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Posts from the "Bicycling" Category

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One City, By Bike: Huge Opportunities for NYC Cycling in the de Blasio Era

Jon Orcutt was NYC DOT’s policy director from 2007 to 2014. He developed DOT’s post-PlaNYC strategic plan, Sustainable Streets, oversaw creation of the Citi Bike program, and produced the de Blasio administration’s Vision Zero Action Plan. In this five-part series, he looks at today’s opportunities to build on the breakthroughs in NYC cycling made during the Bloomberg administration.

Part 1 – What’s Next for New York City Cycling Policy?

Bike transportation in New York City unquestionably saw historic progress during the second half of the Bloomberg administration. For the first time, city government treated cycling as a serious mode of transportation and continually achieved new milestones: a bigger bike network, safer street designs, higher cycling levels, and a network of bike-share stations that received massive usage. NYC DOT, City Hall, and city cyclists endured and moved past the “bikelash.” But even after smashing so many barriers, cycling in New York is still relatively underdeveloped, with gigantic opportunities for growth ahead.

There are still many gaps in the bike network, like this harrowing connection from the Willis Avenue Bridge on 135th Street in the Bronx, where de Blasio administration can make tremendous progress by adding new infrastructure.

There are still many gaps in the bike network, like this harrowing connection from the Willis Avenue Bridge on 135th Street in the Bronx, where the de Blasio administration can make tremendous progress by adding new infrastructure.

2014 has not been without progress: This year, new bike networks began to take shape in Long Island City and East New York. New lanes on Hudson and Lafayette Streets added to Manhattan’s set of protected bikeways. A key Queens-Brooklyn bottleneck will be uncorked with the pending Pulaski Bridge dedicated bike lane. And NYC DOT has spent the year to date renegotiating the Citi Bike operating agreement to give the system stronger management and the resources needed for technological improvement and expansion.

But it’s important to recognize that what we’re seeing on the streets in 2014 are projects developed under the Bloomberg administration and Janette Sadik-Khan’s leadership at NYC DOT. DOT’s annual street improvement program takes shape during the fall and winter: Implementation begins in late winter and spring when weather becomes warm enough to resurface and repaint city streets. The 2015 program will be the first shaped by Mayor de Blasio’s administration and new DOT leadership. Will it have a strong bike lane component, and where are the additions to the bike network likely to be?

De Blasio’s campaign material promised significant progress, calling cycling a mainstream means of travel in the city. He stated that his administration would achieve a 6 percent bike mode share by 2020 by expanding bike lanes and bringing bike-share to the boroughs. Putting aside the problem of measuring mode share, the mayor was right to recognize that there are huge opportunities to take cycling in New York to new levels — the city can still achieve manifold increases over cycling’s role in NYC transportation in 2014.

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Eyes on the Street: Our Long PPW Bike Lane Nightmare Is Almost Over

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Repaved sections of Prospect Park West are being striped, with orange barrels marking the bike lane in the meantime. Until now, the lane had been erased, pushing northbound cyclists onto the sidewalk or into head-on traffic. Photo: Heather Boyer/Twitter

Lesson learned? Last week, DOT wiped away the Prospect Park West bike lane for street repaving without installing any temporary cones to preserve the bike route during construction. Drivers parked at the curb, pushing northbound cyclists into oncoming traffic or onto the sidewalk. Now, DOT has demarcated the bike lane with orange cones as it re-stripes the road.

There can be a gap of at least a month between repaving and restriping lanes and markings, including bike lanes. The wait on PPW should be shorter. Word on the street is that DOT expedited the job in response to complaints.

As of today, some but not all of the striping is back on the avenue’s northern blocks, with orange cones to the south. The cones direct drivers to the correct lane for parking and clear the bike lane to cyclists — something DOT should have done from the start.

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In Austin, Posts and Paint Bring a New Bike Bridge From Good to Great

All photos: Nathan Wilkes

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Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Here are a few images from Austin bikeway engineer Nathan Wilkes that show how a protected lane can cheaply add a lot of value to a larger project.

The bicycle and pedestrian bridge over Little Walnut Creek, visible in the top right background above, officially opened Monday after 17 years of planning. It created a direct link between Hart Elementary School and the residential neighborhood to the north — but the link also required pedaling on a wide street that many people would see as unsuitable for children.

Furness Drive before the new bike lanes. Image: Google Street View

The new bidirectional protected bike lane, Wilkes wrote in an email, “is on both sides of the bridge and makes seamless transitions between on and off-street infrastructure.” The 1.1-mile biking improvement cost $20,000, compared to $1.2 million for the bridge itself.

