Skip to content

On Prince Street

October 20, 2014

Speaking only from personal — and highly anecdotal — experience, few crosstown Manhattan routes are as pleasant to ride on as Prince Street on a weekday morning. Running west through Nolita and Soho from the Bowery to 6th Avenue (where it changes into Charlton Street), Prince is one of the best parts of my morning commute, second only to the Manhattan Bridge. Prince features a curbside-bike lane, relatively low volumes of automobile traffic, and huge numbers of cyclists. Squint and you could be forgiven for thinking you were on Elmegade, a hip side street filled with shops and cafes in Copenhagen’s Nørrebro district.

Of course, you’d have to squint very hard. This being New York, the pavement isn’t the smoothest, cyclists don’t always have the utmost respect for traffic signals or pedestrians, and the bike lane is frequently blocked by parked cars. But nevertheless, the street seems to work. With just a little more effort — such as a green wave, a restriction on the giant trucks that frequently get stuck making the tight turns in the neighborhood, and a periodic enforcement sweeps to keep drivers out of the bike lane — the street would work much better for everyone who depends on it, including motorists.

So that’s why it was very surprising and more than a little distressing this morning when I saw that the New York City Department of Transportation had devoted not just one or two, but at least five safety managers to instructing cyclists to stop for red lights and travel in the direction of traffic. Here are two at Mulberry and Prince:

photo 1

Before you stop reading and scroll down to make a comment about cyclists needing to obey the law just like everyone else, please look closely at the picture above. You can see a grey car parked just a half a block away in the bike lane. Here’s a better shot, taken as I followed this cyclists across Prince:


To the best of my knowledge, these DOT safety managers did not ask drivers to get out of the bike lane.

Here are two more, stationed at Prince and Broadway:

photo 2

This is actually an intersection few cyclists “run.” The southbound traffic on Broadway would make doing so nearly suicidal, and the pedestrian traffic is so thick that it’s actually quite rare to see someone try to snake through, although it does happen. I’m willing to be proven wrong, but I’d say this spot has some of the highest red-light compliance by cyclists on any stretch on Prince Street.

Here’s another DOT safety manager at Broadway and Greene, talking to someone regular readers may know, Robert Wright. That white object in the bike lane is some sort of newspaper kiosk, the kind of object that would probably win a face-off with a front wheel. Robert, who was coincidentally ahead of me this morning, asked the safety manager to move the obstruction from the bike lane. The metal box was not moved.

photo 3

So what’s the purpose of assigning safety managers to Prince Street? Safety? Maybe. I have seen a number of cyclists going through intersections with pedestrians in the crosswalk. This is a behavior that drives me crazy, and I would never argue that we should wait until after someone is hurt to encourage safe cycling. Is it culture change? Perhaps. But it’s pretty damn hard to change the culture without the infrastructure changing ahead of it; the minute those DOT safety managers disappear is the minute everything else about the street remains exactly the same.

I’ve argued before that sometimes cyclists “break” the law for very rational reasons. Despite the rather low stakes on Prince Street, at least compared with other streets, some cyclists might go through red lights in order to safely get around a car that’s parked in the bike lane, rather than wait and have to make a merge with moving automobiles when approaching a pinch point. Another reason cyclists might “run” the lights on Prince is the timing of the lights themselves. After getting the green off the Bowery, the light at Elizabeth and Prince immediately turns red, subjecting people on bikes to a rather long wait at a generally empty intersection. The same thing happens when the light changes at Broadway; only the fastest cyclists can make it just one block to Mercer without hitting a red. It’s a pretty poor sequence for cyclists seeking an efficient crosstown journey. It’s also a pretty poor sequence for officials seeking red-light compliance among cyclists. A green wave that allowed reasonably-paced cyclists to turn off the Bowery and not hit another red until they made it to 6th Avenue — or even all the way to Greenwich Street — would go a long way toward making the street more predictable and safe for everyone. (One can wait for the light at Elizabeth Street to change back to green and actually hit a steady stream of changing greens almost all the way past Broadway, but it’s not something that is listed on any sign; I only found out about this recently from a friend and fellow advocate.)

