Adding Curb Space for Cars vs. Space for Bikes — DOT’s Double Standard

Whenever curb space is reallocated for bike parking in New York City, the process is intensive. Getting NYC DOT to install a bike corral usually involves lots of signature gathering, and even when a business wants one by their storefront, the local community board can shoot it down. The process can take months or even years, if it ever succeeds at all.

But if DOT decides to add curbside car parking, they often do it without a second thought — or any public notice. Case in point: DOT has added curbside parking at two locations in Park Slope, taking away a loading zone on one street and hindering visibility on another. Neither change was brought to the local community board prior to implementation.

In October 2013, when this Google Street View photo was taken, there was roughly 15 yards of open curb on the northern corner of Baltic Street at Fifth Avenue. Approaching drivers and pedestrians could get a clear view of each other. But as of September 2014, DOT had removed a “No Standing” sign there. Now motorists may park to the edge of the west crosswalk. This makes it harder for drivers on Baltic, which is one-way eastbound, to see pedestrians as they approach Fifth. Likewise, people in the crosswalks can’t see approaching vehicles as well as before.

From 2009 to 2014, two pedestrians and five cyclists were injured in crashes where Baltic meets Fifth Avenue and Park Place, according to city crash data. Three motor vehicle occupants were also hurt there during that time frame — a sign of collisions occurring at high speeds. Another person was injured at the intersection in 2009, but city data does not indicate whether the victim was walking, riding a bike, or in a car.

New York City allows motorists to park to the edge of crosswalks, but as Streetsblog has reported, the National Association of City Transportation Officials recommends 20 to 25 feet of clearance around crosswalks to improve sight lines. Pedestrian deaths and injuries caused by turning drivers are frequent, and a bill pending in the City Council would require DOT to daylight 25 intersections per year. In other municipalities, it is simply illegal to park right up against a crosswalk.

Baltic Street and Fifth Avenue in October 2013 …
Baltic Street and Fifth Avenue in October 2013…
and September 2014. Images: Google Maps
and September 2014. Images: Google Maps

On Second Street, DOT recently converted a daytime loading zone, located between Fourth and Fifth avenues, to a general-use parking zone. Doug Gordon, a.k.a. Brooklyn Spoke, tweeted photos of delivery drivers parked on the sidewalk since the loading zone was removed.

Previously, Gordon says, the zone allowed for delivery parking from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays. “With the commercial activity at the art store [near the former loading zone] and the adjacent warehouse, there are a lot of trucks and customers’ cars that come and go,” Gordon said in an email. “They used to use the loading zone. Now they use the sidewalk and the bike lane.”

Though DOT won’t install a bike corral without presenting the change to the local community board, Gordon says DOT did not seek endorsements from the Community Board 6 transportation committee, of which he is a member, before making the changes to Baltic Street or Second Street.

The double-standard makes even less sense when you consider the safety implications. Unlike parked cars, bike corrals on street corners don’t obstruct lines of sight between different street users.

As it happens, Gordon and others are currently working to get a bike corral installed on Second, for employees and customers of the aforementioned art store. He writes:

I have over 200 signatures collected and am about to submit the application. But even with that level of support it would still have to go before Community Board 6 for approval. It seems absurd that one kind of street change requires community board notification but the other does not. If anything, changes that prioritize motorists over pedestrians and cyclists should be subject to community notification while things that enhance the safety and experience of pedestrians and cyclists ought to be done as a matter of course.

We asked DOT why it made these changes to the streetscape, and if in the era of Vision Zero DOT has started adding parking near crosswalks as a matter of policy. We didn’t get an answer.

Update: A No Standing zone has been restored since the September 2014 Street View was captured, establishing sight lines again, but it’s not as large as it used to be. Here’s a current view:

Photo: Eric McClure
  • Every single crosswalk in NYC should be daylit. That DOT isn’t doing that — and is in fact often doing the opposite — is another sign that Vision Zero is a marketing campaign rather than an actual policy goal.

  • Really just insane.

  • AlexWithAK

    Blows my mind that NYC doesn’t have a standard no parking buffer at least for stop signs as virtually every other city does. It’s dangerous whether you’re walking, biking, or driving. But God forbid we reduce parking for the sake of safety.

  • And there should be a loading zone on every block. One would think companies like UPS and FedEx would rally behind such a change.

  • Kevin Love

    As far as companies like USP and FedEx are concerned, there is a loading zone on every block. It is called a “sidewalk.”

  • BBnet3000

    or driving

    This is where Vision Zero has really failed in terms of messaging. It’s being marketed as a pedestrian safety campaign instead of a street safety campaign. Thus people who identify as “drivers” see nothing in it for them.

    Of course, there have been huge benefits for the safety of car occupants that largely go unheralded. Hell, car occupants saw the largest improvement in safety on PPW if I recall correctly.

  • D’BlahZero

    While the city is giving the worst offenders bulk discounts on parking tickets, why would they push for more loading zones?

  • D’BlahZero

    People who ride bikes should flip the script on this. Get a flatbed truck, bolt some bike racks onto it. Park it in a free parking spot (or on the sidewalk for that matter). Instant, approval process exempt bike corral.

  • J

    “Changes that prioritize motorists over pedestrians and cyclists should be subject to community notification while things that enhance the safety and experience of pedestrians and cyclists ought to be done as a matter of course.”

    Yep, DOT is still primarily a car-moving and storage agency that sometimes does bike/walk projects (if they don’t slow down cars too much).

  • Joe R.

