Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson Talks Bike Lanes on Brian Lehrer

Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson, sender of this week’s memo on “Office of the Mayor” letterhead defending the city’s bike policy, should be on the air at WNYC momentarily. This is the follow-up to yesterday’s segment with Jim Walden, who’s suing the city on behalf of Prospect Park West bike lane opponents.

Update: Here are some slightly paraphrased notes of Wolfson’s responses.

“The truth is bike lanes are popular in New York City. Polls show people want them… In this city it is impossible to make change without upsetting some people.”

Mentions Q poll showing 54 percent support for bike lanes, 39 percent opposition: “If you had a political candidate who won by 15 points in an election, you’d call it a landslide.”

On the Prospect Park West opponents: “In this instance they’ve hired an outstanding attorney to engage in a legal process. If we let the threat of lawsuits deter us from heeding the will of the majority of the people, change would never happen. The DOT did nothing wrong, and I am quite confident in the outcome of the legal process.”

“The memo is an attempt to get the facts out, and I think it’s incumbent on me and everyone in the administration to make sure people know the truth. Based on what they read in the papers, they wouldn’t know that there’s been 40 community board votes in support of bike lanes. You would think reading these accounts that there are bike lanes going up on every street in the dead of night, and that’s not true.”

“The mayor is foursquare behind the commissioner.”

“It’s about providing choices to New Yorkers. We want to make sure that when they choose to go by bike, they’re going to be safe. Bike lanes make streets safer for everyone.”

Question from caller about irrational NYPD enforcement of bikes. It seems at odds with the city’s policy of encouraging cycling. Response: “Everyone who uses our streets needs to obey the traffic safety laws. I agree as a pedestrian, you are much more likely to be killed by cars than a bike, but at the same time, bike riders need to obey the law. Just like if you’re driving a car, you’ll get ticketed.”

Question from caller about Schumer and Weinshall’s role in Prospect Park West opposition. Is this all sour grapes? Response: “I had the privilege of working for Chuck when he ran against D’Amato. I don’t ascribe malevolent motives to people in this debate. I am willing to concede that people oppose bike lanes for sincere reasons. I think they’re wrong, but I don’t want to ascribe bad motives to anyone.”

  • Glenn

    I love his line “Sometimes a bike lane is just a bike lane”. So true!

    Question to Howie: Did Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldeberg screw up the bike network expansion all by himself by going soft on bike lanes last Summer, or did he have help from other folks like Ray Kelly?

  • Geck

    I am only sorry he did not point out the fallacy of the to make the lane one-way — restore the speedway and put bikes in the door-zone without a northbound option near the park — proposal.

  • Daphna

    Wolfson did a good job. When asked about behavior of contraflow riding on the protected bike lane on Grand Street, Wolfson did not address the issue of behavior and instead re-iterated the amount of support that bike lanes enjoy according to polls and according the Community Board votes.

    As Streetsblog readers have commented, contraflow riding is often the result of a lack of safe infrastructure for the riders in the direction they need/want to go. But of course a public official could not condone the cyclists’ behavior and explain that it is their only safe choice and more infrastructure needs to be built. So instead he did not address it and instead stated all the positives about bicycling and about giving people choices. That is the best approach. The focus needs to get off behavior and onto the positives about bicycling, not just from Wolfson, but from all bicycle advocates.

    Wolfson stated there had been 2,000 deaths from motorists over the last decade and less than a dozen from bicyclists. But I thought the numbers were even stronger: there had been over 3,000 deaths from motorists in the last 10 years and only 7 deaths from accidents with cyclists.

    Also, regarding the one 28mph speeding ticket in Central Park that was not retracted. Facts provided by Joe R.: “The usual “defacto” standard for issuing speeding tickets is 10% plus 4 mph to account for radar gun/speedometer error. …A 25 mph limit, which is actually defacto 31.5 = 32 mph…”, his comments come from here That rider should be able to get his ticket thrown out at traffic court based on the normal allowed 4mph for radar gun error since the rider was only 3mph over the speed limit.

  • Driver

    “Facts provided by Joe R.: “The usual “defacto” standard for issuing speeding tickets is 10% plus 4 mph to account for radar gun/speedometer error.”
    No disrespect to Joe R. but is this indeed a fact? I would like to see this from a more official source than our own Joe R. (who does usually know what he is talking about).
    I think this “standard” for speeding tickets could be more of an understanding, something like double parking during alternate side hours. It is generally not ticketed, but if you do get a ticket, there is no legal leg to stand on.
    Either way, I think it’s likely that this ticket will be thrown out if challenged.

  • Driver

    “Those summonses were written based on signage that said the limit was 15 m.p.h. — those signs had been there for a long while.”
    Definitely grounds for dismissal if the ticket says 15 mph zone.

  • Chris

    Driver, not to quibble on semantics but de facto has nothing to do with facts.

    de jure = legal facts / rules
    de facto = accepted facts / rules

  • re: the speeding ticket for going 28 MPH. That’s why I have my Garmin on at all times.

  • It was nice that the anti-bike lane ranter who called in was straight out of rage issues central casting. I hate when they seem rational!

  • Joe R.

    Regarding the 10% plus 4 mph, that’s something I’ve seen mentioned many times in online discussions about speeding tickets, for example, here:

    More discussion on criteria for giving speeding tickets by LEOs:

    You can technically give a ticket for going 1 mph over but such a ticket won’t hold up in court. There are three sources of error here. One is radar gun error. If the radar gun hasn’t been calibrated recently, it could be off even under ideal conditions. Even if it was calibrated, many things can cause error. There is cosine error from having the gun point off-angle at the object being measured. Then you can have error from precipitation which affects both range and accuracy. There is also some variation over temperature. All that said, if the radar is pointed straight on, it can be accurate to plus or minus 1 mph. Some of the subway trains in NYC now use radar-based speedometer. The readings generally match those on my GPS quite well.

