Video: What It’s Like to Walk Across the Prospect Park West Bike Lane

One of the arguments we’ve been hearing from opponents of the Prospect Park West bike lane is that the redesign makes it difficult to see bike traffic as you cross from the west side of the street to the park side. So, how hard is it to get a clear view of the two-way bike path? See for yourself.

Doug Gordon at Brooklyn Spoke posted these videos of the pedestrian crossing at Carroll Street. From the zone between the traffic lanes and the bike lane, you have a clear view of approaching cyclists for several blocks. As long as illegally parked cars don’t encroach on the pedestrian zone, it’s hard not to see approaching cyclists. And keep in mind that NYPD reported zero pedestrian injuries caused by drivers or cyclists in the six months after the bike lane was installed.

DOT’s current proposal, which the Community Board 6 transportation committee will be voting on tomorrow, would prevent cars from obstructing sightlines from the pedestrian zone by building raised concrete refuges that drivers can’t mount. (If you didn’t get a chance to weigh in on this last week, you can send your thoughts to CB 6 today.)

Here’s the view from the pedestrian area when cyclists are approaching…

It can be hard to remember what Prospect Park West was like before the bike lane, so here’s a refresher. Opponents want to go back to the days when PPW had three lanes of traffic and the street looked like this:

  • ZA

    Please repeat your pedestrian crossing videos at the same times of day of the original PPW vehicle speed video. Thanks!

  • Nice work, Doug! Also interesting to look back at March, 2009, B.C. (Before Calming), and see that no one would have wanted to exit from the right side of their cars into the third (and now removed) travel lane while cars were passing back then, either. Opponents of the redesign like to claim that such a maneuver is somehow more dangerous now, but it’s clearly not. Now, as then, one needs to wait for traffic to stop at a light, or at least for a good gap. And today, one has to worry much less about a car coming along at 45 mph (or more).

  • I make a cameo appearance at 4:46 in the last video!

  • JanetG

    “No one would have wanted to exit from the right side of their cars into the third (and now removed) travel lane while cars were passing back then, either” so they took their opportunities as they saw them, including walking right in front of cyclists and, if challenged, not understanding what they’d done wrong.
    Crossing the bike lane, as a pedestrian, does require a change in mind-set, because travel has been southbound-only for so long, but there are plenty of reminders.
    It seems clear to me that the “WALK” signals have been retimed since the construction of the bike lane, so pedestrians do have less time to get across, at least at Carroll St., where I cross most often. Fixing that doesn’t require demolition of the lane!

  • Paul

    A bike lane. Dangerous. Ha!

  • blubber

    it would help if that fool in the second video were not salmoning.

    let’s say the pedestrian had the walk signal, looked left &, seeing the southbound lane clear, started to cross. *@#$#%#@!# unless, of course, the salmoner had the decency to slow down and yield to the pedestrian.

    by the way, are there bike signals in addition to pedestrian signals at each and every crosswalk on the ppw bike lane? its been a while since i rode it.

  • cmu

    Traversing a *BIKE LANE* is worth discussion? This is like the ‘have you stopped beating your wife?’ question…impossible to successfully refute and not worth any response. It’s beneath contempt that people could claim a bike lane is dangerous…they should be forced to be pedestrians in really tricky places, like India (where I’m from.)

  • John

    I would like it if someone studied the cognitive function of people when they encounter bikes in motion. As a cyclist for almost two decades it’s become clear to me that many people, especially those past middle age, can’t judge how fast a bike is moving or whether it poses a danger of striking them. I’ve seen pedestrians freak out when they saw me approaching at 12 mph, fifty feet away. And I have had pedestrians look me dead in the eye and then step directly in my path when I was 15 feet away at a near racing pace.

    Whatever is behind the phenomenon I’m describing is also part of the reason some minority of people are freaked out by the Prospect Park bike lane. No amount of explaining or reasoning will make these people support bike lanes or bikes. But if you keep using the bike lanes, and riding your bike in general, eventually people will just get used to it.

  • Erik Baard

    @Blubber: Could we rename the “salmoning” phenomenon as “shadding” at some point? After all, our local upstream-swimming species is shad, not salmon, and it’s easier to say while remaining a phonetic and spelling match. 🙂

  • cmu

    >directly in my path when I was 15 feet away at a near racing pace.

