extend above 34th Street in current plans for the East Side, though they extended to 125th originally.

Select Bus Service remains on track to debut on October 10, confirmed NYC DOT and the MTA at a meeting of the project’s Community Advisory Committee last night. Bus service improvements along the corridor are as crucial as ever and will be bolstered by camera enforcement, which DOT announced would be in effect starting in November. The changes that take effect in 25 days, however, won’t be the full complete streets package originally promised. Above 34th Street, bike lanes and pedestrian refuge islands were unceremoniously stripped from the plan some time this spring.

When pressed last night by Scott Falk, the secretary of Transportation Alternatives’ East Side Committee, to explain why protected bike lanes had disappeared from the street design between 34th and 125th, DOT Director of Transit Development Joe Barr had this to say:

We still remain committed to getting that plan done. That’s our goal. We’re learning a lot from this summer’s implementation. Right now, we’re just focused on making 10/10/10 a success. Once that’s passed, we’ll be in a better position to say what next year’s plan will be, what we can get done, what the community’s reaction will be. The success to date, seeing more cyclists out there, the number of complaints about the implementation has been very very low. That all points to being able to expand that treatment successfully next year.

It’s worth parsing that statement more closely. Barr came across as wanting to see the original bike lane plans carried out and was clearly choosing his words very carefully.

Though he said the city is “committed” to the full safety treatment, it’s still just a “goal,” not a promise. Barr mentioned “being able to” bring bike lanes all the way uptown. What, or perhaps more relevantly, who, is preventing that? Whoever’s decision it is, Barr gave a glimpse of the political considerations at work. Safe cycling uptown depends on “the community’s reaction.” (Streetsblog has a request in with DOT about who will decide whether to extend the lanes and what the criteria will be.)

Perhaps part of the problem is that some of the people with a stake in complete streets aren’t being heard. At last night’s CAC meeting, members of Midtown’s Community Board 6 said loud and clear that their top concern with plans for First and Second Avenue are new left-turn bans for vehicles at four intersections in their neighborhood.

No one from East Harlem’s Community Board 11, however, spoke up about their concerns last night. It wasn’t clear whether anyone from CB 11 even attended the meeting. If they had spoken up, however, DOT might have received an earful of that community’s anger at having safety improvements offered and then taken away. Which community will the city listen to?

One other interesting exchange from last night’s meeting came after a discussion of bus lane enforcement. Susan Stetzer, the district manager of Community Board 3, noted that in her neighborhood, police vehicles have blocked the new bus and bike lanes. What could be done about that, she asked.

“There are a couple of locations along the corridor where we’ve had to move police parking or police storage of stuff, off Second Ave in particular,” explained Barr. “The broader issue of police vehicles or other city vehicles deciding that’s a great place to stop while they run into a store, that’s a more complicated issue that we’re trying to work on.” Just a peek into the inter-departmental politics of New York City…

A few details about SBS operation you may be interested in:

  • It will be in operation from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. northbound and 5 a.m to 10 p.m. southbound. Where the bus lanes are curbside, they will only be in effect from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.; the midday gap is for commercial loading.
  • Headways will be 4-5 minutes at peak hours and 7-8 minutes off-peak.
  • A preliminary enforcement blitz will accompany the launch, and police will be targeted cyclists as well as drivers who use the bus lanes.
  • It will be legal for cars to stop in the bus lane to quickly pick up or drop off passengers.
  • m to the i

    2 things. Second Ave is a problem going southbound, with the bike lane on the east side of the street, if youre coming from above 34th street. The entrance to the Midtown tunnel is on that side of the street just north of 34th and its more congested and dangerous. Now, without a safe space, most bike riders go down on the west side of 2nd ave and switch sides at the first red light they hit. I usually move across the street at 30th or 29th. We need a safe space for bicycles north of 34th.

