04 October 2009

New York Musings

New York Bicycle Infrastructure
Without a doubt there were pleasant surprises awaiting me in New York City. I spent a day riding around the city, trying to see as much as I could on my limited schedule.

It was a pleasure cycling around the city. I felt safe the entire time and, compared to other cities I've cycled in like Moscow, New York is not the hell on earth people try to make it out to be. Then again, I don't ride like a moron, trying to break landspeed records. I just ride like most people do in most cities.

There are pockets of good bicycle planning, like the painted infrastructure pictured above and below, complete with a bike box.
New York Bicycle Infrastructure
Approaching Times Square from the north, down Broadway, there is a fine bike lane/cycle track separated from the traffic, as well as a slice of street painted with funky circles, quite like sections in Copenhagen. Graphic design meets urban landscape:
New York Bicycle Infrastructure
So, the experience in New York was, by and large, positive. There are still various issues that need to be addressed. Of course the bike lanes need to connect and form a larger network which, I assume, they will over time.

One thing that I just don't understand is that there are stretches of bike lane that are not placed along the sidewalk. Parked cars line the sidewalk and the bike lane runs between them and the traffic. So instead of only keeping a sharp eye on opening doors, I had to watch for doors, parked cars pulling out AND the moving traffic.

You'd think that this most basic of Best Practice principles for bicycle infrastructure was the very first thing that would be adhered to. It is clear that in almost all the cities in the world that enjoy high levels of urban cycling and that reap the economic and societal benefits of these levels, the Sidewalk/Bike Lane/Parking/Traffic model is firmly in place.
United States Postal Service
Here's me wondering if the bus lanes of New York should be designated as shared bike lanes on the stretches where separated infrastructure is lacking.
Brooklyn
Brooklyn was a treat. I'd heard so much about the borough and while I lament the fact that I didn't get to Williamsburg, riding around Brooklyn was a positive experience.
Brooklyn Bridge Bikes
If I had to commute early enough, riding over the Brooklyn Bridge would be a very aesthetic route. But the tourists are out in force early on on the bridge so it really is a fine traffic calmed stretch during the day. Here's the entrance to the separated path over the bridge.
Brooklyn Bridge
There were a number of bikes crossing the bridge when I went over it. Locals and tourists alike.
Manhattan Bridge Morning 3
Two of the highlights for me were riding across the Manhattan Bridge in the morning light, along a brilliant stretch of bike infrastructure.
Born to Fit
And the transformation of Times Square to a pedestrian friendly urban plaza. Tables and chairs everywhere and people using them, even on a drizzly Sunday night like above. Brilliant stuff.

29 comments:

kfg said...

"You'd think that this most basic of Best Practice principles for bicycle infrastructure was the very first thing that would be adhered to."

You'd think, as the basic principles were mapped out, explained and published 35 years ago; founded on the principles of vehicular cycling. :)

Anthony Siracusa said...

It's nice to hear some first-hand, positive feedback on riding bikes in New York. I've never had the chance to ride in New York, which seems like an urban tangle of transportation options, but I have read that the city has become better for bicycling over the past few years. I think the work of Transportation Alternatives (TA) has helped foster this reality.

I couldn't agree more on the placement of bicycle lanes. Parked cars should be placed on the outside of the bicycle lane (to the left of the rider) and the sidewalk should be placed on the right.

This scheme calms car traffic, protects cyclists, and provides pedestrians with a nice buffer between the sidewalk and traffic. Such a scheme ought to be the standard for all bike improvements in the U.S.

LGV said...

good to know, it's not like i was thinking about NY !

Drunk Engineer said...

There are both advantages and disadvantages to the European-style placement of bike lanes (to the right of parked cars).

With cyclists hidden behind a row of parked cars, a right-turning driver is unlikely to see or expect bicyclists at intersections. This is maybe less of a problem in Europe because drivers tend to be better trained to expect this, but definitely not so in America.

