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“There is literally nothing I can do that makes people madder than just riding my bike the way I am supposed to.”

April 25, 2014

On Thursday morning, as I was riding to work via Jay Street, I happened to find the bike lane blocked by a van, as one often does on this rather chaotic corridor. So I did everything by the book: I looked behind me, stretched my hand out to signal that I was merging with the car lane, and merged left, taking the northbound lane.

jaystreetblockedbikelane

The Jay Street bike lane is blocked so frequently that you can drop in on Google Streetview just about anywhere and find an example.

Just as I passed the offending van, I heard a car speed up behind me, some honking and then a person screaming at the top of her lungs. The driver of a brown sedan pulled into oncoming traffic to pass me, and as she did she yelled through her open passenger-side window, “Get in the bike lane! Stay in the bike lane!” (She may or may not have used an obscenity to describe said bike lane.)

Mere feet later at Willoughby, the light was red — drivers always need to speed up to the red, don’t they? — and I pulled up next to the woman’s car.  She continued screaming through her open window, “You need to stay in the bike lane!”

At first I remained calm. “Ma’am, see that van back there? I had to pass it.  So you’re welcome to go back and tell the driver to stay out of the bike lane if you want me to stay in it.”  She nodded sarcastically, flashing what could politely be called an excrement-eating grin. (When she told me once again that I needed to stay in the bike lane anyway, I may or may not have told the driver to go have intercourse with herself.)

Then the light turned green and I was on my way. The woman, of course, was stuck behind a number of buses and slow-moving traffic, and I’m almost certain that I was halfway up to the on-ramp to the Manhattan Bridge bike path before she probably turned right on Tillary to get to the BQE. If there was something that delayed this woman en route to her destination, I was a mere speck in the giant cosmos of traffic.

There was nothing particularly special or different about my experience on Jay Street yesterday. It was a sign that the thoroughfare, like so many streets in our city, doesn’t work for anyone. Did this woman want to become so enraged that she could have killed a father of two, taking out another driver and some pedestrians in the process?  Did I need to lose my cool at this woman?  So I mostly chalked the episode up to just one of those things that we’re trying to fix. We’re trying to build streets that foster not only safety, but civility.

In light of all that, I found this epic rant posted on Craiglist Toronto very satisfying. It’s exactly what I would have wanted to say to the driver, had I thought it had any chance of sinking in. It’s titled, “You almost ran me down while screaming ‘get the fuck out of the way’.”

Some choice bits:

…I have something very startling to tell you about the material world: it is not possible for a person on a bicycle to drive THROUGH a parked truck. The person will somehow have to go around it, even if that means minorly inconveniencing you, comfortably sitting in your vehicle with your friends, for a few seconds.

And this is what I had the gall to do today, westbound on Bloor, about 20 feet east of Christie, after signalling, well ahead of you. You, lady in your blue BMW with three friends who were hopefully embarrassed to be seen with you, drove directly up behind me, laid down on the horn, yelled, “get the fuck out of the way!”, and then swerved around me in a way that made me feel really, really unsafe.

People who have purchased/rented/borrowed vehicles capable of going fast have not actually puchased/rented/borrowed the ability to move through a congested city fast. You have purchased a certain amount of comfort and freedom of movement (in distance and direction) not available to those using other modes of transportation. 

Imagine being in line at the grocery store and, feeling that the person in front of you was taking too long to get out their money, standing directly behind them while yelling at them to fuck off. That would be really, really weird! And it happens to me as a person who travels by bicycle all of the time. 

Look: I am a friggin rule follower extraordinaire, a goody-two-shoes, and a people pleaser. There is literally nothing I can do that makes people madder than just riding my bike the way I am supposed to. I feel bad and scared doing something I love and have the right to do, something that is good for the roads, the planet, and the cardiovascular system. It fucking sucks. Your attitude is terrible. 

It’s that bolded sentence, empasis mine, that really sticks with me. I was doing everything right – I signaled, merged, and then quickly pedaled back into the bike lane – but it wasn’t enough for this woman.

Why? Because.

Let’s design better roads, please. For my sake and hers.

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Winning the Parking Wars

April 24, 2014

ParkingImpact

When it comes to parking, “only” is relative.

