You Can Now Tell 311 About Bike Lane Blockers

Idling cars pulling in and out of bike lanes are a regular threat to the safety of people riding bikes on city streets. Image: @bikelaneblitz
Cars parking or idling in bike lanes regularly threaten the safety of people riding bikes on NYC streets. Photo: @bikelaneblitz

New Yorkers can now report drivers illegally blocking bike lanes via the city’s 311 website and mobile apps, according to an update from 311 yesterday.

Image: @mikecherepko
Image: @mikecherepko

The 311 website and the “NYC 311” app enable users to report quality of life, health, and safety complaints to the city. Yesterday’s update added “blocked bike lane” to the set of “illegal parking” violations that can be reported, as well as the option to report unsafe taxi and livery driver behavior (including blocking a bike lane) to the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

One of the benefits of the update, in addition to making bike lane blockers easier to report, is that there will now be a specific record of user-reported, geo-tagged bike lane violations to 311. Until now, any bike lane blocker reported to 311 would get filed under the vaguer category of “illegal parking.”

There’s no photo option, but users can provide specific location details and mark whether the complaint is a recurring problem. Of course, it’s still up to police to clear bike lanes of parked vehicles — and NYPD officers are themselves some of the city’s worst bike lane violators.

New Yorkers could already file taxi complaints with photo evidence on the city’s website, but their addition to the app makes them that much easier to complete.

Speaking on WNYC last month, Mayor de Blasio shrugged off the much too common practice of parking or stopping in bike lanes, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s both illegal and dangerous. Still, the effort to track and respond to obstructed bike lane complaints shows that the de Blasio administration understands they’re a safety risk, despite the mayor’s statements to the contrary.

  • thfs

    can you also tag whether folks are just unloading groceries?

  • Reader

    “The mayor responded and determined that action was unnecessary since the driver said he was just going to be a couple minutes.”

  • mattkime

    creating data regarding illegal parking and blocked bike lanes is the first step in getting these problems resolved. even if the nypd is slow or unhelpful in fixing the immediate problem data is being indexed and made part of the larger picture.

  • Critical critic

    When there’s a photo option, wake me up.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    Also keep in mind you can complain to the Taxi and Limousine Commission about taxis and car service vehicles that block the bike lane, and they are very responsive with citing the drivers.

    Not that it has had any effect on the street other than making the drivers who block the lane at Jay and Fulton more likely to cover their plate or threaten someone taking a picture…

  • Mike

    Did one this morning. The problem is that if I stopped for each of them to use the app, my commute would be 4 hours long.

  • qrt145

    An alternative is to ride with a video camera and inspect the footage and file the complaints later. Then you can kill your spare time at home without lengthening your commute! 🙂

  • This’ll work well if the precinct it’s reported to actually responds appropriately, or responds at all….last time I tried to clear a bike lane of illegally parked cars Staten Island’s 120th Precinct did nothing. Apparently there was someone at that precinct who’s job was to brush complaints aside.

    I went through the same nonsense at another location and couldn’t get the local media involved in shaming the precinct, so I confronted the precinct commander at a Community Council meeting, one of the screen shots I showed him was a response from his precinct that the parking violations reported were not under the NYPD’s jurisdiction….his eyes widened when he saw that one.

    It doesn’t seem like other borough’s precincts are very on the ball regarding bike lane parking violations either, although our 120th might take the cake….in years of making 311 complaints about illegal parking, only one was ever actually responded to.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    This makes sense for TLC complaints, but for 311 complaints they are actually sending someone out to respond to the complaint when it is made aren’t they?

  • qrt145

    You are right. I forgot about non-TLC complaints. I must be so skeptical about those working I kind of blocked them subconsciously…

  • SSkate

    The times I have previously tried to report illegal parking via the 311 app, my impression was that they waited a few hours before doing anything, assuming anyone actually went to the location. Almost every time, they claimed the problem no longer existed. In a couple cases, it was a matter of a bike lane being completely filled with cars the length of a block at minimum

  • walks bikes drives

    When you send a pic, does there have to be any specific info in it, like a street sign visible or just the plate and the bike lane.

  • Wilfried84

    I should have done this for the driver who honked me repeatedly from behind, and then passed me so close he grazed my elbow.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    You have to identify the location and time, but the picture doesn’t have to have anything in particular. I’m not even sure if you really need a picture at all, though its obviously helpful and I don’t submit anything without one.

    They do actually check the location/time you report against the GPS info from the cab. The one time it didn’t match what I reported I dropped my complaint as I didn’t want to bother in the face of contradictory evidence, though I’m pretty sure it was a GPS malfunction on the part of the cab.

  • mattkime – other nyc cyclists who submit problems they see. you’re right, it does take work but the frequent posters there will help you minimize it.

  • Sean Kelliher

    I’m sorry for the pessimism, but I see this as just more Vision Zero window dressing. Think of the logistics. How much time will elapse before the NYPD responds to this type of low-priority request? And, how likely is it that the driver is still there? Also, long-term parkers are likely to be either livery drivers sitting in their vehicles, or members of the “protected classes” (placard holders, PBA members, safety vest owners). NYPD won’t ticket them.