As for Mikael's comment about having to watch for car doors in American-style bike lanes -- that should not be a problem if the bike lane conforms to standard engineering standards. Unfortunately, there are a lot of non-compliant bike lanes (too often, traffic engineers would rather install dangerous facility than lose parking or left-turn space).

Mikael said...

apart from the already mentioned benefits of bicycle lanes/cycle tracks along the sidewalk, we have seen that the number of pedestrians along these stretches increases.

the street is given a sub-conscious traffic calming makeover. and more pedestrians also means more sales for businesses along the route.

kfg said...

It's also a good idea to plant formal trees along the median dividing the cycle lane from the cars, creating both a further buffer and a vaulted ceiling.

Dutch Elm Disease has been a great loss to humanity (not to mention the elms).

I have been tempted at times to go out at night and chalk red circle slashes over the bike icons in some bike lanes, to properly mark them as the danger zone that cyclists should stay out of.

David said...

I have to echo 'Drunk Engineer's comments on bicycle lane placement. If you go with the 'Sidewalk/Bike Lane/Parking/Traffic' arrangement you're creating blindspots for turning traffic in which cyclists will be hidden or not seen until too late (and not just right-turning but quite possibly left-turning as well). The turning traffic can also be hidden from the cyclist's view as well if the parked vehicles are high enough or if signal lights can't be seen, etc. In the absence of integrated traffic signals controlling for all possible movement conflicts, you will have problems.

There are other issues with this arrangement as well. While bike lanes to the left of parked cars introduce driver-side door prize possibilities at least a driver has to worry about traffic in general when opening a door. Most drivers - not all, but most - do check their mirrors before opening their doors. But people on the passenger side do not. I've seen pedestrians on the sidewalk get doored this way, and I would think it would happen to cyclists too, especially before passengers got accustomed to checking. Adding to that problem is that not all North American cars even have passenger-side mirrors and those that do are optimized for the driver, not the passenger. And then you have to allow for the difficulty the average North American driver has in parallel parking a car. It seems to me a "door zone" area would be needed to the right of the parked cars.

In snowy places, there's also the issue of snow clearance. It's difficult enough to get bike lanes that are next to traffic lanes cleared in a timely fashion (they tend to become temporary snow furrow depositories), but ones that are screened by parked cars would be even worse, especially since the sidewalk plows would push their snow into them.

My point here is that it is not a cut-and-dry case for one against the other.

David said...

I have to echo 'Drunk Engineer's comments on bicycle lane placement. If you go with the 'Sidewalk/Bike Lane/Parking/Traffic' arrangement you're creating blindspots for turning traffic in which cyclists will be hidden or not seen until too late (and not just right-turning but quite possibly left-turning as well). The turning traffic can also be hidden from the cyclist's view as well if the parked vehicles are high enough or if signal lights can't be seen, etc. In the absence of integrated traffic signals controlling for all possible movement conflicts, you will have problems.

There are other issues with this arrangement as well. While bike lanes to the left of parked cars introduce driver-side door prize possibilities at least a driver has to worry about traffic in general when opening a door. Most drivers - not all, but most - do check their mirrors before opening their doors. But people on the passenger side do not. I've seen pedestrians on the sidewalk get doored this way, and I would think it would happen to cyclists too, especially before passengers got accustomed to checking. Adding to that problem is that not all North American cars even have passenger-side mirrors and those that do are optimized for the driver, not the passenger. And then you have to allow for the difficulty the average North American driver has in parallel parking a car. It seems to me a "door zone" area would be needed to the right of the parked cars.

In snowy places, there's also the issue of snow clearance. It's difficult enough to get bike lanes that are next to traffic lanes cleared in a timely fashion (they tend to become temporary snow furrow depositories), but ones that are screened by parked cars would be even worse, especially since the sidewalk plows would push their snow into them.

My point here is that it is not a cut-and-dry case for one against the other.

Erik Sandblom said...

