After Drivers Killed 9 People in 10 Days, NYPD Was Out Ticketing Cyclists

An officer pulling over a cyclist on Grand Street.
The 90th Precinct continues to ticket cyclists on Grand Street in the name of Vision Zero, though drivers have killed two people on the street since July. Photo: Luke Ohlson

Why do NYPD precincts keep targeting cyclists in the name of Vision Zero? After drivers killed nine people in the first 10 days of 2017, reports came in of police taking action — by handing out tickets to people on bikes.

Reader Jackie Weiser wrote in with this dispatch from Flushing Avenue in Brooklyn, where ticketing cyclists who go through red lights at T-intersections is a venerable NYPD tradition:

I was riding west on Flushing and coasted through a red light at one of the many T-shaped intersections where there is no cross traffic, somewhere between the Brooklyn Navy Yard parking area and N. Portland, immediately following two car drivers who were running the red light. A police car made a U-turn behind me to pull me and another cyclist over for going through the red light. The first thing the policeman said was “as part of Vision Zero safety initiatives…” I mentioned that there were two car drivers running the light in front of me and the police officer said, “Ever been fishing? Can’t catch ’em all.” My immediate thought is yes, but maybe you can optimize your efforts by going for the gigantic fish that are terrorizing the rest of the fish! I also told him my crime is akin to jaywalking and he said if I had dismounted my bike and walked it through it would have been fine. I said, “but that’s still jaywalking”. No response.

I have seen the police out on Flushing quite a bit in the past 6 months pulling over cyclists for coasting through the T-intersections along Flushing but doing nothing about the many drivers racing through the red lights. This has nothing to do with safety, as this is a fairly safe bicycle route. If it was about safety, they would set up shop at a dangerous intersection that has experienced a lot of bicycle/ped crashes due to running red lights, but then they would have to chase them down, and Flushing is easy pickings. All this does is discourage cyclists from taking Flushing or sadly maybe discourage them from cycling altogether.

Meanwhile, Transportation Alternatives organizer Luke Ohlson reported officers ticketing cyclists on Grand Street Wednesday, two days after a hit-and-run driver killed 85-year-old Rafael Nieves.

Grand Street was the site of one of 2016’s most horrific cyclist fatalities — the intentional hit-and-run murder of Matthew von Ohlen in July. Officers with the 90th Precinct were also observed ticketing cyclists in the days after von Ohlen’s death.

City officials point to big increases in failure-to-yield and speeding tickets issued since Mayor de Blasio took office as evidence of the NYPD’s refined approach to traffic safety in the Vision Zero-era. And those summonses are up substantially, albeit from a low baseline.

But NYPD hasn’t shaken off its old habits either. Officers routinely focus enforcement initiatives on people biking, and these efforts invariably yield the type of summonses issued to Jackie Weiser — fines for low-risk behavior that’s easy for police to ticket.

For his part, Mayor de Blasio has said he’s okay with NYPD’s bike ticket blitzes. “The bottom line here, first and foremost, cars, vehicles, are the number one challenge because their size and their speed make them the single greatest danger, but bicyclists have to get the message,” de Blasio said at a press conference in November. “They need to follow traffic laws too, and we have had targeted enforcement of bicyclists and we will continue to deepen that.”

  • AMH

    This is terrible–someone is going to get hurt by police doing these dangerous u-turns and chasing down cyclists in their SUVs.

  • DOT should change the signs and signals along Flushing to allow people on bikes to proceed through these T intersections after yielding to pedestrians. (If any pedestrians are present, which is rare.) That would mean one less barrel of fish for the NYPD.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    Meanwhile our own Mayor is too afraid to ride a bicycle. I don’t blame him, I sometimes feel that way too. The environment he’s created for cycling in this city is terrible.

  • It’s something Gabe Klein – former DC and Chicago transportation commissioner – “famously” endorsed when John Greenfield and I did a rolling interview with him back in 2011 from his South Loop condo to his Loop office.

  • Cristina Carnicelli Furlong

    NYPD 115 precinct has had an ongoing sting of 34th ave bike lane for about 8 months. Usually they are at a red light that abuts a park, with no oncoming traffic. When asked about it to the community affairs crime prevention officers, they said two things:many thefts are happening by drive-by cyclists, and also cyclists are injuring pedestrians. Meanwhile on any give day at any intersection in Jackson Heights one can see U-Turns across 4 way intersections into crosswalks, red-light running, speeds over 50 on residential and main streets, and double parking up to 4 cars per block. I avoid the bike lane now, and advise other riders to take alternate routes where cops are not out but should be.