Sadly, the biggest effect that the deployment of safety managers to a location such as Prince Street seems to have is cynicism, not just among experienced advocates such as myself or Robert, but among even casual riders. At least the few I spoke with while waiting for the light at Broadway were scratching their heads about this use of resources and were not too happy about it. “They try to encourage people to use bikes, but they don’t really make it safe,” said one. After surviving the gauntlet that is Chrystie Street and, after that, the Bowery — two streets where trucks barrel through red lights and speed limits are an oft-ignored suggestion — it’s insulting to get to a low-stress street such as Prince and be told, in not so many words, “Behave, cyclists!” That cynicism is certainly not diminished when so-called safety managers can’t be bothered to stop drivers from parking in bike lanes half a block from where they’re standing or when they can’t remove a metal obstruction to the sidewalk. And that cynicism is only enhanced when the police — who are supposed to be the actual safety managers of New York City — are among the worst rule breakers.

This photo was also taken on my trip across Prince Street this morning:

photo 5

I’ve commented before that bicycles feel like the bastard stepchildren of Vision Zero — despite featuring an image of a car and a pedestrian, a bicycle is conspicuously absent from the official Vision Zero logo — and this morning’s action did nothing to dissuade me of that notion. Considering that an elderly woman was killed about two blocks from Prince Street just a few weeks ago, these kinds of actions won’t get us to Vision Zero. And they certainly don’t make people who ride bikes think that the city is on their side.

photo 4

Update, 10/21/14:

The DOT safety managers were back again this morning. Here are two stationed at at Prince and Mulberry:

photo 2 (1)

And here’s one man stationed at Broadway:

photo 1 (1)

Meanwhile, here’s the intersection with Crosby Street:

photo 3 (1)

  1. October 20, 2014 9:27 pm

    It’s true that we’re an afterthought in Vision Zero; it’s true that the police not only don’t protect us but actually create more problems for us; and it’s true that driver misbehaviour has become so normalised that it isn’t even noticed by these safety agents.

    Yet none of this justifies our breaking the law when we ride.

    Many bicyclists offer self-serving rationalisations about their law-breaking. A typical one is the claim that they blow red lights only when it’s safe. This is unacceptable. You may deem it to be safe in your judgement; but your judgement is not perfect. Furthermore, even if your assessment of the situation is correct in that moment, the situation can change in an instant. A pedestrian standing out of your field of vision is entitled, upon seeing the light green, to conclude that the coast is clear to the other side of the street; that pedestrian is further entitled to dart across the street without the danger of being hit by a bicyclist who has overestimated the validity of his/her own “judgement”.

    Then there is the ethical dimension. For a long time, it would have been possible to argue that we as bicycists are not included in the social contract; therefore, we have no obligation to obey the laws of a society that denies our very existence. I myself employed this manner of reasoning until just over a decade ago. Then the Bloomberg bike lanes began to appear. This changed everything.

    From that point, it was clear that the social contract does in fact include us. By creating bike infrastructure, our City’s government is acknowledging our needs. For this reason it is incumbent upon us to behave like good citizens and to use this infrastructure (and all streets) properly.

    Finally, there’s the matter of self-interest. This article asks the reader to imagine how a cyclist feels upon encountering safety agents. Well, we bicyclists need to do some imagining of our own; we need to imagine how members of the general public feel when they see us going through red lights as though we believe that the law doesn’t apply to us. Here’s how they feel: they feel angry and resentful. Note that I am not referring here to obviously dangerous cyclist behaviour; the fact is that, even when the observer agrees that no pedestrian is in danger as a result of the bicyclist’s blowing of the red light, that observer will still feel resentment over the arrogance of the bicyclist.

    The result is that this sort of bicyclist behaviour emboldens the enemies of bicycling and bike infrastructure, the crazies who show up at Community Board meetings to argue against bike lanes and who regularly make complaints about bicylists to their City Council members and local police precinct captains. Even worse is that lawless bicycling makes new enemies out of people who would otherwise be neutral or even sympathetic to us; and it distrupts the relationship between two segments of the population which should have a natural alliance, namely bicyclists and pedestrians.

    We as bicyclists can attain positive change (more infrastructure, better laws, better enforcement of existing laws) only when elected officials feel comfortable taking up our issues. But as long as we keep giving our enemies free ammuntion, we insure that these polititians will be reluctanct to do this, because they know that they’ll face disapproval from a large portion of their constiuency.

    So there is no good reason for a bicyclist to break the law. Even if the arguments relating to public safety and to ethical obligations don’t move you, you need to accept the self-interest argument. Look at all our wonderful bike lanes. Realise that they don’t have to be there; they can easily be taken away. If we in our arrogance fail to protect them, we will surely lose them. And this will be the fault of everyone who, instead of following the law, came up with reasons not to.

