Cyclists Endangered as West Village Bike Lanes Attacked With Glass, Signs

Opponents of street safety are ramping up their war on cyclists now that the L-train shutdown has made the improvements politically expendable.

Cyclist Jonathan Warner spotted broken glass in the 12th and 13th street bike lanes on Thursday. Photo: Jonathan Warner
Cyclist Jonathan Warner spotted broken glass in the 12th and 13th street bike lanes on Thursday. Photo: Jonathan Warner

Another city bike lane that was already under fire from pro-parking forces has been vandalized, this time with broken glass and signs and graffiti calling for its removal. It’s the second time since November that a bike lane has been vandalized in a politically motivated attack.

This graffiti appeared on 13th Street near Avenue A on Thursday. It is a reference to parking spaces that were removed to provide more safety for cyclists. Photo: Chelsea Yamada.
This graffiti appeared on 13th Street near Avenue A on Thursday. It is a reference to parking spaces that were removed to provide more safety for cyclists. Photo: Chelsea Yamada.

Cyclists started noticing the anti-bike lane screeds on the 13th Street bike lane on Thursday afternoon. First, Chelsea Yamada of Transportation Alternatives sent Streetsblog a photo of the words, “Bring back our parking” in orange paint near Avenue A.

Later, cyclist Jonathan Warner noticed that the lanes on 12th and 13th streets were covered in patches of broken glass, which he believed was an intentional attack on cyclists.

“It’s pretty deliberate,” he posted on Twitter. “All over 12th and 13th in a specific 2-3 ave radius. Makes you think.”

He also spotted anti-bike lane signs that reflected the opinion expressed by the anti-bike lane 14th Street Coalition, which has demanded that the bike lanes on 12th and 13th streets, plus dedicated bus lanes on 14th Street, be removed. All of those streetscape improvements were made in anticipating of the L-train being shut down in Manhattan in April — but the proposed cancelation of that plan has led self-styled neighborhood groups to call on the city to undo the changes.

“West Village parking only,” the signs read, according to Warner’s photo on Twitter. “Bike lanes only benefit other people.”

The message was an echo of a statement put out by the 14th Street Coalition just one day earlier.

“The 14th Street Coalition does not want their neighborhoods to be guinea pigs with extremely disruptive changes to their safety,” the group said in a statement demanding the removal of the bike and bus improvements.

Thumbtacks spotted in the 43rd Avenue protected bike lane. Photo: Office of Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer
Thumbtacks had been spotted in the 43rd Avenue protected bike lane in November. Photo: Office of Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer

The latest attack is reminiscent of the attack on the 43rd Avenue bike lane in Sunnyside, Queens, in late November. In that incident, thumb tacks were spread across the bike lane in a clear attempt to injure cyclists. NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill later condemned the attack as “particularly nasty,” but stopped short of calling it a terror attack or a hate crime. He promised a full investigation.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson condemned the attack.

“This is unacceptable,” he tweeted. “In my district. Shame on whoever did this. All New Yorkers are entitled to safe streets and shared spaces, on two wheels or not.”

It is of course unclear who did either attack, but both came after months of heightened, anti-bike lane rhetoric that specifically focused on the supposed impact of bike and bus lanes on the ability of car owners to store their private vehicles in the public right of way, which is euphemistically called parking. Overnight on-street parking was not even legal in New York City until the 1950s, but many car owners believe it is their right to store their vehicles near their homes — and homes in Greenwich Village, through which the 12th and 13th street bike lanes pass, are extremely expensive.

In one irony, the leader of the pro-car protests against the environmentally beneficial bike and bus lanes is Arthur Schwartz, who is also the political director of the New York Progressive Action Network.

After several transportation reporters and activists pointed that out, the political group tweeted that Schwartz is a cyclist who supports bike lanes … just not in his neighborhood — the definition of a NIMBY.

“He is NOT against mass transit improvements AND considering he is a bike rider, he’s not opposed any cycling improvements,” the group said in a tweet.

It later added that Schwartz is “absolutely a progressive.”

“Arthur is a lawyer for over 18 block associations and community groups that believe that their needs and concerns have been ignored by the city and the MTA,” the group added.

The city and the MTA held hundreds of hours of community meetings and briefings to inform affected communities about every proposal to mitigate the impact of the shutdown of the L train’s Canarsie Tunnel, which was expected to start in April. The apparent cancelation of the work has thrown all of the mitigation effort into turmoil, with some pro-car forces calling for them to be undone, but a larger chorus of elected officials demanding that the improvements remain. City statistics show that protected bike lanes improve safety for all road users and that buses move faster in dedicated lanes.

Mayor de Blasio has not committed to retaining the improvements, but used his State of the City address to call for major improvements in bus travel times.