    Also, many drivers are not using the left turn bays and are making their turns from the thru traffic lanes. Its super scary when your biking and not expecting a car to turn in front of your path. Can they put curbs or posts to prevent that or arrows on the street to make it more clear? And, of course, those drivers that do use the turn bays do not yield to bicycles. Can we make some design improvements if/when this gets implemented?

  • Where are there left turn bans? And why would a bus-only project stripped of its bike lanes ban left turns? The bus lanes are on the right, not on the left.

  • Noah Kazis

    Mike: I believe the left turn bans aren’t across the whole project, just at four intersections between 34th and 14th, so there are still bike lanes there. But the reason isn’t about the bike lane per se. The whole redesign made DOT want to extend certain signals. To do that, they had to eliminate the left turn only phase of the light and at these intersections, they felt it wasn’t safe to allow left turns without a dedicated phase.

  • meb

    I keep hearing about all the great bike infrastructure that’s been growing in the city, but as a former Astoria resident and current Metro North commuter, the only bike improvement on any route of mine in the past 6 years was the striping of a lane on 28th St. on my way to the Queensboro.

    Why can’t they put in at least a single path between the UES and midtown?

  • J

    I agree that the left turns can be a problem. It goes to show that speeds on First Ave are still too high. The design, which is significantly narrower than the 9th Ave design, does not include ped refuges at the turn bays. This creates less delineation, and I think is more susceptible to double parking. I can only hope that as more bikes use the lane and more cars get used to it, conditions will improve.

  • Andrew

    It will be legal for cars to stop in the bus lane to quickly pick up or drop off passengers.

    That’s crazy!

  • Jacob

    -A preliminary enforcement blitz will accompany the launch, and police will be targeted cyclists as well as drivers who use the bus lanes.

    Maybe I’m missing something, but doesn’t this force cyclists to ride in the lane between cars and buses? Should I be riding in the leftmost lane of one way streets on the East Side?

  • ChrisCo

    >>It will be legal for cars to stop in the bus lane to quickly pick up or drop off passengers.<<

    WTF is the point of bus lanes if cars can stop in them? Why can't cars stop on the other side of the street, or on the cross streets? Why does everything have to be so half-assed.

  • BicyclesOnly


    You’re right that the proposed enforcement blitz is unfair to cyclists. Cyclists are prohibited from using bus-only lanes, like othe vehicles. But it is also true that Cyclists should ride “as near as practicable” to the right OR left hand side of a one way roadway greater than 40 feet wide. So cyclists can avoid the blitz by riding (1) in the left-hand land (which, as others have pointed out, is suicide at 59th and 34th Streets because of turning MV traffic); (2) in between the bus lane and the first general MV traffic lane from the right (also very dangerous because the MV lanes are only 10′ wide, huge sideswiping danger); or (3) up the middle of, and taking the entirety of, the first general MV traffic lane from the right–something difficult to do and sure to enrage some drivers, but the only safe option. It may be that avoiding Second Avenue altogether during this “blitz” is the best option for cyclists. All of this could have been prevented if the city had not abruptly and without any planning simply cut out the bike and pedestrian elements of the plan north of 34th Street.

  • BicyclesOnly

    Sorry for the serial comments, but it did occur to me that cyclists can and should do more to protect themselves and each other on Second Avenue in Midtown in the face of the oncoming bus lane ticket blitz. lane. This is especially true given the recent, tragic death of a cyclist in a hit-and-run while changing lanes from bus lane to the right-hand general traffic lane on Second Ave at 59th.

    Cyclists using Second Ave from 62nd through 34th should try to form small groups capable of holding the entirety of the right-most general traffic lane–there is “safety in numbers.” Faster or more experienced riders can slow down if they become aware of a less experienced cyclist riding on the right through this area, and try to ride abreast and to the left of those cyclists. This is completely legal as long as the cyclists riding together in this manner do not use the bus lane or more than the entire right-hand general traffic lane on Second, because it is the furthest right-hand position on that roadway that is “practicable,” safe and lawful.