  • Walter Crunch

    When more cops get on bikes…

  • Joe

    You asked for Vision Zero? Now you got Vision Zero! Welcome to the world that Vision Zero had created. This is proof that Vision Zero is a money grab!

  • Joe

    Vision Zero is an excuse for cops to bully people.

  • John M. Baxter

    When cyclists rely entirely on the laws of physics to imply that car drivers deserve all the tickets, it’s time for them to draw back. I am sure plenty of cyclists have produced their own demise by riding through a red light or ignoring some traffic law thus being hit by a driver operating legally. A fact bike riders tend to forget. And, how many car-car or car-to-hydrant or pole accidents have occurred when a car swerves to avoid a cyclist doing something illegal and going out of control? We all deserve to be ticketed when doing something wrong. As far as this intersection goes, if cars and bikes are rolling through it repeatedly with no cross traffic, maybe it’s time for changes to the signal, possibly even having it blinking so both cars and bikes can legally stop, survey the situation and proceed right through if it’s safe.

  • Rich

    You write that speeding tickets “are up substantially, albeit from a low baseline.”

    Has anyone looked into the detail of this increase? Are local precincts giving out more tickets or is the increase from special units like the highway patrol?

    My understanding is that very few officers in local precincts are trained to use radar and give speeding tickets. Thus, it seems that NYPD doesn’t have the ability to give tickets on neighborhood streets.

    I haven’t noticed any drop in speeds since the speed limit was reduced from 30 to 25. I’d love to see analysis showing the impact of the change in speeds limit. Anyone know if anything exists?

  • Simon Phearson

    I am sure plenty of cyclists have produced their own demise by riding through a red light or ignoring some traffic law thus being hit by a driver operating legally.

    And you know this how, exactly? Most of the cyclist deaths reported here are right- or left-hook scenarios where it’s difficult to know who exactly was “in the wrong.” We’re not typically talking about scenarios where cyclists are running red lights – and that makes sense, because cyclists are unlikely to do such a thing without a great deal of care and attention.

    Speaking from my own experience, I can 100% say that riding legally does fuck-all in terms of protecting me from the reckless behavior of drivers. The other day, I was riding legally on less-busy streets in the middle of the day in perfect weather and I was nearly struck three times by reckless drivers. The fact that I signaled my turns, stopped for traffic signals and stop signs, and otherwise rode legally in traffic, did not save me. The first was an aggressive garbage truck driver who didn’t want to wait two or three blocks for the chance to pass me safely. The second was a car driver who felt the need to speed down a residential street in order to catch a series of lights otherwise timed to slow traffic, who also passed too closely. The third was a car driver veering suddenly out of a parallel parking spot without paying attention to oncoming traffic (i.e., me).

    Given that all three of those drivers could have seriously injured or killed me, while I can in all confidence say that they would have suffered little more than a dent in their car and a slight delay while the NYPD “investigated,” I feel comfortable saying that yes, traffic enforcement should focus primarily on driver behavior.

    As far as this intersection goes, if cars and bikes are rolling through it repeatedly with no cross traffic, maybe it’s time for changes to the signal, possibly even having it blinking so both cars and bikes can legally stop, survey the situation and proceed right through if it’s safe.

    I have never seen a driver treat a flashing light properly as a stop-and-proceed or slow-and-proceed. I agree, however, that changes to the signal in order to avoid unnecessary waits makes sense.

  • LinuxGuy

    Kudos to the NYPD! Many bicyclists and pedestrians break the law daily, but somehow that is overlooked. How many crashes does this cause? Remember that these groups wanted Vision Zero. Well, be careful what you wish for, you just might get it!

  • LinuxGuy

    You should have pulled up the NBC10 story from Philly last year about all the bikes breaking the rules. Same deal with walkers. The local bike group tried to ignore this reality.

  • Simon Phearson

    I don’t know what story you’re talking about, nor do I expect the reporting you’re describing to be particularly accurate or even-handed, given that pearl-clutching over cyclist/pedestrian behavior is a favorite go-to of barely competent local journalists across the country.

    The question is not, “Do cyclists break the law frequently?” but, “Given all the sources of risk for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists on our streets, what should police departments place a priority on enforcing?” There is no rational argument for placing cyclist enforcement higher on that list that driver enforcement, nor is there any good argument for placing them on equal footing.

