Mayor de Blasio Throws Red Meat to the Bike Haters in Midtown

De Blasio made no attempt to win over skeptics of bike infrastructure, showed no grasp of the pedestrian safety effects of protected bike lanes, and appeared content to let anecdotes and unfocused anger sway policy instead of the proven track record of his own DOT's projects.

Mayor de Blasio at last night's town hall.
Mayor de Blasio at last night's town hall.

At a town hall hosted by Council Member Dan Garodnick in East Midtown last night, Mayor de Blasio offered a weak defense of bike infrastructure and promised the crowd police will ramp up enforcement against people riding bikes.

De Blasio’s comments came in response to two attendees who claimed that city policies to encourage cycling have put lives in danger.

“You take your life in your hands now in New York City when you cross the street,” E. 53rd Street resident Richard Resnick told him. “What has happened, and this I can talk to because I am a lifelong New Yorker, a culture has been created in New York: Here come the bikes, everybody else get the hell out of the way.”

De Blasio did not push back on Resnick’s assertion, which is contradicted by years of data showing that pedestrian injuries decline substantially on streets with protected bike lanes.

Instead, the mayor said that while he’d chosen to continue the Bloomberg administration’s “original vision” of a “more bikeable city,” a culture of disobeying traffic laws had emerged as a result. This assertion is also contradicted by the city’s own before-and-after data from protected bike lane projects, which show violations like sidewalk riding decline dramatically when people feel safer riding on the street.

The fact is that under de Blasio, NYC DOT has made only modest upgrades to bike infrastructure on the East Side, mainly by filling gaps in the protected bike lanes on First Avenue and Second Avenue. Long stretches of Second Avenue remain dangerously unprotected, and crosstown bike routes all consist of paint with no physical separation from traffic.

Later in the evening, Astoria resident Macartney Morris, who commutes by bike on Second Avenue and regularly documents taxis, delivery trucks, and buses blocking the bike lane, told de Blasio that there’s still not a connected network of safe routes for cycling in the area.

“Every single day there are people parking in the bike lane,” Morris said. “When I have to dart into that traffic on Second Avenue, it scares the heck out of me. And I’m tired of the feeling that a cyclist or pedestrian has to die for DOT to make improvements on the street.”

The empathy that the mayor showed for the bike haters earlier in the night did not extend to the bike rider. “I couldn’t disagree more that an administration that has constantly expanded Citi Bike and done Vision Zero is just waiting around for someone to die. I resent that, I think that’s unfair,” de Blasio responded. “We have a difference of perspective. That being said, we want, and we’ve shown it by action, we want to expand bike lanes everywhere that we think we can appropriately. Second Avenue presents a particular challenge we’re still trying to fix.”

He then turned to DOT Borough Commissioner Luis Sanchez, who explained that the city has held back on completing the Second Avenue bike lane in order to avoid impacts on traffic headed toward the Queens-Midtown Tunnel and Queensboro Bridge.

De Blasio said NYPD will be issuing more tickets to people on bikes, including electric bikes. The mayor said e-bike enforcement will focus on businesses whose workers use the vehicles, but did not provide further details. In the past, the 19th Precinct has seized e-bikes from delivery workers, typically immigrants who depend on tips to earn a living — all while reckless driving continues to exact a far more serious toll on local residents.

Overall it was a miserable performance by the mayor, who made no attempt to win over skeptics of bike infrastructure, showed no grasp of the pedestrian safety effects of protected bike lanes, failed to grapple with where e-bikes should fit into the transportation system, and appeared content to let anecdotes and unfocused anger sway policy instead of the proven track record of his own DOT’s projects.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “It is possible the tendency we share to blow thru red lights and ride the wrong way on what are purportedly one-way streets, silently missing by inches pedestrians.”

    I don’t do any of those things, and don’t see very much of it, aside from the occasional cyclist coming at me in the wrong direction in the bike lane.

  • petergny

    If the mayor is serious about traffic density then he should implement congestion pricing. In an election year he won’t go there. Don’t do what’s right, do what’s right for BDB.

  • Simon Phearson

    I never said that you guys declared “mission accomplished,” did I? Nope!