  • Based on my experience on 34th St, the proper procedure for riding a bicycle on streets with curbside bus lanes is as follows: Ride in the right-hand-most non-bus-lane (as the infrastructure is designed, considering bicycles are indeed not buses), and then when an automobile needs to pass the cyclist, it should intimidatingly get no more than five feet behind the cyclist, make a loud, prolonged honking noise, and then erratically swerve into the bus lane, pass the cyclist, and then erratically re-enter the general-purpose travel lane, cutting off the cyclist with around three feet to spare. Then, having successfully reached the red light and/or backed up traffic twenty feet away, the cyclist will of course re-pass the automobile (without using any street space dedicated to buses). Rinse and repeat.

  • Ferdinand Cesarano

    As much as I’d love to see that wonderful new First Avenue bike lane extend up past 34th St., I have found that Madison Avenue is a really good route northbound. Riding on the left side, I find very little traffic at the intersections.

    I like to turn off First on 33rd St. and take that street over to Madison. Despite its proximity to gigantic 34th St., 33rd is actually a small, calm street. Very few cars use it, because cars cannot cross Park Ave. It is an excellent route westbound.

    Coming south, I take York. I turn off Second Ave. at 96th St., and take that street over.

  • Madison Ave northbound has lots of potential as a bicycling route. The big drawback at present is the poor state of the pavement.

  • BicyclesOnly

    Yes, Madison is not bad if you don’t mind the condition of the roadbed. When returning home to the UES from Brooklyn, I’ll often switch over to Madison from Park Ave S. at 23rd St. And sometimes the cars are shy about using the bus lanes even when they’re not in effect, so there’s plenty of real estate on the right hand side of the roadway. And it’s also a nice direct route to the Bronx.

    But there is a lot of double parking by large trucks during the day. A bike path seems unlikely due to all the commercial activity, but it would certainly be welcome (by me).

  • what does it mean when the bus lanes are “only in effect x to x southbound and x to x northbound”?! that means if it’s not the peak direction SBS = regular bus service?

    and cops never really can tell the difference btwn a “quick” drop offs and “standing”

  • Oh, good catch, herenthere! They can’t run the thing all day? Yeesh.

  • Unless and until there are enough cyclists using the bus lanes that they are actually affecting the buses, cyclists should be allowed to travel in the bus lane. In riding up 1st Ave. every day, I have not yet ever seen any bike affect the travel of a bus in one of the new red lanes. There simply aren’t enough cyclists to affect the buses.

    On the other side of the Ave., the green bike lanes, “protected” by parked cars, are scary as hell because of lots of conflict resulting from the very frequent all-at-once combination of cars parking in them + bikes maneuvering around them (and one another) + moving cars making proper and improper left turns directly into the path of groups of cyclists. Pretty much no safer than the old white stripes. GIVE US REFUGE ISLANDS to better govern left turning cars, and make the green lane much wider (so cyclists can safely overtake one another).

  • ddartley, I think refuge islands are going in on First. I also have found the merging zones work pretty well on First. Here’s some video footage taken at 4:00 pm (admittedly not high rush hour) on a weekday. On a single green light, I was able to get 13 blocks (.6 miles) in about 2.5 minutes, traveling at about 15 MPH.

    I think the trick with the mixing zones is to automatically move out and prepare to pass turning on the right if there is any traffic that looks like it might try to turn left in front of you. The cyclists should aim to ride on the small buffered wedges that separate the left turn lane from the adjacent traffic lane. Virtually none of the motorists understand that they are supposed to wait at the yield teeth until they have confirmed that there is no cyclist coming and all pedestrians have cleared the crosswalk (so that they can enter, pass through and exit the mixing zone within a few seconds using a single maneuver). And, in fairness, in crowded pedestrian conditions, a motorist might find themselves waiting an additional light cycle or two in order to make the turn, if they did it “strictly by the book.”

