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Bicycle Safety

Eyes on the Street: NYPD Gives Manhattan Cyclists Unsafe Instructions

12:20 PM EDT on April 18, 2012

An NYPD variable message sign on First Avenue tells cyclists to stay in the bike lane even as they approach a mixing zone, where they should be merging to the right. Image:

The NYPD appears to be taking bicycle safety into its own hands, offering faulty safety tips to cyclists on both the First Avenue and Fifth Avenue bike lanes.

In both locations, the NYPD has recently installed variable message boards informing cyclists that they must remain in the bike lane and obey all traffic laws. Legally, cyclists are required to remain in bike lanes, but not when they are preparing to make a turn or confronting unsafe conditions in the lane -- broad exceptions that recognize staying in the bike lane doesn't alway make for safe cycling. This is a distinction the NYPD has failed to grasp before.

The NYPD's instructions are a particularly bad fit on First Avenue. There, the NYPD signs were placed at mixing zones, where cyclists and left-turning motor vehicles are supposed to merge into a single lane of traffic. The Department of Transportation's bicycle safety manual specifically instructs cyclists to merge with autos and shift to the right at mixing zones, taking the full shared lane, and not to continue in a straight line hugging the curb (a diagram is available at the bottom of this post). The NYPD's signs instruct cyclists to ride in a way that has been singled out as unsafe.

It is not clear why the NYPD started deploying its message boards to tell cyclists to stay in bike lanes, nor how the department selected locations (signs have been seen at both First and 20th Street and Fifth and 14th Street). The Department of Transportation's much-publicized skeleton speed boards, for example, are deployed to streets that have a documented history of rampant speeding. Is there any equivalent reason for these boards -- which could make cyclists less safe -- to be deployed?

Neither NYPD nor DOT have responded to Streetsblog inquiries about the boards.

The Department of Transportation's Bike Smart manual specifically instructs cyclists to merge right into mixing zones, not to stay heading straight along the curb.

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