    Unfortunately you’ve described part of the problem by shooting yourself in the foot. Any biker who is going ‘at a racing pace’ in the presence of pedestrians is disrespectful and dangerous and I can see why peds would be upset. Bike lanes are not velodromes.

  • Joe R.

    “Any biker who is going ‘at a racing pace’ in the presence of pedestrians is disrespectful and dangerous and I can see why peds would be upset. Bike lanes are not velodromes.”

    He didn’t mention where he was riding when that occurred. I’ll grant that protected bike lanes are at best suited for 20 mph travel, and then only late nights or early mornings when few pedestrians are around. The rest of the time, 15 mph or less is a more suitable pace. Door zone bike lanes or regular street riding is a completely different animal. Here it should be expected that anything, including bicycles, may be going at up to the pace of motor traffic.

    The main point being made though, and I’ve noticed the same in 32.5 years of riding, is how poorly many pedestrians judge the speed of an approaching bicycle. In fact, I’d say they don’t make an effort to gauge the speed at all, but operate on the blind assumption that a cyclist is going at most 10-12 mph, at least until a fast cyclist is almost on top of them. This is why it’s imperative if you cycle at high speeds to keep an eye out for any pedestrians likely to leave the sidewalk. You simply can’t rely on them to exercise good judgement as to when it’s safe or not to step into your path. It’s up to you to be prepared should they misjudge your speed by stepping out in front of you. My best defense is making sure I have an out. If traffic doesn’t permit that, then I’ve little choice but to slow to a speed where I can stop in time should the unexpected occur. So I guess I semi-agree with what you’re saying-namely don’t speed around pedestrians if you have no place to go should they step in front of you. It’s a great way to get hurt or hurt someone else, as well as pertuating the stereotype of the entitled cyclist.

  • cmu

    Mostly agree. We (bikers) are all over cars who “don’t judge” our speed/closeness/movement and rightly so, because they are the ones with the bigger & more dangerous vehicle.

    So it is also the biker’s responsibility to ride in a way to be safe to pedestrians, whether or not they are adequate judges of our speed. And btw, even 15mph is too fast for 8th Av, or for that matter, most city roads. Note in cities with “normal” numbers of bikes, how slowly they proceed…maybe 7-10mph (as I do.)

  • Joe R.

    Speed depends alot upon prevailing traffic conditions. I assume by “most roads”, you mean most roads in Manhattan during normal business hours. And you might be right. I don’t know how it is to ride a bike there now. I only rode in Manhattan briefly as a messenger back in 1981. Here in Queens though, most of the time my speed is limited by my own power, not prevailing traffic conditions. A lot of that 7-10 mph you see in “biking cities” like Copenhagen has to do with the short distances most travel, and also the heavy, slow types of bikes they use. In NYC you have a generally faster pace of life, plus bike commuters here to often cover greater distances than those in smaller cities. I’d actually have to ride my brake most of the time to be able cruise at 7 to 10 mph.

    In all honestly, I’d prefer it if we could get commuting speeds closer to 20 mph for several reasons (with those who can’t pedal that fast using electric assist to keep up with the rest). One, if bikes are moving fast most of the time, it might finally dawn on pedestrians not to use the bike lane as a sidewalk extension. With bikes often at jogging speed as is the case now, it’s practically an invitation for fast walkers to join the mix. Two, it would certainly gain more respect from the public as a real means of transportation. Right now if a noncyclist sees someone pedaling along at jogging speed, they’re likely to think how useless that is from a practical transportation standpoint compared to trains, buses, or perhaps even just walking. Three, speed seems to sell. It works well for auto manufacturers, arguably too well. If the public sees a Quest velomobile zipping along at 30 mph, rather than a heavy Dutch bike at 7 mph, they’re more likely to think “Hey-that’s cool. I want to try that”. You want to get people out of cars, what better way than that? Fourth, as an engineer, it’s unbelieveable what we could gain as a society by exploiting the real speed potential of human-powered transportation, even to the point of doing what mass-transit rail systems do now. But for that we need to think beyond this Copenhagen mentality because that just isn’t going to work well for more than a fraction of city residents. Nobody is going to bike from the edges of Eastern Queens into Manhattan every day at a 7 or 10 mph pace. It would take hours. On the other hand, give them a nice velomobile, plus infrastructure where they can use it as designed, and it becomes infinitely practical, as well as lots of fun.

