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It’s Snow Problem for Drivers, But a Hot Mess for Cyclists, Thanks to City Prioritizing Cars

And, um, what happens in neighborhoods without heroes like Darren Goldner, who takes it upon himself to shovel bike lanes? Photo: Gersh Kuntzman (not a hero)

And this is where the bike boom goes bust.

New Yorkers who prefer to get around on bikes, a pollution-free, far safer form of transportation than cars, were out of luck all day Thursday in the wake of the first big winter storm in years as the departments of Sanitation and Transportation continued a policy of prioritizing the needs of drivers over cyclists.

And the inability of the city to clear miles of protected bike lanes would continue into Friday, authorities said.

In some places, cyclists had to rely on the kindness of strangers.

By late on Thursday afternoon, Park Slope resident Darren Goldner had shoveled a narrow strip along about four blocks of the Prospect Park West bike lane, which had been totally ignored by DSNY and DOT.

"I'm doing it because the city isn't," Goldner told Streetsblog. "But it's also because you can see tracks where the delivery workers tried to get through. And I know that if they ride on the sidewalk, the NYPD might give them a ticket. It's just not right."

The Department of Transportation found itself receiving plenty of pictures of impassible bike lanes from city cyclists early on Thursday after the agency tweeted out a picture of Acting Commissioner Margaret Forgione thanking agency workers for clearing bridge bike paths and some paths, like the Queensboro Bridge approach route on Skillman Avenue.

Alas, it turned out that a much longer portion of the very same bike lane (unpictured in the tweet above) had not been cleared all day, as Friend of Streetsblog Alan Baglia documented below:

The Skillman Avenue protected bike lane was impassible late into the afternoon of the first snowstorm of the 2020-21 winter. Photo: Alan Baglia
The Skillman Avenue protected bike lane was impassible late into the afternoon of the first snowstorm of the 2020-21 winter. Photo: Alan Baglia
The Skillman Avenue protected bike lane was impassible late into Friday afternoon of the first snowstorm of the 2020-21 winter. Photo: Alan Baglia

Others tweeted their own versions of Baglia's frustration:

We reached out to the DSNY and the DOT, and the Sanitation Department responded, speaking for both agencies.

"This was a deeply challenging storm," said agency spokesman Joshua Goodman, citing "heavy, wet sleet ... sandwiched between many inches of lighter snow, and high winds."

He said that agency workers would be "plowing through the night" on Thursday, "including working on bike lanes."

But Goodman admitted that the can't plow protected lanes if they are "too narrow for our equipment." At those times, the DSNY must "rely on our partners for assistance."

One of those partners, the DOT, tweeted on Thursday afternoon that it was getting to some of the narrower parts of Skillman Avenue, for example:

The Sanitation Department has about 100 narrower snow removal machines, but that does not appear to be enough to cover the entire city:

Goodman sympathized with the "many essential workers" who rely on bike lanes to get to work "or to do their work." But he also pointed out that the agency prioritizes roadways because hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers also rely on "buses that traverse the cleared streets."

"We ask cyclists for patience, just as we ask drivers and pedestrians for the same," he said. "We are coming to every part of the city."

The disconnect between DOT and DSNY has long been a source of frustration to cyclists. Earlier this year, Jon Orcutt, former official in the Bloomberg administration DOT wrote an op-ed in the Daily News pointing out that DSNY can only clear bike lanes if they are wide enough for the agency's big plows. But a bike lane that wide invites drivers and truckers to park all over it, so many PBLs are not that wide.

The bigger problem, which Goodman alluded to, is that Sanitation sees its job as clearing the road for drivers.

"Sanitation doesn't see this stuff [bike lanes] as essential or part of its mandate," Orcutt told Streetsblog. "There are reasons other than cars for plowing streets, like bus routes and emergency access. But it would be great if there was some policy making around this in terms of what to expect, like Montreal’s 'white routes' thing — a core connected network of lanes that we know will get cleared early on, like DOT does with the bridge paths."

Here's a slideshow of how the city treats cyclists:

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