Just when you’re trying to “do the right thing” in the world in general and in New York city in particular by conserving fossil fuels and riding your bike, the the NYPD steps in.
Good reports that the New York Police Department has started to crack down on cyclists for riding outside of bike lanes. In view of the volume of traffic in NYC, such a law is not, at first glance, unreasonable. Many cyclists do understand they’re treated like cars as far as traffic laws goes. But the confusion starts about “whether it’s okay to ride outside of a bike lane if one is provided.” While the basic answer is “no,” the reality of biking in New York makes things a bit more complicated.
Lafayette is a one-way avenue, northbound at this point, with the bike lane on the left hand side of the street. The lane begins just two blocks south. Cyclists riding north on neighboring Centre Street must merge onto Lafayette just where the bike lane starts. But they end up on the right-hand side of Lafayette. So that means they then have to cross two lanes of traffic to reach the bike lane. Many do not, especially if they plan to make a right turn soon after.
The police were parked in a van on the left side of the street, about one block after the lane starts. At one point they had pulled over two cyclists at the same time.
Citing a New York Post story that found that, over five days, some 24 percent of 7,182 cyclists violated traffic laws at this very stretch of bike lane, Good points out that the NY Post “did not count the number of cars or pedestrians that violated traffic laws or obstructed the bike lane.”
In other words, it seems that cyclists in NYC are getting at least a bit singled out for breaking traffic laws.
The crackdown on cyclists riding outside of bike lanes comes at a time when New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been drumming up support for the lanes. According to the March 29th New York Times, the Bloomberg has gone so far as to step up a public relations campaign promoting the bike lanes, following “a spate of negative publicity for the bicycle lanes, which have provoked a lawsuit accusing the city of misrepresenting traffic data.” Transportation Alternatives, New York’s main bike advocacy organization, has itself hired a public relations firm for the first time in its 38-year-existence. Anti- and pro- bike lane advocates have both appeared on NY1 and “The Brian Lehrer Show,” a popular WNYC program, to make the case for the danger/safety and disadvantages/benefits of bike lanes.
Might it be possible that the city is cracking down on cyclists who don’t stay in the lane as a way of saying, we’re promoting alternative transportation by giving you space on crowded city streets, so use it?
Though of course, it would be nice if the city had put the bike lanes in places convenient for those riding the bikes.
Photo by James D. Schwartz