DOT Worker Had a Good Reason for Parking in the 12th Street Bike Lane

Turns out, that's the only way to do the work of building a protected bike lane, the agency says.

Turns out, this worker was doing his job.
Turns out, this worker was doing his job.

He was ruining the bike lane to save the bike lane.

A Department of Transportation worker who earned internet jeers for blocking the 12th Street bike lane with his agency-issued truck on Wednesday was actually working to install posts that would make the frequently blocked bike lane less accessible to cars, the agency said Thursday. [Video below]

We just received this statement from DOT Chief Communications Officer Christopher Browne — and it’s a reminder that there are some times when a blocked bike lane is not what it appears:

The video Streetsblog provided showed a DOT Traffic Control & Engineering van blocking a protected bike lane along 12th Street in the Village yesterday.

The DOT employee in the video was at the time servicing delineators that discourage other vehicles from traveling or parking in the bike lane. Specifically, the worker uses an electric power drill that can penetrate asphalt, which attaches by electrical cord to a converter in the van. On a narrow street like 12th Street (less than 30 feet wide at points), this work cannot be safely performed by any method that does not require the worker’s vehicle to stand within the bike lane itself.

We ask for cyclists’ patience for temporary impediments like these while we make the city’s growing network of protected bike lanes even safer.

The agency did not initially install sufficient flex-posts or hard barriers to insure that the paired lanes on 12th and 13th streets remain clear of car and truck drivers, who frequently park in cyclists’ space. For that reason, Streetsblog did not include the lanes as part of its coverage of the city’s count of new protected bike lanes completed in 2018.

The 12th and 13th street bike lanes were created as part of the city’s plan for mitigating congestion during the now-scrubbed L-train reconstruction, which was supposed to start in April. The installation of new flex-posts on Wednesday, however, suggests that the city will not remove the new bike lanes, as some car-owning Village residents have demanded, but other groups have countered.

Though maybe not; the DOT would only say that the new posts were unrelated to any decision about retaining the protected lanes.

Update: After initial publication of this story, the type of drill being used was identified as a Milwaukee SDS-Max Rotary Hammer model.

  • If this was done in a car lane, there would be a giant truck with a flashing arrow, a mile of cones, and detour signs up and down the block.

    But clearly the super-dangerous bicyclists (according to the residents) are not a danger to the DOT workers.

  • Reader

    Sorry, no. He still could have parked in the buffer and allowed space for cyclists to pass on the inside and motorists to pass on the other side. We have to stop making excuses for people, especially those at DOT. It is possible to do one’s job without inconveniencing other people or jeopardizing their safety.

  • com63

    Maybe the city only supplies 3ft long extension cords to operate their drills? Seriously, this work can be done with a cordless drill.

  • AnoNYC

    The flex post should be closer together so that a car cannot pull into the bike lane.

  • Flex posts do absolutely nothing to stop cars. There used to be flex posts at the corner of Water and John Streets protecting a painted sidewalk extension. The posts were destroyed and replaced a few times; but finally the DOT conceded to the dangerous sociopaths and stopped replacing the posts.

    The barriers protecting bike lanes and pedestrian space should be made of metal or concrete, and should do serious damage to a car that collides with them.

  • Could’ve easily given 12-18″ more inches to pass on the left.

  • walks bikes drives

    Ferdinand, seriously, please stop calling all drivers sociopaths. It makes me lose respect for you. And it insults me personally, as a driver who advocates for safe streets.

  • qrt145

    Not all drivers drive over flexposts to get into (or out of) a bike lane. I think it would be fair to say that that kind of driving is a bit on the antisocial side.

  • I am very pleased to know that you advocate for safe streets. Thank you.

    But what do you call the repeated destruction of public property in order to persist in driving on the sidewalk, which is what occurred at the corner I mentioned? More generally, what do you call the act of summarily waving off one’s responsibility to the community? What do you call the attitude by which a person places his/her own comfort and convenience ahead of the safety — and even the lives — of others?

    Still, perhaps I will take your advice, and modify my language to the extent of not saying that drivers are sociopaths; I will try to remember to say instead that drivers behave like sociopaths.

    What I ask of you in return is to realise that the problem we are dealing with here is not an individual problem but rather a systemic one. Even if any given driver has no ill will towards bicyclists and pedestrians, every driver nevertheless constitutes a menace to these more vulnerable road users, by virtue of the norms that surround driving: low standards of licensure; poor street design; lack of priorty given to traffic enforcement.

    I drive once in a while, too. I will do so next week, when I take my mother for eye surgery; the last time before that was last summer, when I took her to a doctor’s appointment. And please know that I do not conveniently exempt myself from the charge of sociopathic behaviour.

    I can try my hardest to be considerate while driving; but the best that I can do is to minimise the expressions of what may justifiably be called sociopathy. The important point is that these expressions can never be entirely eliminated because they are inherent to the act of piloting such a powerful vehicle in an urban setting. (A suitable urban vehicle would be something along the lines of a golf cart.)

