Mayor: There’s Not Enough People Biking to Warrant Dedicated Bike Lane Enforcement

The mayor spent most of his half-hour with WNYC's Brian Lehrer on transportation issues.

Mayor de Blasio greeting personnel from the NYPD's new bus lane tow truck units. Photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office
Mayor de Blasio greeting personnel from the NYPD's new bus lane tow truck units. Photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

Dedicated bike lane enforcement teams aren’t worth the city’s limited financial and personnel resources, Mayor de Blasio reiterated on WNYC today.

Across the city, bus lanes and bike lanes are perennially blocked by illegally-parked cars — often belonging to city employees. This month, NYPD launched dedicated tow truck enforcement teams for bus lanes. To the frustration of many cyclists, including one caller on WNYC’s “Ask the Mayor” this morning, a similar initiative does not exist for bike lanes.

“We don’t have the resources to [enforce bike lanes] right now in the way I think some folks who advocate for the bicycling community would like to see,” the mayor explained in response to the caller.

The question referred to comments the mayor made yesterday, when he told NY1’s Grace Rauh that the city’s relatively low cycling numbers do not warrant the same level of investment as its bus riders, who number in the millions:

After that comment, advocates and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson took the mayor to task on Twitter, pointing out that there would be a lot more people biking if New Yorkers could trust that bike lanes would clear of dangerous obstructions like illegally-parked cars.

On the radio Friday, de Blasio dug in his heels.

“I respect the advocacy of people in the bicycle community, but I’d also like the acknowledgement to be there that Vision Zero has been the central approach, with a huge amount of resources committed — and clearly working,” he told host Brian Lehrer, pointing the the measured impact his policies have had towards reducing traffic fatalities.

“I had a very honest and straightforward answer,” he added. “We absolutely believe in enforcement in bike lanes, but the point is this specific approach is about something vast.”

De Blasio took no less than six questions from Lehrer and his callers about transportation matters. One called to thank the mayor “from the bottom of [his] heart” for the bus lane enforcement initiative. Another praised the announcement, but raised concerns about government employees using their parking placards to evade penalty for illegal parking.

The city will release a report on its placard enforcement strategy next month, de Blasio said.

Lehrer also asked the mayor about recent reporting from Streetsblog and Gothamist, which show that the governor’s plan for weekend and night-time single tracking on the L-train will result in dangerous overcrowding and 40-minute headways.

Despite those frightening forecasts, the mayor said he’s OK with the governor’s plan.

“Over the last weekend, our teams were meeting with the MTA to go over the details. We do believe that the new approach is better. We support it,” he said. “Now we have to figure out what it means in terms of those mitigation efforts.”

Listen to the full interview here.

  • Joe R.

    But apparently there are enough resources to give cyclists tickets for slow-rolling red lights. If you’re for Vision Zero, you should be for enforcement which improves safety, not enforcement which doesn’t, and discourages riding besides.

  • carl jacobs

    the city’s relatively low cycling numbers do not warrant the same level of investment as its bus riders

    Uh oh. Someone has uttered an unspeakable truth. Perhaps the corollary question should be asked. “Does low ridership warrant mucking up motorized traffic?”

  • Knut Torkelson

    If you don’t have the brain cells to correlate availability of quality bike infrastructure and the willingness of people to fucking bike, you need to sit this one out and let the adults have a grownup conversation.

  • Yes! More impunity for this scofflaw and his 20lb instrument of death and destruction.

  • Daphna

    If all the NYPD resources currently dedicated to sting operations in highly used bike lanes, ticketing cyclists for every minor offense possible, were instead dedicated to ticketing motorists parked illegally in bike lanes, that would translate to a significant amount of enforcement.

  • Seriously though, when the city installs a bike lane and then fails to enforce proper use and penalize abuse, they are effectively inviting anarchy and increasing disorder.

  • Reader

    Also enough resources to confiscate e-bikes from hard working immigrants who haven’t hurt anyone.

  • crazytrainmatt

    Imagine if he applied a data-driven approach uniformly across the transportation system…

    If we’ve learned anything in the last decade, it’s that quality infrastructure is the only path forward in NYC; NYPD is never going to do anything positive.

  • Also, anyone who doesn’t grasp the concept that the calming of car traffic is a good thing, and also the fact that this is an intended by-product of bike lanes, is unqualified to comment.

  • Reader

    What if I told you that the amount of car traffic in the city isn’t fixed and can be controlled via policy and design? Would you still troll?

  • Komanoff

    I’m gonna stick my neck out and say I don’t object to towaway-enforcing bus lanes but not bike lanes — *as the first step*. While way overdue, towaway enforcement is no small thing, and it will ruffle a lot of feathers. Blocking a bus lane *is* more blatant and harmful than blocking a bike lane, in terms of the number of people affected. Once the concept is proven for bus lanes, it will be easier to extend it to bike lanes (“easier” vs. starting with both bus and bike lanes).

    Of course de Blasio didn’t offer that, but if he had, I think that would have been eminently reasonable.

  • Rider

    A cycling conservancy supported by the community could pay off-duty police officers to enforce bike lanes.

  • Probably. But we really don’t want to hire private security and thereby accept the police department’s negligence.

    What we really need is bike cops. A small squad of officers in each borough who are dedicated to riding up and down bike lanes — ordering any driver stopped there to move, and calling tow trucks on parked cars — would have a huge impact on drivers’ behaviour.

    The inappropriate toleration of incursions into bike lanes is a matter of bad policy regarding enforcement priorities. This failure of leadership will have to be addressed by the next mayor, who, if we’re lucky, will remember that he or she is meant to have the final say on policy.

  • AMH

    Is DeBlasio admitting that his lackadaisical approach to bicycle infrastructure is failing to attract riders? Obviously, if you build it (and enforce it) they will come.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Bicycling is low relative to transit ridership. But it is high relative to single occupant motor vehicles, especially in relation to the space used. And unlike bus ridership, it’s going up.

  • Joe R.

    The primary problem though is the NYPD are the biggest offenders as far as blocking bike lanes. Are the police going to ticket themselves? I doubt it. I suggest crowd-sourcing enforcement. Create an app which lets a person upload a picture of the offending vehicle. When the city collects a fine, they get maybe 50%. If it’s a police car, the NYPD can doubtless trace the car number and time to the officers on duty. They get the fine. When blocking bike lanes hits people in the wallet, you can be sure it’ll end in no time.

    Do the same for blocking bus lanes and double-parking while we’re at it.

  • carl jacobs

    Someone evidently doesn’t like his eternal verities challenged. Look, I realize that bicyclists have established a hierarchy of virtue when it comes to modes of transportation, and have (not uncoincidentally) placed themselves at the top of that hierarchy. Said hierarchy is not universally recognized.

  • carl jacobs

    No, if I was intending to troll I would have said something like “Bicycles aren’t useless. We could always melt them down to make barbeque grills.” Instead I am asking about the opportunity cost of spending money on bicycle infrastruture when so few people actually make use of it. Especially given the fact that it is inherently dangerous to mix bicycles with motorized traffic. And unless you are going to create a completely separate infrastructure (cost prohibitive, given how few people would use it) you are going to have to mix the flows.

    “If you build it, they will come” isn’t much of a justification.

  • relevantjeff

    That’s what Vision Zero is all about – zero cyclists. How else is the city going to get cyclists to quit, other than with broken windows-style ticketing?

  • William Lawson

    Basically you’re a minority so fuck you.

  • carl jacobs

    As I was waiting for the bus tonight (in subzero temperature) I wondered at the lack of bicycle traffic. It’s funny. I haven’t seen any bicycles since November and I won’t see them again until they re-emerge in May. Perhaps that is because bicycles all but disappear in bad weather. Perhaps subzero temperatures have something to do with that. I wonder about the utility of a transportation mode that is only viable seven months of the year.

    But then again. It’s not all that unusual to not see bikes. The city put a bike lane in front of my house maybe two and one half years ago. But do you know what I have never seen in that bike lane? Bikes. Not in two-plus years. That’s a common experience actually. The city has put bike lanes on many roads that I commonly drive. There aren’t ever any bikes in those bike lanes. It’s kind of comical. I did see a construction crew park vehicles in a bike lane once. Those are the only people I have ever seen use it.

    So I ask myself “Why is my city spending money on bicycle infrastructure that isn’t used?” Why should it willingly compress traffic to service a non-existent user base? How long should it continue to do so? One year? Five? Indefinitely? And why should it do this for an hypothetical user base that would only use the infrastructure seven months a year? The trade is not determined by some presumed virtue in bicycling. There has to be a significant threshold to justify the expense and the resulting impact. They are not inherently justified by the virtue of bicycling.

    And unlike bus ridership, it’s going up.

    Yes, the WNBA says it’s viewership is up as well. It still pulls considerably less than bowling. Low numbers are still low even with positive rates.

    Bicycles create friction with motorized traffic and it doesn’t take many bicycles to create that friction. It is inherently dangerous to mix the two traffic flows given that they exhibit such disparate dynamic footprints. It cannot be made un-dangerous without creating completely separate infrastructures – which is not going to happen. Since motorized traffic is essential, and bicycles are non-essential (as seen for example when bad weather drives most cyclists into some other form of transport), the question of whether bicycles are actually worth it given the danger and their impact on traffic flow should really be considered. Otherwise you are creating a lot of carnage and headache just to enable the desires of a very small section of the population – a section with a very low ceiling to its growth.

  • Joe R.

    As I was waiting for the bus tonight (in subzero temperature) I wondered at the lack of bicycle traffic.

    So you were upstate? Buffalo perhaps? There were no subzero temperatures in NYC yesterday. In fact, I think it’s been over two decades since we’ve had subzero temperatures. Here in the states we use the Fahrenheit temperature scale. Negative temperatures are almost unknown in NYC.

    I haven’t seen any bicycles since November and I won’t see them again until they re-emerge in May.

    Funny, I saw some just yesterday. I’ve seen them even on the coldest days of the year, although I’ll grant the numbers drop as the weather gets colder. So do the numbers of people walking, and even driving. People generally don’t go out as much when it’s cold unless they have to, say for school or work or grocery shopping.

    The city put a bike lane in front of my house maybe two and one half years ago. But do you know what I have never seen in that bike lane? Bikes. Not in two-plus years.

    So your snapshots of the bike lane, which amount to a few minutes of every 24 hours at best, qualify you to say that bikes never use the bike lane? Guess what? Maybe 100 cars per day drive on my local block, and probably half of them are people who live on the block. Same with the sidewalk. That’s one every 15 minutes on average. It’s entirely possible I might never see a car if I happen to be looking at the wrong times.

    That’s a common experience actually.

    So now you’re translating your anecdotal experience to the entire city?

    So I ask myself “Why is my city spending money on bicycle infrastructure that isn’t used?” Why should it willingly compress traffic to service a non-existent user base? How long should it continue to do so? One year? Five? Indefinitely?

    It is used. Should the city remove sidewalks abutting cemeteries because those sidewalks are often hardly used? The user base is currently small, and growing. It would be growing even faster if we had better bike infrastructure, enforced rules preventing parking in bike lanes, and had a comprehensive, connected system instead of a piecemeal network. However, thanks to people like you, it’s hard to do any of these things.

    And the bike lanes almost never “compress traffic”. I’ve seen bike lanes installed on streets where all they had to do was narrow the travel lanes by one or two feet, and/or reduce the size of the parking lane from 15 feet to 10 feet. The number of travel and parking lanes remained the same. Or in some cases, yes, we remove parking for a bike lane but you still have the same number of travel lanes. NYC doesn’t owe car owners free curbside car storage.

    And why should it do this for an hypothetical user base that would only use the infrastructure seven months a year?

    It’s used 12 months a year, in all kinds of weather. The fact you can get bicycle food delivery 365 days per year should tell you this fact. Oh wait, the delivery people don’t count as valid bike lane users to people like you.

    There has to be a significant threshold to justify the expense and the resulting impact.

    The expense is minimal in terms of the entire city budget, probably under 0.1%, and so is the impact.

    Bicycles create friction with motorized traffic and it doesn’t take many bicycles to create that friction. It is inherently dangerous to mix the two traffic flows given that they exhibit such disparate dynamic footprints. It cannot be made un-dangerous without creating completely separate infrastructures – which is not going to happen.

    The answer is it depends. We don’t need bike lanes on every street. Quiet, residential streets like mine don’t need a bike lane. The primary place we need bike lanes is on major arterials. I’ll even agree to some extent it’s inherently dangerous to mix two traffic flows when they’re traveling at disparate speeds, as is the case on major arterials. That’s why we have protected bike lanes, so the flows don’t mix, except unfortunately at intersections. Here I’m at odds with NYC but my solution isn’t to not build the bike lanes because there often aren’t great solutions for busy intersections. Rather, it’s to do what the Dutch do, which is to have overpasses or underpasses which take the protected bike lanes through busy intersections without delay or conflict with cars. Another solution, given the frequency of intersections in NYC, is to just put the bike lanes on a viaduct, over the arterials. It’s cost effective because you don’t need these viaducts everywhere, just over major streets. The regular street grid of side streets can function fine to get cyclists those last few blocks to their final destination, often without bike lanes.

    The bottom line is yes, we can make a safe, comprehensive bike network which minimally conflicts with motor traffic but we’ll have to spend serious money on it, perhaps a few billion annually for 10 or 20 years. That’s still only a few percent of the city budget, and it’s a one-shot expenditure, not something which will be ongoing forever. Once built, you have something which will serve cyclists for centuries. Per user, the cost is pennies.

    Since motorized traffic is essential, and bicycles are non-essential (as seen for example when bad weather drives most cyclists into some other form of transport), the question of whether bicycles are actually worth it given the danger and their impact on traffic flow should really be considered.

    Let’s replace “bicycles” with “small, individual transport devices” here. That includes e-bikes, e-scooters, velomobiles, mobility scooters, etc. Once you include these other vehicles, the percentage of the population for whom bicycle infrastructure will have some utility is well over 50%, perhaps well over 75%. So yes, it’s worth it.

    And not all motorized traffic is essential. Delivery trucks, emergency vehicles, construction vehicles, buses, sanitation trucks, etc. certainly are. Private cars aren’t. A trip made by bike, e-bike, or e-scooter instead of by private car has the same utility to the end user.

    The problem with private car use in cities is one of geometry. In a city as dense as New York, at best private cars can serve the needs of 1/4 of the population, if that. In Manhattan, the number is probably under 10%. Any more and traffic grinds to a halt. If you design a city so everyone can get around by car, it’s no longer a city in any sense of the word. Look at Dallas or Houston, for example. They’re cities in name only. In reality they’re office parks connected by freeways. That’s you answer on why we should increase the use of small vehicles in NYC. We’ll reduce congestion, and give people more mobility choices.

  • Seymour Butz

    he’s completely brain dead

  • DoctorMemory

    I have to appreciate the complete dedication, up and down the line, to the orphan defense in this city. “We can’t possibly add more cycling infrastructure because too few people are willing to risk their lives on the half-assed token paths we grudgingly installed and then refused to connect in any useful manner. So we’re just going to keep it as dangerous as possible to bike in this city and wait for a critical mass of suicidal suckers to do it anyway before trying to improve things! Enjoy!”

    If “walking” had been invented in the last 20 years, NYC would still be “studying” implementing a 2-year pilot program of installing one mile of sidewalk in each borough.

  • webrawer

    https://en.seeclickfix.com/new-york already provides a way to report an issue on the street to the City. Could cyclists snap a pix of blocker (with license plate) to communicate the scale of the issue, with fine/warning potential?

  • Fool

    What a fucktard.

  • Edwin V

    Why is it inherently dangerous? They mix in the Netherlands and cycling is perfectly safe there.

  • Edwin V

    Pedestrians sit at the top of the hierarchy and if you were letting people drive and park on the sidewalks they’d be pretty upset too. Pedestrians mix with cars at intersections so it too is inherently dangerous, so by your logic above the two should never cross? The poster may be right about sitting this one out – you aren’t making sense.

  • Vooch

    Citibike numbers show a 50% decrease in ridership between summer and winter.

    which is rather similar to the decrease in driving VMT between Summer and Winter 🙂

  • Vooch

    Carl,

    “…few people actually make use of it. …”

    wrong

    In Manhattan below 34th street, cycling counts indicate that cycling is 10-15% of roadway traffic, on some avenues its 30-40% of roadway traffic despite bike lanes occupying less than 5% of the roadway.

    15% of traffic allocated less than 5% of roadway !!!

    Arguably, in Manhattan below 34th street, there are MORE cyclists than private cars these days.

    Based on your argument regarding ‘few people make use of it’ – perhaps we should ban inefficient & deadly private cars from Manhattan ?

  • carl jacobs

    There are five problems:

    1. Momentum is pitiless. A bicycle offers no protection to the rider in the event of a collision.

    2. Speed differential. Bikes are simply not fast enough to keep up with motorized traffic. Typically I will encounter a bike going 10-15 mph on a road with a speed limit of 30 mph. That difference is inherently unsafe.

    3. Acceleration footprint. A bicycle can change direction much faster than a motorized vehicle. When I pass a bicyclist on the road, I generally wait until I can give him almost the entire lane because I worry he will hit something that will throw him in front of or into my car. Or perhaps just thoughtless turn in front of my car. His maneuverability can be greater than my reaction time.

    4. Lane creation. A bicycle is small enough to create lanes that otherwise do not exist. This violates the basic assumption of lane usage for motorized traffic. I am specifically thinking about the space between a vehicle and the curb.

    5. Entitlement. Because bicycles are small and maneuverable, they can act contrary to the intended use of the road. And so they do. Frequently. This is why I have to watch for bicyclists riding on the wrong side of the road before I turn right into traffic.

    So what happens is that you shoehorn bicycles into a space for which they were never intended, give them permission to act how the want, and place the entire onus for their safety on the driver.

    To which the response will come back “Well, if we turn a car into we facto bike then it will be safe for the rider.” That’s an unreasonable solution given the relative importance of motorized traffic as opposed to the relative unimportance of bicycle traffic. It’s far easier and far less impactful to simply get bicycles off the road.

    Alternatively, you can ask cyclists what they don’t like about pedestrians. These problems will all translate. But cyclists are the aggressors on the sidewalk and thus lose victim status.

  • Edwin V

    These are just excuses, as an old and seemingly senile driver, that abdicate you from any responsibility. You clearly are likely too old to drive anymore and should have you license revoked if you can’t adapt to new realities in the road. Sorry, but there’s an expiration date on your driving ability and yours has clearly passed.

  • FedUpPhredd

    All those long mornings at the gym instead of work, and he’s still a giant ass.

  • You’re catching on

  • “Data-driven approach? That’s so Bloomberg, you fascist!”

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG