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Posts from the Bicycling Category

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Climate Idealism Can’t Hold a Candle to Collective Action

Cross-posted from the Carbon Tax Center.

Why do Copenhageners ride bicycles? The key reason, says Yale economist and bestselling author Robert J. Shiller, is that Danes are idealists who resolved, after the oil crisis of the 1970s, “to make a personal commitment to ride bicycles rather than drive, out of moral principle, even if that was inconvenient for them.”

“The sight of so many others riding bikes motivated the city’s inhabitants and appears to have improved the moral atmosphere enough,” Shiller wrote in yesterday’s New York Times, that the share of working inhabitants of Copenhagen who bike has reached 50 percent.

In much the same way, Shiller argues, “asking people to volunteer to save our climate by taking many small, individual actions” may be a more effective way to bring down carbon emissions than trying to enact overarching national or global policies such as carbon emission caps or taxes.

Goodness. Rarely do smart people so badly mangle both the historical record and basic economics. I say “people” because Shiller attributes his column’s main points to a new book, Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet, by Gernot Wagner of the Environmental Defense Fund and Martin L. Weitzman, a Harvard economist. And I say “smart” because the three stand at the top of their profession. Shiller won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2013, Weitzman is a leading light in the economics of climate change, and Wagner is highly regarded young economist.

But mangle they have (I haven’t seen the Wagner-Weitzman book but assume that Shiller represents it fairly).

Let’s start with the history, which is fairly well known to anyone versed in cycling advocacy, as I’ve been since the 1980s, when I spearheaded the revival of New York City’s bike advocacy group Transportation Alternatives. Copenhagen’s 40-year bicycle upsurge, and indeed much of the uptake of cycling across Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands, came about not through mass idealism but from deliberate public policies to help cities avoid the damages of pervasive automobile use while reducing oil dependence.

If idealism played a part at the outset it was a social idealism that instructed government to undertake integrated policies ­– stiff gas taxes and car ownership fees, generously funded public transit, elimination of free curbside parking, provision of safe and abundant bicycle routes — that enabled Copenhageners to do what they evidently desired all along: to use bikes safely and naturally.

The telltale is in the graphic. Only one in nine Copenhageners who cycle have environment and climate in mind. The majority do it because it’s faster than other ways to travel, and around a third of cyclists say they ride because it’s healthy, inexpensive and convenient — belying Shiller’s meme of Danes idealistically choosing bikes despite their inconvenience vis-à-vis cars.

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Protected Bike Lanes Coming to Washington Heights After CB 12 Vote

Protected bikeways are coming to Washington Heights. Image: DOT

Protected bikeways are coming to Washington Heights, including Edgecombe Avenue, above. Image: DOT [PDF]

Washington Heights will get protected bike lanes and major pedestrian upgrades after Manhattan Community Board 12 endorsed a DOT proposal last night.

Sections of 170th Street, 158th Street, and Edgecombe Avenue will get protected bike lanes, and pedestrian crossings will be improved on Edgecombe Avenue and at the complex intersection of 158th Street, Riverside Drive, and Edward Morgan Place [PDF]. The street redesigns will make for safer connections between the Hudson River Greenway and Highbridge Park, where the rehabilitated High Bridge will provide a car-free link between Manhattan and the Bronx.

Protected bikeways and pedestrian upgrades are planned for 170th Street, 158th Street, and Edgecombe Avenue. Map: DOT [PDF]

The plan encountered resistance earlier this month from CB 12 members who objected to the loss of approximately 20 parking spaces. DOT revised its plan to reduce parking losses to just eight spots, through offsets elsewhere in the neighborhood. The bike and pedestrian improvements in the plan remain intact.

While a couple of board members, including Jim Berlin, were still upset by any loss of parking, meeting attendees said opponents were outnumbered last night by approximately two dozen high school students from the George Washington Educational Campus, located in Fort George. The students, who participate in “I Challenge Myself,” a program that teaches youth in the Bronx and Manhattan about cycling, brought signs to show support for the plan, and one spoke to the board.

“Almost half the people there were young people, students from our program. It was really impressive, just how strongly they felt,” said Ana Reyes, a Washington Heights resident and executive director of I Challenge Myself. “I think that made a huge difference.”

While no official vote tally was available, Reyes said only a few board members voted against the proposal. The project is a welcome development for an area of Manhattan where the bike network is lacking.