    The ability of the First Ave. path can accomodate 15 MPH bike traffic with only limited interaction with motorists is very exciting. This is exactly the cycling experience I had hoped the East Side Bikeway would impart, because it is unsafe to ride faster than 7 MPH or so in a typical painted lane positioned in the dooring zone. Also, 15 MPH is faster than most subway trains travel (even excluding time spent waiting for a train). A cyclist accustomed to cruising at 15 MPH and experienced in navigating conflicts in the mixing zones is in my opinion ready to take the left hand lane on First Avenue north of 34th Street and ride with traffic (at least up to 55th Street). Cruising at ~15 MPH, I would not expect to be agressively tailgated or honked at more often than once a week or so. And that kind of aggressive behavior all but disappears at ~20 MPH.

    So while I’m very dissastified with the City’s decision to terminate the Bikeway at 34th Street, even that truncated facility will serve as an “incubator” to create many more confident urban cyclists who will tend to use bikes for 75% or more of their transportation needs, year-round. Perhaps with the support of those cyclists, we can get past the unfair exclusion of the Upper East Side and East Harlem from DoT’s protected bike path program.

  • I don’t know, BicyclesOnly, I don’t think cyclists should have to know any “tricks” to be safe in these sophisticated new lanes.

    If I’m understanding you correctly, riding on those buffers = riding in a door zone, and an extra bumpy one at that, and riding in contravention to the design.

    And not “virtually,” but absolutely no drivers understand they’re supposed to yield at those yield teeth. Worse, I don’t think any of the cyclists understand it either. Who’s even ever heard of “yield teeth,” anyway?

    Sorry, I just keep trying the lane every day (the very stretch in the video you posted), and every day I find it scary as hell–worse than when there was no lane.

  • BicyclesOnly, you are one accomplished rider. I especially like how you swerve between the Access-A-Ride and the black car at 16th St without even blinking, like you rehearsed it.

    ddartley, after watching the video, it’s clear that the buffers he’s talking about riding in are on the traffic side of the left turn lane, not in any kind of door zone.

    I agree with you 100% about the unexpected excitement inherent in being able to clock 15 mph in the bike lane. I suspect that many riders will just be happy poking along at 7-9 mph in the bike lane, not going as fast as you, and thus will not feel safe north of 34th St.

    Thanks for posting the video!

  • BicyclesOnly

    Jonathan, thanks for your comment. In retrospect, my comment smacks of teleology, as if every cyclist has to aspire to riding at 15 or 20 MPH. That’s not what I believe, so I want to clarify.

    I’d like to see a NYC bike network robust enough that cyclists who like to cruise at 7-9 MPH feel pefectly comfortable riding to most destnations. IMO, that would require separated paths on the waterfront perimeter and on a network of major arterials in each borough, along with a doubling or tripling of paint-only (class II) lanes. For example, in Manhattan, you’d need a completed waterfront Greenway; completion of the East Side Bikeway up First and Second Avenues to the Harlem River; separated paths on 9th and 8th/10th Aves. (or appropriate continuations thereof) from Houston to Inwood; at least one major north/south cycle track pairing south of Grand; and crosstown separated paths every 10 blocks or so, at least south of 59th Street, with a few north of that as well. You’d also need to expand the paint-only (non-separated) lanes to the point where a cyclist can get to within 5 blocks or so of any destination in the boro using a marked cycling facility of some kind.

    We’re a long way off from the cycling nirvana I just sketched. The way we get there–while preventing backsliding as future administrations try to take away the cycling facilities we’ve already got–is by building a well-organized movement of cyclists who depend on bikes for their daily transportation for most of the year. The support of those who cycle less regularly than that is of course needed and welcome, but by and large you only get the kind of consistent financial and volunteer support you need to become a political force from people who consistently use a bike as their primary, if not exclusive, transport mode. We need to grow that population from the current 1%-2% to an organized, vocal and politically active 5% (at least) to have any hope of continuing the current rate of expansion of cycling facilities in the period beyond 2012. (At some point, we’ll also have to create a partisan electoral organization to coordinate the political activities of this population).
    But there’s a. chicken-and-egg problem: in the absence of the “nirvana” network, most people can’t rely primarily on a bike for transportation unless they are comfortable riding in MV traffic, which can’t really be done safely or without constant motorist harassment at speeds of less than 15 MPH.