Drunk Engineer, there are many ways to manage the blind spots you mention. In Stockholm they simply end the bike path a few metres before the intersection and merge bicycle traffic with car traffic. You just need to remove car parking near the intersection. That way the cyclists aren't hidden. See photo: Cykelbanor - falsk trygghet

Then you have the bike box, visible in Mikael's top photo on this page. The bike box is a place for cyclists to wait in front of the cars for a green light. That way they are in full view for the motorists.

Another solution is to have separate traffic lights for cyclists, which give cyclists a head start before the cars get a green light. Again making the cyclists visible to the motorists.

Drunk Engineer said...

Having a buffer zone at intersections does increase visibility. Problem is: American arterials often have multiple intersections per block (i.e. driveways and parking lot entrances).

Of course, one may then ask why is is necessary to have both curbside and offstreet parking. Answer: American zoning and "environmental" rules require it.

Andy B from Jersey said...

NYCDoT has done a very fine job of reducing if not eliminating the blindspots at intersections caused by putting the bike lane to the outside of the parked cars (between the parked cars and curb) by using innovative street design.

Trust me, as someone who is VERY familiar with vehicular cycling concepts and who uses them everyday, I feel very safe from cars (not necessarily pedestrians) using NYC's protected bike lanes due to the well thought out design treatments at intersections.

the opoponax said...

Drunk Engineer - when I learned to drive, I was taught that cars entering the road from a driveway or parking lot have to yield to oncoming traffic (whether car, bike, foot, or pogo stick). Driveways and parking lots are not "intersections" in any way, shape, or form.

kfg said...

"Driveways and parking lots are not "intersections" in any way, shape, or form."

Whether you have the right of way or not is not a defining characteristic of an intersection. Whether traffic INTERSECTS or not is.

Driveways intersect the other flow of traffic; they are places where the shit is coming at you from the side and cross your path. They are intersections.

The fact that people, such as yourself, may not THINK of them as intersections is part of what makes the type of intersection particularly dangerous.

the opoponax said...

kfg, it's not that I don't "think of them as intersections", it's that the bottom line is that car traffic is to yield to other traffic as it enters the street from driveways.

The way to stop accidents that happen when cars fail to do this is to start treating drivers who kill or maim people in this way like the criminals they are. Enforcement is the key, not refusing to build infrastructure because it might be "too dangerous".

I'm just sick and tired of the assumption that drivers will inevitably break the law with fatal results, therefore other modes of transportation should be discouraged.

Shining Raven said...

I also have to agree with "Drunk Engineer" that it is not a cut-and-dried case for separated bike lanes.

I live in Munich in Germany, where most of the bike lanes are separated and parked cars are between the flow of traffic and the bike lane, but new construction moves towards on-street lanes because the separated lanes have not proven safer and introduce their own problems.

In particular, most fatal accidents last year in Munich in which bicyclists have been killed have been "right hooks" involving trucks turning right over separated bike lanes and running over cyclists (which have priority). The danger of this is much reduced with on-street lanes.

In addition to the problems already mentioned (dooring from passenger doors, snow removal requires special equipment) there is also the problem of pedestrians stepping onto the bike lane and cars parking on it, which leaves no way out except the sidewalk, which of course should not be used by cyclists.... I always feel fenced in and very insecure in these separated lanes, where one simply does not have enough space and time to react when a pedestrian steps negligently into one's path or a door opens or a car intrudes into the lane while maneuvering to park....

Regarding opoponax' point: no matter what the law says, my observation is that cars pull out of driveways no matter what and pull up to the curb, where the "serious" traffic starts, and this is a significant problem for the separated paths. No amount of enforcement and no fear of civil liability has been able to bring this down, at least not here in Germany.

Peter said...

Opoponax - Let's go through some of the rules of the road:

1)Yes, vehicles are suppose to yield to other people or vehicles when they cross a sidewalk or enter a road from a driveway or enter a driveway from the road. These are the rules for minor intersections like driveways.

2)And people opening car doors are suppose to make sure no one gets hit by the door before they open it.

3)And at major intersections,vehicles are suppose to yield to straight going traffic unless there is a signal to allow turning only.

And many more.

So if everybody perfectly obeyed the rules, a bicyclist could safely and comfortably ride everywhere on the roads without a concern

Yet #3 is a major cause of car/bike accidents, with left and right turning cars hitting bicyclists ( the left and right "hook).

#2 is apparently a big problem in cities with a lot of parallel parking. Bike lanes in the door zone may make it worst.

And violation of #1 and to a lesser degree #3 is why bicyclists who ride on the sidewalk or a sidepath are hit 4x road riders.

But people don't violate these rules just out of ignorance or hostility to bicyclists.

Sometimes, for example, it is really hard to see a bicycle rolling in the gutter or on the sidewalk when you are entering or exiting a driveway. There can be buildings and shrubbery int eh way.

And bicycles rolling off a sidewalk or sidepath or cyclepath into a crosswalk at bicycling speeds can be unexpected and not give a driver time to react.

And people just screw up. No matter how severe the laws, people will mess up even if they aren't impaired.

Ideally, to make bicycling a lot safer, you want to build infrastructure or ride in a manner that makes the collisions less likely in the first place.

Engineers try to eliminate blind intersections and make all the vehicles visible to each other. That's why a lot of engineers oppose cycletracks - where a bike lane is hidden from the road by parked cars or a curb separation. It simply makes the intersection harder for everybody.

And that's why some bicyclists ride more out in the road rather than hug the curb or want to ride in a bikelane. People get out of cars without looking and door cyclists, perhaps knocking them under the wheels of a passing car. And drivers are a LOT more likely to see a bicyclist if the bicyclist is further out in the lane, both when approaching from behind and in intersections.

So, yeah, vigorous enforcement of the laws is needed. But to err is human. We also need infrastructure or bicycling techniques to lower the chances of people screwing up.

Krakonos said...

I have to agree with Drunk Engineer on this too. Except that it is not a matter of "European style" vs. "American style". Bike lanes on the road are becoming increasingly popular in Germany. The regulations even changed in September to reflect that. When new bicycle infrastructure is being built now cities can decide which form to choose. Bike tracks on the sideway are not to be prefered any more. And more and more they choose the bike lane on the road, because the rate of car-bicycle accidents is worse with standard bike tracks than without any bicylce infrastructure at all. They still make people use their bike more often as they feel safer, but it seems to be just that - a feeling, because the cyclists are not seen by the car drivers.
When those on-the-road-bike-lanes are wide enough opening car doors are not a problem. Passing other bikes becomes much easier and you are much better seen by other cars. I like them.

Anonymous said...

Sensible NYers always ride with helmets. Those shown here are (carefully chosen I'd wager) suicidal fools.

NY biker

Anonymous said...

Ah, nothing like a bit of Eurosnob propaganda complete with carefully chosen photos to support it. Who cares how many dumb New Yorkers die because they took your "expert" advice and put themselves at needless risk.

Happily, as everyone who LIVES in NYC knows, most of our cyclists wear helmets. Only the fanatical propagandist can take the time to hand pick photos of those who don't.

Brooklyn forever

Anonymous said...

Folks, your blogmaster faked up a view on NYC cycling in which nobody wears helmets. As you know if you ride here, almost every rider has a helmet. What you see here is pure propaganda designed to further the thoroughly discredited views of the blogmaster.

Go back to Copenhagen where you can cycle around in your protected little bikeways. If you fall, your government will take care of you. And if you don't fall your government will take care of you.

In Brooklyn we have built in bullshit detectors.


Brooklyn forever

Mikael said...

I think my 2000 odd readers a day know me well enough.

I merely choose to promote cycling positively. During my time cycling around the city, I'd say the helmet/no helmet split was 40-60. Sure, the gearheads with their destructive 'reclaim the streets' attitude had their war uniforms on, but when you started to look at the regular citizens merely choosing to use a bike, and the delivery boys as well, there were fewer helmets.


And it has nothing to do with safe Copenhagen. I've been lecturing in Riga, Budapest, Prague, Moscow, Tokyo and, this past few days in Paris and La Rochelle in France.

Helmets are non-existent in most places outside of the US and Australia. Especially in countries that have little bicycle infrastructure and yet the same traffic as in New York. As well as countries without the same standard of medical care as Denmark.

If a helmet keeps someone on a bicycle, great. If not wearing a helmet keeps someone on a bicycle, great.

When 'cyclists' start bitching at other people riding bicycles about helmets, it serves no good purpose.

Here's a good selection of articles to start with. And then there's the Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation

Anonymous said...

2,000 readers a day, he claims. At P.T. Barnum said, "there's a sucker born every minute.

We're supposed to be impressed that other European have swallowed this crap whole. Of course, this is the internet. Remember this could be one guy sitting up all night in a furnished room logging in under various names. Who the hell knows?

I'll tell you how it is here in Brooklyn, which you chose to lie about in your so called photo essay. PEOPLE ARE NOT STUPID. THEY WEAR HELMETS IN TRAFFIC! You tried your best to shoot around that fact of life, fooling nobody here. Better luck in Riga.

Anonymous said...

glad you noticed all those safe 'delivery' boys without helmets- they probably were also all riding electric bikes the wrong way down the street, if you cared to notice - what I really want to see is an article focusing on NEW YORK CITY - not midtown Manhattan/yuppy parts of Brooklyn- try commuting 10+ miles from Queens to Manhattan and tell me how accepting motorists are of cyclists, and how supportive the city is of cycling... a 20+ mile commute is extremely rare in Europe, based on my experiences in cities such as Edinburgh,Dublin, London, Amsterdam, blah blah- not so much here in NYC where most working people live in the outer boroughs- not the midwest/euro transplants your article focuses on who only stay here for a few years - the bullshit bike lanes and passive riders the city is encouraging is, in my opinion not the best approach, nor is going helmetless- but what would I know, I've only lived/ridden in the city (and around the world...) for 35 years.

Mikael said...

I'm more interested in mainstream urban cycling and the reestablishment of the bicycle as a normal form of transport. As well as the increasing prescence of the bicycle on the urban landscape, be it delivery boys or fashionistas or families in Brooklyn or Williamsburg.

In short, the [re]democratization of the bicycle. Giving it back to the people, the general public, for whom it was designed.

While it's lovely that some people choose to ride longer distances - we have them here, too - I'm less interested in the existing cycling sub-culture, prefering to see cycling grow and expand and transform our cities.

The people who are taking to the bicycles are catalysts in Emerging Bicycle Cultures. Heroes, as it were.

I find it odd that so many 'cyclists' have their knickers in a knot about cycling going mainstream. This elitist attitude does little for mainstreaming cycling.

Erik Sandblom said...

Anonymous: Among people commuting 10-15 km in Copenhagen, 10% choose the bicycle. That's not 10 miles plus, but close. Source: Bedre pendlerforhold for cyklister

Just to put a point on it: The bicycle modal share for commutes of 10-15 km in Copenhagen is higher than the total commuting bicycle share in Portland, Oregon (8%).

The long bicycle commutes are there in many European cities, but they are a minority and not much talked about. The average bicycle commute in Stockholm is nine kilometres.

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Israel said...

As some people already stated, this is not Europe. I've been bike commuting from Queens to downtown Manhattan for five years now and I'm not so sure that this "best practice principles" are a good idea for NYC. It doesn't make sense on any busy street. Bike belong in the street, where the cars are--only there can they really serve as everyday transportation.

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Bike Rental Central Park said...

Some great pictures here. The one of Brooklyn Bridge is awesome.