“It’s a really good thing that DOT is putting protected infrastructure in Upper Manhattan, where so far the infrastructure doesn’t look like it does in the other parts of the city,” said Transportation Alternatives Manhattan organizer Tom DeVito.

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Construction Has Begun on the Pulaski Bridge Bikeway

People who walk and bike the Pulaski Bridge may have more space by summer's end.

People who walk and bike the Pulaski Bridge may have more space by summer’s end. Image: NYC DOT

DOT has started work on the much-anticipated Pulaski Bridge bikeway, which will more than double the space for people walking and biking on the bridge.

The Pulaski Bridge spans Newtown Creek, linking Greenpoint and Long Island City. Right now people who cross the bridge on foot and by bike are crammed into one eight-foot lane next to six lanes for motor vehicle traffic. DOT will convert one southbound auto lane to a two-way bike lane, to be separated from pedestrian and car traffic by concrete barriers.

Assembly Member Joe Lentol, a longtime proponent of allocating more space on the bridge to pedestrians and cyclists, released a statement yesterday afternoon:

I am happy to announce that construction has begun on the Pulaski Bridge dedicated bike lane. I have been advocating for this bike lane for nearly five years and I am thrilled that the project is underway. I am hopeful the project will be completed by the end of the summer, finally allowing pedestrians and cyclists to safely travel over the bridge.

Lentol posted a DOT construction announcement on his Facebook page.

DOT began planning the bikeway under former commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. The original construction timetable called for it to be completed in 2014, but red tape pushed it back a year.

The redesign is also expected to help calm traffic on deadly McGuinness Boulevard by slowing drivers as they enter Brooklyn from the bridge.

Streetsblog USA
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Police Profiling Is a Safe Streets Issue

Cross-posted from the Safe Routes to School National Partnership

“Are they going to kill me?”

That’s the question a young black boy asked me one afternoon when I accidentally bumped into him and his grandmother on West Florissant Avenue, in Ferguson, after Michael Brown’s death. He was pointing at two officers watching peaceful protestors. I said, “No, little man, you’ll be okay,” but as I walked away, I wondered if he would be okay, if our country would be okay.

In the last two weeks several important reports have been issued: a new interim report from the White House’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing; the Justice Department’s final report on Ferguson; and the Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets Summit convened by the US Department of Transportation. What intrigues me the most is how all three merge community, access, and safety. For those in the built environment advocacy space, this is a clear time to pay attention.

The role of place and mobility is gaining traction in the national discourse on policing and people of color. The 21st Century Policing Task Force’s interim report contains specific recommendations that identify proper policing as an imperative aspect of true community building. Whether it’s creating opportunities in schools and communities for positive interactions with police outside the context of enforcement, collaborating with community members to develop policies and strategies in neighborhoods disproportionately affected by crime, working with neighborhood residents on public safety, or encouraging communities to adopt policies and programs that address the needs of children and youth most at risk of experiencing crime and violence, safety and health are at the forefront.

As the recommendations from these efforts make clear, communal buy-in is critical for safe environments. The recommendations speak to equitable place-making, safe and healthy mobility, and the key role of community leaders and guardians. All of these recommendations are not separate unto their own, but are integral in the rebuilding of neighborhoods all over the country. As F.B.I. director James B. Comey candidly stated in February on the difficult relationship between the police and communities of color, “We all need to talk, and we all need to listen, not just easy things, but about hard things, too.”

The fact is, policing matters when it comes to whether or not residents in a neighborhood can freely and safely use their mobility choice to access their homes, schools, supermarkets, green spaces, and jobs. All over the country, there are significant disparities in enforcement that inhibit equitable community building.

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Bruckner Boulevard Protected Bikeway Clears Bronx CB 2 Committee

Unused road space on Bruckner Boulevard is being reclaimed for a protected bikeway that will eventually connect the Bronx River Greenway to Randall's Island. Images: DOT

Excess road space on Bruckner Boulevard will be claimed for a protected bikeway that will eventually connect the Bronx River Greenway to Randall’s Island. Images: DOT [PDF]

A DOT plan to add pedestrian space and create a two-way protected bikeway along a key half-mile stretch of Bruckner Boulevard received a unanimous thumbs-up from Bronx Community Board 2’s economic development committee Wednesday night [PDF].

“Bruckner Boulevard is a very wide, multi-lane boulevard,” said DOT project manager Kimberly Rancourt. “It has lots of traffic but it also has excess space that isn’t needed for capacity.” The plan repurposes that unused asphalt, currently striped as a buffer zone, to add protected bike lanes in the Bruckner Boulevard median from Hunts Point Avenue to Longwood Avenue.