    While I frequently argue with fetishisers of street design because these people tend to deny the responsibility to follow the law, I do acknowledge that they have a point. I can distinctly remember driving along Jamaica Avenue in Hollis last summer and noticing on the speedometer that I was going in excess of 30 miles per hour, even though the speed limit there is 25. I was only keeping up with traffic; and everybody was going closer to 35 than to 25.

    They were going at that speed because that’s what was promoted by the design of the street, and also by appalling negligence on the part of law enforcement. But I have to accept that, by going so fast on an urban street, I was behaving like a sociopath, as were all the other drivers with whom I was keeping up.

    So please understand that I am not insulting you, and neither am I insulting myself. I am merely noting that all the good intentions in the world cannot negate the fundamental harm to people that is caused by cars in a city. That is the nature of a systemic problem.

    We could fix this problem on the time scale of decades by re-engineering every excessively wide street, or by waiting for the technological fixes of speed governors in cars or (even better) totally automated vehicles that are programmed never to speed or to break any other law.

    Or we could fix it tomorrow by mandating better enforcement priorities, and having police instill in drivers an appropriate sense of fear that would replace their dangerous sense of entitlement.

  • William Lawson

    I believe the correct protocol is to put cones out if you’re doing work in a bike lane, or at least that’s what I see relatively responsible companies like ConEd doing. That being said, at least I can sleep now that the type of drill being used has been identified.

  • Joe R.

    But I have to accept that, by going so fast on an urban street, I was behaving like a sociopath, as were all the other drivers with whom I was keeping up.

    Actually, what you were doing was minimizing the relative risk to yourself and others by just keeping up with traffic. Yes, the design of the street promotes higher speeds. Because of this, anyone attempting to drive at the speed limit will have motorists aggressively trying to get past them. Some of these motorists may lose control and hit cyclists or pedestrians. Therefore, you did the sane and sensible thing of just driving at the prevailing speed of traffic. Arguably, you would have been behaving more like a sociopath if you insisted on going 25 mph while everyone was trying to get past you. You would have technically been right from a legal standpoint, but wrong from a moral one.

    I could also make a good argument that doing 35 mph on Jamaica Avenue isn’t particularly unsafe. Jamaica Avenue has traffic lights. These stop cars so pedestrians can safely cross. Therefore, the speed the cars do when they have the green shouldn’t affect pedestrian safety. Higher speeds could affect cyclist safety, but that’s more a product of how closely drivers pass cyclists. If they give cyclists a wide berth, it doesn’t matter if they’re going 25 or 45. I’d rather be passed by a motorist at 50 mph who moves to the left lane before passing me than buzzed by one doing 25 mph.

    Or we could fix it tomorrow by mandating better enforcement priorities, and having police instill in drivers an appropriate sense of fear that would replace their dangerous sense of entitlement.

    Unfortunately, we can’t because we lack the manpower for saturation enforcement of speed limits everywhere, or even enough enforcement to make drivers feel they have a good chance of getting caught. We can and should install more speed cameras where high speeds cause the most problems, but even here we can’t arrive at your goal of completely fixing the problem. Install too many cameras, and there will be push back. End result may well be what happened in other states, which was to ban speed and red light cameras altogether. We don’t want this to happen as we lose a valuable enforcement tool.

    Finally, I wrote this elsewhere but it bears repeating:

    The question is how does one define “unsafe”. It shouldn’t be a number on a sign unless that number can be changed at will to reflect the conditions. 15 mph might be reckless in the middle of a blizzard and 45 mph might be just fine on an outer borough arterial late nights. As a pedestrian, I feel more endangered crossing streets by cars which might suddenly turn into me without yielding. The ones going in a straight line, even at 50 mph, don’t really bother me because I’ll either look before crossing (if I don’t have the light, or the intersection is unsignaled), or they’ll be stopped by the traffic signal (if I do have the light). When I’m riding the vehicles which can potentially right hook me, or cut me off to park, are a bigger safety problem than those which pass me, even if they’re going well over the speed limit. The only caveat is I want a wide berth when being passed, but that’s just as true whether the vehicle is only going 25 mph or 45 mph.

    The bottom line is it’s not so much the speed which matters, at least to a first approximation), but rather whether or not the driver exercises due care around vulnerable users (and yes, sometimes that due care involves reducing speed). Speed of course becomes an issue in and of itself when the speed is so high the driver cannot effectively control the car or obey traffic controls. This might occur at only 35 mph on a narrow, residential side street, or it might not occur until 60+ mph on a multi-lane arterial with good sight lanes. Of course, speed limits should be set well below speeds at which drivers can’t control their vehicles, but we should maybe start thinking in terms of variable speed limits. I’d like to see 15 mph near schools when school is letting out or starting. The rest of the time 25 or 30 or even higher might be OK. I’d like to see speed limits lowered during snowy or icy or very rainy conditions. The point here is “unsafe” speed isn’t as simple as picking a number.