    So I welcome bike paths that allow cyclists to gradually accustom themselves to mixing with MV traffic at speeds of 15 MPH, because doing so holds the promise of building the number of “everyday, everywhere” cyclists who will have a strong personal stake in bringing the “nirvana network” into being.
    But that doesn’t mean I have contempt or disregard for cyclists who like to ride slowly. I ride often with my kids and less frequently, my in-laws, and we’re almost always at or under 10 MPH. Separated paths and paint-only lanes are fine for this mode of cycling and IMO that is the highest, best use for these cycling facilities. Another important <10 MPH use for these facilities is cycle tourism: tourists need to be going slow enough that they can identify shops to stop at and spend money! I also like to use paths and lanes, even when riding solo, if I'm hauling heavy or unwieldy cargo, or just not in a hurry and want to enjoy a leisurely ride.

    I've laid out a case for incubating 15+ MPH riders as an additional use for protected bike paths, but cyclists with this agenda should always defer to their slower fellow cyclists and only gently and courteously ask them to move aside in order to pass, and then only after exercising some patience.

  • Compared to the Allen’s exclusive signals you definitely have to be more “defensive” on the 1st and 2nd av lanes. That is not generally my preference, but I have to admit that on Allen I’ll often use the same “trick” to ride through intersections during the left turn cycle. At that time the autos in the main traffic lane are still permitted to go straight; why should cyclists have to give up their crossing time for left turning motorists?

    The upside is, I would feel entirely comfortable telling new cyclists to try Allen and just follow the signals; they’re unlikely to have a scary experience doing so. Whereas, on 1st and 2nd as they are, you have to give them the kind of defensive merging instructions that will keep most people off bicycles entirely. I can’t say which is the better setup, but if the “yield teeth” are the fastest way we can push mostly-segregated lanes further up 1st and 2nd, then full steam ahead please.

  • barrioborderline

    Close 2nd Ave to all traffic except buses, bikes and subway construction. The Alt Transit Superhighway!

  • There’s a well-produced video out on YouTube today demonstrating the limitations of the First and Second Avenue bike paths, south of 34th Street. Because the video raises a number of important issues that can’t be addressed within the space limitations applicable to the YouTube comments field and Twitter, I’m responding here. I have mostly praise but some concerns and regarding this short, well-produced video.

    1. The video does a great job of showing the kinds of obstacles cyclists face in these “protected” paths. Cyclists need to raise awareness of these problems among the public and at NYPD (which is responsible for keeping the bike paths clear). More generally, I am a big fan of documentary videos that demonstrate actual cycling conditions and this is a great addition.

    2. The beginning part of the video makes clear that there are faster and slower cyclists, and that the safety and speed issues in the new First Avenue path are issues for the faster cyclists. Unfortunately, that message sort of falls away toward the end, with unequivocal statements like “the reality was that the bike lane was slower and more dangerous than First Avenue ever was before.” (vid at 3:17) That’s not true for cyclists moving at speeds of ~15 MPH or less, as shown here.

    Also, it would help if the author was more explicit about the kind of speeds that are safe and unsafe in the First Avenue bike path. I’m concerned that riders who would be happy using the path at 15 MPH would stay away from it because they got the impression from this video that it is “unsafe at any speed.”

    3. I appreciate the need to create edited footage that shows all of the obstacles within a brief period of time. I used exactly the same technique to dramatize runner invasion of the Central Park Loop bike lane. But it is important to remember that a typical ride on these paths does not involve an obstacle every block, as the edited footage suggests. Unlike my edited Central Park clip, the high quality of the editing makes it seem like a rider would face obstacles on every block on a typical trip of first, which is not the case.

