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Put your feet up

September 24, 2012

Cyclists resting a foot while they wait for the light. (Click to enlarge.)

Perhaps my favorite piece of cycling infrastructure in New York City is its most unintentional.  No one designed a footrest for cyclists to use as they wait for the light to change to get onto the Manhattan Bridge, but that’s exactly what you’ll find at the end of the concrete planter that protects the short bike lane on Canal Street.  Not a day goes by that I don’t see someone using the ledge to get a leg up, so to speak, and when I’m at the front of the herd I love taking a short break there myself.

This little piece of New York cycling reminds me of this footrest in Copenhagen:

Here’s a better view:

The message reads,  “Hi, cyclist! Rest your foot here… and thank you for cycling in the city.”

While New York’s version is purely unintentional, cyclists are certainly taking advantage of it.  As Copenhagenize’s Mikael Colville-Andersen notes, “people will always put a foot up if they can.”  And since that’s the case, it makes sense to use it as an opportunity to reward people who ride:

When riding about in schools of Copenhagen cyclists and rolling up to a red light, the cyclists along the curb will all wait with a foot on the curb. If there is a traffic light post close enough to the sidewalk there will, as a rule, be a hand resting on it and holding the person in question up.

Why not spoil a few cyclists with a fantastically cheap and practical idea? A couple of metal railings. Slap ’em up. Make a few hundred cyclists a day feel loved.

Fair enough, it’s not a solution that can be implemented at every intersection. Nobody wants metal railings all over town. But find a place where they work and just do it. At some other intersection, perhaps another idea will fit perfectly.

There are certainly a few spots around New York where a Copenhagen-style railing with some sort of positive message would make sense.  In addition to brightening someone’s day it might have the unintended effect of getting people to stop for red lights.  In fact, why not give Copenhagen’s version a New York twist? “Hi, cyclist! Rest your foot here while you wait for the light…and thank you for cycling in the city.”  Since I’m of the opinion that it always makes more sense to tell people what you want them to do rather than not do, this would be a far more positive and effective message than “Don’t be a jerk,” no?  It would be like the city saying, “We’re doing our part, now please do yours.”

Ever since I started noticing people putting their feet up at the end of the bike lane on Canal Street, I started noticing it elsewhere.  Here’s someone taking advantage of a water fountain on the newly designed Allen Street bike lane at Delancey Street:

The city might not be too keen on the idea of hundreds of cyclists putting their knees up against a public water fountain, but if it’s what hundreds of cyclists wind up doing they might want to think about making it official.  It would be just a tiny way for the city to say “thank you” while responding to how people are actually using their streets.

UPDATE 9/25: Since I have footrests on the brain, I was tuned in enough on my ride this morning to notice the most basic footrest of all, a curb.

  1. Seth R permalink
    September 25, 2012 2:31 pm

    The best curbs for footrests are the pedestrian islands that physically seperate the bike lanes, i.e. First avenue and east 6th street. They’re always on the right side, they’re right in the bike lanes, and they’re just before the crosswalk.

  2. September 25, 2012 5:01 pm

    The handrail on the Copenhagen footrest has secondary benefits too. It keeps the pedestrians from crossing outside of the crosswalk and encourages the cyclists to stop before the crosswalk.

    • September 25, 2012 5:22 pm

      Great point! I think it speaks to my larger idea that it’s always better to encourage the behavior you want rather than discourage the behavior you don’t want. People naturally get defensive when told what not to do, but tend to respond favorably when given a few carrots.

  3. J.D. permalink
    September 25, 2012 7:25 pm

    The railing on the Ocean Parkway bike path has worn away paint from people using it in that manner for a long time.


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