Op-Ed: Paint The Bike Lane, Dammit, Before Someone Dies!

Cars frequently reclaim  protected bike lanes — as they did on the two-way stretch of Clinton Street on the Lower East Side — between the time the DOT removes pavement and when the agency restores painted markings. Photo: Jon Orcutt
Cars frequently reclaim protected bike lanes — as they did on the two-way stretch of Clinton Street on the Lower East Side — between the time the DOT removes pavement and when the agency restores painted markings. Photo: Jon Orcutt

When is a parking-protected bike lane — a street design pioneered in this country by our own city Department of Transportation — no longer a parking-protected bike lane?

When that same DOT removes all street markings for street resurfacing, leaving cyclists who have become attuned to the city’s best on-street bike routes to fend for themselves in heavy traffic for weeks, a month — sometimes more.

The pattern is this: In warmer months, DOT’s division of Roadway Repair and Maintenance scrapes old pavement (known as “milling”) from streets whose surfaces have become worn, and then several weeks later applies a new surface. New paint markings eventually follow.

New York City bike riders are living with this process right now, in spades, because DOT has milled portions of the protected bike-lane corridors of First, Second, Eighth and Ninth avenues in Manhattan at the same time! But the problem is not new.

The remedy isn’t difficult. DOT should simply mark protected bike lanes with cones (!) while painted street markings are absent.

Will that add some labor and the cost of cones to RRM’s street-resurfacing operation? Yes, it will. But the benefit will be immediate in terms of preserving cyclists’ right-of-way on major bike routes, and in maintaining predictable behavior by cyclists, pedestrians and motorists (while both driving and parking) while city streets are milled.

This problem has been with us since DOT began resurfacing streets that were reconfigured with protected bike lanes, but it has become more urgent in recent years because of the proliferation of two-way bike lanes on one-way streets.

The overnight removal of protected bike lanes on one-way avenues can be daunting, inconvenient and confusing for cyclists and motorists alike.  But it is downright dangerous when DOT removes the marking for two-way bike lanes on one-way streets. 

The agency imposes a strange, hazardous grey area when it does so: Street regulations and the developed habits of bike riders say the street is two-way for bikes, but nothing on the unmarked street allows for that. Providing detour information with signs and on-line could help in these cases, but DOT doesn’t do that, either.  

In addition to marking protected bike lanes temporarily with cones, DOT also could impose a quicker schedule from milling to resurfacing on key bike routes. This is just a matter of discipline in scheduling the crews who do the work. Bike riders are far more sensitive to bad road surfaces than cars are, and milled streets certainly qualify as bad. Plus, RRM would have to keep its cones out for fewer days if can get markings back in place faster.

Fixing the problem of protected bike lanes and street resurfacing would close a glaring policy gap that adds to the sense of cyclists and non-bike riders alike that the city isn’t serious about building bikes into a mainstream means of transportation.

A fundamental challenge for cycling in New York today is whether institutional commitment to bike transportation can be extended from a few parts of DOT to the entirety of city government.

Even in DOT, major units are not acting any differently than they did in 2006 or 1996, although the streets themselves have changed considerably in the past decade.

Getting their practices aligned with the city’s stated goals for expanding cycling has to happen if we are going to build a bike-friendly New York.  

Jon Orcutt is the communications director of Bike New York. He was policy director at the Department of Transportation during the Bloomberg Administration.

  • William Lawson

    What pissed me off most of all about the 2nd Avenue bike lane is that as soon as the markings were gone, officers from the 9th precinct were parking freely to the curb as if they couldn’t wait for the opportunity to stick it to those pussy cyclists and their damn entitlement. The very people who are supposed to RETAIN law and order in situations like this, figured they wanted a piece of the anarchy as well. I’m trying to think of a war torn third world dictatorship that the NYPD would feel more at home in but tbh I don’t think they’d be welcome anywhere.

  • Brad Sutton

    Franklin Avenue in Brooklyn was without its (doorzone) bike lane for all of winter as DOT found time to mill and repave before winter but no time to re-stripe. The result? Drivers get two extra wide lanes and travel even faster than they did before, while people on bikes are left to fend for themselves. Do better, DOT.

  • kevd

    7th ave in greenwich village finally got a parking protected bike then.
    within months – milling, repaving and STILL no painting.
    Just paint faster DOT.
    It isn’t that complicated.

  • Zero Vision

    After all this time in her position and with plenty of people inside and outside DOT having complained about this problem for years, if Polly Trottenberg wanted to fix this problem she could.

