UNFINE PRINT: Andrew Cuomo is the Latest to Wrongly Blame Bike Lanes for Congestion

This bike lane is not causing congestion. It is relieving it, despite what Gov. Cuomo believes. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.
This bike lane is not causing congestion. It is relieving it, despite what Gov. Cuomo believes. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Is Andrew Cuomo taking Whoopi Goldberg pills?

Around the same time that ABC talk show host was erroneously claiming that bike lanes cause congestion, Gov. Cuomo made a similar specious claim, arguing that congestion in New York City is partly caused by protected bike lanes and pedestrian plazas.

It’s right there on page 49 of Cuomo’s “Justice Agenda” briefing book that accompanied the governor’s State of the State address this week.

The words “bike lane” are in the 354-page document just once — pejoratively:

There are now over 100,000 for hire vehicle drivers making more than 20 million trips every month, producing unprecedented traffic congestion. Poor enforcement of traffic laws and increases in the number of bike lanes, pedestrian plazas, parking placards, daytime deliveries and tour buses are also contributing factors. The average vehicle speed in Manhattan’s Central Business District (below 60th Street) has dropped to 7 miles per hour, and during the workday, it is often faster to walk to your destination in Midtown Manhattan than it is to drive.

The paragraph was attributed, with the footnote directing readers to page 7 of the New York City Department of Transportation’s “NYC Mobility Report” for 2018.

There’s one problem: That report does not blame bike lanes for causing congestion. It doesn’t blame bike lanes for anything. In fact, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg is quoted as saying, “We are now moving more people than ever, and the city has continued to invest heavily in bus lanes, bike lanes, and citywide ferry service to support this growth with sustainable modes.”

On Thursday, a DOT spokesperson said the agency was not pleased to have its pro-bike-lane report cited as the source of erroneous information.

“According to DOT data, bike lanes and pedestrian plazas do not contribute to Manhattan congestion,” the spokesperson said. ‘Our research illustrates that space dedicated to more efficient travel modes — like walking and cycling — has instead helped meet the enormous demand for public space created by New York City’s record population, job and tourism growth.”

Transportation Alternatives was also miffed at Cuomo’s assertion that street safety improvements adversely affect drivers.

“I am absolutely convinced that bike lanes have a net benefit, based on two things,” said interim Co-Director Marco Conner. “The false notion that narrowing car travel lanes or removing a lane in favor of a bike lane automatically causes motor vehicle traffic back up. We’ve seen the exact opposite, namely that when more lanes are added it invites more drivers and immediately the gains from more road space are reversed as the space fills up.

“And the fact that bike lanes encourage biking and replaces car trips which reduces congestion,” Conner added. “[Cuomo’s] statement in the budget is rooted in an outdated, ill-informed and ultimately harmful view of transportation in 21st-century New York City.”

This is the bikelash. We need to fight back.
This is the bikelash.

That ill-informed view was spewed on Wednesday by “View” co-host Whoopi Goldberg, who lectured Mayor de Blasio that his bike lanes were causing congestion. But the windshield perspective is not limited to millionaires who live in mansions in New Jersey. On Morris Park Avenue in the Bronx, residents continue to complain about a soon-to-be-installed road safety measure that would reduce car travel lanes from four to two, with turning bays in the middle of the two-way street — a proven formula for not only safety, but for good traffic flow.

“They see four travel lanes becoming two and they think it will make traffic worse,”DOT’s Bronx Borough Commissioner Nivardo Lopez told Streetsblog earlier this year. “For most people, that’s their concern because, fortunately, most people are not hit by a vehicle or are involved in a crash. Safety is out of sight, out of mind for them. To them being stuck in traffic is more relatable.”

Lopez reiterated that DOT statistics show that traffic-calming plans do not significantly increase travel times. Drivers think they are going slower, but street design often decreases double parking — a real problem on Morris Park Avenue — and, as a result, maintains traffic flow, despite one fewer lane.

Streetsblog asked Mayor de Blasio on Thursday if he was upset that Goldberg had repeated the inaccurate belief that bike lanes cause congestion, but he said he wasn’t concerned that public opinion was against his Vision Zero campaign.

“I don’t actually think you have to worry about a lot of people listening to [what Goldberg said] and suddenly changing their mind,” the mayor said.

Perhaps he should call the governor to make sure.

  • Rex Rocket

    No one running for a national office will ever publicly endorse something that impedes the flow of SOVs.

  • Sincerely

    You should read the actual study. It’s called “Safety and operational impacts of setting speed limits below engineering recommendations,” by Vikash V. Gayah, Eric T. Donnell, Zhengyao Yu, and Lingyu Li.

    Here’s the first line:

    “This study quantifies the operational and safety impacts of setting posted speed limits below engineering recommendations using field data from *rural roads* in Montana.” (my emphasis)

    I’ve given up hope on you being right, but I really wish you would at least put a little more effort into how you’re wrong. Considering the amount of practice you’ve had, you should be much better at it.

