Separated Bike Lanes in NYC: Dividends of Advocacy

If you have your own local green/energy related stories that fit with this kind of model of story--please send them to us for consideration! -Glenn

NYC is in the process of a dramatic transformation of its streets to promote alternative modes of transportation to the automobile – walking, biking and mass transit. To the outside observer, this might seem like a natural evolution of streetscapes or merely based on the personal viewpoints of a few influential people. But in reality, this transformation, still in its infancy, is the result of a long and dedicated advocacy campaign by groups like Transportation Alternatives, Time's Up and the dedicated bloggers and vloggers on Streetsblog and Streetfilms that is finally seeing its advocacy work pay-off. Big time.

It has long been the dream of alternative transportation advocates to not only increase the number of on-street bike lanes for cyclists, but to make them safe enough for anyone to use them – children, elderly or just a casual commuting cyclist. Basically to make them safe and comforting to anyone that doesn’t want to deal with automobiles buzzing them. The ideal to many cycling advocates is the separated bike lane because it not only provides a safer ride, but also prevents automobiles from blocking them by double parking in them.

And New York is getting its first taste of on-street separated bike lanes on a small stretch of a Ninth Avenue leading into midtown.

This is just one example of how local advocacy can result in real changes on the ground toward creating more sustainable communities. If you would like to get a taste for the type of advocacy work that went into this and some of the key players, watch this classic Streetfilm: The Case for Separated Bike Lanes by Clarence Eckerson.

What needs changing in your community? Instead of heading for the hills, you might want to get more involved in making the changes that will make it more sustainable.

Actions such as these are what's needed to break the stranglehold of our addiction to oil.

The hardest part is being one of the few brave souls to put yourself out into relentless traffic. My 10 mile work commutes have been too frequently a tiny percentage of the steel cocoons roaring past, the captains of which know not of the tremendous amounts of energy they are simply discarding onto the ash heaps of entropy.

The barriers I see to greater bicycle riding;

- Too few showers at work: While not always necessary, people will perceive that the shortage of showers will make their attempts to bike commute impractical

- All weather biking: Rain and cold are showstoppers for the vast majority. Techniques such as those found in The Art of Urban Cycling: Lessons from the Street help to overcome these hurdles.

- Culture: Since very few people bike commute, it appears to be fringe behavior. Doesn't the kind of car one drives define the person?...

In my case the commute is 18 miles each way. Not the most direct route, but the safest (and fairly pleasant at that). As the crow flies, it would be closer to 10 miles. Given the distance, I only do it once or twice a week, but that gives me the flexibility to pick and choose days with good weather.

We already have the showers at the office - no problem there. I just went out and bought some decent lights, and now all I need are some clothes for colder weather and I should be all set for winter. Generally I find colder weather more comfortable for riding - much less likely to get heat exhaustion.

Regarding the question of fringe behavior, it seems to catch some people by surprise when people see me. But then again, lots of folks pay money and take time to go to the gym - I am much happier outdoors on my bicycle than I am in a gym in front of a TV. My sense is that with higher gas prices, more people are willing to at least consider it, but lots of folks have a long list of excuses that they need to work past before they will climb on a bicycle.

Yeah I agree. Here is my list of ideas for improving cycling in western cities:
- Bicycles assigned the status of roadworthy vehicle (if they aren't already).
- Free cycling education in all schools.
- Subsidised/free adult training in cycling skills.
- Cyclist awareness included in driver tests.
- Driver tests must be renewed regularly.
- Government advertising to improve public awareness of cyclists' rights.
- Bike paths alongside all trains, freeways, rivers etc.
- On-road bike lanes provided where useful.
- Take away "traffic calming" narrowings in roads.
- In residential areas, use long, wide speed humps to slow motorists.
- For some streets in busy shopping areas, exclude private motor vehicles.
- Priority traffic light sequences for cyclists.
- Improved enforcement of road rules on cyclists.
- Stiff penalties enforced for negligent/dangerous use of motor vehicles.
- Equalisation or removal of special tax treatment given for motor vehicles.
- "Vehicular cycling" educational material provided free in bike shops etc, eg:
- Facilities to integrate cycling and public transport, including taking bikes on trains, trams etc.
- Legal changes to put assumption of responsibility on the motor vehicle driver, in the case of a crash with a bicycle or pedestrian. I think this is already in place in the Netherlands?
- Introduce building regulations requiring offices etc to provide high-quality bicycle parking. Also lockers, change rooms, drying racks etc.
- Introduce legislation forcing businesses etc to allow cyclists to use private streets, driveways, ramps etc on which they allow motorised vehicles.

A good online resource for bicycle commuting are the forums at There are forums there for anything related to bicycling for that matter, but the one on commuting is really good as there are a lot of other people there who can provide support and advice.

The physically separated bike lanes seem like a good idea, especially in high-traffic areas.

I note that these lanes are pretty wide. I ride 48" wide cargo trikes and pedicabs. It is critical that the bike lanes be plenty wide for utility HPvs as well as single bikes.

Our Greenway in Minneapolis does this well, except for a couple of places where the bike path suddenly narrows and wide loads are difficult or impossible to fit through.

The standard bike paths in our parks are wide enough for hauling HPVs in most places, but again, sudden narrowing can leave work bikers in a tight spot!

Also, bike lanes jammed with ppedestrians and/or bikers and roller bladers can make workbiking difficult.

This is usually not a problem, but sometimes -- on some holidays or weekends -- the street is preferable to bike paths or bike lanes for work biking.

Finally, I think that it is important to maintain the right to ride in traffic at all times for bikers. Even though bike lanes are good, we must not allow bikers to be forced into a "bikes are only for bike lanes" mode. This would turn out to restrict and reduce the utility of biking in the city.