    • Alex permalink
      October 20, 2014 10:25 pm

      I can say with absolute certainty that there are situations where cyclists technically break the law for the benefit of their own safety. There are multiple situations where obeying the letter of the law puts a cyclist in harm’s way. Sorry, but that is a VERY good reason to break the law.

      When you have laws intended for cars that you try to apply to cyclists in every situation, you end up putting them at risk. This shows a lack of understanding on the part of lawmakers that honestly endangers cyclists. The law needs to be changed and I for one am wholly uninterested in obeying them in the meantime just to be some sort of “good citizen” or to “earn” safe infrastructure. That’s absurd. I am going to do what keeps me safe from being injured or killed by cars.

      And let’s be clear that there is a big difference between blowing through red lights because you’re impatient and turning right-on-red to get ahead of cars that have little to no regard for your safety. But it’s absolutely foolish to insist that it is in our best interest to fully obey laws that were never intended for us as cyclists. Until people that truly understand cycling create sensible laws around it, I will continue to technically break the law if it keeps me safer. Period.

      • October 20, 2014 11:15 pm

        “Until people that truly understand cycling create sensible laws around it…”

        Yes, well, there’s the rub. As long as we keep nourishing our enemies and pushing neutrals into the enemy’s camp, we make it very unlikely that any legislator is going to stick his/her neck out in order to attempt to create sensible laws around bicycling.

        Obviously the traffic laws, which are written for cars, apply very poorly to bicycles. In a better world, we’d have the “Idaho stop”, whereby we can treat red lights as stop signs and proceed after a full stop. The reality is, however, that getting to this better world requires playing nice in the current highly flawed world.

        Also, even accepting your assertion that there are some cases where following the law places bicyclists in danger, and that violating the law should be OK in such a case, this still describes a minuscule portion of bicyclists’ law-breaking. For every one instance of a cyclist taking off a few seconds before the red light turns green in order to avoid potential conflicts with cars, there are thousands of instances of cyclists blowing red lights simply because they don’t want to wait.

        Add to that all the cases of cyclists riding the wrong way on streets. As a daily Williamsburg Bridge commuter, I cringe when I see, almost every day, cyclists proceeding off the bridge on the Manhattan side and then entering the one-way eastbound bike lane in the middle of Delancey St. going the wrong way — despite the presence of two big signs saying “WRONG WAY”. Like almost all the red-light blowing, this behaviour is not motivated by any immediate safety concern; it is motivated by simple arrogance: my convenience trumps all.

        The fact that this constant display of contempt for the law occurs in full view of the dozens of drivers waiting at the light, and of the many pedestrians crossing Delancey, makes it an ongoing public relations disaster for bike advocacy. If someone were to see this and conclude that the City shouldn’t create any more bike infrastructure because bicyclists abuse the existing infrastructure, I could not honestly say that that person was being unreasonable.

        Those many bicylists who break the law as a matter of course (and not only in those few extraordinary situations where safety truly is an issue) are spitting in the eye of the bike activists and advocates whose decades-long struggle was rewarded by Bloomberg’s acceptance of our issues as legtimate, and by his administration’s creation of the bike infrastructure that we enjoy today.

        We got lucky with Bloomberg. But our rich uncle who liked to give us gifts is gone, and he’s not coming back. This is a pivotal moment in history: the fact is that the continued expansion — indeed, the continued existence — of our bike infrastructure depends entirely on how we as bicyclists are perceived by the general public.

        And that’s down to our behaviour, to our wilingness to act within the law. If we refuse to acknowledge this, if we fail to understand that every one of us is in effect an ambassador, then we will pay the price. Cyclists who routinely break the law are essentially conducting a highly visible PR campaign for the removal of our bike infrastructure.

      • Alex permalink
        October 20, 2014 11:59 pm

        I reject the premise out of hand that we have to “behave ourselves” and in fact put ourselves in danger to maybe someday get a “reward” from the gracious politicians who deem us worthy. If my not following the letter of the law to keep myself safe is seen as “bad PR”, then so be it. We deserve safer infrastructure because we are human beings whose lives are being endangered. And if we used “behavior” as a measure, well then cars should be banned from the roads entirely.

        Again, the blowing through intersections, dodging pedestrians, and weaving through traffic all need to stop. I agree 100%. But when it comes to the right-on-red I make at Tillary and Court to avoid dual lanes of turning cars that I must cut across to make the left onto Clark, there is absolutely nothing you can tell me that will get me to stop doing that. My use of the opposing light cycle at 3rd and 3rd to turn left rather than sitting in the middle of the intersection with my left arm extended while cars fly by me on all sides as the law says I’m supposed to do, that keeps me out of harm’s way. I don’t give a damn if it’s “bad PR”.