The area is dangerous, with 585 injuries at the five intersections in the project between 2009 and 2013, including 65 pedestrian injuries and 10 bicyclist injuries. Both Bruckner and Hunts Point were identified as priority corridors in DOT’s Vision Zero Bronx pedestrian safety action plan, and their juncture — often busy with pedestrians going between the 6 train and the Hunts Point neighborhood — is also named a priority intersection. There, DOT is proposing new pedestrian islands, large curb extensions, and a new crosswalk in the boulevard’s median.

The protected bikeway will provide a key link in the South Bronx bicycle network, though it will need to be extended to provide a seamless ride to points south.

To the north, the project connects with Monsignor Del Valle Square, where a redesign under development by DOT and the Parks Department will include protected bike lanes. Those lanes will link to improvements installed in 2013 that connect with the Bronx River Greenway, including a short protected bike lane on Bruckner between Bryant and Longfellow Avenues.

To the south, the project would strand cyclists when they reach Longwood Avenue. DOT said it is working on a plan to extend the Bruckner Boulevard median bike lanes southward across a “difficult section,” though there is no public timeline for the second phase. The southern extension of the Bruckner bike lane would link to Randall’s Island, where a long-anticipated connector path to the South Bronx Greenway is set to open this summer.

The plan “exponentially” increases the Bronx’s tiny allotment of protected bike lanes, said Transportation Alternatives Bronx organizer Laura Solis, and with the Randall’s Island connector opening soon, DOT should extend it southward as soon as possible. “The goal is definitely to see that continuous connection to Randall’s Island,” Solis said. “This is one step closer.”

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Eyes on the Street: NBC’s Blacklist Gives Green Lane Riders the Blues

The Black List blocked off  Photo: Ben Fried

“The Blacklist” took over a block of Lower Manhattan’s only crosstown protected bike lane yesterday. Photo: Ben Fried

People bicycling east on Grand Street hit this bike lane blockage yesterday afternoon, the first spring-like day of the year, thanks to television drama “The Blacklist.” The crew used the green lane as a staging area for its film shoot, compelling cyclists to detour into the car lane and moving traffic.

“Typically we keep bike lanes clear,” said a locations department employee at Woodridge Productions, which managed the one-day shoot. “I know that bike lanes are a touchy thing for the city.” (Messages for the location manager listed at yesterday’s shoot have not been returned.)

Film shoots get permits from the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment. “Locations departments and Parking PAs should be sensitive to neighborhood needs,” the agency tells production companies on its website. “Do not park production vehicles in bike lanes, bus stops, driveways, at fire hydrants, loading docks or in front of active theater marquees.”

Asked about the permit for “The Blacklist,” the office indicated that it may have given the film crew permission to set up camp in the crosstown bike route. “Generally, film permits prohibit productions from blocking access to pedestrian [zones], green spaces and bike lanes,” the office said in a statement. Yesterday’s shoot, however, was permitted for Grand Street between Mulberry and Broome Streets, using the traffic lane and a curb lane. In this case, the curb lane is the bike lane; the general traffic lane was unobstructed when Streetsblog’s Ben Fried walked by the shoot at about 4 p.m.

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Streetsblog USA
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Engineering Establishment Sets Out to Purge Deviant Bikeway Designs

This is the masthead for the website of the bicycle committee of the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Apparently this group's attitudes about bike infrastructure are not much more advanced then its website. Image: NCUTCDBTC.org

This is the current masthead for the website of the bicycle committee of the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Image: NCUTCDBTC.org

The National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices might be the most influential group of American bike policy makers you’ve never heard of.

The committee shapes street design standards in the United States to a large extent. Their recommendations become part of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, a guide to street markings, signs, and signals that many professional engineers treat as gospel.

The NCUTCD consists mostly of older engineers from state DOTs. In recent years, its bikeway design orthodoxy has been challenged by a new wave of engineers looking to implement treatments that the American street design establishment has frowned upon, despite a proven track record improving the safety and comfort of bicycling. Most notably, the National Association of City Transportation Officials has released guidance on the design of protected bike lanes that the MUTCD lacks.

NACTO’s guidance is gaining adherents. Dozens of cities have implemented protected bike lanes in the past few years. The Federal Highway Administration endorsed the guide in 2013.

