Just Another Day in New York City’s Perpetually Blocked Bike Lanes

Until City Hall addresses the disconnect between the bike network people see on a map and the bike network people encounter in real life, stressful biking conditions will be the norm for New Yorkers.

DOT recently added concrete barriers on this stretch of the often-blocked Clinton Street bikeway. They didn't stop the illegal parking. Photo: Jon Orcutt
DOT recently added concrete barriers on this stretch of the often-blocked Clinton Street bikeway. They didn't stop the illegal parking. Photo: Jon Orcutt

To its credit, the de Blasio administration has continued to expand the city’s bike lane network, adding 25 new miles of protected bike lanes last year, with more underway in 2018.

Those bike lanes prevent traffic injuries and get more people on bikes. Nevertheless, once they go in, they’re more of a suggestion than a permanent, reliable right-of-way for bicycling. Even the protected lanes.

A quick scroll through the #bikenyc Twitter hashtag shows delivery trucks, construction vehicles, and NYPD cruisers blocking bike lanes across the city. The rampant illegal parking forces cyclists to maneuver into traffic, inflicting stress that DOT’s bike lane designs are supposed to prevent.

There are a few common varieties of bike lane blocker. One is the construction vehicle heedlessly parked to maximize the disruption of the bike network.

That’s the type you’re almost guaranteed to find on the two-way protected lane on Clinton Street south of Delancey. This is an important link in the bike network, connecting directly to the Williamsburg Bridge bike path. Parking in it is the bike network equivalent of parking on an FDR ramp. Because this is a two-way bike lane, the blockage is especially dangerous, forcing cyclists into oncoming traffic.

And it is constantly obstructed, as Jon Orcutt and Noel Hidalgo have documented for months:

DOT did recently add a concrete barrier to a section of the bike lane between Grand Street and Delancey Street. But the photo at the top of this post shows that it’s not enough to deter drivers from parking in the bike lane.

Delivery vehicles like that UPS truck are also ubiquitous bike lane blockers. For them, parking tickets are just another cost of doing business, with the city’s stipulated fine program weakening the incentive to avoid blocking bike lanes. Until there are enough loading zones to accommodate all these deliveries, there’s no end in sight to the disruptions of the bike network.

After DOT installs bike lanes, the responsibility to keep them clear falls to NYPD. But police do nothing, and Mayor de Blasio has essentially said that’s fine.

NYPD is, after all, the single biggest institutional bike lane blocker. Further north in Manhattan yesterday, police officers were parked in the 29th Street protected lane. While this is a brand new bike lane and some adjustment period is to be expected, the markings are down and if police actually cared about maintaining a safe bike network they would be setting a better example.

These obstructions are preventable, but there’s no inter-agency strategy to make that happen. Nor does DOT use the levers at its disposal. The agency can get tough on contractors that impede bike traffic but fails to do so, Orcutt notes, and its resurfacing crews similarly lack guidelines for maintaining bike lanes when streets are being repaved.

Until City Hall addresses the disconnect between the bike network people see on a map and the bike network people encounter in real life, stressful biking conditions will be the norm for New Yorkers.

  • William Lawson

    You can Tweet your photos of asshole drivers from USPS, UPS and FedEx here:

    https://twitter.com/USPSInBikeLanes
    https://twitter.com/UPSInBikeLanes
    https://twitter.com/FedExInBikeLane

    It’s helpful for us to develop a central archive of the pattern of bike lane abuse by these companies. Sooner or later they’re going to get someone killed, and the resulting lawsuit will cost them tens of millions of dollars. Clear proof of their abuse will help in such a lawsuit. These companies try to give the outward appearance that they’re concerned about the issue – their help accounts on Twitter will always promise to “escalate” any complaints for you – but the truth is that they abuse bike lanes as a matter of company policy and they instruct their drivers to park wherever they like to get the job done. They have factored in the cost of their discounted tickets as a cost of doing business, so tickets are no deterrent whatsoever. The police will never enforce the law and the city seems quite happy with the situation. So it’s left to us civilians. The only way we can change the behavior of these rogue companies is by threatening to hit them hard in the pocket.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    Quantity over quality has seemingly been the policy for some time now. It seems like there’s no Quality Assurance being done on bike infrastructure in NYC to see how it actually functions. When they do look at these lanes after implementation, the analysis doesn’t seem to inspire confidence:
    https://twitter.com/stevenbodzin/status/1020319844309356544

  • steve00

    To be fair…where are delivery trucks supposed to park? Were loading spaces and metered parking installed in conjunction with the Clinton St bike lane or were the side streets just left as free parking? If the latter, we shouldn’t be surprised with the result.

