Since the wild expansion of New York’s system of bike lanes under Mayor Mike Bloomberg, there has been a considerable increase in the amount of cycling. The bike lanes have made cycling considerably safer, especially in physically-separated lanes that have opened in the past year on 8th and 9th Avenues and most recently on Broadway. Unfortunately, there have been some troubling trends within these bike lanes that make cycling more dangerous for everyone.
These bike lanes are new to many New Yorkers, but it seems that pavement markings and signs are doing nothing to discourage misuse of the lanes. It’s hard to understand why it’s so difficult for New Yorkers to understand the purpose of bike lanes. But these photos from Broadway’s bike lane make it clear that there’s a disconnect between their intended purpose and their use.
Despite having an entire double-wide crosswalk to use for crossing Fifth Avenue, these pedestrians chose to cross in the bike lane. They continued to walk in the bike lane down Broadway along Madison Square Park when there was a perfectly good public plaza space and empty sidewalk for them to use. This behavior baffles me.
Only slightly less inexcusable was the couple who walked in the bike lane against traffic in SoHo on Prince Street on Saturday, crossed a street in the bike lane rather than the crosswalk, and then scoffed at cyclists riding directly at them, as though the cyclists were in the wrong. I only say “slightly less inexcusable” because walking on the sidewalks on Prince Street is nearly as frustrating as trying to navigate Manhattan on a bike.
Equally as mind-boggling is why a pedicab driver, who presumably thrives on his ability to use bike lanes to make business more efficient, decided that a bike lane was a perfectly acceptable place to park his vehicle. You can also see how the design of this lane is fatally flawed, since two pedestrian areas are separated by a bike lane, prompting pedestrians to consider the bike lane part of their public space.
A lack of education on these spaces is part of the problem. So is poor design. But the real problem is that in New York, pedestrian space is still so limited that pedestrians will use any area that is not used by cars (and, in many cases, areas that are used by cars – in between light cycles). If pedestrians felt that they had enough space, they may not seek out more space. In the case of the Broadway, Grand Street, and Prince Street, the neighboring sidewalks are often overburdened with slow tourists and overcrowded during rush hours.
Then again, it could be a psychological issue. New Yorkers have a notorious sense of entitlement and may believe it is their right to walk in public space that is not necessarily designated for pedestrians. An educational campaign could help to change this over time. Transportation Alternatives recently launched a campaign called Biking Rules to help with the very serious problem of cyclist scofflaws, but reaching out to the very large pool of New York City pedestrians is a much more daunting task.
Also, it’s hard to change behaviors when the NYPD can’t even follow the law.