Want the Mayor to Keep Bus Lanes Clear? Bill de Blasio Thinks You’re Blinded By Ideology.

Without an engaged mayor who understands how he can improve the situation, New York's relentless traffic dysfunction will continue.

A rare sighting of Mayor de Blasio on a bus, from last  October. Photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photography Office
A rare sighting of Mayor de Blasio on a bus, from last October. Photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photography Office

Across the five boroughs, drivers routinely block bus lanes and bike lanes, slowing down transit riders and putting cyclists at risk. The worst offenders are police officers and placard holders who undermine the city’s efforts to improve conditions for transit and cycling on the streets.

Mayor de Blasio is their boss, but on his weekly appearance fielding calls on the Brian Lehrer show, he deflected questions from a listener who asked what the mayor intends to do to about it.

The caller, Alex Bell, is a computer scientist whose work quantifying the obstruction of bike lanes and bus stops in Harlem was profiled by the Times yesterday. Bell found that one bus stop on St. Nicholas Avenue was blocked 57 percent of the time, while nearby bike lanes were obstructed 40 percent of the time.

Bell mentioned his findings before putting his question to the mayor. “With bus service at an all-time low and falling, bicyclists and pedestrians dying in the streets, how are you going to fix the problem of enforcement?” he asked. “Because the laws are there, the NYPD is unwilling and unable to enforce traffic laws. What is your solution? And don’t tell me it’s a state issue.”

De Blasio became very defensive, accusing Bell of having “an ideological worldview” that doesn’t reflect the “facts.” MTA buses aren’t operated by the city, he noted, and NYPD had to prioritize other moving violations over bike and bus lane violators.

Pressed by Lehrer on whether he thought Hall had “an ideological axe to grind,” de Blasio said he thought he did. Not for the first time, the mayor went on to excuse bike lane blockers.

“I think it is obviously, there’s always the question of where we put our officers to have the maximum impact,” he said. “If someone is blocking, for example, a bike lane for 30 seconds while they take out their groceries or they let their kid off, I don’t think they should get a ticket for that. If someone leaves their car for any meaningful amount of time, they should be penalized.”

It was one of de Blasio’s more clueless performances. He displayed no awareness of the pervasiveness of bus lane and bike lane obstruction, why it undermines his own transportation initiatives, or the role of agencies under his control — namely NYPD — in perpetuating the problem. Police officers don’t just fail to enforce bus lanes and bike lanes, they are the worst violators.

As mayor, de Blasio oversees the police who obstruct lanes that should be clear, the placard system that leads to rampant violations of bus lanes and bike lanes without consequence, the stipulated fine program that reduces incentives for delivery companies to observe parking rules, and the curbside regulations and meter prices that clog streets with illegal parking.

These are all policy levers within de Blasio’s power to address, they’re not up to the MTA or Albany. Without an engaged mayor who understands that, New York’s relentless traffic dysfunction will continue.

Police vehicles parked in the Utica Avenue bus lane. Via TransitCenter
Police vehicles parked in the Utica Avenue bus lane. Via TransitCenter
  • Jeff

    Sorry, parents who take their kids around on bike. Your child’s lives are just less important than those whose parents drive them around.

  • reasonableexplanation

    You know, I typically defend the mayor from a lot of the accusations here (and believe me, I don’t like him, and didn’t vote for him), but this was just a ridiculous answer.

    Enforcing bike lane blocking, bus blocking, and double parking/standing on arteries, even if you ignore literally every other driving violation, would do more to get this city moving than any other scheme floated to date.

    The vast majority of city streets have plenty of capacity to carry all the motor and bicycle traffic we need, but are narrowed by at least one lane on each side by these traffic-impeding douche-bags.

  • JK

    The mayor, police and teachers’ union underestimate how corrosive parking placards are to public trust and support for them. Placards make a joke out of the mayor’s rhetoric about creating The Fairest Big City In America. Placards are inherently unfair — only cops, fireman and teachers get them. Placards, which are ultimately OK’ed by the mayor’s office, are routinely abused in ways that cost the average New Yorker: be it delaying the everyday person riding the bus or endangering the bicyclist just trying to get home with getting killed. Placards are an icon of the kind of petty corruption that undermines public confidence in government and subtracts from the sense of community and shared experience. Placards are inherently unfair, and by dolling out hundreds of thousands, Mayor de Blasio is making New York City less fair, less equal and less of a great place to live.

  • Tooscrapps

    For future callers, ask him like this: “For bus lanes, how do you justify that one person’s time is worth more 50 persons’? For bike lanes, how is one person’s convenience worth more than another’s safety?”

  • Bike Chum

    I’d say someone in that conversation had an “ideological worldview” and it certainly wasn’t the caller.

  • petercow

    That’s like saying, “Well I only threw out one piece of litter.”
    If everyone throws out ‘just 1’, the effect is the same – a street full of garbage.
    He is either an idiot, willfully blind, or both.

  • petercow

    de Blasio is a guy who has never worked a day in his life in the private sector. He doesn’t give a shit. He’s always had these perks.

