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City needs to solve bike lane problem

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If there is any single topic (besides Atlantic Yards, see below) that gets our readers going, it’s bike lanes.

These seemingly innocent strips of white paint generate immediate and visceral response from drivers, merchants, residents and even the cyclists for whom the lanes are designed.

In some neighborhoods, bike lanes have been installed in the wrong place — as in the horrendous lane along the roller-derby-esque Jay Street in Downtown — while in others, there aren’t enough of them.

And in virtually every case, the lanes offer a false sense of security to bicyclists, motorists and pedestrians. Yes, accidents are down, but no amount of paint can protect a cyclist from a collision with a menacing automobile or save a pedestrian from the two-wheeler who speeds through a red light.

There’s obviously a problem.

The latest evidence comes from bike-loving Park Slope, where merchants along Fifth Avenue are complaining that bike lanes are causing double-parked delivery trucks to tie up traffic and endanger bikers.

Despite our longstanding support for the city’s efforts to encourage bike commuting, we agree.

Fifth Avenue is not an appropriate place for a bike lane. There are too many trucks making too many sudden stops, too many busses, and too many cars using the avenue as a bypass of busy Fourth Avenue.

Worse, the northern portion of Fifth Avenue is too narrow for a standard bike lane, so cyclists confront the horror of having the lane disappear north of Carroll Street — just as car traffic is backing up from Flatbush Avenue.

We do believe that the Department of Transportation’s bike program has played an important role in reducing accidents and encouraging bicycling. But too many bike lanes have been laid down without sufficient understanding of how the lanes will conflict with existing conditions.

Before installing a bike lane, planners should take this common-sense quiz:

• Does the road have heavy traffic?

• Does the lane fail to get bikers safely to key destinations?

• Is there a lot of through- or two-way traffic that will conflict with the bike lane?

• Is it a busy pedestrian area?

If the answers are “yes” to all of these questions, a bike lane is clearly not appropriate in that location.

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Reader Feedback

Mike from Ft Greene says:
You make some valid points. Fifth Ave is the worst choice for a bike lane in the Slope -- except for all the others. Sixth is too narrow, Seventh has all the problems of Fifth but more, and Eighth and PPW are too far uphill for many destinations. So if you'd take away the lane on Fifth, what would you replace it with?

Taking away the lane on Fifth wouldn't make the double-parking problem any better. For that, you need loading zones, such as the ones the Myrtle Avenue BID just requested for Myrtle Ave. That's a very similar street in a lot of ways, so we should pay attention to how that experience goes once the loading zones are installed.
June 18, 2009, 10:46 pm
Eric McClure from Park Slope says:
Amazing. It's only taken you guys, what, two months to turn into the Post? You couldn't be more wrong about the Fifth Avenue bike lane.

• Does the road have heavy traffic?

Your question seems to intimate that bike lanes are for recreation, not commuting or commerce. If the road has heavy traffic, it's most likely because it's a good commuting route or, as in the case of Fifth Avenue, it's a busy commercial district. Should I have to abandon my bike for a car in order to go shopping or to patronize a restaurant?

• Does the lane fail to get bikers safely to key destinations?

The failure is as often as not the failure of other street users, not the bike lane itself. And since cyclists are going to ride where they need to, the presence of a bike lane will make the road more safe for them.

• Is there a lot of through- or two-way traffic that will conflict with the bike lane?

A lot of through-traffic is emblematic of a commuter route. Don't cyclists deserve a straight-shot commute? Shunting them to less-convenient routes inconveniences cyclists unnecessarily. And two-way traffic does not inherently conflict with a bike lane -- many of the best bike routes are along two-way streets.

• Is it a busy pedestrian area?

This question makes no sense. Since cars kill hundreds more pedestrians in New York City than do bikes each year, by your logic, we shouldn't allow vehicle traffic in heavily pedestrianized areas.

Actually, you may be on to something.