The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment. The 14th Street Coalition issued the following statement to Streetsblog on Friday afternoon: “While the 14th Street Coalition has rejected the need for dedicated bike lanes on 12th and 13th Streets. The Coalition has had no involvement in, nor condoned, the defacing of bike lanes.”

  • Brava, and thank you for your work!

  • Alberto Tonizzo

    Despite moving out of NYC, I still read news about bikes and I cannot understand the hate against bikers (I’m gonna say the old “I used to be a messenger”…).

    Anyhow… I do use Tannus tires because I used to get a flat every week, they are kinda hard to put on the rim and don’t get the super hard ones, but the regular ones. Best purchase I’ve made in years.

  • cjstephens

    Exactly. I was wondering if Gersh was going to use the t-word, but he showed restraint this time. Progress!

  • Joe R.

    I wouldn’t say really harsh because regular road bike tires inflated to 100 or 120 psi aren’t exactly smooth, either. I’d say the ride is somewhat harsher, but depending upon the size and hardness you get it can run the gamut from racing bike harsh to something comparable to air tires. Note that things like rim strips and Kevlar also make the ride a little harsher. I got into airless tires primarily because I was flatting just about every week. I was getting to the point of considering giving up riding on account of it. And it was almost always the rear tire flatting, which is a lot harder to fix. Then there was also the annoyance of having to check my tire pressure before any ride. 95% of my bike maintenance had to do with tires. Now all that is history. I hardly need to do anything on my bike. Just lubricate the chain occasionally, clean it every few months, replace it every few thousand miles, and replace the cassette and chainring every 10K to 20K miles. The tires themselves last well over 5,000 miles. My last set went over 9,000, and the high-rebound tires I switched to are supposed to last even longer.

    I never tried Tannus tires yet, either. The company which made the airless tires I’m currently using, namely Marvel Compound Tires, went out of business. Marvel Compound Tires made some tires in high-rebound elastomer. This has less rolling resistance than the standard urethane compound. When these tires wear out I won’t be able to replace them with the same thing unless another company bought Marvel’s equipment.

    That basically leaves two options-the aforementioned Tannus Tires, and Greentyre.

    I never tried either one, so I can’t make any recommendations in that department. It looks like both are actively researching overcoming the two negatives of airless tires, which are a harsher ride and more rolling resistance. In practice the latter isn’t that bad with current tires, and the former is tolerable. In fact, here are some reviews:


    Their figure of a speed loss of 1 to 1.5 mph relative to pneumatic tires matches my experience, although I think the high-rebound tires I’m using now are even better than that. The speed loss seems to be more on rough roads due to more bouncing up and down. On smooth roads I’m not sure if I can even detect a speed loss with my current airless tires.

    Note also the tires are available in different simulated psi. A harder tire will have less rolling resistance but also ride rougher. I’ve never tried it, but two alternate options could be:

    1) A lower psi airless tire in front to cushion the handlebars and the highest psi in back so more of your pedaling energy hits the road.

    2) A pneumatic tire in front and airless in back. This is an interesting compromise in that the pneumatic tire in front will offer cushioning where you need it the most, while the airless tire in back ensures you don’t have to go through the difficulty of fixing a rear flat. Front flats are fairly easy to fix. Rear flats aren’t. 99% of my flats were in the rear.

    When my present tires wear out I’ll probably try the Tannus tires. I’m leaning towards the volcano red. Those would go nice with my black rims and titanium frame.

    One thing worth mentioning is that airless tires seem to have a break-in period of a few hundred miles over which their rolling resistance decreases. That’s why anyone trying them has to stick with them for a while before passing judgement.

    Some of the mainstream tire companies, notably Bridgestone, might also get into airless tires. This is an evolving field, so it’s not a bad idea to do a search now and then to see what’s available.

  • Joe R.

    One thing to mention getting the regular versus super hard ones is your weight. Based on my experience, it seems airless tires have an inflection point in terms of rolling resistance. This is unlike air tires for which rolling resistance is more or less proportional to weight. The same is true for airless tires, but only until you reach the inflection point. Once you do, the rolling resistance goes up nonlinearly. That’s why airless tire companies often recommend that heavier riders go with the super hard tires. Those have a higher inflection point.

    The presence of an inflection point might also explain why airless tires are somewhat slower over rougher roads. Bouncing around momentarily loads the tires, probably past their inflection point.

    My experience is that airless tires are pretty comparable to pneumatics on smooth roads, but harsher and slower on very rough roads.

  • jcwconsult

    Vandalism and potentially dangerous violence are NOT acceptable ways to protest. That said, protests against lost lanes for vehicles are often very justified.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Simon Phearson

    I have those. Great to avoid punctures. But I’ve had a fair number of pinch flats (potholes!).

  • Larry Littlefield

    I always buy them, but I still get flats. Not as frequently but I get them — usually slow leaks.