    But what you have been is consistently and stupidly celebratory of incremental “improvements” that don’t actually serve cyclists all that well. The Second Avenue lane in midtown is exemplary. Before it went in, cyclists at least legally could stay on the right side of the road, avoiding the bridge and tunnel clusterfucks, but now with the lane they get funneled right into the worst of it, left to fend for themselves – and then there’s the whole “partially protected” experiment they’re pulling in midtown, which ends up just pushing cyclists out into the main traffic lanes most of the time they’re actually riding.

    You’ve noted some of the shortcomings, but on the whole it’s just, “Yay, we’re one step closer to a continuous biking network!” And then hardly any coverage afterwards, when the effects in practice become so clear.

  • qrt145

    Wrong again. Many adult New Yorkers haven’t even learned how to drive. I’m having trouble finding statistics, but I feel confident that it is a significant fraction.

    It may be true that (almost) everyone is often in a car, such as a taxi, but I don’t think that necessarily makes the passenger “empathic to the plight of drivers”.

  • BAMstutz

    OK. I don’t purport to know exactly why we’re hated. The point is that we are, and the only way that we are going to be successful in changing street infrastructure is if we can be successful changing attitudes of street users.

  • qrt145

    Well, technically you weren’t allowed on the bus lane, either! (Not that I blame you; I’ve ridden my bike on bus lanes too.)

  • walks bikes drives

    Questionable. Steve Vaccaro wrote that, while vehicles include bicycles in state law, they do not in city law, which governs bus lanes. So the legality is ambiguous. But, as I said, I never block or slow the forward progress of a bus.

  • qrt145

    It is true that bicycles are not vehicles under RCNY Title 34, but unfortunately the subdivision concerning bus lanes explicitly mentions “devices moved by human-power”, which I believe includes bicycles:

    Title 34, § 4-12
    […]
    (m) Bus lane restrictions on city streets. When signs are erected giving notice of bus lane restrictions, no person shall drive a vehicle other than a bus within a designated bus lane during the restricted hours, except:
    […]
    The same rights and restrictions that apply to vehicles pursuant to this subdivision also apply to horse-drawn vehicles and devices moved by human power.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “I really get tired of watching her try to kneecap de Blasio.”

    I haven’t heard from of read about Quinn since she lost. It’s like she disappeared. Trying to kneecap DeBlasio how?

  • Joe R.

    This article says about 25% of NYC residents have a driver’s license: http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=20030820&slug=drive20

    In a city where it’s a hassle to drive and many cannot afford cars, it often makes little sense to invest the time needed to get a driver’s license. I briefly had a learner’s permit, but never got much practice. I never bothered renewing it, or getting a driver’s license. Little point given that most places I wanted to go could be reached by bike or public transit.

    Last time I was in a car as a passenger was in March when we visited my sister for her birthday. My sister never got a license until she moved out to Long Island.

  • macartney
  • walks bikes drives

    Maybe not so ambiguous after all…

  • NYCBK123

    Agreed! We need to keep the pressure on about congestion pricing.

  • Simon Phearson

    I’m too busy trying not to die IRL using the bike infrastructure the advocates like to pat themselves on the back for here.

  • macartney

    Are you fucking kidding me? Are you secretly a car-driving, Community Board member troll?

    I risk my life everyday on the same infrastructure. The difference between you and me is I also fight everyday to make it better. I take photos and tweet at powers that be. I collect petition signatures and coordinate outreach to elected officials. I helped organize the human protected bike lane that gathered 30 people on an early summer morning to highlight the deficiencies of DOT’s bike lane. I showed up at the Town Hall and told Mayor de Blasio his infrastructure was shitty and I hated fearing for my life and asked him to make it better. You know, the whole origin of this article you are busy trolling on? What have you done?

    Give me a fucking break.

  • AMH

    I always wonder where I’m supposed to ride on 5th and Madison. It’s terrifying having busses coming at you on one side, and angry drivers on the other.

  • AMH

    Congestion pricing would do a lot to shift some of that traffic away from the Queensboro. Did anyone bring that up in response to BDB’s “It’s hard to fix the bike lane near the bridge because there’s lots of traffic”?

