2006-09-20 Bike Lanes Great Start, Add Barriers – Villager


Bicycle lanes are a great start, but add barriers


The recent announcement that the city plans to add 200 miles of new bike lanes over the next three years is tremendous news for cyclists. Concern rose when it was revealed this summer that the city was actually falling behind its goals of creating new bike lanes. The new pledge, if fulfilled, will more than make up for this lapse.

The addition of so many miles of new bike lanes represents a change of direction on bicycles — and bicyclists — for the Bloomberg administration. Since August 2004, when police cracked down on the massive pre-Republican National Convention Critical Mass ride, the administration has had an antagonistic relationship with cyclists. Huge amounts of taxpayers’ dollars and police overtime have been expended as police have chased the Critical Mass rides each month, arresting, or ticketing, the riders for minor traffic violations. Still more money and effort have been poured into lawsuits trying to force Critical Mass to obtain a permit. Most recently, the administration created an uproar when it floated a plan to overhaul parade permit regulations, threatening to restrict free speech and the right to assemble and protest.

With the announcement that the city is going to add 200 miles of bike lanes, it seems, hopefully, a corner has been turned.

Bike riding is healthy, energizing, nonpolluting, noiseless transportation. In so many ways, bicyling improves our city, lives and environment. Yet, there are legitimate complaints — often from seniors — that bikes don’t obey the rules of the road, making pedestrians fear for their safety. The city appears committed to increasing safety for bicycling on city streets. By the same token, bike riders must ride responsibly.

As for the administration, despite its recent pledge, much more can still be done to increase cyclists’ safety. Most of all, these new lanes should be protected by physical barriers or wide buffer zones. The thin bike lanes on Sixth and Eighth Aves., for example, barely 4 feet wide, lack any buffer between the car traffic. Meanwhile, riders can be easily “doored” if someone in a parked car flings open a door into the bike lane. Plus, there’s always the risk a driver might swerve into the bike lane if there’s no physical barrier. And, of course, parking in bike lanes is another constant problem; not only does this impede bikes from progressing through the lane, but it forces riders to veer into car traffic, again putting lives at risk.

Without safe bike lanes, bicyclists will continue to die. Last Friday, Reginald Chan — who never rode in Critical Mass — was killed by a truck on E. 17th St. while making a delivery on bicycle from his restaurant, Jade Mountain.

The mayor has proven he’s a bold, innovative thinker. We saw this with his smoking law. He should now do the same for bicyclists’ safety: Don’t just draw lines on the ground — protect bikers’ lives by adding physical barriers.