All this progress doesn’t seem to sit very well with some members of the old guard. In January, the NCUTCD passed a resolution [Word file] establishing a “task force” to investigate “interest groups that may not be part of the NCUTCD” that promote street designs which don’t conform to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

The MUTCD is supposed to allow for flexibility and deviation from the standard when conditions warrant, which often applies to “bicycle facilities in complex urban environments,” said Joe Gilpin, an expert on bikeway design with Alta Planning. NACTO designs are, according to Gilpin, “for the most part… created from standards already provided within the MUTCD, even if it’s being put together in a different way.”

But the recent resolution is a not-so-veiled attempt to impede that flexibility.

Not every member of the NCUTCD wants to hinder change. Bill Schultheiss, a consultant with Toole Design Group and a long-time member of the committee, was alarmed by the resolution. He says the structure of the committee leads to unnecessary foot-dragging.

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StreetFilms
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National Bike Summit 2015: Talking “Bikes Plus”

The theme of this year’s National Bike Summit in Washington, DC, is “Bikes+” or, as the League of American Bicyclists puts it, “how bikes can add value to other movements and how our movement can expand to serve broader interests.” We decided to have some fun with the theme and ask attendees what they would add to that equation and why.

The answers were quite eclectic and showcase just how broad the topic of bicycling can be. Bikes+ is getting us psyched for a great year of advocacy!

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DOT Has a New Plan for Bike Lanes on the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge

Is the second try the charm for adding bike lanes to the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge? Image: DOT [PDF]

Is the second try the charm for adding bike lanes to the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge? Image: DOT [PDF]

DOT has a plan to add bike lanes to the J. J. Byrne Memorial Bridge, which carries Greenpoint Avenue across Newtown Creek between Brooklyn and Queens [PDF]. The agency has also mapped out new striped bike lanes and markings in Sunnyside and Long Island City [PDF], which would improve access to the bridge.

A similar DOT plan for the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge from 2010 would have changed the roadway from two car lanes in each direction to one, with buffered bike lanes on either side. DOT mothballed the bike lanes a year later after opposition from Brooklyn Community Board 1 and local trucking and industrial interests.

With two wide lanes in each direction, the bridge has remained a source of constant complaints about speeding. DOT says it has received requests for changes from Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer and Assembly Member Joe Lentol.

Bike planning workshops DOT hosted with Queens Community Board 2 in 2012 identified the bridge as a missing link in the network. On the Brooklyn side, the crossing connects to bike lanes on Greenpoint Avenue, which currently terminate at Kingsland Avenue at the foot of the bridge. About 600 cyclists cross the bridge on weekends and weekdays, according to DOT counts from June 2014.

The current DOT project calls for adding striped, unprotected bike lanes on both the Queens and Brooklyn approaches, with two lanes of car traffic maintained in each direction. On the bridge’s center span, the bike lanes would gain four-foot buffers. Two lanes for Queens-bound car traffic would be retained, while Brooklyn-bound drivers would merge into one lane before returning to two lanes as the bridge touches down in Greenpoint.

On the Queens side, as reported by the LIC Post, DOT is planning the second phase of bike network expansion in Sunnyside and Long Island City. Like the first phase, it will mostly consist of painted bike lanes and sharrows, though there is a short two-way protected bike lane proposed for Borden Avenue.  

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Streetsblog USA
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12 Illuminating Facts About Race, Ethnicity, Income, and Bicycling

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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.

As hard as we try to avoid doing so, humans tend to base racial assumptions around our personal experiences.

This can sometimes lead us to odd conclusions. As Homer Simpson once put it: “White people have names like Lenny, whereas black people have names like Carl.”

This shows up everywhere in American life, including bicycling policy. One goal of the new report about race, ethnicity, class and protected bike lanes by PeopleForBikes and the Alliance for Biking and Walking was to help more people (including us) think more clearly about the actual differences between Americans of different backgrounds when it comes to biking. In addition to interviewing and profiling experts and advocates around the country, we gathered statistics and studies that helped us understand how these issues intersect with good street design. Here are 12 of the most interesting findings in the report.

1) Bicycling is growing faster among people of color

Last year, we showed how bicycling has continued to grow among young adults, but not nearly as fast as it’s been soaring among older adults. There’s a similar story when you look at our racial and ethnic backgrounds: Bicycling has become a more important travel activity for white Americans, but not nearly as fast as it has among Americans of color.

In part, this is because people of color were harder-hit by the Great Recession, which caused all racial groups to scale back expensive car trips as the number of inexpensive bike trips increased.

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