    Totally backwards thinking. To add insult to injury we’re not even charging drivers most of the time for the street space they’re using to park. I also don’t know why the pending daylighting bill in the City Council is so tepid. 25 intersections per year? That’s a joke. Any sane bill would immediately require every intersection in the city to be daylighted. If people don’t have space to store their cars, let them rent a garage. Or store them in NJ or LI.

  • You don’t even need to build out an intersection to daylight it. Just ban parking within one car length of every crosswalk. Done and done. Could be implemented starting tomorrow and finished in however long it takes to hang up a sign or two.

  • BBnet3000

    Ironically, where I grew up on LI you aren’t allowed to park within 20 feet of a crosswalk. Pretty leniently enforced but I’d say within a car length you’re definitely asking for a ticket.

  • Andrew

    Eliminating that much parking in one fell swoop simply won’t fly. In neighborhoods where parking is already hard to find, eliminating two parking spaces on each block (or only one if there’s a bus stop or other parking ban already at one end) will require a lot of people to give up their cars. Tomorrow.

    I’m not saying that I’d object to the outcome. I’m saying that it wouldn’t be approved. Systematically reducing the parking supply citywide should happen, but it can’t happen overnight and it would require major political negotiations.

  • Eric McClure

    I think these two instances need to be looked at separately.

    NYC DOT created the daylighted No Standing zone at the corner of Baltic in 2011, following a request by Park Slope Neighbors. They created a similar zone two blocks south, at the corner of Douglass, which is also offset from the street grid. In neither instance did DOT solicit Community Board approval; they evaluated the PSN request, and acted upon it.

    The original placement of the Baltic No Standing sign was as indicated, at a significant remove from the corner. At some point, it was relocated to the utility pole in the image, but that sign was removed more than once, most likely by construction workers. DOT eventually sunk a new metal pole next to the utility pole, and affixed a new No Standing sign, presumably with tamper-proof bolts.

    The existing zone fulfills the original intent of the daylighting request, and at no time did it involve CB review. So the characterization of DOT employing a double standard here isn’t really fair.

    I don’t know the facts as far as the 2nd Street loading zone is concerned. Whatever the reason for making that change, it seems to have backfired. We need more loading zones on both residential and commercial streets, not fewer.

  • Joe R.

    Well, I doubt such a measure would pass the City Council given its windshield perspective but let’s just suppose for a moment the council finally decided to do something to benefit the non-car owning majority and it did. Car owners will undoubtedly be moaning to the high heavens but seriously what recourse do they have? The street belongs to NYC, not to them. Moreover, this change at their expense wasn’t done to benefit only one type of user, as might be the case with parking removal for a bike lane. Rather, safety was the goal. It was done to correct a situation which never, ever should have existed in the first place. NYC government should certainly be allowed to correct the mistakes and oversights of previous government.

    Note also DOT could unilaterally start daylighting intersections citiwide tomorrow without the City Council’s blessing. The Mayor of course could fire the transportation commissioner for doing that, but suppose her replacement, and anyone else likely to take the job, all felt exactly the same about daylighting? Moreover, the mayor would get lots of political flack for firing his transportation commissioner for doing something which enhances safety.

    I personally think you’re overestimating the political clout of car owners. Daylighting is done pretty much universally in most of the world. It’s as much a safety measure as having brakes on cars. History will quickly bury anyone who comes out on the wrong side of the issue. If there is indeed a huge parking shortage created, so be it. Either private industry will fill it with garages, or car owners will have to give up their cars. In most cases car owners aren’t even paying for these spots. They have zero claim to them.

  • HamTech87

    Why aren’t the delivery companies leading the charge on parking reform? Are tickets immaterial to them?

  • Cold Shoaler

    Not ‘immaterial’ but clearly not a deterrent. There are businesses at which trucks get tickets for virtually every delivery. It’s part of the cost of doing business. And the biggest offenders negotiate reduced fines with the city.

  • Simon Phearson

    There has to be an explanation for why we “need” this parking right up to the crosswalks, when car ownership rates are lower here than elsewhere. If it’s because we’re so densely packed, then why aren’t developers building more parking for all of these cars? In other words, if parking’s so tight in this city that we have to put cars in the middle of T-intersections and up against crosswalks, why aren’t more people paying for private spots? What are the occupancy rates of off-street parking, anyway?

    It would be useful to have some real data on this. Until then, I’m inclined to think that anyone who believes we “need” parking on every spare inch of pavement is speaking speculatively. I think our policy has cultivated a tragedy of the commons kind of situation, and our policymakers are too wrapped up in this thinking that the only thing saving us from drowning in parked cars is the physical impossibility of such. We have to break the cycle, cut it clean.

  • Cold Shoaler

    Can we get Scott Stringer to do an audit?

  • Simon Phearson

    Wasn’t it a marketing slogan, even in the hands of the advocates? “Vision Zero,” as a “pedestrian safety” campaign, has all the marks of an “easy win” for the advocacy community, so I wouldn’t be surprised if half the reason the mayor and his DOT commissioner don’t seem to understand how to implement it has to do with goals of the people pitching it in the first place.

  • Joe Shabadoo

    car ownership rates are higher than they appear due to a large number registered out of state

  • neroden

    It’s illegal to register a car out of state and store it in NYC year-round.

  • neroden

    I’m seriously inclined to slash the tires of any truck which parks on the sidewalk, but I don’t carry a long enough knife.

    It would be best to tow all of the trucks parked on the sidewalk directly to the crusher lot, but I don’t own a tow truck either.

    This particular form of lawlessness — driving on the sidewalk — is incredibly hazardous to public safety. If the corrupt police refuse to do anything about it, vigilantes will eventually have to.

  • Kevin Love

    Try a carpenter’s awl.


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