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Can We Get Some of These DC Protected Bike Lane Features in NYC?

A few days ago I was in Washington, D.C. for a shoot. After leaving Union Station with my gear I made a beeline to check out the newest improvements to the 1st Street bike lane that runs adjacent to the station. I'd heard it was pretty fab, and upon close inspection, it really is.

The separation on this two-way lane varies between three treatments: 1) a concrete curb, which is substantial and well done and runs about half the length of the lane; 2) A combination of green paint, plastic bollards, and armadillos, which all work extremely well in conjunction; 3) paint and plastic bollards for the long block connecting to the Metro Trail. All of the variations feel comfortable on streets where car lanes are narrow and motorized traffic tends not to exceed the 20 mph range.

I was in town to meet up with former D.C. and Chicago transportation commissioner Gabe Klein, who has a new book debuting this week called "Start-Up City" that you should read. We shot some short vignettes, the first of which is above, where Gabe talks about the genesis of the Pennsylvania Avenue two-way, center-running bike path.

I am posting these videos largely for selfish reasons. NYC is currently considering protected bike lanes for Fifth Avenue and Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan, and DOT could do better than its existing designs. For the next round of protected bike lanes, I'd love to see much better protection for cyclists. Both of these DC lanes have features that NYC should consider.

I'm also posting another useful Streetfilms snippet from Stockholm, where they are experimenting with inexpensive concrete humps to discourage drivers from encroaching on bike lanes. This could be another great option to try out on New York's wide avenues.

  • cjstephens

    Always good to show it can be done better, and that it has been done better elsewhere. One nit to pick: I think you mean "M Street" not "Avenue M".

  • http://www.streetfilms.org/ Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    I'll go look that one up. Since it runs perpendicular to 1st street I feel it's a 98% chance you are correct. :)

  • http://techdrom.blogspot.com danbrotherston

    The 1st street bike lane looks pretty good, all in green. I'd also point out they appear to be using angled curbs. I'm not sure if that's standard practice in DC, but it generally is in the Netherlands. Its a more forgiving curb for cyclists, you won't hit your pedal on it if you get too close, and there's less chance of getting knocked down. This is a trivial improvement that we could make to all our new bike lanes if designers were only aware of the purpose.

    I would be curious to see more of the intersection treatments though. This is generally the most important part to get right. I'd rather have protected safe intersections than a protected lane. The only sign shown, is actually entirely confusing to me. I don't know if its a standard road sign in the US, but to me, it has no obvious meaning. Its a warning about turning vehicles, with a stop sign and peds and bikes. Are cars supposed to stop for peds and bikes, or are peds and bikes supposed to stop.

  • Patrick94GSR .

    Gee thanks for reinforcing the notion that cyclists do not belong on public roads. "Car lane"? Come on, traffic lanes are for traffic, not just cars. Roads are for people, not just cars. I want to be expected and respected as part of traffic while on public roads, but it's difficult when motorists think I'm in "their" lane because it's a "car lane".

  • BBnet3000

    In New York it seems verboten to talk about the design of protected lanes. We are supposed to praise the lowest quality protected lanes it seems possible to install, such as the practically useless one on Grand Street. Our advocates seem to only care about politics and have no discernable interest in design.

  • fdtutf

    Yep, in DC the numbered streets run north-south and the lettered streets (not avenues) run east-west. :-)

  • http://facebook.com/FerdinandCesarano Ferdinand Cesarano

    People talk about protected lanes all the time. Those lanes are the ideal.

    But there is a continuum: protected lanes are better than painted lanes, which are better than sharrows, which are better than the complete absence of any on-street indicator.

    Please do not set up a false dichotomy; being happy about a given type of bike lane does not preclude pushing for a better one in its place. For example, we formerly had only painted lanes on Clinton Street south of Delancey in Manhattan. Now we have a parking-protected two-way lane.

  • BBnet3000

    My point is that not all protected lanes are equal in quality and function. Not even all the ones in New York are. But as long as we get something "protected", advocates don't seem willing to look a gift horse in the mouth.

  • http://facebook.com/FerdinandCesarano Ferdinand Cesarano

    Ah. Well, that's true to a certain extent. I will tell you that I share this view with which you take issue.

    It's more important to push for dramatic improvements to painted lanes or sharrows or streets with nothing, than it is to quibble over a the design of an existing protected lane.

    And, when you use the phrase "a gift horse", you are more on point than you probably wished to be. Bike lanes are very much a gift horse; they are a gift from Bloomberg. We have to remember that we have our hundreds of miles of bike lanes for one reason and one reason only: Bloomberg wanted them.

    This is not to ignore decades of advocacy on the part of committed people; but, without a mayor who understood the issues of livable streets that were articulated by these activists, a mayor who was willing to put this understanding into practice with his policies, and (most important) a mayor who was not dissuaded by the inevitable criticism, we would have just a fraction of the bike lanes that we currently have, and we'd probably not have a single protected lane anywhere in the City.

    Bloomberg appointed Sadik-Khan, who went around the world to learn about the best practices, and enacted many of them here. And then he unapologetically defended her from constant attacks (some of which came from the current mayor when he held the post of Public Advocate).