    From my own personal standpoint it was a combination of speed and exercise which sold me on cycling years ago. I still really don’t use it for transportation because it’s not practical for the trips I might take, nor is bike parking widely available in retail establishments. I’d love for that to change in the future. Sorry about the off-topic banter. I just love to talk about this kind of stuff.

    But yeah, we should always ride in a way which is safe to pedestrians. If more cyclists did that, the bike crackdown probably never would have happened.

  • cmu

    Sorry, most of what you’re saying is for the under-25 and/or hip set. Nobody I know would think it’s ‘cool’ to see someone doing 20+mph on 6th Ave (or 8th), they’d be appalled.

    And I completely disagree about peds ‘seeing’ cycling as ‘real’ if they’re going fast. As both a ped and a cyclist, I hate the spandex speeders who yell at you as they go past. Cycling should be an everyday, mundane, normal thing to do…no spandex, no helmet etc…just walk out with your bike and ride it…as it is in most other countries, bikes-as-transport mostly for mundane short journeys, and simply because it’s pleasanter.

    You say “… bike from the edges of Eastern Queens into Manhattan every day…” and that’s correct, VERY FEW people ever are. That narrow overly-fit demographic is not whom we should be catering to as we build the bike infrastructure. Commuting is a different animal; the number of people who’d ever commute, even across the bridges is never going to be high…it’s too far, and too hard and the climate does not help.

  • Joe R.

    I don’t know, I’m not hip or under 25 (48 actually), but I still find the science of speed fascinating.

    You might find this comment of interest:

    What we have now in Manhattan is more or less equivalent to a system of “local roads”, with something equivalent to a highway (at least in parts) along the Hudson River. We need more “highways” to feed into the local grid.

    I’m not the only one who sees the current bike network as kind of elitist and Manhattan-centric. If anything, I think cycling would be more useful and successful as a means of getting around in the outer boroughs than it is in Manhattan. We’re underserved by mass transit, plus distances here are often too far to walk but perfect for biking. More bike parking in stores, plus places to ride which are safer, would definitely help. 7 to 10 mph I can tell you right now won’t go over too big here, even among the non-spandexed crowd. I ride at around 18 to 23 mph most of the time ( no, I don’t wear spandex or a helmet or gloves or clip-on shoes, just the same clothes I walk to the store in ), get passed from time to time. Those I pass usually are only going a few mph less, certainly not 7 to 10 mph. The only ones going 7 to 10 mph here are small children or the AARP set, both of whom ride on the sidewalks because it’s the only place they feel safe. Neither would be a large part of the potential outer borough “getting around a lot by bike contigent” anyway. I’d say that demographic would be those from about 15 up to perhaps 60.

    Anyway, agree or disagree, that’s my piece. I’d love to see more cycling-specific infrastructure here in the oter boroughs but designed to cater to ALL cyclists, not solely the 7 mph crowd or the spandexers.

  • clever-title

    Who’s supposed to yield when a ped and a cyclist cross? The paint on the sidewalk suggests that a ped should yield to cyclists, but common sense would suggest that the cyclist should yield to a pedestrian who has a ‘walk’ sign. Does the signal indicate anything to the bike lane?

    It’s probably not a big deal for sighted peds when there’s no cars parked illegally, but I’d not so sure it would be easy for a blind pedestrian with a guide dog.

  • eveostay

    There are signs at the intersections telling cyclists to yield to peds.

  • Suzanne

    “Who’s supposed to yield when a ped and a cyclist cross?”

    Cyclists always yeild to pedestrians. Although it would be nice if pedestrians didn’t act like brain-dead putzes all the time, too.

    I think two general rules to always follow are 1) the bigger/faster vehicle always yeilds to the smaller/slower and 2) don’t be a jerk. I’ll wave cars through intersections if I’ve come to a dead stop rather than make them wait for me to get chugging up to speed. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that traffic density makes people act very jerky (yet another incentive to get more of them onto bikes.)