    And one of the “obstacles” shown are a group of pedestrians (3:40) crossing with the light that the photographer/cyclist rides through. I don’t think the photographer was being unsafe or even disrespectful in doing so, but the “slow-mo” effect at this point seems to suggest that the path is somehow to blame for the pedestrians being in the cyclists’ path at this point. That is clearly not the case. Rather, every cyclist who rides through reds should expect that they will have to slow down because of pedestrians crossing with the right of way.

    Also, the First Avenue bike path is not completed; DoT is still installing concrete pedestrian refuges north of ~14th Street. These refuges draw the pedestrians out of the bike lane and reduce the problems of loitering. Unfortunately, DoT is refusing to put refuges in on Second Ave. south of 23rd Street.

    4. I wish the author had looked more closely into the relevant traffic rules before giving what seems to be advice to other cyclists. Toward the end of the video (4:13), the narrator says: “The way I see it I’ve got two options: take Third Avenue, or ride in the bus lane.” There’s also a male cyclist at 4:09 who states, grinning, “I ride in the bus lane. Two thumbs up!” In my opinion, this sends the wrong message.

    While there is a traffic rule that requires cyclists to use bike lanes and paths, it makes an exception in cases where it is reasonably necessary for the cyclist to exit the lane or path for safety. The key section is 34 Rules of the City of New York Section 4-12(p)(3), available in full at page 66 (internal page 56) of this pdf.

    It states:

    “(p) Bicycles
    (1) Bicycle riders to use bicycle lanes. Whenever a usable path or lane for
    bicycles has been provided, bicycle riders shall use such path or lane only except
    under any of the following situations:
    (i) When preparing for a turn at an intersection or into a private road or
    (ii) When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (including but not
    limited to, fixed or moving objects, motor vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians,
    pushcarts, animals, surface hazards) that make it unsafe to continue
    within such bicycle path or lane.”

    Under Section 4-12(p)(3), a cyclist can ride in the traffic lane on First Avenue despite the presence of the bike path, if it is reasonably necessary to do so for safety, due to obstacles or the potential for obstacles one path. At 20 MPH, these bike paths are unsafe, for just that reason. Experienced cyclists cruising at ~20 MPH should use the left-most traffic lane, not the bike path, on First and Second Avenues. No one can guarantee that a cyclist who does so won’t get a honk from an irate motorist, or a ticket from a police officer who doesn’t know the rules, but that’s a risk you face every minute as an NYC cyclist in any event.

    5. Cyclists should not use the new bus lanes on First and Second. They are dedicated right of ways specifically designed to speed bus traffic. The City and MTA made a decision that they were going to give that real estate to mass transit riders, not cyclists, and cyclists just add to their popular image as being selfish and immature by putting their own speed and convenience ahead that of a bus full of 60 passengers. You may think you can ride in the bus lane without interfering with bus traffic, but it’s harder than you think. And the buses will be going a lot faster when the system is operational on October 10–without a doubt, the MTA and the DoT will be instructing the buses to go as quickly as possible to prove the value of the new “select bus service” model.

    Moreover, the federal government (which paid for the bike, bus and pedestrian improvements on First and Second Aves) included a large grant to NYPD for increased enforcement along the corridor. Cyclists will be ticketed if they use the “bus only” lanes, and those receiving summonses will not be able to argue that they were justified in doing so (in contrast to the situation where they find it “reasonably necessary for safety” to use the traffic lane, as explained above).

    6. The maximum safe speeds of the bike paths can be increased, by education of pedestrians, other cyclists, truckers and shopkeepers, and by getting NYPD to use some of their dedicated enforcement dollars to keep the bike lane clear as well as the bus lane (as they are supposed to do, according to DoT officials). The East Side Volunteer Committee of Transportation Alternatives is working on both fronts, to make the bike paths safer, more pleasant and faster (though they will never be able to accommodate the speeds of a moving traffic lane).