  • AMH

    As awful as he’s been with giving NYPD free rein, I fear that Malliotakis would have them executing minorities with impunity.

  • vnm

    What happened to the UN deal?

  • qrt145

    Finally I found this table published by the DMV: https://dmv.ny.gov/statistic/2016licinforce-web.pdf

    It says there are 3,787,255 licenses on file in NYC in 2016. That would make it closer to 45% of the population.

    Of course who knows how many of those could be called “active drivers”. As for myself, I have a license but only drive a few times a year, mostly outside NYC.

  • qrt145

    I do wonder whether that rule was amended in recent years to add that last paragraph. I haven’t been able to find the revision history of the RCNY.

  • Joe R.

    Its a shame the GOP rarely has a viable challenger for NYC mayor. It’s sort of like they consider the mayoral election a throwaway unless the person in Gracie Mansion is totally awful. We really need a two-party system in this city. And we need fiscally responsible, socially liberal Republicans to run as an alternate to the tax-and spend poverty pimps usually offered by the Democratic Party. It would also be nice if both parties didn’t embrace authoritarianism. I tend to think if the GOP held to its core principals it would see the current police state and petty nanny-state laws as anathema to true freedom.

  • Maggie

    Quickest examples are probably when she joined Cuomo’s team, then dipped a toe in the water for the 2017 NYC mayor’s primary in fall 2016. Maybe you didn’t read the excerpt from her book in Vogue. 😉

    She lost me on safe streets in the 2013 primary when the same day a cab driver jumped the curb and severed a tourist’s leg on a 6th Ave sidewalk in Midtown, she ignored it but held an angry press conference over what Maureen Dowd said Bill de Blasio’s wife said about her. Maybe I’m off, but I didn’t think safe streets resonated with her as a quality of life issue.

  • If you don’t see our fellow bicyclists blowing red lights and going the wrong way, then you are not paying attention.

    Every single time I am on the First Avenue bike lane, I see people coming down the wrong way, even though the bike lane on Second Avenue is just a block away. This is true also Willoughby Street in Brooklyn and on every other one-way street that I frequent.

    And the red-light-running is rampant. People see this and get pissed off — no matter whether it is done in a safe manner or not. The constant law-breaking is exacerbating the hatred that our enemies feel for us, and creating lots of new enemies out of people who would othewise be neutral. It’s fuelling the complaints that were made by the goofballs at this meeting. Cyclists who blow lights are literally giving our enemies free ammunition.

    (One might well ask why these people don’t get angry at drivers for their constant law-breaking. And the answer is that driving is established, while bike-riding on the scale that it is being practiced nowadays is new; and we as a culture are inured to drivers’ bad behaviours. The contrast between the public’s reaction to drivers’ law-breaking versus their reaction to bicyclists’ law-breaking illustrates the difference between drivers as the hegemonic group and bicyclists as the marginalised group.)

    It’s not until you ride in another city where bicyclists don’t blow lights — such as Washington, where cyclists stopped at red lights can be seen at every intersection — that you realise how prevalent this ugly behaviour is in New York.

  • When I was riding in Baltimore, I saw signs on Lombard Street that explicitly said that bicycles can use the bus lane. We need that here.

  • qrt145

    I agree it would be a good idea.

    Paris allows bikes on bus lanes, but astonishingly, it also allows taxis! I was shocked when I saw that and thought those taxi drivers were scofflaws, but then I looked it up and discovered the ugly truth…

  • JarekFA

    In Utrecht taxis can take the bus lanes too but you don’t get shit load of ubers circling the city or anything like that. In fact, taxis are relatively expensive and the buses are frequent, cheap (you swipe when you get out so it’s based on distance, a ride from my house to the Central Station is like 1 euro and change) and given priority which may be part of why the bus lanes are free of traffic all day, since most people would prefer to take them.

  • qrt145

    You are right, actually it wasn’t that bad because there aren’t that many taxis to begin with, at least compared to Midtown Manhattan, where it feels like most vehicles on the road are taxis.

  • dfiler

    True. But most of the time even engaging in this discussion is unfair and possibly counter productive. When people point out cyclists breaking the law, I counter that they’re actually more law-abiding than drivers. Speeding is not only against the law but also extremely dangerous. A good percentage of crash fatalities would be avoided if speeding wasn’t the norm. In many cities the majority of drivers are speeding almost every second the car is moving.

