Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Long Beach Drops Bicycle Registration: Implications for NYC

The city council of Long Beach, California voted yesterday to eliminate a law that required residents to register their bicycles. And so they were one more down, more to go, according to recent history at cities around the United States who have dropped similar legislation.

The failure of the bike registration law in a smaller, less complex community has importance for New York City because politicians here have lately been calling for a new law requiring residents to register their bicycles. Queens Councilmember Eric Ulrich introduced the legislation this January that would require ID's be carried by bicycle users as an effort to cut down on errant biker behavior.

New York  already suffers from a serious "scofflaw" image among all traffic users, starting with motorists, to taxi drivers, truckers, motorcyclists and on down to cyclists too, so imagining that a program unsuccessful in a tidy place like California would succeed here begs for a fanciful imagination.

With mandatory registration passed into law, 1,000 cyclists in Long Beach were given $400 tickets last year. Dubbed as "the most bicycle friendly city in the world," the city soon found itself with a failed program, and costs for running the licensing program greatly surpassing its revenue, reported the LA Times. The vast majority of cyclists in the city did not have their bikes registered at all.

Bike registration in Long Beach was supposed to give law enforcement officials a way to track down stolen bikes. But so few cyclists participate in the programs that many cities, including Los Angeles, have done away with them completely.  Registration in Long Beach will now become voluntary instead of obligatory, with city officials suggesting instead that cyclists list their bikes online with the National Bike Registry.

New York already has a voluntary registration program administered by the New York Police Department. If you bring your bike to a local precinct they will provide you with a registration number that can be etched into the bottom of the bottom bracket.  If your bike is stolen the ID can be tracked through the NYPD's database back to you as the rightful owner.

Ulrich's move was intended to also put an extra yoke on cyclists by making them more responsible for errant behavior, such as running red lights. But by introducing the legislation he also joined a chorus of pols mostly hailing from Queens and Brooklyn, against bike lanes, bicycle riders and the city Department of Transportation's efforts to improve conditions for this form of transportation. 

His move was largely seen by cyclists and advocates as prejudicial when he was quoted saying that riders do not carry any form of identification, because “they’re in Spandex or whatnot," and are "involved in accidents." To imply that cyclists are responsible for a greater share or even an equal share of accidents to motorists made Ulrich an enemy on cycling e-boards around the city.

Calls to the Department of Public Information at the NY Police department for correct statistics regarding tickets issued to motorists and cyclists by BBB were not returned.

Another reason DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan is meeting such resistance for new street design is that her department's measures threaten motorists with fewer parking spaces, a huge factor in the outer boros, admitted some boro representatives off the record to BBB. Already community boards and business improvement districts in the two boros say that they do not have enough parking spaces, and the changes have come at them without their input.

Drivers have also complained that they cannot manuever easily with many of the new street designs that  allow for bike lanes and pedestrian islands. Even previous DOT commissioner Iris Weinshall has publicly spoken out against the Prospect Park West bike lane. Others from Brooklyn--many of them car owners, have said that the new lane is dangerous and makes crossing the street harder for people with children.  They make no mention of the hundreds of cars, however, that also making street crossing so difficult across the city.

But some cyclists welcome registration. Said one long time cyclist who was hit by a truck more than 20 years ago when riding his bicycle, "What's wrong with [bike] registration? It might actually help us establish official status, and help us when we want things done our way."

Sunday, February 06, 2011

More Bike Lane Backlash Along Columbus Avenue

Map of Columbus Ave. Courtesy of Columbus Ave. BID
A majority of businesses came down heavily on the redesign of Columbus Avenue that includes a bike lane, said a study commissioned by a coalition of local politicians.

The results of the study showed that 72 percent of the 36 businesses surveyed between 96th and 77th Sts. were not in favor of the new design whose central element includes bike lanes, primarily because of the reduction in motorist parking.  The study was commissioned by a coalition which includes the Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Councilwoman Gale Brewer, Community Board 7 and several others.

In addition to a protected bicycle lane, the new design included a floating parking lane, pedestrian refuges and a buffer zone.

No mention was made of the lack of bike parking in the survey, which is slim to none, and could help explain why so many people depend on their cars for independent transit.  Although BBB has not yet obtained a copy of the survey, there is a good chance it did not include a question about whether store owners thought more people would bike instead of drive if the perception was they could do so safely, as well as park their bike securely in front of the store of their choice to make purchases.

In an indication that it will take more effort than humanly possible to bring New York firmly into a sustainable 21st Century, more than 85% of the store owners complained about reduced space for parking and loading,  increased parking tickets received by vendors and customers, and increases in traffic and congestion.

Ironically, shopping on a bike is a no brainer, if only there were more bike lanes which were deemed safe by riders, if there were more secure bike parking along shopping corridors, and if more bikes were safely equipped for carrying cargo, such as groceries and shopping bags--these facts according to many New Yorkers and potential customers in informal survey of cyclists by BBB.

Others in the coalition called the Columbus Avenue Working Group's (CAWG) who coordinated to develop and deliver the survey include State Senator Tom Duane, Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, and Upper West Side Streets Renaissance.

The development follows close on the heels of heavy criticism of the bike lane along the west side of Prospect Park in Brooklyn by politicians, despite positive feedback for the lane from a majority of local  residents. Former city Department of Transportation Commissioner Iris Weinshall was among those who criticized the bike lane, while the city's current DOT management has reported that accidents have declined since the lane was put in.

Car crashes along Prospect Park West have fallen 16% since the lane went in last summer - and crashes that cause injuries are down 63%,  reported the NY Daily News. From last July to December, there were 25 crashes, down from an average of 29.7 every six months before that. Only two of the crashes involved injuries.

Councilwoman Brewer who has proven in the past to be a progressive voice in the city said the survey was an attempt to work out some of the growing pains of bike lanes on Columbus Ave.,  but that she believes ultimately, "the bike lanes will be a lasting benefit to merchants, residents, and riders, and make the West Side a better place to live and work.”

A study of Columbus Avenue completed in 2007 which is available on the Columbus Ave. BID site, concluded that the area was not a "complete street" because it did not safely accommodate pedestrians, cyclists and children and functioned primarily for the right of way of motorists and trucks.

When Community Board 7 voted last June in favor of the DOT's plan for a redesign, local resident and actor Matthew Modine of "Full Metal Jacket," was reported to have spoken in favor of the bike lanes.

Said Mel Wymore, Chair of Community Board 7, "Our challenge is to include all stakeholders in developing and implementing designs that work for everyone."