Thursday, April 16, 2009

New York's Failed Bike Lanes: and Bike Parking in Some Garages Gets an "F"

Riding from uptown New York yesterday was an exercise in how-not-to-get-killed. The most infuriating aspect of my trip from the George Washington Bridge, down to Central Park was how seldom the bike lane actually has any space for its intended users, bike riders. It's so packed with parked cars, police cars, and vehicles doing u-turns right in front of you, it's a surprise when you end up at your destination in one piece.

I rarely use this route, preferring the west side Greenway which has no cars, but has it's own problems, like dogs off the leash, or a difficult, meandering street grid to get there near the bridge, and no lights at night. But at least it's dependably car-free. Still, it's not convenient for east side to GWB passage.

Cars parked 10 deep on 145th and Broadway, smack dab in the bike lane. While NYPD in three patrol cars across the street do nothing (see pic below).

Another north-south route, Riverside Drive with its two tightly packed lanes is used for race car practice among amateur and immature drivers who delight in speeding along its curvaceous lines. After being struck there twice by motorists in 2000, and then being harassed by angry drivers who appeared to have murderous instincts, I abandoned Riverside altogether as a north-south byway.

So for traveling back and forth from either the east side or Central Park to upper Manhattan the primary route down which branches off from Broadway on 168th St., is along St. Nicholas Avenue, perhaps one of the most dangerous routes in all of Manhattan.

It's not the fact that the route has no bike lanes: in fact it has two, one on each side of the street.

But these lanes are used by motorists to park their cars, wait in their cars, make u-turns, and even open their doors without looking. It is all so extremely casual, that the police routinely park their cars in the bike lanes themselves, and police officers in patrol cars seen right across the street (or even on the same side) as double parked cars, made no attempt to ticket any of these scofflaws.

Across the street, three NYPD patrol cars--with officers providing no enforcement of double-parked hogs in the bike lane--and parked in the bike lane themselves.

The lack of enforcement is so great, that even when there is space on the block for motorists to park properly and out of the way while unloading, they instead choose to park in the bike lane because it is right in front of their destination. Popular spots for mass bike lane parking are St. Nicholas and 145th St., the police precinct on 167th st., the police precinct on 144th st., and the church on approximately 140th st., (watch out on Sunday for an entire block of cars parked in front --in the bike lane--while big ladies in enormous straw hats festooned with flowers amble in front of you.)

I spent the entire 3-mile stretch of the trip dodging cars U-turning right in front of me; cars speeding to the corner only to do a right hand turn 5-feet in front of me; people opening car doors in front of me while parked in the bike lane, and massive potholes as I tried to move around these cars. I was frazzled by the time I reached my destination, my voice hoarse from calling out to drivers.

Bike lane plan for 9th Avenue: perhaps the most innovative and effective in Manhattan.

This problem is worse than it was 6 months ago. Why hasn't the city at least addressed the issue of enforcement? NYPD, please don't tell me you have better things to do like "fight crime." I saw at least four patrol cars sitting in the same places with officers doing basically nada, perhaps getting take-out black-eyed pees, chitlins, and pork jerk at the local Jamaican eatery. Sorry, but I just don't buy that argument.

In the case of upper Manhattan or Washington Heights to be more exact, could it be simply less of a priority because of where it is? In other words, does the city care less about this neighborhood because last census count it was 83% Dominican? After all, we all know the people who scream and yell for change--white liberals--are the squeaky wheels that get most of the grease.

A good case in point are those gorgeous bike lanes on 9th Avenue in lower Manhattan. They are innovative, freshly painted and they look so official. Even the motorists have to park outside of them, and it seems to work. Oh yes, the neighborhood also was up in arms about those, saying the lanes would hurt their business, more claptrap from New Yorkers with nothing better to do than complain about their high end lives.

Bike lane on 8th Ave. downtown.

If perhaps New York City's department of transportation thinks the Washington Heights bike lanes are less of a priority because there are fewer cyclists using those lanes, it doesn't matter, because it's not true.

On the weekends, this route is used by about one third of the cyclists traveling from Manhattan to the George Washington Bridge, many of them LAWYERS on their $10,000 bikes, and as many as 500 a day traveling back and forth. Oh and PS, are you trying to say that the Dominican biking population which is largely BMXers shouldn't have a safe ride?

In fact, NYC DOT says that commuter cycling grew by 35% from 2007-2008 and that their most recent screenline counts showed "a dramatic increase in cycling in New York City." But planned bike lanes for 2009 do not include any measures for anything above 110th St., except in the Bronx. It's not that BBB doesn't approve of the bike lanes the DOT is installing, and we think they've done a tremendous job so far: it's just that we need more enforcement until the heavily used bike route to the bridge from Central Park is cleaned up--whenever that is supposed to be.