  • LinuxGuy

    The story had a camera setup and the footage was there, so nothing to contest. Bikes frequently broke the law. The local bike group dismissed this. It is hypocritical for bikes to do as they wish, but try to demonize cars. Bikes also contribute to crashes occurring, but it may not be obvious. If a car swerves to miss a rogue bike, that may not be recorded accurately in the records. The media in Philly is also very liberal, so the bikes are sided with 98% of the time, so that angle is also inaccurate.

    The left always wants fairness, so we should do that. Tickets to all, then we can see how bad Vision Zero is and get rid of it.

  • reasonableexplanation

    You have never seen a driver treat a flashing red as a stop sign? For what it’s worth, I don’t think I’ve even seen a driver blow a blinking red. Plain-jane stop signs I’ve seen people roll through, but I’ve literally never seen anyone not take a blinking red seriously.

    I guess it varies by neighborhood.

  • Simon Phearson

    The story had a camera setup and the footage was there, so nothing to contest.

    That’s not what I’m disputing. The question is whether a specific stakeout tells us anything about cyclist behavior or its risks, or whether it’s an accurate picture of what drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians are doing throughout a city. It’s not hard to find spots where cyclists run red lights, like it’s not hard to find stop signs that drivers routinely ignore. (My block has one.) Pointing a camera and editing just the footage we want to show together doesn’t tell us much.

    It is hypocritical for bikes to do as they wish, but try to demonize cars.

    And it’s hypocritical for drivers, who are predominantly responsible for most traffic injuries and death, to insist on a crackdown on cyclists, in the name of “safety.”

    Bikes also contribute to crashes occurring, but it may not be obvious. If a car swerves to miss a rogue bike, that may not be recorded accurately in the records.

    Maybe, maybe not. This possibly being the case doesn’t mean that we get to blame cyclists for as many crashes as we choose. Uncertainty doesn’t entitle you to any particular claim here.

    The media in Philly is also very liberal, so the bikes are sided with 98% of the time, so that angle is also inaccurate.

    You keep removing the agency from the equation – “cars” instead of “drivers,” “bikes” instead of “cyclists.” Anyway, whether or not “the media in Philly” is “liberal,” it remains the case that local TV stations frequently do the kind of “stakeouts” you’re referring to, and they routinely betray far more interest in depicting scofflaw cyclist and pedestrian behavior than they do driver behavior.

    The left always wants fairness, so we should do that. Tickets to all, then we can see how bad Vision Zero is and get rid of it.

    The laws being enforced here are not “fair.” They group riders of bicycles, which weigh only a few dozen pounds, provide no protection to their riders, and are only capable of going as fast as the cyclist can pedal them (typically no more than about 20-25 mph by a fit, non-professional cyclist), with drivers, whose vehicles are capable of causing massive death, injury, and property damage. It makes no more sense to regulate cyclists like drivers than it does to regulate pedestrians like drivers. So, against this background, it is simply idiotic to assert that “fairness” requires the enforcement of the law against cyclists as heavily as it is enforced against drivers. A cyclist running a red light (for instance) should be treated more like a jaywalker – i.e., someone whose actions are widely tolerated in most circumstances – than a driver running a red light.

    As for “Vision Zero,” there is nothing bad about wanting to minimize/eliminate deaths caused by traffic, and it’s sociopathic to assert otherwise. BdB has done a horrible job of implementing it, but that’s in large part due to his failure to support street redesigns that would protect vulnerable road users from the drivers who typically injure them, not a question of enforcement.

  • LinuxGuy

    This is way too long to read. If you say it in a few sentences, I’ll read it.

  • Summarizer

    I’ll summarize since Simon Phearson is too nice:

    Your fallacious arguments are utter bullshit.

  • Simon Phearson

    I’ve taken the time to carefully consider and thoughtfully rebut several of your (in my view, spurious) assertions. Personally, I would view that as a gesture of good faith and willingness to engage in a real discussion with a stranger whose competence is not known. In choosing to respond with “tl;dr”, what do you suppose you’re conveying, in response?

  • LinuxGuy

    And you are oblivious to facts, so please do not bother to reply anymore. I speak with facts and data, but I am not spending 25 minutes to read something. Summarize it.

  • CtotheC

    Summarizer did it pretty well. It’s their name, after all.

