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The Good, the Bad and the Deadly

July 18, 2011

Due to a cable rehabilitation on the Manhattan Bridge, bike commuters swapped sides with pedestrians on Monday and won’t switch back until January 2012. So, how did it go the first day out? Well, some parts were better than expected, some could have been better, and some were downright deadly. Below, the photographic evidence. (Click photos to enlarge.)

It was initially reported that cyclists would be required to dismount and use a set of stairs on the Brooklyn side of the bridge. That’s definitely an option:

The two sets of stairs have channels along side them so that cyclists can guide their bikes with ease.

The good news is that there’s a small turn-around that allows commuters to stay on their bikes and keep riding:

It’s a tight squeeze and DOT had someone standing at this opening guiding people through since it’s impossible to see around the bend. I can’t imagine this guy will stand around twenty-four-hours a day for the next six months, so hopefully DOT will install a mirror to help cyclists avoid collisions. (It would be great if DOT could open the gate you see along the road, but that would put cyclists directly in the path of an off-ramp and would require additional signalization in order to make it safe.)

After that, it’s smooth sailing. DOT had staffers on hand to pass out maps in the pedestrian plaza, which is now the main throughput for cyclists as they go up to the bridge.

The pedestrian side is less steep than the normal bike approach, making for an easy climb, and since it’s on the southern side of the bridge it now offers commuters perhaps the most beautiful view east of San Francisco:

As I rode this morning, I was pleasantly surprised. The new Brooklyn-side approach offers only the most minor of inconveniences, and as long as cyclists take things slowly on that tight switchback it shouldn’t be much of a problem.

But then I got to the Manhattan side. I believe DOT has turned what used to be one of the safest, most pleasant commutes in the city into one of the most dangerous. Cyclists are dumped onto the Bowery, just under Canal, with little separating them from traffic. There is a bike lane for only the first few meters; the rest is dotted lines and sharrows. (You’ll never appreciate how much drivers actually do, in fact, respect painted, buffered bike lanes until you rely on sharrows to guide your commute.)

The first hazard to cross is a wide lane of turning cars trying to get onto the Manhattan Bridge:

There’s a bike lane over there, but first you have to watch for this:

Not surprisingly, most of the trucks I saw turning onto the bridge approach did not yield for cyclists. And what greeted cyclists after they got onto the freshly painted Bowery bike lane? An NYPD van, of course! If ever there was evidence of the chasm between DOT and the NYPD, this picture is it:

To be fair, I wanted to chant ma nishtana as I saw this, but an NYPD van at this location on this day seemed like salt in the wound on this first day out.

Once bike commuters cross Canal Street they have to ride up Bowery. And that’s when things go from merely inconvenient to downright deadly. I simply can not believe that DOT will allow cyclists to continue to ride this way, although one DOT staffer I spoke to on my way home admitted that they are hoping cyclists will find other safer routes. (“I probably shouldn’t be saying this,” she said.) I don’t see how it’s possible to avoid the Bowery, at least for a block or two, and if you want to go uptown there’s no way around crossing Canal.

Below, you can see a cyclist across the street trying to avoid a truck pulling away from the curb:

The Bowery may as well have not been marked at all, given the frequency with which the bike symbols, dotted lines, and sharrows were ignored. And without enforcement or barriers to standing, the problem is only going to get worse as this new configuration becomes routine within a few weeks.

This Fung Wah bus was parked, its driver loading luggage, when the woman on the bike rode out into traffic to try to get around:

As in a Road Runner cartoon, it’s almost as if the sharrows in the picture below are directing cyclists into the back of the van. You can also make out a row of parked cars in front of it, as well as the SUVs and trucks that sped by in the left-hand lanes:

Here’s a similar, but different van, just a block ahead. You can see a line of cyclists having to ride between the parked vans and moving traffic — which, curiously was also made of a lot of vans. It’s a dooring accident waiting to happen.

Eventually I started to think that these weren’t bike symbols, but chalk outlines of the cyclists who are bound to get killed riding this speedway:

If this truck had had its back open, someone could have pulled a Casey Neistat:

What greeted cyclists at Delancy and Bowery? Another NYPD van, of course:

Not long before I got to the left onto Prince Street, I saw this piece of street construction which may or may not be related to the new bike route. Either way, I’m not sure how this set-up helped anyone on their ride. You can see that the construction forced cyclists into one of the two available car lanes. With northbound traffic moving at a rapid clip, this woman would need more than a tote bag to protect her if she were hit by a truck:

I believe the planning for this new route represents a major failure of DOT’s primary responsibility, which is to keep people safe as they move around the city. An inconvenient route borne of the necessity of a bridge repair is one thing, but a dangerous one is something completely different. I understand that the department was tasked with finding an uptown route for cyclists that connects to various crosstown bike lanes, but the cycling infrastructure provided — if you can call what DOT provided infrastructure — is woefully insufficient. Tiny orange signs affixed below traffic signs tell drivers “No standing,” but signs aren’t enough to keep New York City drivers out of no standing zones.

What is needed along the Bowery is a mix of bollards, jersey barriers, and other features that will keep cars and bikes separate from each other. I am sympathetic to the reality that many of the businesses along the Bowery need the curb space to make deliveries, so perhaps DOT could place designated loading areas every block or two. If business owners complain, DOT can tell them what they’re telling cyclists: it’s only temporary.

Sadly, I am almost certain that a major injury or death will occur on this route. I can’t imagine that a new cyclist — someone who may have only started commuting by bike this summer — will be all that encouraged to keep riding if this is what greets him in Manhattan every workday. Whatever gains the city has made in ridership over the Manhattan Bridge in recent months are likely to be erased until next spring.

And that’s just the ride in. Later, I’ll post about the ride back to Brooklyn, which was fraught with its own host of dangers, including more discount buses.

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11 Comments
  1. Mike permalink
    July 18, 2011 10:57 pm

    You didn’t even mention the biggest problem of all: that for 153 hours a week, there isn’t even a pretend detour route. The “detour” only even theoretically exists M-F 7-10am. At all other times, DOT says, just go ride in traffic on the Bowery. Good luck!

  2. Irina Prokofiev permalink
    July 18, 2011 11:21 pm

    The whining of NYC bike riders 2011 is really pathetic. My, I don’t know how we ever rode bikes here 1890-2010!!

    Between yokels who’ve never been to the “pedestrian” side (never? know Brooklyn much?) to twitterites crying about every little perceived obstacle in life, ya’ll give more ammo to the anti-bikers than the antagonist themselves.

    Those of who rode over the south side of the MB already suffer your lousy 1st and 2nd Ave bike lanes, now you’re bitching to the DOT about… what? Everything?

    I appreciate Brooklyn Spoke but ya’ll really need some PERSPECTIVE sometimes, both historical and cultural.

    If people REALLY don’t like the MB ride (though many of us did the stairs for years, it’s no big deal and actually kind of fun), go BB, WB or all the way to Queens.

    Hint: A LOT more people ride the subways over the MB than bike it so we gotta cool it.

  3. July 19, 2011 7:11 am

    Cross the Bowery at Canal, then head downtown two blocks and go west at Bayard. Left on Mott, right on Mosco, right on Mulberry, after eight blocks, turn left on Prince.

  4. Mike permalink
    July 19, 2011 9:59 am

    Bayard is one way the other way. Mott and Mulberry are extremely congested. Not a good detour.

  5. July 19, 2011 10:27 am

    Irina, thanks for your comment. It’s interesting what people read versus what I wrote. I’ve walked over the Manhattan Bridge many times and admired the view. Now I’m merely happy that one of the upsides of the new commute is that I get to admire it every morning.

    I’m sure the people who have been walking on the south side of the bridge for years really appreciated you biking there, even though you weren’t supposed to until Monday. You probably gave more ammo to the anti-bikers than the antagonist themselves.

  6. July 19, 2011 11:53 am

    > The whining of NYC bike riders 2011 is really pathetic. My, I don’t know how we ever rode bikes here 1890-2010!!
    > […]
    > Hint: A LOT more people ride the subways over the MB than bike it so we gotta cool it.

    You’ve defined the problem well, in spite of yourself. Most people are not comfortable doing what you guys did. That is why they have been riding the subways in far greater numbers than cycling. Most people are, to use your language, pathetic whiners.

    I don’t know if you want a medal of valor, or what. You are not going to be able to mold the new riders in your image, because if we wanted to ride like you we would indeed have started a long time ago. But you got by before and you will certainly find ways to avoid the new bike lanes and new slow cyclists that you hate.

    We are trying to gain safe and pleasant cycling routes for the rest of society. We have to do the opposite of “cooling it” to make that happen. We have to be just as demanding as the motorist minority, who have been sucking up all the funds and police protection for the past half century.

  7. July 19, 2011 12:17 pm

    Irina may be referring to when the south side was the side for bikes. Thanks for the thoughtful piece. At first, I was appalled by the detour, but now, I think it is not so bad. It’s not that I find no fault with the DOT, and I think this could have been better thought out. The main problem is with enforcement and that is true all over the city. Personally, the Bowery feels safer than the right hooks coming every block of 1st ave in the “protected” bike lane.

  8. July 19, 2011 6:01 pm

    Sorry Mike, I meant Pell St, which is two blocks south of Canal. You could also stay on Mott, cross Chatham Square and take East Broadway to Pike St, then turn left on the bikeway there.

    Yes, Mott and Mulberry are congested, like every other street in Chinatown, but unlike the Bowery, they are one-way and don’t have speeding traffic. They are probably less congested in the mornings than the Bowery. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

  9. Jeffrey permalink
    July 19, 2011 10:50 pm

    There will never be an untouchable, un-dangerous bike route through the city. If you can’t learn how to negotiate traffic, potholes and pedestrians then yes, take the subway. Really. I find more genuinely dangerous obstacles in the new bike lanes (amateur riders, joggers and pedestrians) than I do in the middle of rush-hour traffic on Bowery or Broadway. At last there the flow of vehicles protects me from the above bike lane booby-traps.

  10. Chris M permalink
    July 21, 2011 12:00 pm

    I will not ride on Bowery except to get to Canal. The only way to make Bowery safe would be to build protected median bike lanes and ped islands similar to Allen St.

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