  • wompwomp

    The Kevlar strip on most anti puncture tires will stop high velocity punctures (rolling over glass), but you need to periodically pick the shards out of the tire rubber. Otherwise the glass will slowly be pushed through the Kevlar and cause a delayed blow out.

    Also, be sure your tires are pumped near the max psi.

  • wompwomp

    I appreciate your statement on violence.

    In this case the backlash against the lanes makes no sense. If you can afford a car in NYC (and rent in this neighborhood,) you can afford to pay for parking.

    These residents enjoy delivery dinner as much as any other wealthy New Yorker, and these bike lanes protect low income workers bringing food to the residents’ doors. These workers are SOL if they are injured by careless drivers, so the bike lane carries both practical and ethical benefits for locals.

  • jcwconsult

    You are welcome. I don’t know the particular neighborhood – do you think cyclists delivering dinner and other things to residents’ doors are a notable percentage of the cyclist traffic in this area?
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • wompwomp

    Delivery cyclists make up a huge percentage of the bike traffic all over Manhattan, including this neighborhood. That said, there’s tons of local residents who bike as well, they just generally don’t go to community board meetings, since attendance at CB’s usually skews towards the 60+ crowd, and are underrepresented in how the streets are laid out as a result.

  • jcwconsult

    Manhattan may be a special case where cyclists deserve a large voice in the mix of stakeholders. But so do car, tourist, visitor, and commercial vehicle drivers that are a vital part of commerce.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    Actually, in many cities, cyclists command a much larger portion of the stakeholder voices mix than their actual numbers or any realistic forecast of future actual numbers would justify. But I agree that Manhattan is likely a special case. Perhaps the best result is to leave some collectors almost exclusively for cars and other parallel ones with protected lanes for bikes.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Scott Voolker

    Studies have shown that motorists are just as likely to break traffic laws as cyclists. Having said that, I would be entirely in favor of an enforcement regime in New York City that absolutely guarantees a fine for any traffic infraction.

  • In all cities measured, the number of people who want to cycle more, but cannot because infrastructure is lacking and dangerous is a very very strong majority of people.

  • jcwconsult

    I agree more people would cycle if there were more dedicated and protected bike lanes. Let me pose a real question. In a busy city where currently about 5% cycle to commute, what percentage do you think would cycle most of the time with much better bike lanes – A) in a place with generally mild weather and B) in the snow belt cities?
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Well, in the Netherlands, where there are the same people as here, but where the cities have near perfect cycling infrastructure, and certainly they have snow in the Netherlands, they see cycling trips being 30-40% of all trips…so that’s probably an upper limit without policies to aggressively oppose cars.

  • jcwconsult

    Thanks and I respect your estimates. It helps a LOT that the Netherlands is very flat, as is much of NYC. I doubt that most working Americans will ever be that devoted to cycling, regardless of any infrastructure changes – particularly in snow belt cities. Also, a high percentage of commuters come into American cities from beyond reasonable cycling ranges – in many cases because the real estate costs to live closer to the centers are too high.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Sincerely

    Part of the reason so many people use bikes in NYC is because they work very well with transit — far better than automobiles. Many, many people would choose to combine modes in their commute if the infrastructure to support multiple modes existed.

    It’s lazy to dismiss walking or biking as part of the solution to congestion because you imagine that people can only use a single means to get around. It seems to be a common error among car boosters, perhaps because cars are themselves so cumbersome that they often make multimodal travel difficult.

    One of the advantages of de-prioritizing automobiles is that it would lower the cost of housing, both by reducing development costs and freeing up space currently wasted on parking.

  • jcwconsult

    Agreed, bikes or scooters work better than cars for the first and last miles to & from transit – for those with good transit options.

    In most metroplexes, converting a few parking garages to housing is unlikely to reduce the average housing costs enough to make them affordable to most far-suburban dwellers who commute for financial reasons. In SF an average house is $1.2 million and $3 – $4,000/month to rent a modest apartment.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Sincerely

    Yeah, San Francisco is really expensive. People really like to live in walkable cities.

    Parking is also really expensive. This is from an article entitled “Hidden Costs and Deadweight Losses: Bundled Parking and Residential Rents in the Metropolitan United States” in the journal Housing Policy Debates:

    “Minimum parking requirements in municipal zoning codes drive up the price of housing…. the cost of garage parking to renter households is approximately $1,700 per year, or an additional 17% of a housing unit’s rent…. the lack of rental housing without bundled parking imposes a steep cost on carless renters.”

  • jcwconsult

    I have NO problem with making onsite parking a for-cost option for renters and condo owners, so carless occupants do NOT have to pay for something they do not want – it is a smart rule. My relatives had that option in a Silver Spring, MD condo.

    Then any parking spots valued at $1,700 (or whatever the local costs actually are) can be rented for profits at a bit above the real monthly costs – reducing the need for on street parking places.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association