  • Simon Phearson

    My comment was maybe about 500 words (including the excerpts from your comment). That’s about a 1-2 minute read. But no, sure – spend your time responding to empty comments and picking fights. It’s clear what you’re really here for.

  • Simon Phearson

    I don’t see many flashing lights, period. But the flashing reds I see are usually treated more like yield signs. Drivers love it when I stop for them.

  • Frank Kotter

    FYI: I have this guy blocked as I was engaged with him two weeks ago doing exactly what you are doing. He made unsubstantiated claimes, backed them up with op-ed pieces with links to American Motorists Association. I am all for discourse, but with him it was like I was teaching a baby how to walk.

  • John M. Baxter

    Your argument about vehicle size carries some real weight. I understand. Still, one of the local news stations here in Philly went out and photographed a lot of cyclists doing crazy things. This has to be a contributor when it comes to danger. I’m glad there are people like you who don’t make things worse. But, if that garbage truck was stuck behind you, why didn’t you just pull off and let him pass? You should realize that holding a truck up for a bike for several blocks is an inherently unfair situation. That is one of the biggest problems with bikes on streets–you have two essentially different modes of transportation that really don’t belong in common lanes. Powered vehicles should never have to wait for long periods to pass bikes. There’s an example where you could have helped the situation and made things safer for yourself and did not because the present attitude is one of hostility toward powered vehicles instead of a support all modes mentality, which would be infinitely more appropriate. This not to say that those of us who drive more than ride should not be more courteous and safety-conscious, just that bikes without proper provisions is an inherently unsatisfactory situation for all. For that reason, I heartily support bike lanes.

  • Simon Phearson

    But, if that garbage truck was stuck behind you, why didn’t you just pull off and let him pass? You should realize that holding a truck up for a bike for several blocks is an inherently unfair situation.

    In what way is it “unfair” for one road user to be “stuck” behind another, slower one, when they’re both legally using the same street? Would you say the same about a handicapped person occupying a narrow sidewalk or blocking a lengthy escalator? A slower cyclist using a bike lane ahead of a faster one?

    The reality of the situation here is that the garbage truck driver came up on me quickly and passed quickly. There was no extended period in which I was “blocking” traffic – and besides, I’m a reasonably fit cyclist who was traveling at a steady clip already. The driver was “delayed” for maybe half a block before passing – and then I subsequently caught up to him at a stoplight a few blocks ahead. So, no, I don’t accept that it was “unfair” for me to use the lane, as I am both legally entitled and obligated to do, without pulling off and stopping in order to enable him to pass. He passed me recklessly, unsafely, illegally. Period.

    Besides which, the irony here is that car traffic slows me down far more often than I slow down car traffic. As any cyclist can attest, a handful of people in cars can clog an intersection and cut my cruising speed. Most of the time, when I am traveling in traffic, I am going far less quickly than I could without traffic, entirely as a consequence of the way people drive and the size of their vehicles. If we’re talking about “fairness,” what’s “fair” in my being caught by a red light I could have missed if it weren’t for the way that drivers drive?

    I agree, however, that cyclists should not be in traffic with drivers of cars and trucks. Unfortunately, the re-allocation of road space to create adequate bike lane infrastructure is typically opposed by drivers favoring free on-street parking.

  • Alexis Leonardo Solórzano

    Yep, cops should focus their ticketing on cyclists over motorists… even though the number of deaths or injuries caused by motorists make up over 90-95% of the total.

  • John M. Baxter

    It is simply absurd for a human-powered vehicle to limit the progress of a motor vehicle. Courtesy is needed, and you make a good point about the truck driver not being patient enough. But, every driver cherishes the right to try and accelerate and make the next light as long as he doesn’t drive fast enough to cause a real problem. Nobody should take that away. Holding cars back is like making the smartest kid in the class learn at the speed of the slowest. It just does not make sense and ill-serves the more able. And, as far as I am concerned, treating bikes as completely equal partners on streets designed for and used mostly by cars is not a symptom of smart and unbiased traffic regulation, it’s a result of the fact the bicyclists lobby much more effectively than motorists, and politicians unfortunately respond to noise, not common sense. That being said does not mean that I don’t respect the idea of bike riding and courtesy between modes, just that we need to find fair and adequate means of providing well for both modes so that neither suffers at the hands of the other. That means dollars spent which we are not spending. On this point we probably agree.

  • Simon Phearson

    It is simply absurd for a human-powered vehicle to limit the progress of a motor vehicle.

    It’s also absurd for a motor vehicle to limit the progress of a human-powered vehicle, isn’t it? Happens to me all the time.

