By Ben Fractenberg
MANHATTAN — Manhattan bike riders face a host of obstacles using the borough's bike lanes, from double-parked livery cabs and delivery trucks, to oblivious pedestrians, to NYPD vehicles using them as parking spaces, a recent survey by DNAinfo found.
DNAinfo reporter Ben Fractenberg rode many of the city's bike lanes starting downtown and traveling north all the way to Washington Heights, and tracing his way from the east to the west side. One of the worst stretches, he found, was directly behind an NYPD precinct in Harlem.
Twenty seven out of 44 marked and unmarked NYPD vehicles parked behind the 28 Precinct on St. Nicholas Ave. between 122nd and 123rd Streets on a recent Monday jutted into a stretch of bike lane on both sides of the two-way street.
"It's like this all the time. They don't have any consideration for us," said Harlem resident Kimba Jones, 50, who rides his bike past the station every day. "They are in the lane, so now we have to slow down and be careful that we don't get hit."
But hazards weren't only found in Harlem. Here’s a quick rundown of what Fractenberg found in neighborhoods across Manhattan.
Harlem and Washington Heights
Delivery trucks and double-parked cars were the top obstacles clogging up First Avenue between East 96th Street and East 119th street — which was a sea of trucks on a recent weekday afternoon around lunch time.
Heading west along 119th Street from First Avenue to St. Nicholas Ave., a host of cars were double-parked on the north side of the street between First and Third avenues, forcing traffic to swerve directly into the bike lane on the south side of the street. As a result, there was barely enough room for a bike and a car to squeeze by at the same time.
One of the smoothest portions of Upper Manhattan could be found along Fort Washington Avenue from 186th Street to Fort Tyron Park.
Aside from the general lack of commercial delivery traffic in the area, the lanes were largely free of obstructions save for the occasional cab or double-parked car. The stretch was made even more pleasant by a strip of trees along the bike lane, providing a nice shady break from the sun.
Upper West Side
Cycling north on Central Park West from West 77th Street to West 90th Street, one of the most difficult portions was in front of the American Museum of Natural History between 77th and 79th streets.
There were tourist buses double-parked in the bike lane, forcing riders to swerve out into traffic. Cars whizzed inches from riders' handlebars.
The east-west streets in the Upper West Side were cluttered mainly with delivery and mail trucks during the weekday trip.
UPS trucks dotted the streets near West 106th Street and Riverside Drive, some of them clogging up the bike lanes, forcing riders into traffic, while other UPS trucks were double-parked in the traffic lanes, leaving the bike lanes free and clear.
Upper East Side and Yorkville
First Avenue between East 72nd and East 96th streets was packed with delivery trucks. In some cases boxtrucks were lined up three or four in a row. Some were considerate enough to park very closely to the line of legally-parked vehicles, leaving a sliver of bike lane open for riders to squeeze past. But many delivery trucks took up all of the bike lane, forcing riders to swerve out into traffic.
The number of shops and businesses along First Avenue drove up the number of double-parked cars with people swinging open car doors into the bike lanes while hopping out to pick something up.
One U.S. Postal Service mail truck on First Avenue crawled like a snail along the bike lane while making its deliveries, parking in the bike lane each time the driver stopped.
Central Park's seeemingly pristine bike lanes were host to a collection of non-vehicular issues. Pedestrians wandered across the bike lanes oblivious to established crosswalks and traffic lights. Joggers occasionally took up the entire lane, as did their slower, walking, counterparts. Tourists walking in the bike lane suddenly stopped to take pictures.
"Why are you in the bike lane when you have the sidewalk?" said a perturbed fellow cyclist.
The protected bike lane running along Broadway from 59th Street to Union Square was free of cars, but busy with pedestrian traffic. In Times Square and Herald Square, the bike lane cuts through a pedestrian mall, meaning bikers are supposed to get off and walk their bikes through those sections. But other portions of the pedestrian mall allow riders to continue on their bikes.
The tourist magnets were so dense with pedestrians darting in and out of the lane from between parked cars without warning, many bikers may be inclined to avoid them entirely.
There are also few east-west lanes in Midtown, making it difficult for riders to get crosstown while avoiding heavy traffic.
Greenwich Village and West Village
The village has a good number of lanes heading both north-south and east-west. People in the area seem a little more aware of the presence of the bike lanes and seem to honor the rules of the road.
In addition, the vehicular traffic seems more considerate of bike riders, and DNAinfo found only the occasional double-parked car or slow-moving bus riding in the bike lanes.
SoHo vendors' wares that spilled into the bike lane along Prince Street, instead of being tucked neatly beneath tables, forced riders to swerve out into the narrow streets several times. The chlaustrophobic neighborhood, where most lanes are restricted to a single passageway for vehicular traffic also attracts a thick stream of pedestrians, as well taxis hunting for fares.
Several cabs pulled directly into the bike lane to drop people off or pick them up. Sometimes they put on their flashers before stopping, but usually there was little warning.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s office conducted a three-day survey last October. Out of a total of 353 instances of lanes being blocked across Manhattan, 275 were obstructed by motor vehicles, according to the survey.
The worst out of the 11 intersections Stringer's office observed was 145th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue, which had 117 instances of the lane being blocked during the morning and evening rush hour.
In all, DNAinfo's unscientific survey found mixed results about the current state of Manhattan's bike lanes. While they don't always ensure rider's safety, the lanes seem to provide the first step toward a more bike-friendly city transportation system.
Transportation Alternatives spokesman Michael Murphy, whose organization has been a leading defender of the growing bike lanes, said they're working toward becoming as respected as any other restricted lane, such as the city's host of bus-only lanes.
He added that the more the lanes are free of obstructions, the more likely new bike riders will consider using them.
"By far the biggest problem is when cars park in the lane," Murphy said. "[When] you bike around them you’re taking yourself into traffic. When every other block has a car parked in the lane, that’s a problem."