A bike lane in Brooklyn, operating the way it should.

So please New York City--Mayor Bloomberg, NYPD, and DOT, give us a break, CLEAN UP THOSE WASHINGTON HEIGHTS BIKE LANES.

Bike Parking is Making a Slow--and Painful Debut

Okay, fast forward to bike parking. We've been hearing so much about the bike parking resolution put into the fray by the New York City department of planning. Mind you, this is not a DOT measure. It is DOP because the city is proposing that any new commercial and residential buildings set aside space and build bike rooms with secure bike parking for people who ride their bikes in New York City.

First of all, congratulations on a long overdue measure, and thank God DOP's chief, Amanda Burden has the nerve and the muscle to create this bill and set it before the City Council where is will be voted on later this month.

To the mind of BBB, the requirements are not enough: they only give enough space for 3% of any commercial building's occupants to park their bike on any one day. That means 3 out of 100 people. That also means they will be out of space in one year. The requirement should be increased to at least 10 to 15% and it is my belief that won't even be enough 10 years from now.

BBB attended the DOP's hearings on the matter over two months ago, and only a handful of people who spoke were against it. Even the Real Estate Board of New York, the organization that represents the bulk of commercial and private real estate businesses and developers in the city, is for it. BBB spoke in favor of the measure, and made the point that buildings can use bike parking as a marketing tool to bring people to their businesses, residences and shops. In fact, believe it or not, based on the fact that the New York Times is finally writing regularly about cycling, biking has already gone way past cool to mainstream, (their latest, about riding to work on Dutch bikes in suits was a little strange, but worth reading.)

However, (and you knew this was coming,) what is taking so long for the garages in New York City to get the message? I mean really, this group of capitalists need to go back to business school and learn the fundamentals of client service.

Not only are most of them completely ignorant of this growing need for bike parking, they are apparently also ignorant of its potentially lucrative rewards--if not too slow in actualizing them.

Entrance to Central Parking garage, one of 99 in Manhattan has no signs warning cyclists not to proceed.

Take for example the idiots who run Central Parking at 1886 Broadway under the Lincoln Center theaters. The garage entrance is downhill, with no signs posted for types of vehicles (that is bikes) allowed or not. As BBB entered the garage, a largely-spaced grating gripped my front wheel, pretzeled it and sent me and my bike flying to the ground.

As BBB lay on the ground bleeding and stunned, what did the well-trained garage attendants do? They proceeded to berate and scream at me. Another client driving a car offered me water to clean my wounds, while the attendants continued their barrage of insults. BBB's $5,000 Trek bike lay destroyed with $2,000 worth of damage, and I was unable to return home by bike that day--damages that they have refused to honor. Oh, and when I asked if I could park my broken bike for 1 hour in their garage they told me it would cost me $18.

Funny that they should call themselves, "the leaders in professional parking management," on their website.

But what else to expect from a garage owned by a company that has nothing to do with New York even though they have 99 garages here? Their corporate offices are in Nashville, TN, and they don't even attempt to understand the New York market.

Open grating at Central Parking at 1886 Broadway can maim you and your bike.

On a positive side, there are other garages that provide bike parking on the sly, even though they have no formal policy for it, and that includes Champion Parking. Pass the attendant a $5 tip and your bike is not only safe, it's scratch free when its returned by the pleasant staff of this family-owned business. With 44 garages in Manhattan, Champion has been in business since 1949, and their New York roots show in their positive attitude.

All of this I related to the half-asleep distinguished members at the DOP hearings for the bike parking resolution, and indeed one member did spark an interest in the parking lot aspect of the bill, and whether the garages would be prepared. But that was over two months ago, and still, garage employees appear to be no more prepared today to take bicycles than they were three years ago.

Transportation Alternatives offers an undated list of 21 (twenty one!) parking garages in NYC that offer bike parking, among them perhaps erroneously, Central Parking at a downtown location. (Hmm, one out of their 99 locations offers bike parking, must be a typo).

Still overall, there is no clear policy yet in the city administration guiding private garages like Central Parking who have no vested interest in the citizens of New York other than to milk them for all they are worth with outrageous parking fees of $32 to $50 for a few hours. Though we think companies like Champion are an exception, garages like Central are all the more reason to use your bike next time you come in, and avoid those hee-haw sharks.


Jonathan said...

I ride home every afternoon north on St. Nick between 126th and 165th Sts. Of course there are double-parked cars, but I find the cycling easiest there because of the gentle incline and the overall lack of auto volume.

As far as the enforcement goes, last year there was a traffic cop that would go northbound, ticketing violators, at about 5:30 pm every day, but I've changed my hours and can't confirm that any longer.

Anonymous said...

Edgecombe Ave. isn't bad, and has a nice view.