    Do you see how pointless this kind of empty assertion is? It’s just question-begging.

    I’m not talking about 10 mph cyclists puttering along on arterial roads that driving commuters use to speed to work during rush hour. I’m talking about a 15-20 mph cyclist riding in a designated sharrow (i.e., a lane deemed too narrow for side-by-side travel of drivers and cyclists, where drivers must pass cyclists with caution and in circumstances akin to passing other slower traffic) on a city street with a 25 mph limit and several stoplights coordinated to control traffic speeds. The urge to pass me in those circumstances has very little, in fact, to do with actual speed or hindrance. It has solely to do with perceived speed and hindrance.

    Holding cars back is like making the smartest kid in the class learn at the speed of the slowest. It just does not make sense and ill-serves the more able.

    This is a bizarre analogy. Again, you’re just begging the question here. I’m talking very straightforwardly and objectively about what close-passing drivers actually achieve for all their recklessness. I’ve regularly observed that they achieve nothing whatsoever, unless they combine their reckless passing with excessive speed. But you insist on talking about the matter in terms of “fairness” and “rights” and “absurdities,” adopting a normativity that favors and affirms drivers’ often incorrect sense of what serves their interests while discounting the interests of non-drivers.

    None of that has any relevance here. As far as I’m concerned, there are only a few things to consider: (1) what I am legally obligated to do; (2) what drivers are legally obligated to do; and (3) the practical and observable effects of compliance and non-compliance. I am saying that drivers are legally required to extend me the courtesy of observing their legal obligation not to smash me into the pavement, just as I am legally required to ride with lights, stop for traffic signals, and otherwise bike as predictably and safely as possible. And, as it turns out, when we all do this, drivers are basically as well off as they would be otherwise. (While I, as it turns out, am worse off, because I could avoid a lot of this aggressive driver behavior if I simply rolled through red lights.) Your response to this seems to be that reality doesn’t matter. It’s what drivers feel that counts.

    And, as far as I am concerned, treating bikes as completely equal partners on streets designed for and used mostly by cars is not a symptom of smart and unbiased traffic regulation, it’s a result of the fact the bicyclists lobby much more effectively than motorists, and politicians unfortunately respond to noise, not common sense.

    I’m sorry, what? What would the situation be like, absent the “cycling lobby”?

  • John M. Baxter

    Obviously, this is a very complex situation. And, we all need to try and work together to make things better. Your assertion that drivers often want to pass when it is futile makes a lot of sense, especially on busy city streets. Educating drivers to roll with the lights and the traffic because it won’t in the end slow them down could help. Is setting lights to 20 mph really the right solution? It helps bike riders, but punishes drivers. But, I also think your reaction is a result of the serious hassles which you explain well. I will try to be more compassionate in terms of paying attention to what you are arguing. However, I think you are reacting viscerally to something that, at least from my point of view, even though I ride recreationally, makes total sense and that you should do a better job of recognizing. Why should I wait to drive behind a slower bike? Steamships replaced sail because of speed. This is a similar situation. What is the best answer obviously depends on average traffic speeds, the speed of the bike rider, etc. On really busy streets, you may be 100% correct. But, where the modes can and should travel at different speeds, this argument just adds an additional dimension to the bike rider’s wish for lanes. Separate lanes make every bit as much sense for those of us who drive as for bike riders.

  • Simon Phearson

    I am reacting viscerally because you are literally telling me that, if I don’t want to be seriously injured by drivers, perhaps I should just stop biking. If the delay for drivers is something I should care about, why isn’t my own delay? You can’t just pull in and out of traffic, on a bike. A full stop means waiting for a window in traffic to come up so that I can get back up to traffic speed – meaning that the only way I’m not creating more delay for other drivers is if there are no other drivers behind me. Which, by your standard, means that I should wait for anyone I see to pass me, as well. Meaning that I’ll miss other lights, etc., etc.

    Really, the only safe and “fair” way to allow traffic to pass, in the way you contemplate, is to pull slightly out of traffic while still moving through intersections or wide-laned sections of streets. I will do this sometimes if a truck is menacing me. But that’s really only under pain of being flattened – something I do because I can’t trust drivers to have an adequate sense of space on the passenger side of their vehicles. It’s not because their interests matter more than mine.

