Glimpse Into The Lane Wars

Check out this video about bicycle lanes in New York City:

Streets Blog takes an interesting position:

This video critique of the new bike lane on First Avenue has been making the rounds, and it must give some comfort to John Forester and the vehicular cycling school. Vehicular cyclists reject all forms of bicycle-specific infrastructure and believe all cycling should be done in traffic. In this vid they can see a young cyclist claim that a bike lane protected from traffic has made the street “slower and more dangerous” than it was before.

I reject the false dichotomy. There are positions on the issue of bicycle infrastructure that cannot be forced into one of two camps. Take me for example. I have no problem whatsoever with appropriate bicycle infrastructure. By appropriate I mean either bicycle superior or completely separate (e.g. our greenways) with proper traffic control at intersections.

Taking that position means I am not in the John Forrester camp.

And articles such as this one demonstrate I’m not in the build-anything-to-encourage-more-people camp either.

There is (are) a middle way(s). And its primary characteristic is applying reason to transportation planning. Not all bicycling infrastructure is good. Not all bicycling infrastructure is bad. The goodness or badness depends entirely upon the traffic situation. Two key questions for me:

1) Does the proposed infrastructure help bicyclists of all skill levels travel safely from point to point?

2) Does the  proposed infrastructure create safe accommodations with traffic at intersections?

A ‘no’ answer to either one of these must scuttle the proposal.

What we see in the video is that this particular lane fails both points. And it didn’t take spending a lot of money to paint the lane to see it. One could have seen, if approaching this proposal rationally, the conflicts in the initial plan.

Again, I have no doubt that building something attracts would-be bicyclists. Are we really willing to attract them to infrastructure that is less than safe? Do numbers mean so much to us that we are willing to put people in danger?

I have a big moral problem with people who, by their actions, answer yes to those questions.

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Comments 8

  1. Jonathan wrote:

    Thanks for offering your take on it. I was going to cite your viewpoints in a Streetsblog comment, but I edited that angle out.

    Here are a couple points to consider:

    Bottom line up front: automobilists drive more aggressively in New York City than you describe them doing in Springfield. I get honked at two or three times a day, in 40 minutes round-trip riding.

    The video is heavily edited to highlight when the bike lane is not functional. Most of the time it’s not as pictured.

    The lane can’t go on the right side of 1st Ave because that’s where the bus lane has been striped, and all three of the bus doors are on the right side.

    The merge of left-turning traffic and the bicycle lane seems like it wouldn’t work, but it does, since pulling over into the left lane slows the cars down, as does waiting for pedestrian traffic (with the walk light) to cross.

    To directly address your first point, about enabling cyclists of all skill levels, I would have to say that lanes like the one pictured separate cyclists from obnoxious automobilists, which is a big issue for New Yorkers. I understand that it doesn’t help speedy youngsters like Rachel and her friends, but slower, more tentative riders can use the lanes without fearing that they are in the way of cars.

    Posted 04 Oct 2010 at 11:29 am
  2. Andy Cline wrote:

    Jonathan… I understand it is a very different riding environment in NYC. And I understand the video was edited to show conflict.

    Be that as it may, the conflicts are real at least for a particular class of rider. While the lane may separate bicyclists from obnoxious drivers, it puts them in close proximity to obnoxious pedestrians and car doors.

    Posted 04 Oct 2010 at 11:53 am
  3. Mighk Wilson wrote:

    Vehicular cyclists do not reject all forms of bikeways. They only reject the ones which increase conflicts and risk, especially while “improving” the perception of safety.

    Posted 04 Oct 2010 at 12:12 pm
  4. Jonathan wrote:

    Andy, proximity to parked car doors is a red herring. There’s enough of a buffer on the side of the bike lane to avoid them.

    The proximity to pedestrians is another story. FWIW, NYS vehicle and traffic law puts the onus on the pedestrian not to stray into traffic, rather than the vehicle to avoid hitting them. As I said in my previous post, it’s less of a problem than the edited video might indicate.

    Posted 04 Oct 2010 at 1:10 pm
  5. Andy Cline wrote:

    Mighk… That’s why I was careful not to use the term “vehicular cyclists.” I consider myself VC minus the Forresteresque grumpiness :-)

    Jonathan… It sounds like the NYS law needs work :-) IMO, pedestrians should have absolute right of way. But that’s not going to happen until we begin to value cars less and people more.

    One of these days I’ll get to NYC to ride this infrastructure for myself. But the video is still useful to a certain extent.

    Posted 04 Oct 2010 at 1:18 pm
  6. Keri wrote:

    I’ve seen some other video of similarly-designed bikeways in NYC. It was unedited single takes of trips down those roads. And just as conflict-ridden.

    Thanks for this post. I’ve been working on a post that includes your Lost in Translation, this video and a few other items in the theme. Now you’ve saved me from writing about the video, I can just refer people here :-)

    Posted 04 Oct 2010 at 1:58 pm
  7. Jonathan wrote:

    Andy, instead of windshield perspective, you seem to have developed youtube perspective. Who am I supposed to believe, you or my lying eyes? I’ll stop reading Carbon Trace now, since it’s apparent that your biases inform your observations, rather than the other way round.

    Posted 04 Oct 2010 at 7:32 pm
  8. JAT in Seattle wrote:

    Oh jeez, biases ALWAYS inform observations… as N.R. Hanson said in 1958: all data are theory laden. So stop reading if you want, but don’t get into a pissing match with the blog host.

    Now then on to the film: setting aside the comparative agressiveness of NY drivers, the problem with these parking-lane buffered bike lanes is that they don’t give faster cyclists access to the adjoining lane, and where the lanes are mis-used (dog walkers, delivery vehicles, etc.) they abruptly (and potentially dangersously) become box canyons rather than bicycle highways.

    Municipalities design “bicycle facilities” to entice new riders (not to help established riders – they’re already riding) and the perception is that new cyclists feel safer if they’re separated from “traffic”.

    But narrow, easily blocked, often multi-use, separated facilities which are thrown into the mix of heavier traffic whenever the needs of the heavier mode demands a crossing route are (and I know this flies in the face of all the Amsterdam / Copenhagen fetishists) not necessarily demonstrably more safe and probably inhibit the development of skills needed for riding in traffic onn all the streets out there (most of them) which aren’t going to get special facilities installed.

    Posted 05 Oct 2010 at 12:57 pm