Eyes on the Street: An Argument for Protected Bike Lanes in One Photograph

A commercial van driver mounted the concrete barrier protecting cyclists on Flushing Avenue just west of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway on Friday. Photo: Dmitry Gudkov

Elevated from today’s headline stack: Photographer Dmitry Gudkov snapped this picture on Friday afternoon of a commercial van — the phone number goes to Glass & Windows, Inc., of Long Island City — straddling the concrete barrier that separates a two-way bike lane, and the sidewalk beyond, from the busy intersection where Flushing Avenue crosses beneath the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.

It’s not hard to understand why many New Yorkers feel unsafe biking and walking on streets where deadly speeding goes unchecked. And while we have the studies to prove that protected bike lanes have an impact not just on perceived safety, but on actual safety as well, every now and then something comes along to cut through the dry data and illustrate why these safety improvements matter.

  • Jeff

    Ironically, many would use this photograph as an argument AGAINST protected bike lanes.  I recall a photo that was published in the News or the Post that showed a car flipped upside-down on a new pedestrian refuge island, with a snarky headline to the tune of, “Drivers Literally Flipping Over New Traffic Islands.”

    Remember:  Automobiles are autonomous forces of nature.  The News or the Post does not look at this picture and say, “Thank god that barrier was there, otherwise that could be a human body underneath the wheels of that van!”  They look at that photo and say, “That poor van!  What the hell was that damn concrete barrier doing there?!?”

  • Daniel Winks

    Looks like the barrier needs to be a bit higher, the murderous motorist almost made it into the bike lane there.

  • Guest

    “And if that damn bike lane wasn’t there the van would have crashed onto the sidewalk. Yeah, it might have killed a pedestrian or six, but at least it wouldn’t have blocked automobile traffic.” – New York Post editor’s thought process.

  • Midnight Rider

    Pay attention, slow down and these things don’t happen. 

  • Anonymous

    You could also use that to make an argument for the sterilization of certain individuals 😉

  • moocow

    When this barrier went in, there was an iron fence that was about 18-24 inches high from where the van is sitting.  As I commuted past that spot, I found it peeled back like a paper bent paper clip, and then repaired probably three times.  Then it disappeared altogether, I guess DoT gave up fixing it.

    Hopefully there is a picture attached to my comment, but the image shows evidence of 2 infractions on the Plaza St un-separated bike lane. (Speeding and doing it in the Bike Lane) And yes, when I turned around to go take this picture, there was an SUV driving in the bike lane behind me.

  • Anonymous

    This is not a very good article – it reacts to a very rare occurrence without questioning the conclusion. In fact, protected bike lanes are less safe for cyclists than unprotected ones. Most collisions involving bicyclists happen at intersections. A protected bike lane offers less visibility between drivers and cyclists than an open one, and increases the chance that a vehicle will not see a cyclist about to enter an intersection.

    Moreover, it’s important for bicyclists to be able to take the road – to avoid obstacles in the bike lane (you can see one in that very picture, he is standing on the far left), to turn without having to cross lanes of traffic and without congesting the lane or crosswalk waiting for an opportunity to turn, and to demand space from aggressive drivers.

    You can see this quite clearly on 1st and 2nd Avenue north of Houston. The lanes are “protected” by a row of parked cars, meaning they are clogged with pedestrians and idiot cyclists going the wrong way, and are punctuated by oblivious drivers entering the bike lane without pause at every left-hand intersection. (Of course, having the divider be made of parked cars makes this even worse, since panel trucks can just park in the bike lane anyway, plus there’s the risk of getting doored.)

  • Anonymous

    I should just add, I know protected bike lanes were shown to reduce injury the most in that study, and I’m willing to believe it. Protected bike lanes are probably the safest in a world where drivers are usually not held very accountable for vehicle-bicycle collisions. I would rather have regular bike lanes and require drivers to respect the rights of cyclists or face stiff penalties, instead of a system that is designed to mitigate the absolute indifference many drivers seem to show toward the safety of cyclists.

  • moocow

    Swamp, this:   “…require drivers to respect the rights of cyclists or face stiff
    penalties…” just isn’t happening.  Drivers are required to do that, and everyday, in stories on this site and many others, you can find the NYPD response lacking, extremely.

  • eLK
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  • Gabriela

    murder vehicles 

  • Richard Giavedoni

    Damn bike lane barriers can really mess-us a perfectly usable driving lane.  

  • On my commute this morning, I was using a protected bike lane like this down Tillary Street towards the Brooklyn Bridge. I saw a van parked in the lane entirely blocking it by the Federal Courthouse at Cadman Plaza East. Edging my way past it to the end, I found a US marshal at the rear doors. When I inquired why the vehicle was being allowed to block the lane, he shouted he was searching it. When I queried whether it was a bike lane was the place to do it, he shouted “Get moving!” I pointed out the light was red, so I couldn’t, then asked him if his tone was appropriate for a civilized, reasonable question. He shouted louder that I should get moving. It’s great to see how law enforcement backs up the rights of us New York cyclists (as I previously mentioned here: 

  • Smeyer418

    you knowthat this iis a protect bike lane,,,,

  • Quellerdrive

    Maybe this is part of the street art project.

  • BikeTeacher1307

    A “minor point” away from the main action in this photo….  Note the sewer grate the pedestrian is walking over.   Does it really have longitudinal slots placed in the direction of travel?  in a bike lane?  They can do you in almost as well as an SUV.

  • Joe R.