  • As Simon has clearly explained, if a driver finds himself/herself behind a bicyclist on any given street, there is nothing wrong with this. The idea that you posit, of some inherent right for motor vehicles to go as fast as they can, is a symptom of extreme arrogance. You go only as fast as the conditions allow; and, if those conditions involve a bicyclist in front of you, then you just have to deal with it.

    This may be an urban arrogance. When I rode from New York to Washington last year, a couple of times I found myself on two-lane highways in rural Maryland, on roads with no intersections, no shoulders, no driveways. There I was, riding along, with cars and even trucks behind me. Yet no one honked at me or behaved in an aggressive manner. The drivers were content to go at about 15 miles per hour behind me until there was a place where it was safe to pass. That is the appropriate behaviour; and I appreciated seeing it in those drivers. Even though I am a frequent booster of the big city as an oasis of civilisation, I am sure that at those moments in rural areas I experienced civilised treatment of a sort that I would not have seen in a city.

    Anyway, the point is that bicyclists are equally entitled to use public streets as auto drivers are. There is no hierarchy based on which can go faster. Do not confuse regular streets with limited-access highways that are off-limits to bicyclists and pedestrians.

  • qrt145

    99-99.5% would be more accurate.

  • John M. Baxter

    I never meant to imply that you should not be riding a bike. I am sorry if that was what my statement sounded like. And, your statement enlightens me as to some of the impracticalities of allowing faster vehicles to pass. I see what you are saying. And all this seems, to me at least, to suggest that provision for bikes is needed and will help us all. Where I ride along country roads, wider shoulders should be put in and kept clean. In one area near a river, the guard rail should be moved outward to allow riding much farther to the right and off the car lane. I just believe that cars should be able to pass bikes just as small planes are kept out of the lanes for big jets. But, your perspective has shown me that that is not always either practical or safe. Thanks for the enlightenment.

  • John M. Baxter

    Especially where bicycle riders are a high percentage of total vehicles, your argument begins to make a lot of sense. But, to me, where significantly different speeds are practical and safe, it is less than ideal to mix the traffic in common lanes. Some way needs to be found to allow for the modes to travel in separate lanes so bikes can ride safely and cars can pass. I don’t mind following a bike for 30 seconds to get to a place where he can pull to the right a bit or I can pass wide to the left, but it just does not make sense to expect faster vehicles to travel at the pace of slower ones, in my opinion. There ought to be a hierarchy is what I am trying to say, though I will admit it may be necessary to reconfigure streets in a very substantial way before that will become practical. In Philly something like 2,2% travel by bike to work. Does it make sense to make the 97-plus percent travel at the pace of the 2,2%? I don’t think so.

  • Jonathan

    Motorists are at fault between half the time and >80% of the time, depending on who you ask.

  • Look, everyone would prefer bike lanes that are separate from the lanes that cars use. (Well, everyone except for that twisted sector of bicyclists who identify as “vehicular cyclists”, and who actually reject all bicycle infrastructure. Please ignore these nuts.)

    But we will never have bike lanes on all streets. On many streets, bicycles and cars are meant to use the same lanes. Sometimes there are painted sharrows, sometimes not. Either way, some mixing is going to occur; and, in that setting, bikes are to be considered simply as vehicles.

    You mention reconfiguring streets in a substantial way. I’m for that! Let’s put protected bike lanes on every street that is wide enough for such a lane. Of course, we would have to get rid of street parking so as to legitimatley determin which streets are wide enough.

    I think your comments indicate that you are from Philadelphia. I have ridden a bit in that excellent biking city; so I will mention that I am thinking of a street such as 10th Street in South Philly. Once you remove the parking, you have room for a bike lane protected by a concrete divider, and also one car lane.

    (We’d also need legislation that prohibits the giant parking garage structures that would otherwise spring up in response to a ban on street parking. Reconfiguring streets inherently means severely de-incentivising car ownership and car use.)

    But, even in that fantasy universe, we would still have some streets that cannot accomodate a separate bike lane. Consider many of the small streets that cross S. 10th Street. We thus see that it would not be possible to eradicate all shared lanes, even in our imaginary world.

    And here in the real world, achieving such a thing is still less possible. We just have to come to terms with bikes as vehicles, and with the fact that bikes are going to be mixing it up with cars in many settings. Sometimes a driver will find himself/herself behind a vehicle that is going more slowly than that driver would like. That’s life.

    The bottom line is that streets are not just for cars; and drivers of cars have to keep this understanding in the front of their minds at all times.