  • djx

    This is a good point. Really they should be advocating for more dedicated loading/unloading zones to replace on-street car storage. And perhaps paying for that space through increased fees/taxes.

  • This doesn’t justify blocking bike lanes.

    If they want to block a lane, block the general traffic lane.

    Or would that get them ticketed?

  • Scott Voolker

    UPS trucks could park in parking garages and hand deliver packages. If the city started to enforce parking rules starting tomorrow, the delivery of UPS and FedEx packages would not come to a stop. These companies would figure out a way to deliver packages using a different system.

  • Michelle Pasternack

    My thinking exactly. Developers have been taking over alleys that had been intended for off street parking

  • Michelle Pasternack

    Well no ups or Amazon packages for you !

  • Michelle Pasternack

    No ups or Amazon packages for you!

  • Augsburg

    Europe is way ahead of us in this area. It is out-of-date thinking to ask where will the UPS truck park. European cities (way more congested than many of our major cities) have already studied delivery by cargo bike and found it is way more efficient and speedy compared to old-fashioned delivery by large trucks. The large trucks blocking bike lanes in NYC and many other American cities have no place in a modern city.

  • Dny

    How can you block main traffic lane if many places because of these useless bike lanes; only one lane of traffic is open for cars?

  • 24680BDFHJ

    Useless to you

  • 24680BDFHJ

    Who cares?

  • Dny

    Yes minority of transport users will dictate how people who take buses, drive taxis, drive to work, etc. People like you is the problem with this city.

  • PM

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/bikelaneparking.pdf
    Motorists: ? No stopping, standing or parking in bike lanes
    Commercial vehicle drivers: ? Where permitted, double park on the roadway side of the bike lane, not in it

  • What do you mean “the only” lane.

    Last time I checked, most of these roads were two way. Drivers can wait to overtake as they would on ANY other two lane roads, which delivery trucks have no qualms about blocking. By parking in the bike lane instead of inconveniencing people, they put people’s live in danger. Moreover, generally they don’t even not block the vehicle lane, they’re still forcing drivers to wait to overtake.

    So really, the ONLY difference is that they ALSO endanger cyclists.

  • Dny

    Queens blvd service road has lost 17,000 parking spot, businesses have been closed because clients who drive can’t get to store. Deliveries are harder to deal with because on one side they have bike lanes; instead of car parking and other side is parking. Where Can delivery trucks stand? Either double park or park in bike lane. How can bike riders (minority of transport users) dedicate how we all should live? I’m for bike lanes but not on major roads. Put them in on side streets. This is ridiculous.

  • qrt145

    “Queens blvd service road has lost 17,000 parking spot”.

    That’s literally impossible, unless those spots where for Hot Wheels.

  • Frank A. Swint, Jr.

    Unless bikes can start delivering cargo to businesses and individuals, trucks are needed. Bicycles are not. Bicycling is a sport, a privilege, an OPTIONAL mode of transportation. but not a necessity. If it were up to me, I’d get rid of 90% of all these protected bike lanes, tell Transportation Alternatives to jump in the lake, have the NYC DOT be more accountable to residents and local businesses, and pay more attention to making sure having smooth paved streets are its top priority. No truck deliveries? These same bicyclists would howl they can’t get their Fresh Direct or Amazon. Congestion is no doubt a problem that’s caused (in my opinion) by over-development – allowing 1-percenter and 0.1-percenter developers to run rampant throughout the city filling every open space with over-priced condos and more commercial space that many cannot even afford. That being said, the buildings are already there, but the answer is not to demonize drivers (car, bus or truck). The reality is for the foreseeable future, this city like any city, still mainly depends on vehicular traffic. Having a one-sided policy that cow-tows to bicyclists while annoying and pissing off drivers, businesses and residents is not the answer.

  • This seems like the most obvious lie.

    But I’ll point out that in many places in NYC, drivers are in fact the minority.

  • Dny

    Your insane. You just make ideas up and go with it as fact. Yes bikes are used more than cars. Sure; The city has over 100k ubers yet; more than 100k bikers on road. Load of bs. I’m sorry your argument has no facts behind it.

  • I said drivers were a minority, this is true in many if not most places in NYC.

    Of course, you suggest there are only two groups of people in the city, drivers and cyclists.

    But there are pedestrians and transit riders as well, they outnumber drivers by a large margin in many if not most places.

    You argued that because cyclists were a minority of transport users, which they are, we shouldn’t dedicate so much space for them.

    Drivers are also a minority of transport users (although they take up the vast majority of space, because cars are very space inefficient), by your own logic, maybe we should provide them with less space.

    Of course, its much easier to just call me insane than admitting this reality.

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