    So yeah, cyclists break the law. But not as often and not as dangerously. In summary, everyone breaks traffic laws. We shouldn’t be singling out a group who does it less often and in a less dangerous way.

  • JarekFA

    Ferdinand, you’ll never convince me that there’s anything wrong with proceeding through red when done so in a safe manner. The mentality you espouse, in my opinion, is Authoritarian. I’m not suggesting my biking is a form of civil disobedience, but if I get a tix for proceeding through red, when I do so slowly and safely, then I’ll take the tix.

    I just will never be convinced that this conduct is wrong or anything to be ashamed of when done safely (and certainly safer than cars legally turning thru cross walks).

    https://twitter.com/JarekFA/status/913505219794935810

  • The mentality I espouse is strategic.

    We want to expand and improve our bike infrastucture; and we ultimately want legislative reform to allow the Idaho stop. The only way to achieve these things is to get legislators on our side. But, if all that these legislators ever hear from their constituents is complaints about bicyclists who run red lights, then they are not going be willing to stand with us on bike-related issues.

    We are a small minority which has only recently achieved some gains after having been ignored by municipal and state governments for decades. It is every conscientious bicyclist’s responsibility to protect these gains and to act in such a way as to make it possible to further them.

    There will always be a degree of bike hatred coming from the most extreme backward sectors of society, even if all bicyclists followed every rule. But this doesn’t excuse the act of making it worse by driving still more people into the bike-haters’ camp.

  • John C.

    I’m with Jarek – we need to begin framing this as “the law is wrong”. Bikes were lumped in with cars for most laws out of convenience (laziness? to be punitive?) by legislators. We are not cars – we are so much closer to pedestrians than cars. And being “strategic” means waiting for that magic moment when all cyclists obey every law/rule – that pony will never happen. We will remain neglected and ignored forever.

  • You are right that applying to bicycles laws that were written with only cars in mind is wrong. And surely you are aware that changing those laws requires action on the parts of legislators.

    Being strategic means trying to create the conditions under which these legislators will be most likely to take the necessary actions. And that means that we have to behave in a way that avoids unnecessarily increasing complaints about bicylists (which will always exist to some extent).

    Or, we can unilaterally decide that the law does not apply to us, thereby stoking the anger of an already hostile public, and then sit around wondering why legislators don’t want to be associated with us.

  • John C.

    I respectfully disagree – history shows that being polite and proper has rarely (if ever) driven change. We need to be noisy, to push, to be bothersome, to not accept the status quo (in re: changing the laws). I do not believe that being quiet will generate any good will. To be clear, I do not sanction aggressive, antagonistic cycling behaviors – pedestrians are my friends in this fight to reclaim our streets from the motor vehicle industrial complex. But I will be aggressive in claiming my right to safely ride down each and every street.

  • Seriously, does the fact that you don’t do it mean it doesn’t exist? It does, and it hurts the perception. We’ve been lousy ambassadors.

    Over a dozen of pedestrians and cyclists can be hit, maimed or killed by NYC driviers in a week. People are used to it. What they remember is the a-wipe on two wheels who nearly hit them. It is ridiculous to pretend that cyclist doesn’t exist.

  • Right on! And Right of Way!

  • AMH

    Submit and vote on questions here for the Oct 10 mayoral debate (there are already some good ones): https://opendebatequestions.com/questions/76/vote/?source=share-tw-76

  • StanChaz

    De Blasio is correct. As more people turn to biking a culture of disobeying traffic laws has emerged as a result. Pedestrians crossing bike lanes, especially at night, and especially if they’re elderly, are put at risk by bikers who think they own the streets and ignore traffic regulations. It is a worsening problem across the city.
    You claim that data shows pedestrian injuries decline substantially on streets with protected bike lanes – what kind of injuries- car-related or bicycle-related?
    You also claim that the city’s own before-and-after data from protected bike lane projects shows violations like sidewalk riding decline dramatically when people feel safer riding on the street. Sure- instead of risking pedestrian lives on the sidewalks, they’re doing it in the streets.
    As a pedestrian I have been involved with many more near misses regarding bikes as opposed to cars. We need greater regulation of bikers, rather than white-washing the problems that they cause by simply saying that they reduce pollution or some such excuse for their all-too-often irresponsible behavior.