      • October 21, 2014 11:44 am

        I hope you appreciate the sad irony that your manner of riding is making it less likely that we’ll ever get that better infrastructure that we deserve as human beings. Whether we get these things is determined by politics, not by the inherent justice of the concept.

        The comparison to the behaviour of drivers is a tempting one to make, as drivers consitute a deadly menace. However, this comparison is invalid for the simple reason that bicyclists and drivers occupy very different places in society; we as bicyclists do not benefit from the same set of assumptions and prejudices that drivers do.

        Recall the frightening waves of hatred for bicyclists and for bicycling that came spewing from the idiot media (and, predictably, from the idiot public) following the recent collision with a bike that killed a pedestrian in Central Park. Many people were frank in their opinion that bikes should be barred from the park and other places, and that bike lanes should be removed.

        Meanwhile, drivers injure and kill people on a regular basis without the public ever calling for the removal of driving infrastructure or for serious curbs on where cars can go. The prevailing attitude is that “accidents” are an unavoidable part of life.

        Driving, despite being an inherently filthy, dangerous, and antisocial act, is an entrenched activity in American culture; and the built infrastructure for cars is a permanent part of the physical landscape. By contrast, bicyclists are still “the other”; and bike infrastructure is ephemeral and easily removed.

        We need to acknowledge the fact that we’re not operating from a position of strength. Thanks to Bloomberg we’re at the table; but our position at that table in the post-Bloomberg world is far from secure. If we hope to leverage the great Bloomberg-era gains into lasting transformations of the physical makeup of the City, we cannot squander this opportunity by acting like impudent brats instead of responsible adults.

        Attaining further improvements in bicyclists’ quality of life depends on working within the system to build on what we have. In order to accomplish this, we need legislators and other electeds on our side. But when bicyclists sneer at our obligation to follow the law (even the stupid laws), this reinforces the already negative impression of us that is held by a largely hostile general public; and this public impression makes defending our interests poison for politicians. The inevitable result will be the steady erosion of the gains made during the past decade, as the Bloomberg / Sadik-Khan period slides ever further into the past.

        It’s tragic how many bicylists don’t get this basic fact of realpolitik, and consequently engage in behaviour that is so terribly destructive to our collective interests. Please rethink this, and start defending what we have, before it’s too late.

      • October 21, 2014 12:11 pm

        To my comment re: Plaza Street, I’ll add that among the many reasons for installing the PPW bike lane, getting cyclists off the sidewalk was up there. No one said we should wait until cyclists get off the sidewalk until we create space for them. Instead, smart, level-headed people said “We can solve the ‘scofflaw’ problem by giving people a reasonably safe space in which to make a different choice.” As a result, sidewalk riding plummeted from 46% of all riders to just 3%.

        The people who oppose bike infrastructure hate it. Full stop. They don’t hate it because cyclists are scofflaws or break rules. They hate it because it represents change, a loss of privilege, etc.

        We’ve been trying to get pedestrians and cyclists to “behave” for decades. Asking people to step up because of some greater moral force or chance of a reward down the line doesn’t work. It’s worse than herding cats. It’s herding cats at a dog run. You just can’t do it. To extend the bad analogy even further, what you need is separate space for the cats, not cat trainers.

      • Alex permalink
        October 21, 2014 12:16 pm

        I really wish you could see the difference between breaking the law in a way that is arrogant and dangerous and breaking the law because the law is, plainly, wrong.

        As Doug rightly notes below, change does not come from blind obedience with the hope that the powers that be will take notice. They will not. In fact, I would argue that that behavior would set cycling back significantly. Change comes from rustling feathers, making noise, and even civil disobedience. There’s a long history in our country of acting out against unjust laws. We aren’t exactly Rosa Parks, but the lesson here is the same.

      • October 21, 2014 12:52 pm

        It’s purely a question of strategy — which course of action is more likely to lead to success.

        The problem with the strategy of relying on smart level-headed people to do what’s best for the community as a whole (i.e. — to promote bicycle infrastructure) is that those smart level-headed people are either gone or can no longer operate with the freedom that they once had during the Bloomberg / Sadik-Khan period.

        The productive strategy now is building alliances and currying favour with legislators. However, this becomes difficult when you call your City Council member for help getting a bike lane installed, and that City Council member tells you that he/she cannot help you because he/she hears from constituents who complain about bicyclists. It’s only when those complaints go away that the Council member will be willing to listen to creative solutions around bicycling, and that we stand a chance at having better laws.