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India’s Health Minister Wants Protected Bike Lanes Nationwide

There’s encouraging news out of India, where cities expect to add hundreds of millions of residents in the next few decades but are already choking on traffic congestion and auto exhaust.

The Indian government appears to be embracing bicycling. Photo: Wikipedia

A senior Indian government official wants the nation to embrace bicycling. Photo: Wikipedia

Dr. Harsh Vardhan was appointed to lead India’s health ministry by newly elected prime minister Narendra Modi this May, and he wants to promote bicycling as a way to improve public health and air quality while adding more transportation options, especially for low-income people.

According to the Indian news outlet First Post, Vardhan would like to see a nationwide effort to install protected bike lanes:

Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan said that he will approach the Surface Transport and Urban Development Ministries for the development of cycle tracks alongside roads to make cycling a “huge movement” in the country.

“I will personally write to Surface Transport and Urban Development Ministries to do whatever they can in this initiative and also ask them to develop cycle tracks,” Vardhan said as he released a study report titled “Peddling towards a Greener India: A Report on Promoting Cycling in the Country”, prepared by the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in New Delhi on Wednesday.

The report also recommended that India offer residents micro-loans to purchase bikes, as well as tax incentives to promote bicycling.

The health problems that auto emissions cause are now grave enough to threaten India’s economy, as the number of private vehicles has tripled to 130 million since 2003.

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Pittsburgh Business Leaders See Bikeways as Cure for Road-Space Shortage

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Along Pittsburgh’s new downtown bike lane, all intersections are signalized, but cyclists won’t receive dedicated signal phases and most crossings are unmarked. People will need to be on the lookout for turning conflicts whether they’re on bikes or in cars. All renderings: City of Pittsburgh

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Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Downtown Pittsburgh has a perfectly good reason to be running out of room for more cars: Its streets have been there since 1784.

“In Pittsburgh, we have too many cars chasing too few parking spaces,” Merrill Stabile, the city’s largest parking operator, said last week. “I am in favor of building a few more parking garages. But we’ll never be able to build enough to meet the demand, in my opinion, if we continue to grow like we’ve been growing.”

That’s why Stabile is among the Pittsburgh business leaders backing a plan announced Tuesday to reduce downtown’s dependence on car traffic by adding a protected bike lane to Penn Avenue.

Jeremy Waldrup, CEO of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, said the protected lane, which will return Penn Avenue to one-way motor vehicle flow by removing an eastbound traffic lane, will make it comfortable for most people, not just the bold few, to bike downtown.

“One of the most important things is that we have as a city developed this incredible trail system, many of them leading to downtown,” Waldrup said. “But once you’ve made it to the borders of downtown, you’re literally on your own to get into the city.”

Penn Avenue’s new one-mile bike lane, installed as a pilot project over the next few weeks, is part of a wave of protected lane projects in American central business districts.

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Eyes on the Street: DOT Replaces PPW Bike Lane With Parking

This is one of New York City's most famous protected bike lanes. Photo: @NoBikeLane/Twitter

This is one of New York City’s most famous protected bike lanes on a busy August day. Photo: @NoBikeLane/Twitter

During the warm summer months, lots of New Yorkers decide to hop on their bicycles and head for the nearest bike lane. That’s also when the city does much of its street repaving, and new asphalt is coming to Prospect Park West. But instead of maintaining the heavily used bike path with temporary materials, our bike-friendly DOT has decided that one of the city’s marquee bikeways will be erased for more than a week during one of the busiest cycling months of the year.

It’s a temporary victory for Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes.

Bike riders started reporting the closure yesterday. There was no advance notice of a detour. DOT says milling was completed today. Repaving, which the agency expects to be complete within seven business days, will begin Monday. The department’s paving schedule for next week indicates that crews will be working between Union Street and 20th Street in two sections, first north of 14th Street before moving south [PDF].

Some small white signs printed on white letter paper have been taped to nearby posts. ”Bike Lane Temporarily Closed,” they say. With the bike lane erased, drivers have begun parking at the curb, pushing cyclists into mixed traffic with car drivers. This is especially dangerous for northbound cyclists, who are now traveling head-on into traffic before ducking behind the street’s concrete pedestrian islands for protection.

As an alternative during construction, northbound cyclists can use Eighth Avenue. Riders looking for a route with less car traffic must detour to the more circuitous Prospect Park loop, which offers a series of inclines through the east side of the park.

This situation could have easily been prevented by installing cones or barrels after the street is milled but before new striping is installed. DOT did not answer questions about whether it considered maintaining the bikeway during this period with temporary cones.