Take a mile-long bike lane that requires the loss of, say, 15 to 20 car parking spaces in order to install mixing zones or pedestrian islands.  To most people, trading this amount of automobile parking in the name of greater safety and mobility for thousands of people sounds like a fair trade-off.  But to anyone with a strong windshield perspective, seeing the greater good isn’t always easy.  So measuring bike lanes by the number of parking spaces that need to disappear only along the affected corridor is a recipe for controversy.  Whose “only” is it, anyway?

According to Michael Andersen of the Green Lane Project, there’s a better way:

…when it was planning its signature downtown bike project in 2005, Montreal got past those concerns with a very simple tactic. Instead of counting only the change in parking spaces on the boulevard De Maisonneuve itself, a measure that might have led to headlines and perceptions that “half of the parking” was being removed, it counted the total number of auto parking spaces — public and private, on-street and off — within 200 meters of the project.

The district, it turned out, had 11,000 parking spaces. Converting one of the corridor’s two auto parking lanes to a protected bikeway would remove 300 of them, or just under 3 percent.

As Vision Zero planning moves from the murky process of explaining what Vision Zero is to actually laying out projects that will require some amount of physical change to the streetscape — and, yes, sacrifice on the part of drivers — the de Blasio administration would be well advised to consider this tactic.  It’s something DOT used effectively during  the arguments that erupted in Brooklyn last spring over bike share station siting.

Via Streetsblog:

First, some facts: There are 6,800 on-street parking spots in the area bounded by Classon Avenue, Fulton Street, Flatbush Avenue and Flushing Avenue. In that zone, 22 bike-share stations were installed, adding 600 public bike docks. Two-thirds of the stations are on the sidewalk, after community meetings revealed a preference for that type of installation. Stations that were installed in the roadbed took 35 parking spaces, [NYC DOT's Jon] Orcutt told the audience – one half of one percent of the total number of spaces in the neighborhood.

Brooklyn Vision Zero Workshops in April

April 18, 2014

VisionZeroFlyer

Want to offer your input on what streets should be prioritized under Vision Zero? Brooklynites will have two opportunities this month, with workshops in Brooklyn Heights and Midwood fast approaching. Unlike the town fall forums, which allowed citizens to sound off and talk to officials about problems in their neighborhoods, these workshops will offer a more hands-on experience, with maps and other tools to identify key locations that should be the subject of safety enhancements.

The full flyer, which includes a list of sponsors, is available here.

And don’t forget! Park Slope’s Vision Zero town hall will take place this Monday, April 21st, at PS 321.

“We agree.”

April 11, 2014

538chart

FiveThirtyEight takes a look a bike lanes and discovers that they don’t cause traffic jams, using Prospect Park West as one of its key examples:

We can confirm our conclusions about the post-bike lane level of congestion on Prospect Park West with New York City’s Department of Transportation’s final metric. Somebody got in a car and actually drove 19 blocks down Prospect Park West, timing his or her trip during the morning and afternoon rush hours, and also during the middle of the day. The transportation department only attempted each trip once, so there’s not a lot of data for us to use in rigorous analyses. However, the city found that there was no evidence that the travel times of the trips before and after the bike lane installation were any different, and we agree.9

Interesting to note is that after the bike lane was installed “Some of the intersections were just above the level of mild congestion (V/C ratio ≥ 0.5), but not enough to affect the commute a lot.” According to the authors, “Prospect Park West was still well under capacity during rush hour.”

Of course, even if the bike lane had affected “the commute” a little, it would have been worth the trade-off. For in the “war” between bicycles and drivers,” there’s often a forgotten soldier: pedestrians.

The city’s report contains a number of other interesting statistics about the effect of the Prospect Park West bike lane. The number of cyclists using the road went up, and speeding cars, cyclists riding on the sidewalk and injury-causing accidents went down. The road diet isn’t just creating a space for bikers; it’s also making the street safer for other types of users.

A couple of things to consider in reading this story, which has ricocheted around the internet today.

  • The piece is headlined, “Bike Lanes Don’t Cause Traffic Jams If You’re Smart About Where You Build Them.” (Emphasis mine.) To the average NBBLer, that “If” is probably very loaded. As PPW opponent Norman Steisel said in 2011, “We’re not opposed to bike lanes. We’re opposed to this one and the way it was done.”
  • Evidence sways people who are inclined to be swayed by evidence. In an infamous exchange at the height of the PPW madness, DOT’s Ryan Russo offered a thorough explanation to Seniors for Safety member Lois Carswell of why the agency’s numbers on bike lane usage differed from the opponents’ own counts. Carswell’s response: “I disagree with your logic.”

Will FiveThirtyEight’s take sway anyone? Probably not, although it is a good thing that the news organization founded by the guy who correctly called the electoral results in 50 of 50 states in the 2012 presidential election has weighed in on Prospect Park West. It also means that the subject of how we get around is worthy of discussion, debate, and analysis in more than just the advocacy and policy worlds. That’s progress.

Kidical Mass: The Parents Are Back

April 8, 2014

While some people managed to keep on cycling all winter long, many people who bike with their kids were sidelined by the terrible weather. As much my daughter and I love riding together even when the weather isn’t 100% ideal, there was simply too much snow and ice in the bike lanes to make riding with my most precious cargo seem worth it.

But now that spring has (mostly) sprung, lots of parents are back on the road, toting their kids to daycare, school, activities, and play dates. The fact that it hasn’t even been all that spring-like hasn’t stopped a lot of parents from taking to the streets, suggesting to me that the decision to ride with kids isn’t so much a factor of weather as it is a factor of road conditions. Parents ride not when it’s comfortable, but when it’s safe. And comfort and safety are two very different things.

photo 3 (7)

A little rain isn’t a problem as long as you’re prepared, as this mother and child were this morning. Squint and you could be in Amsterdam or Copenhagen.

photo 2 (8)

I spotted the dad above at Union Street and 6th Avenue on Thursday. My guess is that his wife dropped the kid off at daycare in the stroller and he had to get creative to get the bike, the kid, and the stroller home. It’s a solution I hadn’t seen outside of more bike-friendly cities.

photo 3 (6)

That same day I met Lisa and her son in front of the Park Slope Food Co-Op, about to take off on their Onderwater tandem. As you may recall, they’re the subject of a photo I submitted to a Streetsblog contest last year. I frequently see them on 5th Avenue on their daily school run, so it was nice to finally meet the people on the “Amsterdam bike,” as my daughter calls their sweet ride.

photo 2 (9)

Gowanus is full of people on bikes these days, and I spotted the dad and son above on Bond Street on Saturday. (Note the soccer ball in the basket.) It wasn’t a particularly nice day, but there were plenty of parents and kids out and about. With the growing amount of bike facilities in the area, not to mention the area’s Slow Zone, Gowanus is becoming one of the most bike-friendly places between Prospect Park and the waterfront.

MomonBike

Another mom on 5th Avenue, fresh from a school drop-off. Normal clothes, ready to start the rest of her day.

FatherSon

Of course the real sign of a bike-friendly city isn’t just how many kids you see on the back (or front!) of their parents’ bikes, but how many kids you see riding their own. I spotted this father and son at 5th Avenue and 3rd Street a couple of weeks ago. What a sight to see.

 

 

 

Quote of the Day

April 7, 2014

Via The Daily News:

Some motorists on Friday were adjusting to the newly banned left turns. Police were on hand and stopped several drivers in the middle of making now-illegal turns and told them to back up, including a plumber who cursed in frustration at being re-routed.

Pedestrian Candida Gual saw things differently.

“I’m glad something is being done,” the 62-year-old told the Daily News at the intersection on Friday. “Hopefully, we won’t lose another child.”

The Daily News Has Some Advice for Citi Bike

March 31, 2014
fixcitibike

A week after The Daily News first asked Citi Bike users to vent their frustrations on Twitter, few have heeded the call.

Less than a week since it last took Citi Bike’s management to task, the Daily News is back with another editorial excorciating the bike share system and suggesting a series of fixes.

Although it is written in response to this tough but thoughtful editorial from Transportation Alternatives executive director Paul Steely White, the News’ take amps up the fake outrage as only they can do.

Fearing that the blue bicycles could wind up permanently locked in their stanchions, city transportation officials and bicycling advocates are for the first time talking publicly about the failings of NYC Bike Share.

Until now, they had engaged in relentless cheerleading while painting anyone who questioned the program’s financial viability or quality of service as anti-bike.

The Daily News has a knack for painting bike boosters with a broad brush, but then claiming offense that anyone might paint the Daily News with an opposite, but equally broad brush.

As I’ve said before, prior to the May 2013 Citi Bike launch most tabloid predictions were not related to the financial viability of bike sharing, were rather about whether such a program would lead to carnage, congestion, and scores of citizens unable to access their own apartments. When people did make predictions about membership, it wasn’t to cast doubt about Alta’s business plan, but to denigrate bicycle riding as just for tourists and not something that any self-respecting “real” New Yorker would seriously pursue. (If only that prediction had come true, Citi Bike might not be in the red today.)

Look, when institutions are as habitually incorrect as the New York City tabloids generally have been about bicycles, they tend to lose not just credibility but also the right to even pretend to be offended by the suggestion that they they may be anti-bike.

But, hey, here we go again. This is some ripe concern-trolling:

Riders must serve notice that they will refuse to renew annual memberships as they come up in May.

It’s as if the Daily News, which  last week encouraged Citi Bike members to take up their pitchforks and torches, is back again to ask, “Why hasn’t anyone taken up their pitchforks and torches?” Besides, how does one “serve notice that they will refuse to renew annual memberships” when the time comes? Stage a protest at a docking station? Burn a pile of Citi Bike fobs in a bonfire of blue plastic? If you’re not happy with Citi Bike but you’ve paid through the end of May or June, perhaps the best strategy is to just wait and, say, let your membership expire.

It seems the Daily News, in their haste to stoke outrage, failed to consider an important fact. While Citi Bike debuted on May 27th with nearly 20,000 members, it wasn’t until just recently that it signed its 100,000th annual subscriber. That means that renewals will be rolling, giving NYC Bike Share LLC — or whatever company winds up running Citi Bike — ample time to iron out the system’s problems. So while we might be able to read some tea leaves in the early renewal rates, it will take some time to measure overall customer satisfaction.

There is also the fact that after a particularly brutal winter, the spring weather will undoubtedly lure more people into paying for a bike share subscription. Indeed, there were eight days in March where Citi Bike signed up more than 100 new members. (On two of those days, new sign-ups topped 150.) That’s an encouraging sign. So if there is any drop-off in renewals from dissatisfied customers, it will likely be offset by an uptick in new subscriptions as the mercury rises.

So, what does the Daily News suggest be done at the institutional level? First, it has this odd demand:

Mayor de Blasio must confirm that he ruled out a bailout when he said, “At this point, city budget money is not on the table.”

If Mayor de Blasio had completely ruled out a bailout, he probably wouldn’t have qualified his statement with this telling phrase: “At this point.” But I can see what the Daily News is doing here. Essentially, in order to be outraged at some point in the future should de Blasio determine that a public subsidy is finally appropriate, the Daily News must create an alternate universe where the mayor’s very reasonable wait-and-see statement translates to taking city budget money of the table permanently. It’s how the fake-outrage sausage is made.

The News then takes the radical stand that Citi Bike should get a new manager, calling for a “tough, seasoned New York professional who is well versed in management, finance, transportation, customer service and rough-and-tumble politics.” (Note to Citi Bike general manager applicants: feel free to crib that line and put it on your resume under “Summary.”)

Joe Lhota is one suggested candidate, but given that he just took a new gig at NYU-Langone, I doubt he has much interest in working for Alta, which the News describes as “a two-bit outfit from Portland.”

He or she must also have the smarts to set a pricing structure that raises revenue while maintaining memberships and attracting use by tourists, as well as to raise sponsorship funding. The mission must be to make bike sharing both flawless and self-sustaining — without taxpayer help.

The Daily News never articulates why bike sharing can not receive taxpayer help, except to say that it must not receive it. Plus, “flawless” is a pretty high bar, one that no other transportation system ever meets.

The new leader must accomplish all of that, perhaps by reconfiguring or shrinking the program, or shut it down.

Reconfigure the program? That’s what most people, including TA’s Paul Steely White, have been arguing for weeks. (A cynic might say that by throwing out such an obvious suggestion, the Daily News is setting the stage to take credit for something that’s already in the works.)

Shrink it? That’s probably not the best strategy if you want to increase revenue, maintain memberships, attract use by tourists, and raise sponsorship funding.

But shut it down? Now we know which audience the Daily News is speaking to. The tabloids smell blood in the bike lane, and the sudden outbreak of concern for bike share’s fortunes seem to have one simple motivation. And that’s sowing the seeds of outrage among an audience the tabloids respect even less than Citi Bike members: their own readers.

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