    All that aside, I’m glad you now have a study that clearly indicates that the NMA should be advocating for speed limits 5 mph below the 85th percentile on rural roads. I’m looking forward to that.

  • Sincerely

    It’s remarkable the effort you put into avoiding simple enforcement mechanisms that will save lives.

  • Sincerely

    I just read a comment of yours claiming that if the majority do something against the law, it is the law itself that is against the rule of law, not those who break the law.

    Your perspective is remarkably malleable, depending on how it serves your biases. I suppose I should expect that from the mouthpiece for a for-profit fringe group dedicated to preventing law-breaking motorists from being held accountable.

    I actually kind of agree with that position in the Manhattan context. The number of double-parked folks just demonstrates how wrongheaded it is to try to jamb cars into an environment so ill-suited to them.

  • Sincerely

    I think it reveals a lot about “cars at any cost” folks like yourself when those who are working toward safer streets are labeled “car haters.”

  • jcwconsult

    WITHIN 5 of the 85th is fine – NOT always 85th minus 5.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    Since cities will NOT use such mechanisms that actually reduce most drivers speeds below the level they find safe and comfortable – the rest are mostly enforcement for profits rackets.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    I have mentioned it before, but we have a collector in my town posted at the 1st percentile speed with 99% above the limit. Those above include police cars not on runs, garbage trucks, school buses with kids aboard, and almost all of the normal commuters and shoppers. It is insanity.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    Depends on how they try to make changes.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Sincerely

    Why not, when you know that 5 mph can mean the difference between life and death?

    I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that the NMA would so shamelessly reveal that you consider a few seconds of travel time saved is worth substantially increasing the risk of death, but I guess you extremists are at least consistent in your disregard for others.

  • Sincerely

    Yeah, clearly that street would benefit from a road diet and possibly speed bumps until more significant safety improvements can be made.

  • jcwconsult

    If posted limits changed the actual travel speeds, your thought would be logical. But they don’t, so your thought isn’t logical.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    It is a 2 lane road with fairly narrow lanes, so a road diet is not applicable. It has enough volume and is a major access route for emergency services that speed bumps are not allowed.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Sincerely

    This is from the journal article you cited: “The safety analysis found a statistically significant reduction in total, fatal?+?injury, and property damage only (PDO) crash frequency at locations with posted speed limits set 5 mph lower than engineering recommendations.”

    So I’ll ask again. Why not do what the study you put so much credence in recommends?

  • jcwconsult

    We have no problems with up to 5 mph below the 85th.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • JimthePE

    An article behind a paywall from a publication with a history of biased reporting on transportation issues is a poor way to make a point.

  • jcwconsult

    When I saw the WSJ article the first time, it was not behind a paywall. The second time I tried to read it, the paywall was there and I cannot see it now either.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Sincerely

    It’s interesting to me how car-dependent people are eager to bring up emergency vehicle access when discussing improvements to active transportation infrastructure, but they don’t seem concerned about how automobile congestion slows many major urban roads to a crawl on a regular basis.

  • Guy Ross

    Nor to accept that the vast majority of emergency vehicle trips are necessitated through ‘drivers hitting shit’.

  • Alicia


    A majority of the commuters, shoppers, tourists, visitors, and commercial traffic in most cities WILL drive -”

    If we are using the census bureau definition of “cities” then that might be true, but it has very little relevance to Manhattan.

  • jcwconsult

    Agreed Manhattan is a special case. The same is likely true in other large city downtown areas. If your work is in a downtown metroplex and you live only a few miles out AND conveniently close to a transit stop – you likely commute by transit.

    Those coming from further out, visitors unfamiliar with using transit in that area, and the commercial traffic likely drive.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Alicia

    “Those coming from further out, visitors unfamiliar with using transit in that area, and the commercial traffic likely drive.”

    The furthest out usually fly…

  • jcwconsult

    Those that fly in likely use some combination of transit, Uber or Lyft, and taxis. Using Uber, Lyft, and taxis does NOT reduce congestion – it is the same as driving. Single people who arrive to areas by car from 50 to perhaps 300 miles away do so because flying is too expensive. With two people, it is usually cheaper to drive from at least 500 miles away.

    My wife and I went from Michigan to VA for Christmas (528 miles) and would not have considered flying. The total costs would have been higher and we had places to go in the area sometimes transporting other family members that would have taken far longer by transit.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • MatthewEH

    I’m shocked that you all don’t have jwconsult blocked. I blocked him ages ago.

  • That is the correct way to deal with a troll.

  • Philip Neumann

    I want and need to ride my bike without being threatened by motorists. As a result, I have bike lanes, and I have excellent door to door travel times.

    Sorry motorists in this City are too dense (in all senses of that word) to choose another form of transportation.

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