Brooklyn's Fifth Avenue does not have a bike-lane problem -- it has a truck-delivery problem. There are a number of common-sense steps that can address this problem, including the installation of Muni meters, the implementation of additional loading zones, the replacement of alternate-side parking zones along certain blocks with meter parking, the establishment of delivery-only hours, and the extension of meter rules later into the evening. Removing the bike lanes is not one of them.
June 19, 2009, 12:09 am
Sloper from Park Slope says:
Just wanted to echo Eric McClure's comments. His points make a helluva lot more sense than any in your article. Just a little critical thinking and you'd see the bike lanes on fifth make more sense than not having bike lanes.
June 19, 2009, 8:44 am
JA from Windsor Terrace says:
Traffic is the problem. More pedestrians, cyclists mass transit riders equal less traffic, less traffic equals less congestion.
City "space" needs to reflect the needs of the community, not a rodent infested restaurant(s) who want to receive deliveries in the middle of rush hour. Majority of people in Park Slope do not own cars, therefore the majority of the consideration should fall to accommodate the majority.

Population will not decrease ever. Starting the process now to keep the city moving is critical.
June 19, 2009, 9:52 am
Jimmy from Flatbush says:
I cycle a lot, and have very strong doubts about the value of bike lanes. These lanes give the impression that bikes belong there and nowhere else, and also give a false sense of security to cyclists. Bikes are vehicles and should operate in the same right-of-way as other vehicles, subject to the same laws, and, one hopes, accorded the same right of way as other vehicles.
June 19, 2009, 9:59 am
Tony from Meatpacking says:
This is not just a Brooklyn/Fifth Ave problem ... it's city-wide.

I live on Washington and Jane Streets in the Meatpacking area of the far west village. Bicyclists are using the bike lanes to travel the wrong way down a one-way street and refusing to obey traffic laws. Couple that with the reduced vehicle lanes and you have vehicles competing with bicycles for the street.

Traffic has actually gotten much worse on Washington; NOT better ... more honking of horns, traffic back-ups for 3-4 blocks at a time and more pedestrians afraid of crossing an already dangerous corner at Washington & Jane Streets, despite a stop sign at our corner. After a number of pedestrian/car accidents on our corner, we've had police cars waiting to ticket vehicles that run the stop sign; but NEVER has a bicyclist been ticketed for the same thing or riding the wrong way down Washington Street. I have personally been struck by a bicyclist and trust me, it's no fun. I wasn't killed; but I wound up in the emergency room.

I am in favor of more bicycles as long as the DOT and this administration take into account the impact on city living and traffic. They also have to deal with cabs and trucks that flout the rules; speeding, ignoring stop signs and red lights.

The west village, as well as the rest of the city has been significantly changed with all the bike and left turn lanes and street plazas that have been added in the recent months. Simply adding bike lanes does not reduce traffic congestion. It only has added confusion to an already congested system. And until the city treats bicyclists as vehicles, ie, ticketing for violating rules of the road, we will continue to see the same dangerous issues.

I think this article sheds light on a dangerous situation and a city administration's hubris that has decided only IT knows what's best for everyone.

June 19, 2009, 10:01 am
Fifth Avenue Merchant from Park Slope, Brooklyn says:
Many of my customers use bicycles. I like that. Bikes do not cause traffic jams, pollution or horn honking. Nor do bicycles consume valuable on-street parking spaces. Biking is good for the avenue and good for business. Bike lanes encourage biking.

Your argument that 5th Avenue is not an appropriate street for bike lanes is ludicrous. Fifth Ave. is an ideal street for a bike lane. Even before the lanes were installed it was a street that hundreds of cyclists used daily for commuting, food deliveries, shopping and transporting children. Fifth Ave. is overly wide south of Carroll Street. Prior to the installation of the bike lane motorists often used the extra half-lane of width as a passing lane. The bike lane really helped to curtail this driver dangerous behavior and organize traffic on the avenue. If you were trying to design a perfect avenue for a bike lane, you'd come up with something pretty close to Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn south of Carroll.

The vast majority of my fellow 5th ave merchants are either happy to have the bike lane or could care less about it. I can assure you that the people who run the 5th avenue BID -- Irene and Judi from Aunt Suzie's and Coolectibles do NOT represent a majority opinion on the avenue. Or, if anything, they still represent the majority opinion circa 1987. The BID has not solicited any formal feedback on this issue nor done any kind of study to back up their argument. This bike lane campaign seems to be a personal initiative of the people who run the BID. Frankly, I cannot fathom why they would choose to pick this particular fight and alienate customers in one of NYC's most bike-friendly neighborhoods when economic times are already tough enough. I am annoyed enough with Irne and Judi, at this point, that I will likely no longer contribute funds to the BID unless they step down and new leadership replaces them.

It would be nice if the Brooklyn Paper would actually go out and interview some merchants before printing garbage like this.
June 19, 2009, 10:28 am
Lex from Park Slope says:
Why should the city be in the business of encouraging bicycling?
June 19, 2009, 10:48 am
Jacob from Prospect Hetghts says:
I ride my bike to many shops on Fifth Ave that are too far to walk to. If the Fifth Ave lane were taken away, I simply would stop going to those shops. The problem for truck is a lack of proper loading zones. Truck double parked before the bike lanes were installed. Removing the lane would have absolutely no effect on the problem.

The real problem is that the city is subsidizing curb space for people to drive their cars all around the city, and there is no space for delivery trucks that absolutely need curb space. In this case bike lanes are a red herring, and I've lost a lot of respect for the Brooklyn Paper for propagating such a misunderstanding.
June 19, 2009, 10:55 am
Simon Dale from DUMBO says:
Some of the bike lanes in NYC are just plain life threatening. They dead end into a K-Rail, disappear on blocks with police stations and jump from one side of a street to the other into oncoming traffic with no warning. Its safer to occupy 'Car Space' than to bike in many of them. I was on one paved one that 'ended' and dropped 18"--- that was a surprise. To both me and the Transportation Planner from Copenhagen I was riding with. His comment after a day and a half of riding. 'They should fire the department and start over.' This at what is it? $20,000 a mile to layout. Give us our money back, fire those responsible and startover. In midtown they are all blocked by double-wide pedicabs all the time, every block.

Now wonder merchants don't like them. I'm a cyclist and I try to stay off them if at all possible.
June 19, 2009, 10:56 am
Ana from Park Slope says:
Bikers..... Please STOP taking the RED lights....
I have been close to getting run over on more than one occasion. And worse is when the bikers look at you as if you are in the wrong for being in their way. OF TAKING THE RED LIGHT !
Maybe when cops start giving out tickets you will obey the LAW!
June 19, 2009, 11:23 am
Boris from Bay Ridge says:
Definitely a very biased article that represents a minority opinion. Do trucks somehow take up more room if they double park in the presence of a bike lane than without it? The real problem is routine double parking, which is illegal. And the real solution, as others have mentioned, is some combination of truck loading zones, more meters, and higher meter rates. Weed out people who don't really need to drive and save the space for those who do.
June 19, 2009, 11:42 am
Brian from Park Slope says:
This author is an idiot. The "common sense quiz" makes no sense and doesn't easily yield yes or no answers. Cyclists shouldn't be diverted from commercial areas as if they were vehicles on a thoroughfare. They need to coexist with pedestrians in place like 5th ave because the local nature of stop and go bike traffic encourages patronage of businesses along such a strip. Obviously he/she doesn't know what it's like to ride a bike in Brooklyn.
June 19, 2009, 11:51 am
Brian from Park Slope says:
This author is an idiot. The "common sense quiz" makes no sense and doesn't easily yield yes or no answers. Cyclists shouldn't be diverted from commercial areas as if they were vehicles on a thoroughfare. They need to coexist with pedestrians in place like 5th ave because the local nature of stop and go bike traffic encourages patronage of businesses along such a strip. Obviously he/she doesn't know what it's like to ride a bike in Brooklyn. My advice to all the bike haters is give it up and find a new fight because your not going to win this one.
June 19, 2009, 11:56 am
skulls from Park Slope says:
First off, where is the evidence that that the central premise of your opinion, "merchants along Fifth Avenue are complaining," is true. We have ONE complaint, from Aunt Suzies. Is there ANYONE else? Right here you have a 5th Ave. merchant saying exactly the opposite. And if anyone has a better suggestion as to where a bike lane should go instead of 5th ave., I'm all for it. It's actually ideally suited for a bike lane: traffic is much slower compared to 4th Ave., there's plenty of space compared to 6th and 7th, 8th and PPW go one way. So where's it gonna be folks? How about we make 5th ave. bicycles and local commercial deliveries only? That would solve everything....
June 19, 2009, 12:01 pm
Will Sherman from Crown Heights says:
It’s disappointing to see the Brooklyn Paper taking such a misguided stance on 5th Avenue. The issue is double parked motor vehicles and its caused by the lack of safe and legal parking for delivery.