        We need to come to terms with the facts of life in the post-Bloomberg landscape. If we act as though there are still thoughtful and fair-minded people in City Hall and in the DOT who will interpret our law-breaking as civil disobedience and who will respond with ever-better bike infrastructure, we are sorely mistaken. We’ll find that the unquestioningly pro-auto viewpoints of the political hacks who ran things before Bloomberg are back in force again.

        The bicyclists who break the law conscientiously may think in terms of Rosa Parks, of Stonewall, of anti-war sit-ins, etc. And on a purely conceptual level, they are correct. But basic righteousness is not enough to prevail; you’ve also got to have the numbers.

        The issue of marijuana decriminalisation has proceeded not mainly because of the basic justice of the premise, but because there is a huge constituency — it’s likely that a majority of people have used marijuana. In that sort of setting, mass law-breaking does indeed help move laws and policy in the right direction.

        But bicyclists constitute a tiny minority. In our case, mass law-breaking will only alienate the rest of the public, and make us more marginalised than we already are. And it won’t be long before we start losing bike lanes in the name of “restoring balance”, as politicians read the public mood and align themselves with the widespread dislike of bicyclists.

    • October 21, 2014 6:55 am

      The contra-flow bike lane on Plaza Street was installed after DOT and others observed large numbers of cyclists “breaking the law” and salmoning to connections around Grand Army Plaza. Had cyclists somehow been convinced to play nice and hope for a reward, the need for a contra-flow lane never would have been evident. Same story on Union Street in Gowanus.

      • Lisa permalink
        October 21, 2014 8:37 am

        Interesting. That reminds me of the bike lane the city finally added on Jewel Ave that cuts through Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Riding along with the cars was always super-stressful for me, but I did it anyway. Then one day there was a shiny new bicycle lane, and I could go at my own pace without feeling like I have to race the cars. They also added markings on the exit so cars (and cyclists) know bikes are coming out there and may need to turn. I used to always have to annoy cars over there because there wasn’t any way for me to get out in the direction I needed to go without risking my life. I imagine if I (and others) looked for a different route instead of Jewel avenue — or took the awful sidewalk — the streets there may have never changed, because the city would have thought bikes don’t bike there anyway.

        It makes sense that the streets/laws won’t change if the city doesn’t see any problem, and we all just pretend that they’re designed well enough to use as is, 100% by the law. (Although it’s still maddening that drivers breaking laws left and right doesn’t spur change very quickly — that car in your photo even has a wheel on the sidewalk!)

  2. Andy permalink
    October 21, 2014 12:34 pm

    All this talk about cyclists “breaking the law” really gets under my skin. And it’s because people aren’t mad about cyclists because they break the law. That’s what they have to say in polite company, because they real reasons are less defensible. They can’t say “I don’t like cyclists because I just want to get places faster without all these pesky people slowing me down”. Or they can’t say “I just want things to stay as they’ve always been because change is scary”. Or they can’t say “I don’t like the type of person who rides a bicycle”.

    They have to say it’s about breaking the law, because that doesn’t sound nearly as bad as the truth.

    And this is why arguing with people about bikes following or not following laws is not helpful, because it never gets to the real reasons they don’t like bicycles.

    It’s not surprising that NYPD and NYDOT don’t understand this. It’s just disappointing.

    • October 21, 2014 1:07 pm

      First of all, there are plenty of people who will openly say things like “I don’t like cyclists because I just want to get places faster without all these pesky people slowing me down”. They say that cyclists are “in the way”, and even that we don’t belong on streets. I seriously cannot believe that you haven’t heard opinions such as this. It’s true that these people are zealots who cannot be reached, and whose opinions would not change even if every cyclist obeyed every rule of the road.

      However, there are many more people who do not have any ingrained hatred for bicyclists; these are people who accept philosophically the idea the the roads are not just for cars but also for bicyclists, and who support in principle the idea of bike infrastructure. But when these people witness the disregard for the law that bicyclists evince (again: not just the dangerous manoeuvres, but the act of blowing lights as a matter of course), they become resentful about bicyclists who evidently believe that they are above the law. When a fair-minded person observes a bicyclist using a bike lane but riding the wrong way on it, that person is going to be repulsed by this collossal arrogance; and his/her support for further bike infrastructure is quickly going to cool.