  • Bob

    7th Ave is repave, but no new bike lane yet. Lower 5th is milled and the cars *immediately* (as in once they shut down the miller!) took back the curb for parking.

  • anononono

    This has been a problem for YEARS! Since the inception of the protected bike lane program. It is really a shame the previous pro-bike Commissioner didn’t have a fellow pro-bike Policy Director leading the charge to address this.

  • djx

    Imagine if the default rule in the city was that parking on streets was only allowed if a sign said it was, rather than only disallowed when signs say that.

  • Jacob

    Yes. This is a management problem, so Trottenberg can’t blame politicians for this one .

  • vbtwo31984

    The 1st Ave design is much better, as they have permanent islands in places, so everyone can see where the bike lane is supposed to be, and cars still park where they should and not in the bike lane.

    On 2nd Ave, as soon as they removed the pavement, everybody just started parking right at the curb.

  • Lexington Ave in Herlem was repaved months ago (November?) and they have not come back to add crosswalks

  • walks bikes drives

    There is absolutely no reason why a paving crew cant pave the milled street the day after the street is milled, save for weather. Part of the disconnect is that the millng is done buy contractors but the paving itself is done by DOT crews. I believe there is a necessary wait time before thermoplastic markings can be applied.

  • Wilfried84

    It absolutely amazed me that when 1st Ave. was repaved, drivers actually parked away from the curb, because of the position of pedestrian islands. Drivers actually have some sense? So those pedestrian treatments serve more than one purpose. But yes, by all means, put down cones. That they need to do something should go without saying.

  • California uses temp tape immediately when the asphalt is placed until the thermoplastic can go in

  • Reader

    DOT could easily use temp spray paint.

  • Orcutt

    Nice try but the lanes were new enough for most of the time we were at DOT that the streets didn’t come up again for resurfacing, and a lot of attention was to getting new things like CitiBike off the ground. Policies from that era have been continued but not deepened, and that’s what we need now

  • John Smith

    I mean, the underlying problem is that she’s incompetent and has no interest in actually improving either DOT itself or transportation in this city.

  • In some places the bike lane or its outer stripe have worn away entirely, such as on Crown Height’s Brooklyn Ave, putting cyclists in similar danger. I can’t believe that rather than having some type of annual street survey or more consistent painting schedule, DOT relies on random 311 reports.

    And has anyone tried to report missing street markings that didn’t match their 1990s-style input forms? Forget it. I tried to report the missing library crosswalk on east/southbound Flatbush at Grand Army Plaza going to the library. There was no way to do it that it would accept.

  • William Lawson

    Yeah right? Even a couple of cones per block on the part of DOT would have been enough to remind drivers that it’s no parking. DOT sucks, they are just your typical shitty city agency full of people who don’t really give a shit about anything they do.

  • MatthewEH

    The Columbus Ave lane only recently got its green paint again (though other markings have been quicker to follow), but the situation was never that bad even without paint, owing to the pedestrian islands. People didn’t start parking differently, really.

  • SSkate

    Ditto West 106th St. Repaved right after Thanksgiving. Still not re-striped.

  • Anononono

    So you moved on to newer, shinier things leaving maintenance, refurbishment and enforcement – the tougher nuts to crack – to others to figure out?

    You simply didn’t plan for the full lifecycle and management of the network. Not doing so was shortsighted.

  • Simon Phearson

    The situation on 2nd Ave (last I rode it) is really irresponsible. For about a dozen blocks, cyclists are channeled into a wild west of curb-parked cars and double-parked cars and delivery vehicles, surrounded by drivers who don’t give a fuck. I’m a confident, experienced cyclist, and even I get a bit nervous through here. I sprint like hell.

  • thomas040

    This is why DOT needs to make all bike infrastructure permanent, which means… CONCRETE!

  • iSkyscraper

    Dyckman Street is still waiting for its protected bike lane paint, a YEAR after repaving.

  • Dexter

    They…kinda removed that one.

  • iSkyscraper

    Officially, it was still supposed to exist on one side. But by not painting they removed both directions completely…

  • com63

    They should ban parking during milling and repainting. Only restore it when everything is back.

  • DoctorMemory

    Ydanis, the DOT and basically everyone else have done their damndest to dump the Dyckman lanes — and indeed the very concept of a cross-Inwood bike lane — down the memory hole. Remember all of those people at the CB12 meeting who had Very Strong Feelings that actually 204th Street would be the perfect place for the bike lane? Yeah, nowhere to be found.

    They’re not coming back. Gale Brewer said that double-parking on Dyckman was much more important and everyone took her at her word.

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