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It’s Hard to See Vision Zero When You’re Looking Through a Windshield.

September 18, 2016

On Friday morning, while appearing on the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC, Mayor Bill de Blasio heard from “Chris from Soho” on the subject of biking in New York City. “You can’t go five minutes in a bike lane without running into somebody illegally parked,” Chris said, expressing a frustration that’s shared by people who bike across the five boroughs. There was a brief exchange about enforcement — of both the police and citizen kind — before the mayor offered a sort of taxonomy of bike lane blocking.

Via WNYC’s Kate Hinds:

“There are people stop in a bike lane to, you know, let someone off at an appointment or something like that, or just drop off kids at home or something quickly,” de Blasio said. “That’s a different matter than someone who double-parks and leaves their car there.”

Now, I understand what the mayor was trying to express. To a lot of drivers, stopping in a bike lane for just a minute or two to let someone out feels a heck of a lot less harmful — and therefore less deserving of a ticket — than leaving a car in a bike lane for an extended period of time. But there are lots of things wrong with the mayor’s response. Here are four:

1. To a person riding a bike, it makes no difference how long a driver intends to stay in a bike lane, nor does it matter why the driver is stopped in it. Such details are as relevant to the cyclist’s safety as what the driver had for breakfast. The danger is the same no matter the duration or reason for the obstruction. While merging with fast-moving motor vehicle traffic to get around a car parked in a bike lane, no person on a bike thinks, “I wonder how long the driver will be there or what he’s doing.”

2. Stopping or parking in a bike lane is illegal.



Chris from Soho said this clearly. “You can’t go five minutes in a bike lane without running into somebody illegally parked.” The mayor missed an opportunity to explain the law to drivers and, in an advocate’s dream world, express the need for New York City to fix its dysfunctional curb-management policies in ways that might improve things for cyclists and drivers alike.

3. His response positioned people who bike as worth less than people who drive. Did the mayor ever consider what people on bikes are doing when they find their legal right of way suddenly blocked? Did it not occur to him that they too might be going to an appointment or dropping their children off at home? Without explicitly saying so, here’s what the mayor said: “Drivers do Important Things. Cyclists ride bikes.” This is the root sentiment behind countless horrible interactions people on bikes have with motorists every day.

4. It’s the polar opposite of Vision Zero. The fundamental philosophy behind Vision Zero is simple: “Human life and health are paramount and take priority over mobility and other objectives of the road traffic system.” In other words, your need to stop your car for a minute does not take priority over my need to not be killed. Only someone who drives or is driven everywhere could believe that stopping in a bike lane is a harmless activity so long as it’s quick and for an important reason.

I give the mayor a lot of credit for standing up to obstructionist community boards on specific projects such as Queens Boulevard or, when pressed by New York’s motoring-obsessed media, putting the onus for traffic safety on drivers. But with a disturbing increase in the number of people on bikes killed in 2016 so far, we need the mayor to educate himself about the day-to-day reality for the many New Yorkers who do not rely on cars. Three years in, Mayor de Blasio is still struggling to understand the vision behind Vision Zero.

  1. September 19, 2016 9:55 am

    excellent as always. run for office please.

    • drd permalink
      September 19, 2016 1:12 pm

      Seconded, on both counts.

  2. September 19, 2016 10:34 am

    I remember that during his mayoral campaign, de Blasio was asked if he liked to ride bikes. In retrospect his wishy-washy non-answer was a bit of a red flag: He fumbled through an unclear story about visiting his brother in Montana, where they rented bikes to ride on a trail, and at some point Bill apparently fell and got hurt, or so it was implied. And he kind of trailed off from there, and that was his answer.

    • September 19, 2016 11:04 am

      Yeah. No one thinks he himself has to bike. No one could picture Bloomberg on a bike, but remember his full-throated defense of Citi Bike? It’s easy. “I don’t bike, but I understand the need for better infrastructure so people don’t get hurt.” Anyone who would be upset at the mayor for not biking would be missing the point.

  3. matthiashess permalink
    September 19, 2016 11:25 am

    “To a person riding a bike, it makes no difference how long a driver intends to stay in a bike lane, nor does it matter why the driver is stopped in it.”


  4. September 20, 2016 9:16 am

    “Ask the Mayor” is a weekly segment, so maybe we’ll get to revisit the issue this week. Or next, or the one after…

  5. September 20, 2016 2:33 pm

    In Chicago, I often see drivers standing in a bike lane, rather than in an adjacent open parking spot. I think they believe that they’re likely to be ticketed for occupying a metered parking spot, but unlikely to be ticketed for parking in a bike lane. If so, they’re right.


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