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“Saner Rules” for Bicyclists Won’t Make NYC Streets Safe

“I argue for saner rules for bikes,” tweeted traffic guru “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz yesterday, referring to a post that he and fellow former NYC DOT engineer Gerard Soffian put up on CityLand. “[F]or their own safety and for the safety of others,” bicyclists should comply with traffic laws, they wrote. In keeping with Sam’s trademark common sense and fair play, the two also said that fines for cycling through red lights and other violations should be lowered, and traffic laws changed to “permit bicyclists to make turns and other movements prohibited for motorists.”

Ticketing more cyclists won’t make streets safer. Photo via ##https://twitter.com/OpSafeCycle/status/502490308798459905/photo/1##@OpSafeCycle##

Ticketing more cyclists isn’t the way to make streets safer. Photo via @OpSafeCycle

The point, said Sam and Gerard up front, is that “Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative to substantially reduce traffic fatalities can only be achieved if all users of our roadways respect traffic rules.” No argument there. Or even with Sam’s contention that cycling violations are rife in New York City. But even so, are cycling violations a big contributor to fatal and serious-injury crashes — or, as some charge, to a culture of traffic chaos? And is clamping down on cycling violations — whether in the ham-handed way of so-called “Operation Safe Cycle” or in Sam and Gerard’s more evenhanded sketch — a way to make our streets safer?

No and No, says this city cyclist (who is also a long-time admirer of Sam’s and, these days, a partner of his in pursuing the Move NY fair-tolling plan). Notwithstanding its kinder and gentler ethos, Sam’s first cut yesterday of “saner rules for bikes” doesn’t match up well with on-street biking conditions in New York City.

To begin: Forcing cyclists to stop — and wait — at red lights runs up against some basic physical realities. In summer, to stop at lights is to be bathed in sweat, as the broiling heat swallows the breeze you’ve worked hard to manufacture; to stop in winter is to forfeit the heat you’ve built up, and feel your extremities start to burn. Moreover, dead-stopping at any time cuts directly into the efficiencies that are central to city cycling. Not only do you lose time in standing rather than moving, but you have to raise your exertion in order to power up again.

Back in 2001, two Bay-area cyclists — a U-Cal Berkeley physics professor and the editor of the transportation journal Access – documented that a route with frequent stop signs took 30 percent longer to cover on a bike, compared to one with few stops. They also found that stop signs took away less time and energy if the cyclist merely slowed rather than halted outright. Though big city conditions are somewhat different, the message is the same: Yes, blasting through red lights at speed is deeply antisocial, but slavishly stopping at them defeats the continuing motion that so much in cycling depends on.

In cities like New York, where cyclists’ place on the road can be tenuous, there’s also a safety imperative to slipping through red lights: it takes us out of the way of potentially aggro drivers and gives us a little holiday from cars that helps us manage the next close encounter. Not to mention that our safety is enhanced when there are more of us cycling — the well-known safety-in-numbers dynamic that aggressive ticketing threatens to squelch.

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WPIX Gets BIke Law Facts Wrong and Misses DMV Scandal Under Its Nose

New Yorkers have seen their fair share of malicious press about bikes, from willful ignorance in Daily News editorials to Marcia Kramer linking cyclists to terrorists. But sometimes, it’s not maliciousness that causes trouble. A story from WPIX reporter Kaitlin Monte this morning may have been intended to educate the public, but did little more than circulate misinformation. A moment of fact-checking before going on air could have salvaged much of the piece — and perhaps spotlighted a newsworthy scandal right under the reporter’s nose.

The story about NYPD’s “Operation Safe Cycle” got off on the wrong foot from the start. “Few things are worse than getting nearly knocked over by a Lance Armstrong wannabe as you cross the street,” Monte said in her introduction. As far as danger on the streets goes, actual collisions with cars are far worse than near-collisions with cyclists, but let’s skip Monte’s editorializing and go straight to the facts of her story. There are two big errors that should be corrected.

Most of Monte’s piece consists of man-on-the-street interviews with a mix of cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers. “Once I was trying to get out of a taxi, and a bike almost hit the door,” a young woman told her. Monte doesn’t mention it in her piece, but that’s called dooring. The young woman, not the cyclist, was at fault. The woman is required by law to look before opening her door into the path of an oncoming cyclist. It’s such a problem that the city has developed an education campaign to alert taxi riders, and the Taxi of Tomorrow includes sliding doors to cut down on dooring. But why let facts get in the way? Let’s blame the cyclist for it – NYPD has!