  • John M. Baxter

    I think I am learning from what you are writing. My perspective is somewhat different as I ride on country roads. Where vehicles travel at similar speeds, and there is a high percentage of bike riders, your point of view makes a lot of sense. The ideal is for faster vehicles to be able to safely pass slower ones, however. I also get what you are saying about stalled cars blocking you, and I advocate any sensible and safe passing maneuvers on the part of bikes. Being able to squeeze by stuff is an inherent advantage of city biking and makes total sense if done safely, However, I don’t hold with your social engineering as it relates to banning big parking garages. If people choose to bike rather than travel by car, fine. And, if you want to promote biking by leading to a sensible extent with good infrastructure, fine, too. But, don’t force the issue on us. Let’s don’t make it politically incorrect to drive an economical car in a safe manner. Climate change will be conquered without everyone abandoning their cars and trucks.

  • qrt145

    Who said anything about climate change? The biggest issue with cars in cities is that they lead to unlivable cities. Climate change might come in at fifth place or so among the top concerns of so-called “anti-car” advocates.

  • We’re now off on quite a tangent (which I, being a blowhard and a windbag, do not mind).

    But I’d like to say that it would not be desireable for everyone to abandon their cars and trucks. Certain types of jobs inherently require the use of a car or truck — for instance, plumbers, landscapers, movers, and anyone else who must haul tools or gear.

    And, of course, there are always emergency vehicles and other official vehicles, not to mention buses and taxis.

    But what should be disincentivised (perhaps to the point of elimination in the urban setting) is the personal auto. The one-person-per-car model of transport is grossly inefficient, and represents a monstrous source of pollution. I am sure that you have seen a version of this picture, which compares the requirements for moving a given amount of people by various modes.

    We’ve normalised a monstrosity, one that is not compatible with the continued vitality of our cities. Some form of social engineering and legislation aimed at breaking this norm will certainly be necessary.

    By the degraded standards into which society has allowed itself to fall, by which the personal auto is the default, New York has made great strides in opening its streets to bikes, and Philadelphia and Washington have done even better. But none of these cities have meaningfully restricted the personal auto; and we must ramp up these transformations if we hope to maintain our greatest cities as livable places.

  • John M. Baxter

    You need to specify. You want to live in a tiny French village. Just exactly how is Philly unlivable because of cars? One can still get around. Major American cities like Philly depend absolutely on the automobile for their economic well being. The five suburban counties around the city make it a vital economic center. Without them, it would have an economy maybe 20% as large as it has now. And, without the internal combustion engine for farming and transportation, no food. I spent $320 plus $30 for drinks plus $25 for parking in center city back in December. I have bills from two museums that will enrichen the economy by at least $150 on my desk, and I will spend more in the city when I go there. One, I can walk to from Market Street East, though I will need to drive to a train station, so I train in. The other is near the sports complex and I really need to drive to get there. You are living in the 19th century. This is not to say that more people who live and work in the city can’t be carless or nearly so. But, you are talking about a tiny percentage of the population. Either that, or a public transportation system that will cost much more than the Chunnel from Dover to Calais to build.

  • John M. Baxter

    Agreed the single passenger car is woefully inefficient. But, your negative, government-driven approach is, in my view, not the best way to go. If you effectively outlaw cars in center city, what happens to the economy? It might be practical to have parking centers and then large walkable areas. Except for the old or handicapped. Then maybe moving sidewalks would work. You can’t force people not to go places in a car, you need to find a positive, not a negative solution. Jimmy Carter wanted us to drive 55 and turn our thermostats back. To hell with that, we now have cars that perform well with engines that are 40% as big, furnaces that are 95% efficient rather than 75%, and better insulated houses, and we save fuel while having both comfort and speed. The key is some sort of infrastructure–perhaps a super public transit system. Also, some of the biggest problems with cars are caused by anti-car attitudes. Traffic stalls around City Hall at rush hour because the city does not use ITS to adjust the timing of the lights. Cars would be nowhere near the nuisance they are if we just accepted them and provided for them much better. What I am saying is think positive not negative. Prohibition failed.

  • Traffic stalls around City Hall (and everywhere else) at rush hour because there are too damn many cars. If the only vehicles in a city were those driven by people who actually needed them, then we wouldn’t have traffic jams.

    Also, do try to comprehend that “speed” is not a useful measure in a city. On a highway going between distant points, sure. But a city is characterised by density; and city streets are fundamentally places for milling about. The presence of speeding cars inhibits that, and so suppresses economic vibrancy.