    But our rich uncle who liked to give us presents is gone now. The guy who has succeeded him as mayor has absolutely no commitment to bike infrastructure, and it shows.

    Furthermore, as the Bloomberg golden era recedes into the past, every election will to some degree become a referrendum on bike lanes. Even though bicyclists' numbers have boomed since before the Bloomberg transformations, we still represent only a small minority of City residents and voters; and candidates for mayor will gain much more than they lose by appealing to the widespread hostility towards bicycilsts and bike infrastructure within the general public.

    The point is: it's going to get worse from here. Much worse. So you will just have to pardon any bicyclist or bicycle advocate for not being able to summon up outrage over whatever minor flaw exists in this or that protected lane, considering that we'll soon be in a political climate in which the very existence of that protected lane will be in question.

  • Patrick94GSR .

    "But there is a continuum: protected lanes are better than painted lanes,
    which are better than sharrows, which are better than the complete
    absence of any on-street indicator."

    Hardly. The way I see it, visibility is of far greater importance than some perceived feeling of safety, and with sharrows you get that. Also it lets motorists know to expect bicycle traffic and cyclists are allowed to be there and use the lane. The most harassment I ever get is on streets with separated infrastructure or painted bike lanes. With sharrows or nothing, I get almost ZERO harassment. It's not a coincidence.

    BUT THINK OF THE CHILDREN AND OLD PEOPLE! Fine, spend money on infra for them. But I would like to see sharrows and BMUFL signs IN ADDITION to separated infra, so that the street can safely accommodate ALL road users. Separated tracks do not accommodate the fast rider safely at all. It's pretty much like riding on the sidewalk. Sharrows and BMUFL signs help motorists know that a cyclist is in fact allowed to use the general travel lanes if that suits his needs better than a bike lane or separated track.

  • http://facebook.com/FerdinandCesarano Ferdinand Cesarano

    I can agree with one thing that you wrote: sharrows are useful for announcing the presence of bicyclists to drivers. Many people mock and denounce sharrows; but I appreciate them. I think that they are most effective on streets that are too thin for an actual bike lane.

    But I would take issue with several other things.

    First of all, if you have received no harassment on streets with no markings, then you should be playing the lottery or something, because you are on an incredible run of luck. I would say that almost all of the verbal abuse that I get from drivers occurs on such streets. (The magnitude of the problem is less than it was in the pre-bike-lane days, as the cumulative effect of all kinds of bike markings has made drivers more aware of the fact that we exist. But, still, the overwhelming majority of the "get off the road"-type comments occur on roads with no markings.)

    Also, I don't see how you could be experiencing harassment on streets with painted or separated bike lanes -- unless you take the illegal step of riding outside the lane. The law sensibly requires us to ride in the bike lane on a street where one exists (except to avoid an obstruction or other dangerous conditions). Therefore, drivers on those streets have the right not to expect bicyclists in the other lanes, because we shouldn't be there.

    Still, every motorist driving on such a street can see the white paint that marks a painted bike lane (assuming that the lane is maintained). So our visibility is preserved.

    Separated lanes are ideal in that they allow for a greater margin of error on the parts of both cyclists and drivers. A buffer, preferably of parked cars, provides the most stress-free conditions that are possible in the urban context.

    Of course, it is true that separated lanes don't accommodate fast riders. This should be telling you something: don't ride fast on those streets.

    Really, most midday riding within the City's core should be done at about 10 miles per hour; any faster than that, and you risk not being able to stop for a sudden incursion into your path by a pedestrian. The fact that separated lanes work best with this sort of pace and not faster speeds is a feature, not a bug.

    Remember that you can zip up non-bike-laned streets such as Third Avenue, Madison Avenue, or Park Avenue at any speed that you can muster if conditions permit. But please ride at a modest pace when you are in the bike lanes on First, Second, Eighth, and Ninth Avenues.

    In Manhattan, and in our City in general, we have a a huge range of streets; any rider can find streets on which he/she can feel comfortable. But it's not realistic to expect that all streets serve the preferences of all riders.

  • nooo

    They seem ok, I guess. But the Stockholm version is way better. The DC lanes are too narrow, and I've always disliked having bidirectional lanes as part of one larger lane. Not only does it only allow for maybe 1 or 2 riders at a time, but it suggests there isn't much room for growth and hence that it isn't that important to people in the long run. Basically it's just window dressing. The Stockholm model is much roomier, and separates directional lanes by placing them on either side of the street.

    Still, it's nice to see DC putting real effort into their bike lanes and trying to make them quality, even if they are flawed by design. A nice stepping stone to a hopefully more robust, low stress bike network!

  • Patrick94GSR .

    Bike lanes are not mandatory where I live. Cyclists can choose to use or not use them as they feel appropriate.

    I rarely receive any harassment I believe because I ride in a predictable and visible manner so that my presence doesn't take motorists by surprise.

    For your information, the harassment I received on streets with bike infra refer to situations when I either left the bike lane to avoid an obstacle, or when the infra was wholly unsafe to use.