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Bill to Keep Cyclists Safe Near Construction Sites Lacks $ufficient Mu$cle

By and large, construction companies get away with blatant obstructions to safety like the one pictured here. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

A City Council bill that would require construction companies to provide safe detours for cyclists lacks the one thing that could make such a law actually work: penalties for non-compliance.

Manhattan Council Member Carlina Rivera says her bill would make roadways safer because bicyclists would no longer be forced out of protected bike lanes into busy traffic at construction sites. But there's no dollar figure for violations in the bill, and Rivera said the fines would be pegged to current ticket for blocking a bike lane, which is roughly $100 — a pittance to a construction firm building a multi-million-dollar project.

Streetsblog asked the freshman Rivera if fines in the tens of thousands of dollars, per day, would pack more of a punch than the minor nuisance of a $100 ticket, and Rivera said her bill is just a first step.

"I think as we look at the structure, and whether there are repeated violations, that's something we should consider," Rivera replied.

Council Member Carlina Rivera with advocates outside City Hall this morning. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Council Member Carlina Rivera with advocates outside City Hall this morning. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Council Member Carlina Rivera with advocates outside City Hall this morning. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Rivera's bill puts enforcement in the hands of the Department of Transportation, which doles out street-use permits to contractors. But street safety advocates who attended Rivera's press conference said the Department of Buildings would probably do a better job enforcing such a rule — and giving it real teeth. The agency already cites construction companies that fail to protect workers or members of the public, and penalties can be as high as $25,000 per violation.

One problem: DOB says it is not currently involved in enforcement related to "public right of ways," according to agency spokesperson Andrew Rudansky.

Rivera showed off this construction site on Second Avenue, which forces cyclists into busy traffic. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Rivera showed off this construction site on Second Avenue, which forces cyclists into busy traffic. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Rivera showed off this construction site on Second Avenue, which forces cyclists into busy traffic. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

The challenge in keeping bike lanes clear is playing out in real-time on Sixth Avenue, where MTA contractor Judlau Contracting is renovating the 23rd Street F train station. In the last week, DOT has issued nine violations to Judlau — each worth a minimum of $1,200 — for using multiple blocks of Sixth Avenue's protected bike lane as a 24/7 staging ground, in violation of its permit.

The mess has been documented over many months by Brooklyn-based photographer Shmuli Evers:

Judlau, whose annual revenue is in the hundreds of millions, has not made any modifications in response to the penalties. A DOT spokesman claimed that future permits are "on hold" until the company meets with the agency.

Credit Rivera for one thing: She's gotten City Hall talking about bike safety — and reminded the public why protected bike lanes even exist.

"Protected bike lanes show drivers that we have a right to the road, too," said North Brooklyn cycling advocate Phillip Leff, who was at Rivera's press conference. "But when they are blocked, the dangers cyclists face all comes up again."

With Gersh Kuntzman.

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