    When you get rid of cars in a central city, the economy booms. New York proved that with the pedestrianised Times Square and sections of Broadway. We need that model replicated in urban centres everywhere.

    And it won’t do to try to raise the “what about the elderly and handicapped?” question, because you’ll note that taxis are amongst the cars that are welcome, as, of course, are vehicles specifically designed to transport handicapped people.

    We should be clear that this is not an attack on the internal combustion engine as such. That technology is a necessary evil. Trucks and other delivery vehicles are absolutely required for the life of a city, because goods don’t appear in stores via the transporter beam from Star Trek. This is an attack on an application of that technology that is inappropriate for the setting; namely: the personal auto in a city.

    The appropriate modes of personal transportation within a city are buses, trains, trolleys, ferries, taxis, bicycling, and walking. Allowing personal autos to dominate serves no one — not the individual city-dweller, and certainly not the economy as a whole. Deliveries of goods into and within cities can be made much more easily if the streets are not clogged with individual autos, and if delivery zones replace curbside parking. So getting rid of personal autos in cities would smooth out supply chains, which would help keep costs down and would stimulate the economy.

    Setting policies that promote cities’ economic growth and a good quality of life for cities’ residents is the most positive thing that we can do.

  • John M. Baxter

    Within well-defined, limited zones, what you are proposing may be close to the ideal. But, Americans truly cherish the mobility the personal auto affords or they wouldn’t buy so many. Also, in my view, one of our biggest problems is not the car itself, but rush hour. Flexible working hours and working from home would help a lot. Whatever is done must be done so as to have maximum benefit for all concerned. I certainly don’t agree that city streets are fundamentally places for milling about. They are by definition for transportation. That is what parks are for. Again, you seem to want to live in a French village.

  • John M. Baxter

    Ferdinand, please let me close with just one thought: If we are going to move in the direction you suggest, fine. But, let’s try and do it in such a way that we don’t force issues or punish people for doing reasonable things. First step, in my view, is to view the car from a positive perspective. You say there are just too damn many cars. Well, those cars are driven by people in a free society making the choice to drive them. You may think that is the wrong choice, but they may disagree, and the only way to deal with the situation is to find common ground. We might well want to create car-free zones. Fine, but do some real planning. Don’t just shut cars out, figure out how to provide for them. Find effective ways to route them around such car-free areas and in and out of the city so their occupants won’t just stay home. Or substitute better public transportation. A positive approach that moved cars more consistently would tremendously reduce the congestion and air pollution you are talking about, so such solutions as that should be part of the mix. The people in Chinatown should not have confined 676 to four lanes. Cars are such a nuisance in large part because people who think as you do hate them, instead of accepting them and providing more effectively for them. We should have an American-style revolution The US stayed with English Common Law, and the Magna Carta, honored all debts to Brits because Hamilton knew we would want to continue to trade with Britain. Gen. George Washington safely returned General Cornwallis’ dog when it strayed into the American camp, rather than killing it. You see to want a Russian or French-style revolution where the Czars and French nobility were executed. You want to force things. We should be working together to come up with common ground, and look for what Councilman Bill Greenlee refers to as “balance” in making these changes. We need to stop seeing each other as evil, and more as co-planners and partners. Thanks for corresponding. I have learned from you! Best, John

  • The widespread use of cars is not quite a “free choice”. It’s a managed choice that is essentially dictated by policies of development imposed by powerful private interests, and is constantly reinforced by conditioning provided by the pervasive imagery and language of advertising.

    And, while I am definitely on board with executing czars, I have in fact been talking here about utilising the mechanisms of our civil society to correct an historic error. Policy decisions created a car-dominated society; and policy decisions (this time motivated by the public good) can pivot us away from that and can put us onto a more sustainable and more healthful path.

    Or substitute better public transportation.

    By all means.

    Anyway, I thank you for a lively and fruitful exchange.

  • John M. Baxter

    Interesting thoughts and where I would agree is, for example, the history of GM buying up trolley tracks, taking them up, and then selling buses. However, while there may be some truth to what you say, I think you vastly under-estimate the American people. They can be led, but only rarely can they be forced to do things against their will–if ever. They drive cars everywhere because they like doing so, and unless you can truly provide an equally attractive alternative, your plan will not succeed. Enlightening conversation regardless. Best, John

  • LinuxGuy

    No way. Bikes and walkers do a pile of bad stuff. See this:


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