    I know Polly Trottenberg claims this data will help map “hot spots” with chronic obstruction. But, I don’t have much faith in this either. I ride a bike everyday and on average there is one or more obstructions every block. Most places are hot spots.

    Just as we do with other products, bike lanes need to be designed to discourage misuse. Amsterdam didn’t become Amsterdam with a killer app. It got that way through good design and sensible policies that discouraged motor vehicle use.

    On a side note – when I returned home this evening, two NYPD employees had their personal vehicles stored in the fire lanes at each end of my block. Both had illegally tinted windows. One had illegal front and rear plate covers to obscure his or her license plates. Ironically, I think they were attending an event at the local church. All this sinning was okay, however, because they put an NYPD safety vest on their dashboards.

    My point is that self reporting and relying on a force to enforce laws they break everyday is unlikely to be successful. DOT needs to solve this on its own; with better infrastructure.

    It’s easier to report parking in the bike lane? So what? By the time you submit a request and the NYPD acts on it (if at all), how likely is the motorists still there? Also, permanently stored cars are likely belong to a prptected calls

  • Nathan Rosenquist

    There won’t be, at least with current infrastructure. Too much data. 1000 photos = 10GB. And possibly some legal concerns, too.

  • Nathan Rosenquist

    They’re supposed to, yes. At least half the time I suspect no actual action is taken, but only recorded that there was. But action is taken, sometimes.

  • Canonchet

    What ‘legal concerns’ ? Photos can and are routinely submitted online to contest parking tickets; why shouldn’t photos be used in the same way to report parking violations? At least then there would be an evidentiary record, even if (as is always likely) no NYPD action is taken against illegal bike-lane parkers.

  • LimestoneKid

    And what about when it’s members of New York’s finest who are blocking the bike lane in a non-emergency situation?

  • Rich

    I’ve been reporting unsafe taxis / car service vehicles to TLC via the 311 website (link below) and every time TLC has followed through and cited the drivers, who have all pled guilty. This works not just for parking in bike lanes but running red lights and other safety concerns.

    For cars blocking bike lanes, I recommend talking to drivers and politely requesting they move before filing complaints (which can cost the drivers hundreds of dollars). Our goal is to encourage good behavior — the fines are steep and drivers are struggling to feed their families. The drivers also usually don’t fight the tickets because doing so means that they lose time that they would otherwise be working.

    Also if you file on the website, I encourage submitting pictures to build a strong case.

  • There has been no update to the categories that 311 phone operators can use, as I found out when I called last night.

    Calling 311 to report obstructions of a bike lane is extremely discouraging. Most of the operators with whom I have spoken have no idea how to handle complaints about bike lanes, and talking to them is sometimes no better than talking to the recordings that precede them.

    Once I called 311 simply to get the phone number of an agency. The operator just wouldn’t give it to me, while offering me 311’s “services”. I reiterated that the “service” that I needed was simply to know a phone number. Not happening. So I just had to wait until I went into my office the next day in order to look up the number in the Green Book.

    Often the whole 311 experience feels like a complete charade. I wonder if the City realises just how bad an impression it tends to give. To have an ineffectual complaint system, staffed largely by clueless script-readers who can do absolutely nothing is actually worse than having no officially-sanctioned means of turning in complaints.

  • JudenChino

    Why not just create a Wish App. That’ll be just as effective.

    Just have faith people. Give it time. These wishes will result in some good outcomes, just have faith.

  • Have you ever heard of a wish sandwich? A wish sandwich is the kind of a sandwich where you have two slices of bread, and you wish you had some meat.

    Bow bow bow.

  • AlexWithAK

    Totally agree with the sentiment, but filing the reports does create a record that will be useful when someone in city government decides to actually take action on this stuff.

  • walks bikes drives

    I’m gonna give it a try now. snapped three pics of TLC vehicles in the CPW bike lane today (within 4 blocks of each other).

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    One thing I will say is that more than one a day can be confusing if they end up scheduling a hearing, because they often reference an internal reference number (not the 311 number you get when you report it) and the date.

    Due to this I almost always limit myself to one a day, though I did 4 in a day the last time I rode in Midtown (the day of the ride TransAlt did down 5th Ave).

  • walks bikes drives

    So what do you have to do if there is a hearing?

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    Possibly testify over the phone (they call you), though I’ve never actually received a call in the half dozen or so that have been scheduled so I can’t tell you what it’s like. They give you an hour window where you have to be available for a phone call.

    It’s during regular 9-5 work hours and they give you at least a week’s notice I think. My next one is next week and they told me about last week.

  • walks bikes drives

    Damn. I’m a teacher, I can’t do that unless I can schedule the time myself.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    Yeah, you can reschedule it but it’s possibly more trouble than it’s worth if you need to do it every time.

  • sammy davis jr jr

    It’s not a fix for the problem, but it’s a step in the right direction. People should report bike lane blockers even if no enforcement will happen. The squeaky wheel gets the oil, and police are known to respond matters with the most complaints over matters that are in fact more serious but don’t receive a lot of complaints (because of citizen hopelessness that complaining won’t help).

    Then later at a City Hall hearing I can see the police commissioner saying, when asked about enforcement against bike lane blockers, “Well, our precincts haven’t received many complaints about this”.