  • He’s incredibly defensive almost everywhere he goes. It’s a problem. He could really be a champion on these issues. Let’s be honest the city is certainly more safe for peds and bikes than at anytime that I have lived here. I give him credit for that and some of the large projects we are seeing/going to see under his leadership: Queens Boulevard, 1st Avenue in Manhattan, 4th Avenue in Brooklyn, many bike lanes in Manhattan, bridge access for bike/peds has become very decent, etc etc. BUT, he has got to realize this is not a game of “it is getting better” and that we’ve seen good reductions in the numbers of fatalities. It needs to get remarkably safer, much faster, we need to start tackling this at a level 3x, 4x, 5x what we have seen. He may feel that it is unfair that after so long it is falling upon his watch to make it happen after 30-40 years of activism, but he needs to step it up. As the people in NYC see a positive taste in projects here or there with protected bike lanes, complicated street redesigns, a little daylighting or LPIs on a few corners here or there, etc etc EVERY NEIGHBORHOOD wants it. Just about every NYC council member wants it, just about every street has a few people that want to make street safety a priority in their neighborhood. The demand keeps getting higher as we see results. He could go at 3x, 4x the effort and still not catch up.

  • Larry Littlefield

    You are also talking about people who have been above criticism politically — police, fire, teachers.

    Of these groups, police and corrections have actually been taken task slightly by this administration, compared with the prior two administrations.

    The Mayor may simply believe that from a self-interested perspective he’s already spent enough political capital on their behavior. He need to suck of to the teachers’ union and lay off the TWU, PBA etc. to get ahead personally.

    You want more? Throw out every single member of the state legislature. Anybody planning to run against them? Signature collection starts June 5.

    https://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/law/2018PoliticalCalendar.pdf

    No one runs, you either get no choice, or the choice of a Trumpster with no chance to win and no reason to support.

  • AMH

    Your child’s lives are just less important than saving a few minutes for those whose parents drive them around.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    Yep. Every Avenue, such as 6th Ave in Midtown, where we’re told there is “no room” for a bike lane has at least one ostensible moving lane reallocated to double parking.

  • JR

    Those officers are just moving their groceries.

  • NYCBK123

    To pick up on something no one else has…I do wonder if it’s the age of the caller that ticked him off. Some people of a certain age (hi boomers) just don’t like it when younger people call them out. I thought the kid was…let’s say resolute…but not disrespectful. I’ve heard the mayor deal with questions he didn’t like at other town halls and his tone this time was different.

    I do take comfort in the proposals the mayor discussed yesterday and feel the need to point out that later in the call, he stated we need to change our car culture and that drivers need to take responsibility for their actions/be held accountable. We should rightly criticism for this but we can’t expect perfection from him. We know better by now that no one will get it perfectly right.

  • Andrew

    Some people of a certain age (hi boomers) just don’t like it when younger people call them out.

    He’s the Mayor of the City of New York. He has constituents of all ages. He should probably get used to that fact.

  • NYCBK123

    Agreed!

  • Joe R.

    There is a solution—camera enforcement. If NYC can’t get rid of the silly rule requiring Albany’s approval for more cameras, then it should put them up anyway. Of course, they won’t be allowed to issue fines, but nothing is stopping NYC from informing insurance companies of any and all camera violations. Existing speed cameras should continue running during non-school hours expressly to inform insurance companies of speeding. It’ll be up to the insurance companies whether or not to raise premiums of habitual violators. My guess is they will. The only way we can get inconsiderate or dangerous driving under control is to hit drivers in the wallet. Whether it’s the insurance company or the city who bills them is a mere subtlety.

  • Brian Howald

    The caller is 30 years old, hardly a kid.

    At town halls, the Mayor starts out patient and willing to listen, but by two hours in, he’s snapping at people to get to their questions.

  • NYCBK123

    He sounded younger to me, and probably did to the mayor too. I’m not trying to excuse the mayor’s condescenion. Just making an observation.

  • Larry Littlefield

    People under 35 need to start calling those older out about more than bus cameras.

    But anyway, I see where this is going. A ticket blitz against bicycles riding bus lanes.

  • There is a solution : a new mayor…

  • djx

    THIS

  • djx

    “You are also talking about people who have been above criticism politically — police, fire, teachers.”

    Teachers above criticism politically? Are you serious?

  • Larry Littlefield

    In this administration, yes.

    In any event, I’ve posted this challenge to people multiple times, and the resulting silence is deafening. Easily heard in Albany. And needs to be discussed.

    One answer is that there really is no citizenship democracy, because politicians are a rare and special breed, and we best leave our fate to them and try to pressure them as best we can.

    Except that it hasn’t worked, because (as increasingly is the case in business too) we have an monopoly-oligopoly situation with no real choice.

    And if the do get nervous about keeping their sinecure, the response is always the same. Survive by sacrificing something people won’t react to a strongly (their future, which is now the present after decades of sacrificing the future) and groups of people who matter less, or can be conned by tribal manipulation.

  • Vooch

    exactly – no need to go through courts. Informing insurance company will do the trick

  • Vooch

    Clarence,

    I think our extreme anger at BdB is because he betrays a suburban mindset. He thinks about transportation issues like he‘s the Mayor of Columbus Ohio

  • Vooch

    Dude,

    I owe you a big bottle of single malt for your comment. thank you

  • BortLicensePlatez

    if anything Streetsblog [national] teaches us, its that a lot of smaller bumblefuck towns actually move much, much faster to do interesting creative streets solutions than NYC. And its the leadership, which blames it on some bogeyman (union people wanting a good wage, communities) buts it a total failure of leadership.

  • John H Steinberg

    Bravo. This is the essence of politcs. 300k union members smartly dominating 7.7mm apathetics year after year

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