The solution is some combination of muni-meters, delivery zones and other types of parking management. Getting rid of bicycle lanes is a scapegoat solution which wouldn’t stop the traffic tie-ups.

It’s disingenuous verging on disgusting to suggest a scenario that puts the convenience of dangerous and illegal double parkers over the safety and mobility of everyone else who uses the street. Your “common-sense quiz” is also laughable for all the reasons Eric McClure pointed out. I expect more from your paper.
June 19, 2009, 12:15 pm
Peter from Inwood says:
"... and too many cars using the avenue as a bypass of busy Fourth Avenue."

Are you listening to yourself? Cars use Fifth Ave as a bypass but somehow bikes are the problem? From the point of view of Fifth Ave businesses, it would make a lot more sense to discourage through traffic and welcome bikers.
June 19, 2009, 12:22 pm
David from Park Slope says:
Ana from Park Slope:

The other day I stumbled across a car fully embedded in the front of a store on 5th Avenue in Park Slope. It had somehow been traveling fast enough to jump the sidewalk and crash into a storefront. Amazingly no one was hurt. This notion that cyclists are the big cause of danger on Brooklyn streets is just utterly ridiculous. No user of the street is more lawless and more dangerous that Brooklyn motorists. I see people regularly driving 50 mph up Union Street. I hear motorists blasting their stereos and horns and unconscionable volume levels. I see motorists driving aggressively and idiotically on 5th Avenue CONSTANTLY.

This notion that cyclists are the big danger on 5th Avenue is simply not borne out by facts. Let's see the NYPD hand out tickets to the people who are really endangering us and reducing quality of life in our neighborhoods -- selfish, unskilled, sociopathic motorists.
June 19, 2009, 1:07 pm
John P. from Park Slope says:
I am a bicyclist. I use Fifth Ave to get to work in Downtown Manhattan. For every person like me, there is one fewer person on the crowded rush hour Subway platform. For every person like me, there are fewer people on the road, fewer cars taking up parking spaces. And I use my bike to get to the businesses further down fifth avenue that I wouldn't normally patronize if it weren't for easy access on my bicycle.

Bike lanes are problem solvers, not problem causers.
June 19, 2009, 1:10 pm
Joe from Crown Hieghts says:
The problem with 5th Avenue, like most commercial streets in New York is that there is not place for delivery trucks. There are no dedicated spots for deliveries only. And parking is too cheap. There are never available parking spaces. The avenue is jammed with double-parked cars, cars looking for parking, and double-parked delivery trucks. The street is more than wide enough to handle cars and bikes. The problem is parking management. The price of parking needs to be jacked up to a rate where there are available spaces. And deliveries may need to be done from either end of the block, not expecting to double-park right in front of the doorway.
June 19, 2009, 1:12 pm
tom murphy from sunset park says:
I was told locally that someone jumped under a train in the 45th Street(4th Avenue) station at 3am Monday and was killed. Nothing in any of the papers. Did it happen?
June 19, 2009, 1:55 pm
June from Park Slope says:
http://blogs.westword.com/latestword/2009/06/kenny_bes_guide_to_summers_ter_1.php

LOL ! ! !