      So when we break the law en masse, we give encouragement to the lunatics who would hate us anyway; and we drive away the people who come in with no particular axe to grind and who would otherwise be our allies.

      • October 21, 2014 1:29 pm

        So let’s say you’re right: if “we” all obey the law, people and politicians will be more likely to support improved infrastructure and policies that benefit cyclists. What’s your proposal for getting everyone to follow your instructions and advice?

      • October 21, 2014 2:19 pm

        One of the best tools for spreading awareness amongst bicyclists is the one which we’re using now: the internet. We need the influential bike bloggers to understand that our common interest depends on public perception, and to write frequently on our obligation to follow the law for this and other reasons (those which I stated in the first response that I posted to this blog entry).

        It’s important to note that writing about the need for bicyclists to stop breaking the law would in no way preclude writing also about the inappropriateness of some existing laws when applied to bicycles. Rather, the two go hand-in-hand: we need passionate and articulate people making the case in writing that the mechanism to getting better laws (the Idaho stop, etc.) is keeping good relations with legislators and with the communities which elect these legislators.

        While the internet is great, the absolute best means of spreading this word is face-to-face. We need to police our own; we need to conduct street-level dialogue with those cyclists whom we see blowing red lights, riding the wrong way, riding without lights, etc.

        Now, the nutjobs who dart dangerously through automobile and pedestrian traffic are unreachable by rational argument; they will continue to sully our name. But there are a great many bicyclists who run red lights only because they think that’s normal. If people like this were to hear cries of objection from fellow bicycilsts every time they ran a red light (if they no longer thought that it was normal), this could conceivably change their behaviour.

        I have had hundreds of such conversations with other bicycilsts; these are conversations in which I explain that, every time one of us blows a light next to cars which are stopped at that light, we become the subject of any number of dinner-table rants later that evening about “those F-ing bicycilsts”; and I stress that this can only hurt us.

        Most of the people whom I talk to have never considered that their actions have any impact on the collective fate of bicycilsts. Some, in the end, don’t care. But some of them do; they see the point and actually thank me for bringing this issue to their attention. I can only hope that these people will go on to set a good example for other bicylists, and that a portion of them will pass the word to bicyclists whom they see breaking the law.

        On a few occasions when I have been riding around the City, I have received a “thank you” from pedestrians for my having stopped at a light. One lady said “you give bicyclists a good name”. I responded by telling her that that is precisely what I was trying to do. Now there’s someone who, when she is part of a dinner-table conversation in which someone else starts going off on “those F-ing bicyclists”, might respond with “Now, wait a minute…” This is the kind of thing that we must promote; it’s on this level that the battle will be won or lost.

        So it’s wrong to ignore the public-relations ramifications of everything we do. As I mentioned earlier, each one of us is an ambassador of bicycling to the general public; and we need to embrace this reality and keep it in mind at all times. Of course we’ll never get universal compliance. But we can do much better in terms of creating a culture of responsible behaviour on the part of bicyclists. If we succeed, then the general public will take notice; and the road towards a better quality of life for bicyclists will be smoother.

      • Andy permalink
        October 21, 2014 2:56 pm

        My point was that people who come in “with no particular axe to grind” are not the ones complaining about bikes “breaking the law”, a point which you didn’t refute, and which I think is still true.

        People with no particular axe to grind might be annoyed that bikes run through red lights, but they’re probably also annoyed at cars that speed, and perhaps even at pedestrians that jaywalk when no cars are coming (if they’re REAL sticklers).

        But for the most part, the people yelling that bikes break the law aren’t in love with the letter of the law, they just need to justify their existing distaste for bikes. I think you’re being naïve if you believe these people are really just sticklers for following the law.

      • October 21, 2014 3:00 pm

        I think you overestimate my influence or the influence of any other “bike blogger.”

      • October 21, 2014 3:13 pm

        Well, every little bit helps. You and other bike bloggers clearly do reach many of the most thoughtful amongst us.

        Still, bloggers reflect the zeitgeist rather than set the agenda. That is why I think that the more important work is in the streets, face-to-face with other bicyclists. That’s the only way to diffuse the message to the masses of bicycilsts.

