As Citi Bike Expands, So Should NYC’s Protected Bike Lanes

When Citi Bike launched last year, ridership numbers quickly surpassed levels seen in other cities. New York’s system had a number of advantages — more stations, more bikes, more places to go, and more potential customers, for starters. But there’s another reason so many people felt comfortable hopping on the blue bikes: For years before bike-share’s launch, the city had been installing miles of protected bike lanes on several key north-south avenues in the Citi Bike service area.

At Tuesday’s Citi Bike announcement, DOT chief Polly Trottenberg said the presence of protected bike lanes would factor into station siting as the system expands, but she didn’t commit to adding more protected lanes in tandem with bike-share growth. Photo: Stephen Miller

As Citi Bike expands beyond the city’s core, the protected bike lane network should grow along with it. The logic of the pairing is so clear to New Yorkers, noted former DOT policy director Jon Orcutt in a Streetsblog post this summer, that when the city sought to add protected lanes for Midtown avenues after bike-share was already in the works, the proposals “sailed through their respective community boards.” Will the de Blasio administration also make the connection between bike-share and building out safe bicycling infrastructure?

At Tuesday’s Citi Bike press conference, I asked Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg if DOT would grow the protected bike lane network as bike-share expands to more neighborhoods. “One of the big steps with Citi Bike in terms of safety and ease of use has been connecting wherever possible with protected bike lanes,” she said. “As we site stations, that is going to be one of the criteria.”

It wasn’t exactly a commitment to expand the protected bike lane network in tandem with Citi Bike.

Earlier this week, Mayor de Blasio didn’t bring up protected lanes when I asked what his administration is doing to improve bike safety in light of the fact that bicyclist deaths have doubled in 2014 compared to the same time last year. De Blasio cited enforcement against dangerous driving before adding that NYPD has issued more tickets to “bicyclists who have acted inappropriately” and that the city would employ “equal opportunity” enforcement against bike riders.

The administration has gone on the record saying the protected bike lane network will expand at about the same rate as it has since 2007. At a press conference celebrating New York’s “best biking city” ranking last month, Trottenberg said DOT has committed to adding five miles of protected bike lanes every year.

So far, however, the de Blasio administration has yet to put its stamp on the bike network.

Protected bike lane extensions or upgrades on Kent Avenue, Lafayette Street, and Hudson Street were installed under de Blasio’s watch, but those projects were initiated by the previous administration. So were protected bike lanes planned for Fort George Hill in Upper Manhattan, the Pulaski Bridge, and Paerdegat Avenue North in Canarsie, which have yet to be built.

DOT has also continued to install painted lanes and sharrows in neighborhoods including Crown Heights, East New York, Brownsville, and East Harlem. And it is studying complete street redesigns for Amsterdam AvenueFifth Avenue, and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan after requests from community boards, but has yet to come forward with proposals.

The city will have to advance proposals for new protected lanes soon in order to build the infrastructure in time for the first round of Citi Bike expansion, which is expected next year. If the city isn’t ready, the second phase of bike-share might not be as successful as the first. After all, as Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White said after Tuesday’s press conference: “Protected bike lanes are to bike-share what tracks are to trains.”

  • BBnet3000

    Yes, but please no more single-file bike lanes mixed with left turning cars like those found on 1st and 2nd Avenues. These are simply not appropriate in the Vision Zero era.

    We should also finish what we started in Manhattan, not just expand outward. All the protected lanes on the Avenues, even the best ones on the West Side, have gaps in them that really weaken their usability by the majority of potential cyclists, who are not comfortable taking the lane with cars for blocks at a time.

  • datbeezy

    They’ll have to accommodate turns at some point. The merging lane at least gives me as a cyclist a chance – the alternative is essentially vehicles blindly turning from a standstill into the bike lane.

  • Albert

    There are turning lanes without mixing zones on 8th & 9th avenues, where the turning lane is simply separated from the bike lane all the way into the intersection, with bollards, with a pedestrian refuge island or at least a painted stripe. There’s no physical reason why the mixing zones on 1st & 2nd couldn’t be removed, leaving the turning lanes intact.