  • Joe R.

    First off, anecdotal evidence like “I have been involved with many more near misses regarding bikes as opposed to cars” is totally meaningless. My personal experience is just the opposite but again it’s equally meaningless. The only thing which matters are statistics, and yes those statistics include all injuries, not just those caused by motor vehicles. Another statistic is on average motor vehicles kill 200 people annually in this city while cyclists kill less than 5 per decade.

    Second, obeying traffic regulations isn’t a recipe for safety. It’s often safer for pedestrians to cross against the light or midblock. By the same token, it’s often safer for cyclists to pass red lights to avoid being stuck in a platoon of accelerating motor vehicles. Of course, when they do this they must yield to any pedestrians crossing. My observations suggest this is usually exactly what they do. A small number of bad apples don’t, unfortunately, and those are the ones who need to be dealt with. Also, most of these dangerous cyclists are delivery people who have a financial incentive to ride recklessly. If people really want to end this problem, the solution isn’t more regulations on bikes. Instead, pick up your own food and there won’t be reckless cyclists delivering it. People who want their food delivered hot and fast are indirectly causing this problem whether they realize it or not.

    Third, everyone has their own definition of “near miss”. I’ve seen people screaming “That bike almost hit me!” when it passed 5 or 10 feet away. Anything further than about 1 foot isn’t a near miss. Watch some videos of Amsterdam. Pedestrians there are unfazed when cyclists pass them 6 inches away. Every cyclist has a vested self-interest to not hit people as they can get hurt worse than the person they hit. And since bikes are much more maneuverable than motor vehicles, with much greater visibility, they can pass much closer to pedestrians without endangering them. The fact it was a “near miss”, not a “hit”, tells me the cyclists knew what they were doing.

  • AlexWithAK

    If you need a textbook example of unfounded bike hate, here it is. Anecdote upon anecdote that is demonstrably incorrect based on mountains of data is spewed. And people like the mayor take it face value. It’s not far off of what brought us Trumpism. It doesn’t matter what the facts are. Only how people FEEL matters, regardless of whether those feelings are grounded in reality or not.

  • Good find. So does that mean that it is settled that bicycles are technically not allowed in a bus lane?

    If so, how is one meant to legally ride on Woodhaven Boulevard between Park Lane South and Union Turnpike?

    By the way, that section has terrible encroachment into the bus lane by drivers. One of them does it, and then a few more follow suit; and soon these scumbags are treating the street as though the bus lane isn’t even there. It is getting steadily worse as I observe it each morning on my way to work.

    I have already called the local precinct and talked to the community affairs officer about this, asking that the police pay attention to that particular segment of Woodhaven Boulevard. But I am hesitant to follow up, because I might leave myself open to his dismissing my complaint by saying “Well, you’re not supposed to be riding your bike in the bus lane, either”.

  • qrt145

    I’m not familiar with Woodhaven Boulevard and couldn’t find the bus lane in the images on Google Maps (maybe they are too old?), so I can’t comment on that.

  • The bus lane on that street just went in over the past few months.

  • Andrew

    Because they’re dead, and this isn’t Chicago.

  • Andrew

    Since they’re dead and this isn’t Chicago, you’re correct.

  • Bennie Campbell

    Since buying my ebike, I’ve left my car/vehicle at home four to five day’s out of the week. I am happy riding my ebike and I have absolutely no problem obeying all traffic rules. I would like to see NYC legalize these bikes the same as regular pedaled powered bikes. I find that stopping at a red light, or stop sign doesn’t interfere with me getting to my destination at all and is a lot better than walking, or public transportation. I feel we shouldn’t be going down one-way streets, or sidewalks. Basically, I would like to see these ebikes legalized and just enforce the laws regarding bikes that’s on the book’s as they are now. I’m a middle-aged person that enjoys the views and sites of the city and would not like to be harrassed by NYPD for something as simple as getting from point “A” to point “B.”

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