    Next there is speedometer error. Even if the speedometer is calibrated, tire pressure variation can throw it off. This could be by as much as 15% in extreme cases, although less than 5% is usually typically. That’s scale error, which varies as a constant percentage of speed. Next you can possibly have offset error, which is constant over the entire range. Generally if this exists at all, it might only be 1 or 2 mph. So you end up with a total speedometer error of x% plus y mph. Generally bike computers are MUCH more accurate than car speedometers. Mine is calibrated by rollout, and I’m good to under 0.1% in terms of both speed and distance. Since I run airless tires, no need to worry about errors from tire pressure. That said, regardless of how accurate bike computers are, they’re not required by law. That leaves a cyclist to guestimate their speed which I’ll cover next.

    Guestimating is at best a complex business. Before the 1990s, subway train operators had to do this because the trains didn’t have speedometers. The better ones could do so to within 1 mph believe it or not. However, they had an addition cue which cyclists don’t-the pitch of the traction motors. After a while, they might learn that B flat equals 28 mph, and so forth. The train operators learned their “calibrations” by training with very experienced operators. Some were so good at it that they bemoaned when speedometers were installed, saying that it would dumb down the trade.

    Cyclists on the other hand will have a hard time guestimating their speed even if they have the point of reference of having once ridden with a bike speedometer. If they never have, then all bets are off. I’ve been riding 32.5 years, all of them with some sort of speedometer. Even now, I find at best I can guestimate my speed to within 1 mph. 2 or 3 mph is more typical, especially at speeds over 25 mph. A less experienced person with no point of reference at best could be expected to come within 5 mph at lower speeds, and perhaps plus or minus 25% at higher ones. Since bikes aren’t required to have speedometers then, the “speedometer error”, which is really the error in guestimating, might as well be assumed to be on the order of 25%.

    Finally, the third source of error would be movement of the person measuring the speed. This can directly add or subtract from the speed being measured. Even moving slightly could result in a 1 MPH error because the radar gun usually only displays to the nearest MPH, even if many (most?) might calculate internally to tenths. For example, the true speed might be 19.4 mph which rounds down to 19 mph. A slight movement might make it 19.5 mph which rounds up to 20 mph.

    All of these are reasons why there has to be a margin of error under which speeding tickets won’t hold up in court. This is actually quite different from my other world, the railroading world, where an engineer can get sanctioned going 1 mph over the limit. Generally all sorts of trackside devices measure train speed quite accurately, and train speedometers are usually regularly calibrated to within 1 mph or less. By comparison, the asphalt world is much more error-prone.

    Hope this clears things up.

  • Driver

    Chris, my comment was really about semantics anyway, as I was questioning the use of the word “facts” by Daphna to reference Joe R’s comments about the de facto standard for speeding. While there is a good chance Joe knows what he is talking about, I don’t consider his statements to be facts just because he said them (again this is nothing against Joe). Am I correct in assuming that the de facto standard is never set in stone and can be subject to change arbitrarily?

  • Driver

    Joe, you beat me to it, and you certainly know what he you are talking about. I still think there might be some leeway in those numbers, for instance on 65 mph highways. I would not press my luck at 70-75 mph and not expect to possibly get a ticket. Just the other day, Mystic claimed he got a ticket for 62 in a 55 zone.
    While we expect to get away with going somewhat over the limit without a problem, I’m sure many of us know people who have received speeding tickets that sounded surprisingly strict.
    Thanks for the interesting post, it was a good read.

  • Joe R.

    “Am I correct in assuming that the de facto standard is never set in stone and can be subject to change arbitrarily?”

    Think of it as a working set of rules rather than set in stone, and that 10% plus 4 mph are numbers which I have heard over and over again, with plus 5 mph being the second most common criteria. Of course it can be changed arbitrarily if more accurate means of measuring speeds were developed AND in common use. My overrriding point though, which is concurred by the links I gave, is that it’s highly unlikely a speeding ticket given for 28 mph in a 25 mph zone will hold up in court. And if this person has the time/money to pursue things further, it might well possibly be argued successfully in court that since bicycles aren’t required by law to have speedometers, then they can’t be subject to any speed limits at all, except possibly the blanket “unreasonble for conditions”. The latter though is actually why numerical speed limits were developed in the first place, and judgement calls seldom used except in poor weather conditions. One officer’s unreasonable might be another’s too slow or just fine.

  • Driver

    “And if this person has the time/money to pursue things further, it might well possibly be argued successfully in court that since bicycles aren’t required by law to have speedometers, then they can’t be subject to any speed limits at all, except possibly the blanket “unreasonable for conditions”. ”
    I would be interested is seeing this happen, although I’m pretty sure that if the ticket was written as a 15 mph zone when this is a socumented 25 mph zone, the ticket will simply be dismissed on that point alone, and the speedometer argument will probably not come into play in this instance.

  • station44025


    “I am only sorry he did not point out the fallacy of the to make the lane one-way — restore the speedway and put bikes in the door-zone without a northbound option near the park — proposal.”

    This is something that Brian Lehrer has misrepresented in both of the interviews over the past two days. I assume he is just misinformed or clueless about what is going on.

  • Stan

    I wonder if a radar gun is even certified to be accurate with a vehicle as small as a bicycle?

  • Justive

    Everyone would answer yes to a question that asks whether they would like recreation. But playing in traffic is insane, creates congestion and thereby pollution and wasted fuel and time. Ask the honest right questions and you would get a different answer.


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