Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Modest Proposal

For Minimizing the Obstruction of Bike Lanes in New York, and for Making the Department of Police Beneficial to the Publick.

NYPD at work
NYPD tow truck parked at 6th Ave and 32nd St
This morning at about 10:30 I encountered this oversized New York Police Department tow truck straddling the bike lane on 6th Avenue at 32nd Street. While I was watching, one of the officers returned to the truck with coffees, but, even caffeinated, they remained firmly in place, ignoring the cyclists (photographed) who had to detour into motor traffic to pass them. Particularly irksome is that they've pulled half way into the bike lane, but they're still obstructing a full lane of motor traffic. Instead of just blocking one lane, they're blocking two. (Also note that one of the cyclists photographed is going the wrong way, a.k.a. salmoning)

Taxis, town cars, delivery trucks, private cars and cops regularly block New York's otherwise excellent network of bike lanes (as, apparently, do fruit and vegetable carts). Many of the lanes are segregated, making it more challenging for drivers to block them, but many others, like the one pictured, are just painted and we rely on drivers' respect for the law and fellow road users to keep them clear. Like in other cities, this is a bit of wishful thinking, and given the poor example set by law enforcement it's not surprising that other drivers treat these lanes as short-term parking.

On Friday, over beers with some cow-orkers, I formulated a proposal which I think might be a pragmatic compromise to improve access to unobstructed bike lanes. First, we must recognize that we're not going to change the behavior of the police. So, instead of just complaining and building up resentment (as I've done above), let's work with them.

I propose that all unsegregated bike lanes in New York City be redesignated as police parking lanes. Let's change the bylaws so that these lanes are reserved for use by law enforcement, with an exception allowing cyclists to use them when they're not required for urgent police business (like the morning coffee run). We'll paint NYPD logos in the lanes alongside the cycling icons.

My theory is that the NYPD will be much more aggressive about ticketing motor vehicles obstructing police parking lanes. Those are their lanes! Other drivers aren't going to mess with the NYPD's parking lanes.

For cyclists, this Faustian bargain could significantly improve access to the approximately 1% of New York City's paved road surface currently designated as bike lanes. Of course we'd still have to swerve around parked cop cars, but at least the number of SUVs, FedEx trucks and taxis in the lanes would be lower.

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