  • If all of us driving on that streeet (myself included) had been acknowledging our responsibility, then we’d all have been going no faster than 25 miles per hour. That’s the way these things are supposed to work. When the bad behaviour that undermines this policy becomes normalised, that’s an example of mass sociopathy.

    The right thing to do legally was to slow down to the speed limit; and the right thing to do morally was to model the appropriate behaviour and set a good example. And that is precisely what I did for the remainder of that day’s drive.

    But, I’m sorry to inform you that the rest of your comment is mostly nonsense. Of course the maximum safe speed varies with conditions. But absolutely nowhere in a city is a speed in excess of 30 appropriate under any condition. In the Nassau County hellscape where my mother lives, where the density is enough to count as quasi-urban, the speed limit on the multi-lane main street that goes through there is a scandalous 40, with drivers regularly exceeding 50. There is nothing safe about that.

    Still, as I mentioned, design matters a great deal. When I was riding to Philadelphia last summer, I found myself on a stretch of Route 27 near Princeton on which I was stunned to see a posted speed limit of 45. However, the road had only one lane in each direction, with a nice shoulder suitable for biking; so, in practice, no one was going any faster than about 25.

    Finally, we absolutely do have the manpower in our absurdly overstaffed police department to make a serious dent in speeding. The question is down purely to policy, as well as to the willingness to comply with a fundamental policy change on the part of the rank-and-file officers. who have been enculturated into institutional norms that promote the overlooking of speeding and other traffic offences.

  • Joe R.

    Cyclists passing red lights is another form of “bad” behavior which you could say is normalized, but again it’s a rational response to a built environment where it’s often safer to pass reds, and a cyclist encounters far too many red lights. In the short term it makes sense to legalize such behavior with an Idaho stop law. In the longer term we should do what the Dutch did, which is to systematically remove traffic signals from bike routes.

    As for Nassau County, again, it’s a design issue. They have high-speed car roads in the Netherlands. Here’s what they typically look like:

    http://www.boblucky.com/Biking/Holland2/Nroad.jpg

    Note the 60 km/hr (37 mph) speed limit. You have similar designs next to roads with 70 or 80 km/hr limits. Nassau Country needs to do more stuff like this.

    Still, as I mentioned, design matters a great deal. When I was riding to Philadelphia last summer, I found myself on a stretch of Route 27 near Princeton on which I was stunned to see a posted speed limit of 45. However, the road had only one lane in each direction, with a nice shoulder suitable for biking; so, in practice, no one was going any faster than about 25.

    I must have ridden that stretch hundreds of times back in college. I sometimes took it all the way to New Brunswick. Note how the speed limits progressively increase from 25 mph in town to 30 mph as you start to leave town, then 35 mph right on the fringes of town, and 45 mph where the road starts to more resemble a 2-lane country highway. That’s the spot you show. Traffic generally doesn’t pick up speed until a block or two later, once the 45 mph sign registers (and it’s apparent you’re no longer in town). Once you’re in “God’s country”, traffic often moves at 50 or better, but with that nice wide shoulder I still felt safe riding there. Also, you may have noticed NJ drivers are a lot more law-abiding than NYC drivers. The limits are generally obeyed, at least the ones in town. This might be due to a different culture, or it might also be due to more places where they can open it up legally, and hence don’t mind slowing driving 25 mph going through town.

    I also used to bike frequently on Route 1:

    https://www.google.com/maps/@40.3251535,-74.6455424,3a,75y,41.9h,80.44t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sivoA88r1MSA2XHOV5EH77Q!2e0!7i13312!8i6656!5m1!1e3?hl=en

    However, back then this intersection with Alexander Road (and most other main roads) was signalized. It looks like they’ve since changed in into a full-on highway, which frankly sucks as it made a nice, super-fast bike route. Route 1 is where I did the 10 miles from Trenton to Princeton in 25 minutes. Again, it had a nice wide shoulder. I felt relatively safe despite the 50 or 60 mph car traffic.

    Finally, we absolutely do have the manpower in our absurdly overstaffed police department to make a serious dent in speeding.

    One thing to keep in mind here is manual speed enforcement often costs more lives than it saves. We went through this in the era of the 55 mph national speed limit. I’d rather have the police aggressively enforce failure-to-yield, no parking in bike lanes, no double-parking, and no driving in bus lanes for a start. Speed enforcement in urban areas is best left to speed cameras.
    But anyway, we absolutely do have the manpower for a lot more police enforcement of traffic laws. I just would rather focus on the ones I mentioned.

  • Dimitris Koutoumbas

    You could’ve just stopped and asked..

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