    Folks who want to support this work should join the T.A. East Side Committee at the 9th Precinct Community Council meeting tomorrow evening at 7 pm, 321 East 5th St., where we will be raising these issues to the NYPD officers responsible for the First and Second Avenue paths between Houston and 14th Street.

  • Bicycles Only:

    Thanks for your detailed thoughts on the matter, as well as for your ongoing commitment to the cause of sensible transportation. Personally, I have spent little time in the 1st Ave. bike lane. I do, though, commute several days a week down the 2nd Ave. bike lane, which carries similar traffic through the same neighborhood, and is of analogous, if not identical, design. While I suspect that my experience of the western path speaks strongly to its eastern neighbor, the subject of the short film, you may think differently.

    I’ve been commuting in NYC for 10 years now, to various destinations in Manhattan, first from Inwood, then from north Brooklyn, and presently from southwest Brooklyn (Red Hook). I’ve been a TA member since 2001, and have seen the recent bike boom from its early-2000s burgeoning, of which I was a part, to its present efflorescence. During that time, I think I’ve got to the point where I’m a halfway tolerable NYC cyclist.

    I don’t use a speedometer on my commuter, but, having a fair sense of my speed, I can confidently say that I don’t ride over 15mph on my commute unless I’m sprinting for a light. As the “20mph electric bicycles” now favored by delivery cyclists regularly overtake me, I know I can’t be going that fast. Nonetheless, the new configuration of the 2nd Ave. lane has considerably hindered my progress. Each day, I find myself stuck behind slower cyclists. This is fine — they have as much a right to be there as I do. The problem there is that, in a single lane, with the area to one side walled off by a curb, and the area to the other side walled off by a door zone, I have to pick my opportunities to overtake with great care. This was not the case in the previous bike lane, whose soft borders allowed me to flow in and out of the bike lane, accelerating to traffic speed when necessary to get clear of slower riders. What’s more, I know that my passing irritates slower riders — they experience it as some dude buzzing by their shoulder. I would gladly give them a wider berth, but the arrangement of the lane is such that I cannot.

    Now, that is regarding legitimate users of the lane, who happen to be riding at around 10mph. What happens in a walled-off lane when a bike salmon approaches, or a clueless pedestrian steps into the lane, or someone opens a car door and backs into the lane while removing a package or a baby or what not from the car — all of which I see regularly — is predictably worse. Hey, I even have sympathy for these folks. Some of them have been living in the East Village for years. They’re rightly used to doing what they want to in their own neighborhood. For me to expect that they defer to my newly-constructed, segregated right-of-way is the bratty sister to the arrogance that brought us the BQE.

    I don’t think that the documentary advocates riding in the dedicated bus lane. The film-maker is clear enough that this is her personal choice, and it is phrased in terms of picking her poison: the path that worked so well is gone; now she must choose between the lesser of two evils. One rider gives riding in the bus lane “two thumbs up.” Another (the gentleman on the 3-speed, Jansport backpack, suit jacket, no helmet) expresses the opinion that “it’s ok, except for the people who are riding like 5000mph.” This is not given as the opinion of the filmmaker, or as “wrong” opinion, either. Indeed, she hews pretty well to the documentary principle of simply showing the evidence — a far cry from the frank propaganda that (whatever the opinion expressed) we often see about bicycle infrastructure. When she reaches a conclusion, it is clearly one that she decides for herself. Me? I happen to agree with it.

    I don’t ride in the bus lane, much. My position is that, since, as a group, cyclists have done our best to advocate for bike lanes, we had better use them. Yet, the 10 blocks that I ride down 2nd Ave., from 14th to 4th, where I cut over to the right to catch the right-hand lane on Chrystie St., causes me more stress than the West Side Greenway or the Brooklyn Bridge, both of which I go out of my way to avoid.

    I hear your reading of the “cyclists should use the bike lane” rule, but I don’t buy it. Where there is a bike lane, drivers have a reasonable expectation that I should use it. When I have to veer out of it, for my own safety, I experience more annoyance or anger than I do where the borders are more porous, or where bicycles are simply an expected part of roadway traffic flow. The attitude that, if we gave you this space, you’d better stick to it, may be uncouth, but I don’t see it as unjustified.

    Perhaps police will start enforcing the rules on the new protected bike lanes. Given the enmity that exists between cyclists and the NYPD; given the look I get from cops when I try to call their attention to a dangerous condition — the one that says, you’re nothing but a big pile of paperwork — I’m not holding my breath. Until that happens, I tend to think that they will remain lawless areas, where anything goes — that is, anything but riding in a swift, predictable, and orderly fashion, in the direction of traffic — the very thing that used to be possible on 1st and, to a slightly lesser extent, 2nd Aves. What made this possible was a less regimented arrangement, one that worked within the “don’t bother us and we won’t bother you” attitude from the NYPD that allowed cyclists — admittedly at their own risk — to exploit the interstices in traffic, bending the rules when necessary to do so.

    There are places in New York City where a protected bike lane is a great help. The Sands St. bike lane, which connects Flushing Ave. to the Manhattan Bridge in Brooklyn, is one such corridor. There, there existed no reasonably safe way for cyclists to access a necessary commuting route. But 1st and 2nd Aves, with their lower traffic speeds and their broad swath of humanity — bikes, peds, cars, buses, motorcycles, delivery drivers, delivery cyclists, can pickers, tourists, and on and on — are not among them. Here, lanes have been imposed to, unenforced, bring order to chaos, without sufficient appreciation of how that seeming chaos nonetheless managed to work.

    Respectfully yours,

  • Thanks Adam. IMO, the Second Ave. lane between 14th and Houston is worse that the First Ave. lane, because the buffer is about half the width, and (at present) there are no pedestrian islands to draw pedestrians out of the bike path. As mentioned in point #2 above, I posted a video of a ~14.4 MPH ride up the First Avenue path that I thought was relatively stress-free, but everybody has a different level of tolerance for these things. I tried this morning to ride in traffic at 15 MPH and I found it stressful, mainly because of tailgating although I didn’t get any honking. (I don’t time-train myself on a bike, but i bought a speedometer because I wanted to know how fast I was going when motorists harassed me). Your points about what is and is not advocated by the video are basically correct, although due to the emphasis on certain points of view I think a number of cyclists will have an anti-bike lane takeaway. But I’m grateful to the author’s acknowledgement at the beggining that even as an experienced cyclist it took her four years to ride on the street in NYC, and bike lanes were a factor in helping her do that. I personally feel that this is the tradeoff more experienced cyclists have to make. And the video does give the impression that there’s nothing wrong with riding in the new SBS bus lanes.

    As for the chances of educating other street users and NYPD to respect the bike lane, it’s worth a try. I know what you mean about the recpetion one gets from raising issues ad hoc with cops on the street, but the people who attend the monthly meetings at the precinct on the Upper East Side have convinced the cops there that bikes are public enemy #1. In fact, that prcinct gives out huge numbers of cycling summons, more than any other precinct in the city, and this has all been reported in the mainstream press (“Bike Beldlam,” Spokes). It’s time for cyclists to take the same organized, methodical approach to giving their side of the story to NYPD.

    Have a great vacation and thanks for your thoughts!


DOT Will Fill in Most of the Second Avenue Bike Lane Gap in Midtown

DOT will present plans this spring to fill most, but not all, of the remaining gaps in the north-south protected bike lanes on the East Side of Manhattan. Significantly, DOT intends to create a physically protected bike lane on Second Avenue between 59th Street and 43rd Street. Combined with the bike lane extension coming to the Upper East Side […]