The physically separated bike lanes shown in NYC look great, though! Great work!

Yeah good points. For others not up to speed on the issues, some useful info on the pros and cons of bicycle lanes/paths is at:

Also, some good tips on commuter cycling:

Hi Glenn,

This is beautiful. Thanks.

The devil is in the details, as always. Contrast
(i) the story of the Netherlands, where bikes lanes are separated, mandatory for bike riders and unusable by performance cyclists because of gates at intersections; and

(ii) the uses delivery vehicles find for non-segregated bike lanes in NYC as detailed here:

Man! Now could they just put one in from the foot of the Manhattan bridge all the way up 1st Ave? I'd be set. Oh, and some in downtown Brooklyn too. That's the worst part of my (7 and half mile) commute to midtown. Thanks. :)

I know a few hardcore bike people who refuse to use the existing bike lanes because they say that drivers use them as passing lanes, extra street space, etc, without paying any attention to the bikers in them, which makes them more dangerous to ride in than the rest of the street. Physical barriers definitely solve that problem... Ever since I biked around Montreal for a day, I've been a big fan of bike lanes with physical barriers... Although in Montreal they make the barriers out of curbs with big metal posts in them! A truck couldn't hit those cyclists if it wanted to!

And I have to say, as irritating as the hipster population in Williamsburg is, at least they're making bikes a more regular, visible presence in the city. Plus, they make the whole endeavor look cool... Now if they'd only wear helmets.

On the roadway it's different, but it's a bit wasteful to spend precious bridge lane space on cyclists who could just as easily use a separated walkway (overbridge, underbridge, side-of-bridge) that doesn't have to be rated for tons of pressure per square foot. That space could go to more cars, or a mass transit lane, either rail or bus.

I'm fine with the weak plastic knockdown barriers I see here in MD pretty often - they do the job, without leaving twisted metal and broken glass all over the pavement every time someone bumps into one. They don't have to make the bike lane physically invulnerable, they just have to be cheap enough to put everywhere, and solid enough that the driver notices his bumper is getting huge dents in it.

I dislike seperated bike lanes as the only priority because they delegitimitize cyclist's legal use of regular streets. Much more valid and much cheaper would be a simple ordinance change giving legally operated bicycles priority over powered vehicles, as in "the operator of motor vehicle must yield to legally operated bicycle in every circumstance" going on to define "legally operated bicycle" as one that is following existing traffic law, with the exception of speeed minimums.

Pursued in conjuction with street improvement such as bike "priority" lanes, bolstered by an public education/awareness campaign, and enforced by an enlightened traffic control force, this would immediately give cyclists considerable protection without reconfiguring every street.

I like the idea, but wouldn't that take a huge amount of re-education for drivers? Don't get me wrong, i think it's a great idea, but I think it might take a nationwide public awareness campaign to get that kind of thing ingrained in drivers' mentalities. I mean, technically pedestrians have the right of way in crosswalks too, but you certainly don't see that rule being obeyed across the board...

Separate bike lanes are very important for at least 2 reasons:
1. it legitimizes bicycling as a form of TRANSPORTATION and not just something you put on your SUV and take to the park

2. SAFETY!. We need families bicycling as a form of TRANSPORTATION. For families, the main issue is safety. The key advantage of separate bike lanes is that they're safe.

I believe seperate bike lanes are needed but not everywhere. They're best for high density areas like downtown. I also would like to see them as a way of connecting homes to schools/stores. As far as commuting to work on a bike. I see a lot of these commutes requiring roads with speed limits over 40mph. I don't think these roads need separate bike lanes-- but I wouldn't be opposed to the idea.

As far as commuting to work on a bicycle goes, people should electrify their bikes. I have an electric bike. It is a motor kit that I installed on a regular bike. Getting to work is very fast (almost as fast as a car) and sweat free. This bike is my second car.

This additional safety is questionable. I know a lot of experienced bicycle riders here in Germany who argue that by taking bicycles off of the road, drivers lose their attention. The critical point is at crossroads, and it seems that cyclists are safer there if they are sharing a lane with cars, because they will be seen more easily.

BY the way, are all those guys in the film driving on the wrong side of the road?

Also, in the city the most dangerous place is intersections. Are the segregated bike lanes helping at the intersections? How? Do they make it harder for the cyclist to turn into a crossing street, across traffic? As someone said up-post, the devil is in the details.

Where it that kid's bike helmet?

A concerned RN and grandma.

Nice bit of bait you laid down, but the "grandma" was over-the-top.

OOTH, if you are truly serious, and at your age, I suggest you wear a helmet as you walk around as a pedestrian fall can also have serious consequences.

Glenn, your email address is really *very* spam protected :-) the TLD-ending is missing ("At Yahoo ..." what?).

If you have your own local green/energy related stories [..]

You might be interested in an article about a new developed housing area in Erlangen/Germany (a former US army ground) which I have written for the Carfree Times im May 2007.


Ulrich Nehls, aka radlafari

Ulrich, et al...feel free to send them to the eds box too, and I will be happy to forward them on.

editors at gmail

We have dedicated bike lanes here. They are called sidewalks. Nobody walks. On a five mile ride I average meeting two other bicycle riders and one pedestrian, maybe. No lie. You take your life in your own hands if you get out on the road around here. They will run you down without batting an eye. Everyone drives tanks while eating, talking on cell phones, etc., etc., ad nauseum. Bicyclists are treated with contempt. It is assumed that anyone on a bicycle can't afford a car. People have their heads up their butts, and the oil crash can't come soon enough to suit me.

There needs to be a lane like this down 5th Ave from Central Park to 23rd St., where the Broadway bike lane meets up. It would be great for messengers, with it being in the heart of mid Manhattan, and 5th Ave doesn't have SO much traffic that it couldn't stand to lose a traffic lane.