A Denver post that could easily be translated to NYC.

and the comments are even funnier.
some bikers are so sensitive.
June 19, 2009, 2:11 pm
Paco from Cobble Hill says:
I really appreciate the Fifth Avenue Merchants replying to this post. The editorial feels very generalized and based in falsehoods. Has anyone actually surveyed all of the business community for their opinions?

There is limited space in this city and you can park a dozen bikes in the space of one car. Overwhelmingly, Park Slope shoppers come by foot, bike, or mass transit... not personal vehicles. No one wants Park Slope to be a Jersey strip mall with parking lots as front lawns, so we've got to share the little space we have and allocate square footage for what makes sense - dedicated loading only zones, market price muni meter rates, and ample supply of bike and pedestrian amenities.
June 19, 2009, 3:04 pm
Lex from Park Slope says:
@ John P.

"For every person like me, there is one fewer person on the crowded rush hour Subway platform. For every person like me, there are fewer people on the road, fewer cars taking up parking spaces."

1. You never drove to work before you started cycling so no car was taken off the road when you got your bike. You took the subway.

2. Yes, you're not on the subway on the sunny days with Goldilocks weather when you bike. (Not too hot, not too cold, not raining, not snowing, etc.) Do you know how many people bike to work in the NY metro area?

Less than 1%. To be exact, .6%. (Reference here - http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/STTable?_bm=y&-context=st&-qr_name=ACS_2007_3YR_G00_S0801&-ds_name=ACS_2007_3YR_G00_&-tree_id=3307&-redoLog=true&-_caller=geoselect&-geo_id=31200US356203651000&-format=&-_lang=en

The number of people commuting by bike is so tiny that it makes no difference as far as subway crowding.
June 19, 2009, 3:25 pm
Bill from Bay Ridge says:
@Lex

Well Lex, I think you miss the point of John's reply. Clearly, for every new person who commutes by bicycle, there is one less person who commuted by car, bus, subway, etc. For many years I commuted by car through the Battery Tunnel. Now I commute by car maybe half a dozen times a year, the rest of the time I commute by bike and when the weather is awful (like yesterday) by subway.

And to respond to your previous comment, the City should encourage biking and bike commuting, since it is obviously does not add to pollution, is sustainable without material use of a non-sustainable product (oil) we have to import, and it encourages fitness.

Bill
June 19, 2009, 3:55 pm
Ben from Windsor Terrace says:
I use this bike lane to get to work. It makes my trip a whole lot better. Who cares if it turns into sharrows north of Carroll Street?

Earth to Brooklyn Paper: Our borough is made out of grids -- streets that connect to other streets. If a cyclist doesn't want to ride on the narrow part of Fifth Avenue without a dedicated lane, he or she can turn off onto a side street, some of which have their own bike lanes, and ride to another commuting corridor with a bike lane. Sure, there are gaps in the bike network. That's all the more reason to make it robust and complete -- by adding more bike lanes.

Your "longstanding support for the city’s efforts to encourage bike commuting" isn't worth the disk space it's stored on once you come out against a heavily used, well-conceived instance of those efforts.

I also use this bike lane to go places on Fifth Ave and spend money. I'd do that a lot more if there were bike parking facilities on the street instead of the haphazard collection of meters, racks, and signposts that people currently have to lock up to on the sidewalk. Go look at all the bikes locked up on Fifth Ave on a Saturday. I guarantee you these cyclists are vital to the businesses on the strip, and there would be even more of them out there spending money if the bike parking situation improved.
June 19, 2009, 8:15 pm
Dave from Park Sloper says:
Put the bike lane between the parked cars and the sidewalk and problem solved. Maybe it's the double parked trucks that are the problem and not the bicylcists?
June 19, 2009, 9:01 pm
5th Ave Shopper from Park Slope says:
I walk 5th Ave, ride my bike down 5th and also drive my car on 5th Ave.

Today, as I was walking, I was almost mowed down by a biker going the wrong way in the bike lane. He came out of no where and yelled at me for being in the way! It's this kind of arrogance and intentional behavior that is giving bikers and the addition of bike lanes a bad name.

When I drive my car, I don't speed and am respectful of pedestrians and bikers as well. However, if I were to intentionally drive my car the wrong way down a one-way street, I would expect to be arrested, ticketed & fined at the very least. When are bikers going to be treated the same as drivers and ticketed when they intentionally break the traffic laws?????? Maybe then, bikers will get the respect they want.
June 20, 2009, 6:13 pm
Boris from Bay Ridge says:
5th Ave Shopper,

But if you drive your car the wrong way down a one-way street and run over a pedestrian, nothing will happen to you because it will be deemed an "accident." Such a thing happens in New York City about 100 times a year.

So do you think the bicyclist should simply knock you over next time, instead of yelling? Such is the nature of law and law enforcement in our state that grave crimes go unpunished while minor crimes are the ones everyone cries murder about.
June 23, 2009, 2:52 pm
Bike R Forlosers from UES says:
" There are too many... cars using the avenue as a bypass of busy Fourth Avenue."

Which is a bypass for busy Third Avenue
Which is a bypass for the busy Gowanus Expressway.

Instead of a bike lane, how about an elevated highway over Fifth Avenue?
June 23, 2009, 4:10 pm
Nick from former Sunset Park-er says:
So bikes are to blame for double parking woes on 5th ave? I used to ride this street nearly every day, and without fail it had some of the worst examples of bad driving I have seen in all my years in NYC. Maybe the solution is not to blame the bike lane for too many cars clogging up traffic; maybe the solution is to address why so many people feel the need to drive in a city with a public transit system as vast as NYC's? Maybe there should be less curbside parking and more loading zone designations for 5th ave to facilitate deliveries if it's such a problem.
And to the people using the space to complain about cyclists, what does that have to do with this story? You had a bad experience with an individual. This story is talking about a systemic problem plaguing NYC as it tries to balance growth/commerce with sustainability.
June 23, 2009, 7:41 pm
sheila frayne from park slope says:
5th ave not safe for bike lane
June 23, 2009, 8:05 pm
Another 5th Ave Merchant from Park Slope says:
Clearly deliveries are needed. However, almost all deliveries take place between 8am and 4pm Monday through Friday. That is only one third of the day, five days a week. Currently, during those delivery times cyclists and delivery trucks compete for space. But for the vast majority of the hours of a week they do not! Look at the avenue in the evenings and the weekends. It is an ideal avenue for bike lanes. I believe the community, and yes the merchants, all benefit from the bike lanes. The DOT needs to put in place more loading zones for the minority of hours during the week that deliveries take place.
June 23, 2009, 9:29 pm
5th Ave Shopper from Park Slope says:
Boris ... your premise isn't sound! If a driver drives the wrong way down a one-way street and hits a pedestrian, the driver is ticketed at the very least ... not let go because of a simple accident. If the pedestrian dies as a result, the driver will most likely be charged w/ vehicular manslaughter.

My problem with the cyclist yelling at me isn't that they were trying to warn me, they were yelling out of indignation that I should deign to be walking in the crosswalk and have the right of way! My problem is with the hubris of many cyclists who believe they can do whatever they want and get away with it.

The city has added these many bike lanes and have added to the problem by not enforcing traffic laws. There is very little consequence for cyclists who break those laws.
June 24, 2009, 9:50 am
brian from park slope says:
I agree 100% with 5th Ave Shopper.
June 24, 2009, 10:36 am
Valaire from 11211 says:
The politics behind all of this a freaking horrifying. I wonder if Rabbi Leib Glanz , in one of his three closed door meetings with Deputy Mayor Sheekey, at the end of last year, were about this project. Stu Loesser himself declared that they were meetings about housing and transportation. They amount to Bloomberg currying favor with a big group of voters for his third run. The Satmars will put aside the red herring of scantily clad bicyclists zooming thru south Williamsburg , if they can get their parking back PLUS the bonus of getting less trucks rolling thru. Bloomberg's myopic vision for a Greenway in his legacy will be accomplished at any cost to communities. Some of us have a more valuable currency to exchange in how it is put in place. Votes.
June 25, 2009, 6:52 pm

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