    @dd80740cf51e094521681e4243d09d16:disqus It’s actually worse than that. There’s a painted bike symbol with an arrow pointing right at the sewer grating! Whomever designed this bidirectional bike lane evidently didn’t both to check for little things like sewer gratings. In fact, this photo is a poster child for NOT making protected bike lanes, at least in places where there are likely to be many obstacles a cyclist may need to avoid. A protected bike lane is basically a gutter which doesn’t allow a cyclist any maneuvering room. Besides, most bike collisions happen at intersections. Protected bike lanes do absolutely nothing to address that. If protected bike lanes have an impact on safety, then it’s most likely an incidental effect because the narrowed street slows cars down.

  • Anonymous

    Looking at the sewer grating very closely (in the larger version of the picture that you can reach by clicking on it), it seems to me that it has slots in both directions, So I don’t think your bike wheel can fall into it even if you tried.

  • I’ve ridden through there dozens of times and never had a problem with the grate, but with skinny tires you would need take extra care (as always).

  • Giraffedrd

    Just over a year ago there was a livery cab in exactly the same situation in the same spot. It had jumped the barrier with two tires as well. Way too many drivers ignore the bike lane on Flushing an pass other cars on the right in the lane all the time. One of my tenants was cut off and hit in the other direction. With no turn signal they just made a right turn onto Vanderbilt right in front of him. He slammed into the back of the car and flew off his bike. The car just kept going.

  • Giraffedrd

    In addition though I would like to ad that cyclists in my area do not obey traffic signals and constantly just blow through red lights as if the law does not apply to them. They also ride down Flushing at night with no reflective gear or lights whatsoever. I understand things need to be safer for cyclists but they also need to understand that the laws do also apply to them. I have always and always will obey all traffic lights and signs while on my bike.

  • Anonymous

    @a15f86b1743758193e79c2f2a6dd296c:disqus : almost everyone breaks some laws, whether they are on a bike, on foot, or on a car. But only motorists kill hundreds of people a year while doing so. So let’s worry about those lawbreakers first.

  • Anonymous

    @a15f86b1743758193e79c2f2a6dd296c:disqus : almost everyone breaks some laws, whether they are on a bike, on foot, or on a car. But only motorists kill hundreds of people a year while doing so. So let’s worry about those lawbreakers first.

  • Guest

    @a15f86b1743758193e79c2f2a6dd296c:disqus that’s the problem with your stereotyping of cyclists. You say that they all disobey the law but that you always and always will obey all traffic lights and signs.  So clearly not all cyclists in your area are scofflaws!

    My guess is that cyclists disobey the law in exactly the same proportion as motorists.  But as @qrt145:disqus said, they do it with far less lethal consequences.

  • Giraffedrd

    I never said EVERYONE…I simply stated what I see in my neighborhood which is Wallabout. I don’t know what all cyclists do. If the light is red…that means stop. Green means go…for everyone.

  • Rail Rider

    The tops of jersey barriers are excellent places for riding a track bike but not when stupid vans think they’re driving a monorail. It needs a sign on top to make this distinction clear. The decor on the concrete is the most disgusting part of the picture. 

  • In response to the comments below about cyclists’ rule-breaking, it’s worth pointing out (as I do at greater length here: 
    http://invisiblevisibleman.blogspot.com/2012/10/do-as-you-like-motorists-and-dont-blame.html) that motor vehicle crashes have killed more than 1,000 people in New York City since the last time a collision with a cyclist killed anyone (in March 2009). It’s annoying if bikes don’t follow the rules (and I do) but we need some perspective here. Excessive speed, drunk driving and distracted driving kill hundreds of New Yorkers every year. Cycling improves people’s health by and large. It’s also far safer for pedestrians to be around cyclists than around motor vehicles.

    In my area (Carroll Gardens) I’m sure most people would complain more about cyclist behavior than driver behavior. But, just before Christmas (as I describe here: http://invisiblevisibleman.blogspot.com/2012/12/a-car-crash-sandy-hook-and-limits-of.html) a drunk driver came into my street at such speed he flipped his car. There was another incident a couple of blocks away only about two months before. Given the paucity of traffic enforcement in New York, it would be best to start by tackling the big issues that are killing people, rather than the ones that are annoying the noisy ones.


  • Joe R.

    @qrt145:disqus You may be right about the sewer grate. Still, even the ones with slots in both directions can affect a bike with very skinny tires (like mine).

    @a15f86b1743758193e79c2f2a6dd296c:disqus And how many of those cyclists you see going through red lights are only doing so if there’s no cross traffic? If the city can’t be bothered to install sensors so lights only go red if something is actually crossing, you can’t blame cyclists and pedestrians for passing red lights when the way is clear as opposed to sitting there and staring at empty space, often for quite a while. The law and the traffic signals themselves are what’s broken here. NYC has a ridiculous number of traffic signals. If cyclists (or pedestrians) stopped at every red light they would take twice as long to get any where. Besides, exactly how many people were killed by cyclists recently? Autos on the other hand kill at least several people in NYC every week.

  • Sonam

    As long as pedestrians are allowed to imagine that they are entitled to walk, stumble,  stand around texting etc, the bike lanes are not safe at all! The odd thing is that I find myself forgetting to fear cars, because of my CONSTANT dangerous encounters with rude, stupid pedestrians with an entitlement complex in the bike lane. Another growing problem is cyclists going the WRONG WAY in the lane! I regularly encounter cyclists who refuse to yield to me when they are in my way, coming right at me head on!  As the bike lanes get more and more crowded, this is becoming more and more dangerous. This picture is a nightmare, between the guy walking in the lane, the grate, the limited visibility…I’d rather ride in the lane of traffic.


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