      • robertogreen permalink
        October 23, 2014 9:17 am

        it’s nice that you want to “police your own” and all, but you are placing cycling in a context that exists only in your head. here in the real world, where i cycle every day as a commuter all over the city, i’m part of a greater whole that features pedestrians and cars, acting the way pedestrians and cars do. they do not adhere to your True Scotsman rules. They follow rules that they have made a part of their experience. for pedestrians, this means jaywalking, mid-block crossing, leaning out and “necking down” the intersections. For cars this means speeding, cutting each other off, constantly making insane or desperately dangerous decisions as regards each other, honking incessantly without cause, parking illegally, taking over space that is not theirs to take, failing-to-yield, no, you know what? FAILING TO F-ING YIELD to me, to my children, to my parents.

        i could go on. and on. and on.

        cyclists are an afterthought in vision zero. cyclists’ safety is an afterthought in the NYPD’s mind (and it’s worse when we are in their minds, see the photos above).

        When a culture of extreme lawlessness prevails, it is extraordinary for someone to insist that i must follow laws but no one else need do so. and given that in terms of relative danger-creation i am quite low on the totem pole, it is especially extraordinary to expect it of us.

        i have observed, living on 8th avenue as i do, that 8th and 9th between 14th and 30th have quite good cyclist conformity to traffic laws. that is because those bike lanes are separated, clear, have left turn signals (at least on 9th) to prevent failure-to-yield, and have pedestrian islands. more of that, and less of the crap that is the 6th avenue bike lane, and maybe we can start seeing some progress. until then, your concern trolling helps no one.

      • October 23, 2014 12:23 pm

        Your assertion that I think that we and only we need to follow the law is incorrect; everyone ought to. Yet, as you correctly point out, it is obvious that not only bicycilsts break the law, but so do many people in the cars and also on foot. But you overlook one important difference amongst these groups of people: the difference in the consequences of breaking the law for the people doing it.

        Despite the rampant psychopathic behaviour of drivers, they are at absolutely no risk of losing their infrastructure. It’s inconceivable that cars could be banned from any major avenues for the sake of public safety. Even the relatively mild measure of congestion pricing is political poison that no elected official will go near. The errant ideology of the Robert Moses era is permanently entrenched.

        And no one is going to suggest removing crosswalks as a result of pedestrians crossing mid-block or necking down an intersection. In fact, on the issue of neckdowns, the dynamic which I described earlier with respect to marijuana use can be seen: because of the huge numbers of pedestrians, their mass law-breaking can move policy in the right direction; this behaviour could indeed lead to curb extensions and to other improvements for pedestrians. This type of law-breaking is therefore to be applauded and encouraged.

        The sad fact is that it is only bicyclists who risk losing infrastructure as a result of public backlash over law-breaking. Always remember that the infrastructure which we currently enjoy is here not due to any massive public outcry for its installation (taking nothing away from the decades of advocacy on the part of many concerned groups and individuals), but only thanks to the will and the wisdom of Bloomberg, and to his steadfast backing of Sadik-Khan at the DOT. Our bike lanes are by no means permanent. They don’t have to be here; any one of them can be removed overnight by a feckless mayor whose “progressive” pretensions are entirely illusory, and who is firmly in the pocket of the taxi industry.

        Furthermore, there is no reason to believe that the DOT, no longer headed by the visionary Sadik-Khan, won’t make a move as backward as the New Jersey DOT recently did when it barred bicycles and pedestrians from the Route 35 bridge in Perth Amboy in reaction to suicide attempts. We are one serious collision on the Williamsburg Bridge bike path away from finding this out. (I select the Williamsburg Bridge because its bike path features regular incursions by pedestrians who ignore the existence of their own path on the other side of the bridge, and by motorised scooters which belong on the road. A catastrophe is inevitable up there.) When I was a kid, you couldn’t ride over that bridge; we mustn’t act with such hubris as to assume that a return to that condition is impossible.

        You are absolutely right when you note the menace posed by drivers, of whom virtually all are incompetent, the large majority are negligent, and a significant portion are borderline homicidal. And you are right to be angry about the inattention to our lives and our safety shown by the police by and the mayor, to whom we bicyclists are indeed afterthoughts.

        But being angry about an injustice is not a reason to act in such a way as to further that injustice. By breaking the law regularly and publicly, we bicyclists are further worsening our reputation to an already-hostile public. In so doing, we are turning allies to enemies; and we are encouraging our worst enemies to take action against us by complaining about us to the police, to Council members, and to the mayor’s office, and by turning up in numbers at Community Board meetings to scutlle proposed inprovements in bike infrastructure.

        I am a daily bike commuter and an avid summertime pleasure rider who has averaged 6000 miles a year for the last couple of years. I defer to no one as an experienced and seasoned New York cyclist, having ridden to all corners of this great City for more than 35 years. I have seen the heart of New York transform from bike jungle to bike paradise; and I don’t want to see it go back.