The second big omission comes at the tail end of the piece. ”The price for being pulled over? A fine of up to $270, and paying your ticket online means an extra $88 surcharge and extra points on your license,” Monte said.

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New York State DMV Admits to Cheating Cyclists, But Doesn’t Say It Will Stop

The New York State DMV admits that it is incorrectly overcharging cyclists for traffic violations and wrongly adding points to their drivers licenses, but the agency hasn’t agreed to stop doing it.

In his most recent Streetsblog column, attorney Steve Vaccaro pointed out that the DMV’s online payment system does not distinguish between bikes and motor vehicles. As a result, cyclists who plead guilty and pay traffic tickets online are stuck with an $88 surcharge that doesn’t apply to bike violations, and are getting points on their licenses that don’t legally apply.

Vaccaro got a letter from the DMV today acknowledging that, under state law, “there are no points assigned for violations committed by bicyclists,” and that the law “exempts bicycle violations from the mandatory surcharge.”

The DMV agreed to refund the surcharge for two of Vaccaro’s clients, but the letter did not indicate that the agency would fix its web site, or give other cyclists their money back and remove license points they shouldn’t have.

In a letter back to DMV, Vaccaro wrote, “Going forward, it appears that remedying this problem will require more than a reminder to the DMV clerical staff.” In addition to modifying its online payment system, Vaccaro says the traffic ticket form used by NYPD should be changed to “make clear” that the surcharge is not “’mandatory’ for cyclists.”

“They haven’t in any way addressed the web site,” Vaccaro told Streetsblog, ”and they are still sitting on $88/per cyclist moving violations for the last ‘x’ number of years.”

We’ll continue to follow this story as it develops. In the meantime, if you believe you were overcharged or wrongly given license points by DMV within the last two years, you can contact Vaccaro’s office.

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Run 3 Reds on a Bike, Pay $1,500; Hit 10 People With a Car, It’s All Good

Today “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz and Gerard Soffian, both former officials with NYC DOT, said the city should amend laws that treat cyclists and motorists the same. One of their recommendations is to lower the fine for cyclists who run red lights.

“Right now, penalties against bicyclists who run red lights are up to $270 — identical to car driver fines, even though the consequences, in terms of injuring others, are much fewer,” they wrote on CityLand. Schwartz and Soffian suggest a fine of $50, payable to the city Department of Finance, rather than the Traffic Violations Bureau, a Department of Motor Vehicles division that splits ticket revenues with the state.

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The four tickets an officer issued to a cyclist on Ninth Avenue in a single traffic stop.

Here’s an example of how screwy the current penalty structure is. The going rate for killing someone with a car while driving without a license in NYC is $500. And depending on where you commit the crime, the DA might let you off with half that much — even if you have an outstanding charge for unlicensed driving.

Meanwhile, because traffic fines generally don’t distinguish between someone in a multi-ton motorized vehicle and someone riding a bicycle, penalties for relatively innocuous cyclist behavior can reach absurd levels compared to the consequences for deadly driving. A cyclist, whom we’ll call Alex, emailed us about a recent NYPD stop on Ninth Avenue.

I was biking down Ninth Ave (like I do every day) and stopping at every red light and waiting until there were no cars, then going, like every biker does. Apparently a cop saw me run a red light and yelled for me to stop but I had headphones in and didn’t hear him. He tailed me for three lights that I ran through until I turned and he cut me off. I got three tickets for running red lights and one for having headphones in. If I’m right, my ticket costs for my first offense in NY are going to cost me about $1,600, plus fees which I’m sure they will spring on me.

The total fine is so high because red light penalties increase for multiple infractions committed within 18 months. The intent is to discourage motorists from repeating a potentially deadly infraction. Applied to cyclists, it can turn into a grossly disproportionate fine for essentially harmless behavior. Alex has yet to receive the official fine, but he calculates that the first red light will run him $278, the second $463, and the third $1,028.

That’s in line with the fines reported for similar traffic stops in the past. In 2010, Gothamist ran a story about a cyclist who was fined $1,555 for running multiple red lights in a single traffic stop.

“I’m going to take it to court only because I don’t have $1,600 to pay them,” Alex writes. “I’m sure I’m not the first or the last person to have this problem but it irritates me that police are using the ‘broken windows’ policy when there are actual criminals who deserve their attention.”

Now, Alex didn’t deny running the lights. But had he sped through an intersection in a car, jumped a curb, hit 10 people on the sidewalk, and killed a child, he may not have been ticketed at all. This is not a formula for safer streets.