  • qrt145

    Another alternative is separate lights for cyclists going straight and cars turning left. There are many examples on 9th Ave and on Broadway, and they work pretty well in my experience.

  • Bob

    It has been less than 1 year, but this administration (and, frankly, Bloomberg, post-34th St failure) does not seem into making big leaps forward on these issues. I hope the Woodhaven BRT plan, and 5th-6th-7th aves complete street plans, prove me wrong. But I am not holdling my breathe.

    Vision Zero is mostly about designing streets around the idea that drivers will screw up. The administration, so far, does not seem to understand that.

  • J

    New favorite quote: “Protected bike lanes are to bike-share what tracks are to trains.”

  • r

    I think it’s fear, plain and simple. They are afraid of a small group of people making a big stink and no one has the nerve to tell the NIMBYs to go to hell. If it doesn’t get better in 2015, it sure won’t get better in 2016, when de Blasio starts warming up for a re-election campaign. 2017? Forget it. Last thing he wants is to piss off the motoring minority or the cranks at the Post.

    Meanwhile, cyclist fatalities have doubled. Bikes are almost the literal sacrificial lambs of Vision Zero.

  • BBnet3000

    In addition to what the others said, they also don’t have to allow turning left on every single block. Sometimes you would have to make 3 right to make a left. This exists on some cross streets already (to avoid auto congestion, obviously not to benefit people riding bicycles).

  • BBnet3000

    The add-on to that sentence is “…which also shouldn’t mix with turning cars”.

  • Charles

    What does Related/Equinox think about the prospect of Citibike expansion without the necessary infrastructure? Don’t bike lanes help sell condos and memberships?

  • Alex

    Yup, de Blasio is loath to offend anyone outright. So far, he’s been a real limp noodle of a mayor. Most of his answers to Vision Zero questions are squishy, noncommittal platitudes with a few tidbits thrown in to appease the drivers who are terrified of the “war on cars”.

  • While I love our bike lanes (my rants about stopping at red lights are motivated by my fear of losing these lanes), I cannot endorse that analogy.

    Trains can go only on tracks; I sure wouldn’t want to imply that bikes can go only on protected bike lanes. The bicyclists who oppose bike lanes do so on precisely these grounds, arguing that bike lanes can create the mistaken impression that bicyclists should not use (or even that we are not allowed to use) streets without bike lanes.

    There are plenty of streets without bike lanes on which riding is very good. These include some large avenues (Madison Ave., Union Tpke., Kings Hwy., Coney Island Ave.) and the majority of small side streets.

    Also, while protected bike lanes are better than those which are merely painted, the painted ones have done us a world of good. The good comes not only from each specific lane, but also from the cumulative effect that the lanes’ proliferation has had on the psyches of drivers. Drivers are still a menace, and will always be so unless meaningful standards of licensure are enacted. But it’s undeniable that bike lanes, en masse, have impressed on drivers’ consciousness the fact that we exist.

    So, for those two foregoing reasons, I cringe when I read comments which position protected bike lanes as some kind of sine qua non of bicycling.

    That said, I certainly think that bike lanes improve our lives, and protected lanes moreso. I’d love to see more of them.

  • Daphna

    The original protected bike lane design, installed on the lower sections of 8th and 9th Avenue and on some of Broadway, have a wider bike lane, a separate turning phase for cyclists going straight versus motorists turning left, have more pedestrian islands, have more flexible delineators, and have a shoulder – meaning that last foot of space right by the curb is not counted as part of the bike lane.
    The DOT did not continue this original design but scaled it back to the typical design that is installed on all but those first lanes. The new design requires less road space. Perhaps the prevailing opinion after those first protected lanes were installed was that bikes could do with a little less.
    With the current design, there is no shoulder and the totally unusable 1′ space next to the curb is counted as part of the bike lane; there are no flexible delineators so there is much more illegal parking by drivers in striped safety zones; and there are no islands anymore next to the left turn bays.
    This lesser design is frustrating but even the too-narrow protected bike lanes of the 2nd generation design are better than anything else.

  • Joe R.

    Totally agree. Most of my rants about riding in NYC have to do with insane motor traffic levels and frequent red lights, not with lack of bike lanes on every street. The truth is once you get to the outer boroughs, probably 75% or more of the streets are perfectly usable as is, with no special bike infrastructure. Many of the rest could be fixed with minor changes. Arguably, if we got rid of 75% or more of motor traffic, and removed most traffic signals, the city would be a paradise to ride in without any bike lanes.

    I certainly would love to have more bike infrastructure, particularly some totally separate from motor vehicles, including at intersections, but to say you can’t ride without bike lanes flies in the face of my and your reality. I ran 40 mile round trip errands by bike with my brother back in the early 1980s. You and I both started riding long before most of today’s bike lanes existed. The only bike lanes I recall when I started riding were the ones on 73rd Avenue, and one which ran on Jewel Avenue from Main Street to Park Drive East.

  • Joe R.

    Actually, they don’t except on major cross streets. I think we should make minor cross streets two way, and have them dead-end on Avenues with bike lanes, with only pedestrian or bike access from those Avenues. Most of the traffic on these minor cross streets are delivery vehicles. The cross streets could be accessed from Avenues without bike lanes. You turn off the Avenue, make your delivery, make a U-turn, and go back on the Avenue.

    The Avenues with bike lanes would have the bike lane on the side of the street where the minor cross streets dead-end. As a result, no cars will ever need to turn across the paths of bikes (except at major cross streets). Bikes also would never need to stop at red lights as there will be no vehicular cross traffic on minor streets. A simple flashing yellow “yield-to-peds”, as exists on the PPW bike lane, would be sufficient. The Manhattan Avenue bike lanes would now be much safer and much faster. You might only need to stop at major cross streets, although even here perhaps you could consider an underpass or overpass to avoid that.

  • Waiting

    By the standard you’ve established exactly how would DOT prove they are maintaining the momentum of the previous administration? You give credit (with some justification) to bloomberg for this year’s bike paths? Doesn’t that standard suggest we need to wait a year before judging?

  • Joe R.

    Remember the problem with that idea is you’re robbing part of the green phase for the left turn signal. As a result, bikes going straight have less green time (assuming we’re using dumb, timed left turn phase signals).

    You can avoid some of this delay by having the left turn signals on demand only via a sensor which detects vehicles merging to turn left. I don’t know if this is in fact already done as I’ve never seen the 9th Avenue or Broadway bike lanes.

    That said, as others have mentioned there’s really no good reason you have to allow left turn access on every block. In fact, it’s better if you make access to side blocks a lot less convenient as it will break up the grid, and in turn discourage driving.

  • lop

    How many trucks can make those U turns on narrow streets?

    Better is to just put in a loading zone on the corner for trucks to park in without crossing the bike lane. They can more safely do so on foot. Outside of oil trucks and temporary boilers what deliveries can’t be made from up to half a block away? For the few that can’t you can call NYPD to come remove the bollard and supervise the turn.

  • Joe R.

    That’s a good idea also which would work as well as mine.

  • Maggie

    I can’t wait to see Citibikes on the upper west side. Really looking forward to that. When(ever) they get here and to the UES, I think you will have lots of people wanting a safe and protected way to cross Central Park by bike. Nothing high speed; no problem to stop or yield for cyclists and joggers at East and West Drives; but definitely a safe way to cross the park on a bike.

  • Cold Shoaler

    Couldn’t minor cross streets stay one way (for cars) and just not allow turns across bike lanes. If someone really needs to turn left on 26th St. from 2nd Ave. they could just turn right at 27th (or farther north) and then go down Lex and turn onto 26th from there. Seems like (short of congestion charging or some other mechanism to limit the total number of motor vehicles in the area) this in conjunction with some filtered permeability (like there is at 33rd and Park) would calm and reduce non-essential motor traffic significantly. Take one side of street parking away from a street like 33rd and you’d have more than enough space for two way cross town bike travel.

  • Joe R.

    You could do that as well. The beauty of my idea though is you have no motor vehicle cross traffic at all on the bike lane, except at major cross streets. Come to think of it, my idea plus a two-way bike lane instead of one-way would work out great. No reason a bike lane can’t be two-way even if the avenue it’s on is one-way for motor vehicles.

  • J

    That’s why the quote says “Bike share”, not biking in general.

  • Even still, we shouldn’t be implying that bike-share bikes can go *only* on streets with bike lanes, which is what the analogy to train tracks says.

  • J

    I see your point, but I think your fears are misplaced, since no one is trying to force bikes off streets without bike lanes, and the bicycle coalition is strong enough to face down such actions everywhere they pop up. Most of the population is never going to ride a bike on a street without a bike lane or without a slow design speed and low volumes, which is why the bike mode share is 1% in most of the US, despite most trip distances being under 5 miles. In short, for most people, my statement is wholly true. Without high-quality facilities, they won’t bike and can’t get places on bike. The converse is also true. The only places with large numbers of regular riders (Netherlands, Denmark) have extensive networks of high-quality bike facilities that take you to virtually any destination.

    I think your perceptions are highly skewed from those of most humans. The streets where you say “riding is very good” (Madison Ave., Union Tpke., Kings Hwy., Coney Island Ave) are incredibly hostile to all but the most fearless riders. Would you let a child bike on any of those streets? How about your parents? Would they?

  • I am very much in favour of bike lanes; and I don’t dispute the notion that a more extensive bike-lane network will induce more people to take up cycling.

    But we’ll never have bike lanes on every street, not even on every major street. So, while cyclists will tend to choose routes that maximise bike-lane riding, there will inevitably be some segment of any trip that will take place on streets with no bike lane. For this reason, it’s helpful to make the distinction between the good and the bad of such streets.

    I suppose that by “child” you mean someone of 12 to 14 who can get around on his/her own, and not someone of 7 to 9 who’d need supervision.

    So I can say that I’d prefer that our hypothetical child ride on Madison Ave. rather than on Lexington Ave.; on Union Tpke. rather than on Northern Blvd.; on Kings Hwy. rather than on Atlantic Ave.: on Coney Island Ave. rather than on Pennsylvania Ave.

    Those streets listed second in each comparison are ones which I’d categorise as extremely hostile; others like them are Flatbush Ave., 138th St. in the Bronx, and Metropolitan Ave. near the Brooklyn/Queens border. These streets should be avoided by inexperienced cyclists, and should be tackled only by the most seasoned.

    But the streets that I mentioned do not belong to that class; they can be comfortably navigated even by novice cyclists, by anyone using the ordinary amount of care that any cyclist should be using at all times. Another bike-lane-less major street that is good for riding is Flatlands Ave.

    We should not hesitate to point out the difference between, on the one hand, Linden Blvd. in Brooklyn and western Queens (very bad for biking) and, on the other hand, Linden Blvd. once it restarts east of Aqueduct (very good for biking).

  • larry

    Interesting, all the discussion in this group of more bike lanes, adjusting traffic for bicyclists etc, yet 80% or more of bicycle riders in Manhattan pay no attention whatever to traffic regulations such as one way streets, red lights, pedestrians right of way, speed limits and more. They scare the heck out of elderly people, women pushing babies in carriages, and most anyone who’s a bit slow to get out of their way. And I refer not only to the restaurant delivery people with their antique two wheelers,, but also to those riding high end bicycles, trying to show just how cool they are! (oh yes, and messengers) That’s not the way to get the general public on their side, but a way to get the public to call for more enforcement AGAINST bicyclists. About the only people riding bicycles who do observe traffic regulations, are tourists riding Citi Bikes, just as they are the ones at street intersections who, while on foot, actually wait for the traffic light to turn green before crossing the street.
    Personally, I think all motor vehicles, with the exceptions of residents vehicles & delivery trucks, shoud be banned from Manhattan, then we could have 1000 more City Bike stations, less people killed, and a lot less pollution



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As policy director at the New York City Department of Transportation from 2007 to June, 2014, Jon Orcutt shepherded the nation’s largest bike-share system through the earliest stages of planning, a wide-ranging public engagement process, and, last year, the rollout of hundreds of Citi Bike stations. That makes Orcutt, formerly of Transportation Alternatives and the Tri-State Transportation […]