        This is why I am so adamant about our responsibility to protect what we have. That we bicycilsts have this burden while drivers and pedestrians do not is neither fair nor just. It’s not fair or just; but it’s how it is. We are damned fools if we ignore the fact that each one of us functions as the public face of “bicycling” to everyone who sees us, and the fact that each one of us can either help or hinder the cause with our every act. We have to wake up to this, and adjust our own behaviour; and we must at least try to spread the word to our fellow bicycilsts. If our destructive and short-sighted ways continue, we will surely pay the price for it.

        In the finale of the American version of the series “The Office”, the character Andy Bernard said, “I wish there was a way to know that you’re in ‘the good old days’ before you actually left them.” It won’t be long before we’re looking at the current period as “the good old days”, and wondering where all the bike lanes went.

  3. October 21, 2014 2:52 pm


    I’ve certainly confirmed that my Brixton Cycles high-visibility vest doesn’t look flattering from behind.

    I pointed out the black TLC car stopped in the bike lane to the same “safety manager” whom I asked (unsuccessfully) to move the news box. She just said, “They’re not supposed to stop there.”

    On my way to work today, I had to negotiate round a garbage truck that decided to turn left at the Allen/Grand St intersection on the cyclists’ green light, rather than waiting for the left-turn filter. At Broadway, I and a number of other cyclists had a TLC car pull across our path into the cycle lane to drop a passenger. We all asked the safety manager what he would do about it. He said he tried to stop him but couldn’t. I also pointed out to him that on the other side of the intersection there was a ladder blocking the bike lane (it’s on the left in your picture). He didn’t do anything about that.

    It’s an exercise in the purest cynicism to have these people posted along those streets when there are far, far more serious traffic safety issues to address in this city.

    Thanks for the post,


    • Ivan permalink
      October 22, 2014 10:07 am

      Next time I suggest throwing the newspaper box in the trash can seen in the photograph. 🙂

      • invisiblevisibleman permalink
        October 22, 2014 11:34 am

        The newspaper box was very heavy and consequently impossible to move by hand. That’s the discussion I’m having with the “safety manager” in the picture.

      • October 22, 2014 1:20 pm

        I have a feeling that if you moved that newspaper box into the middle of the street where it inconvenienced every single car, that safety agent would suddenly have the authority to move it.

      • Rob White permalink
        October 22, 2014 8:18 pm

        You asked her to move it and she said it was too heavy…. What stopped you from moving it yourself?

  4. Rob White permalink
    October 22, 2014 3:29 pm

    You asked her to move it and she said it was too heavy…. What stopped you from moving it yourself?

  5. Lisa Lee permalink
    October 29, 2014 8:56 am

    Are you seriously going to pick on the city workers? I can’t cross the street without almost getting hit by bikers who are too distracted with their devices. There needs to to be a common courtesy among everyone in the city. I’ve watch how some of you point your bikes at the city workers you so carelessly mock. I almost got knocked over taking my daughter out in her carriage. The word is respect. Drivers, pedestrians, bikers, we all need to share the roads. Come spend the day with me and I can show you many careless bikers on the road.

    • October 29, 2014 10:26 am

      I’m not picking on or carelessly mocking city workers. These are just regular people hired to do a job, which is why I didn’t talk to them directly. What I’m “picking on” is the decision by people much higher up in the DOT who decided that this was a good use of limited resources, especially when there are other, very defined and effective ways to improve cyclist behavior, as I explained in my post.

      I can one up being “almost” hit. I was walking across the street about four years ago, carrying my then-7-month-old daughter. A cyclist, smoking a cigarette, wearing headphones, and not paying attention, went through the red and actually hit me. Luckily I had enough time to see her coming, and was able to turn so that my shoulder took the brunt of the impact instead of my child.

      I think you’re operating under the false assumption that I’m apologizing for bad or careless behavior by cyclists. I am, first and foremost, a pedestrian. And even when I’m on my bike, I’m also highly aware of how other people on bikes behave. But there’s more going on than just a lack of “respect.” It’s about design and how the streets tell people to behave.

      When so many people are “breaking” the law and being disrespectful day in and day out, perhaps we ought to think about what systemic changes we can make to improve behavior. We can keep scolding people to share the road – which really hasn’t worked for 30+ years – or we can build roads that look like places where people should share. The latter takes resources that we’re frequently told the city doesn’t have. And yet…


  1. Today’s Headlines | Streetsblog New York City

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: