Driving in Manhattan Stank Yesterday, It Stinks Today, It Will Stink Tomorrow
Why is this news? Because a recent NYC DOT report suggested that driving became a little more fluid on some streets where bike lanes were recently added. Unlike when a driver kills a pedestrian or cyclist and anonymous police sources blame the victim, this is a claim that our local broadcast media feel compelled to investigate.
Ripping off rival CBS and its “Mobile2” unit, ABC’s Jim Hoffer set out to show that New York bike lanes are not, in fact, making it a breeze to drive in the middle of the nation’s largest city. Hoffer did a few time trials from 96th Street to 77th Street on Columbus Avenue, and get this: It took a little more than six minutes, on average, to drive that one-mile segment. Six minutes!
For everyone keeping score at home, that means if you’re driving toward the heart of Midtown Manhattan during the morning rush on Columbus Avenue, you can travel at an average speed approaching 10 mph, which is 20 percent faster than the average speed of a New York City bus. Maybe that’s because Columbus Avenue still has four motor vehicle moving lanes during the a.m. peak, same as it did before the protected bike lane was installed in 2010.
Hoffer thinks he’s scored a point because he couldn’t duplicate DOT’s quicker drive times. But ABC’s runs on Columbus don’t prove anything about the effect of the bike lane, since Hoffer timed himself in September, and both the “before” and “after” data for the DOT report came from July. It’s no surprise that traffic moves slower on September mornings, when vacation season is over and parents, chauffeurs, and yellow bus drivers are taking kids to school again.
Say what you will about the time trial method (it’s rather iffy since results can vary widely and are usually based on small sample sizes, not to mention the fact that it can easily be gamed by reporters), Hoffer didn’t even make an apples-to-apples comparison.
More to the point, driving time is a dirt-poor way to measure the impact of the Columbus Avenue bike lane, or just about any other urban street redesign. Safety, transit effectiveness, and economic performance are the metrics that matter for city streets.
The crappiness of driving in New York is one of the great constants of the universe. It was aggravating before a few avenues got protected bike lanes, and it’s aggravating now. The things that make New York a great city — its walkability and incredible concentration of people and activity — make it a terrible place to drive.
We should concentrate on making streets less aggravating, intimidating, and dangerous for everyone who’s not in a car. When there are transitways, pedestrian streets, and all-ages bike infrastructure criss-crossing the whole city, driving will still stink, but hardly anyone will have to endure it.