Guest posting by John Schubert: New York, City of Confrontation

Responding to an article in the New York Times, a correspondent asked John Schubert

Why isn’t NYC concerned about being sued because of lousy bike-lane-
design-caused wrecks?

and he replied:

Good question. I think it’s important to know the answer from NYC’s point of view. I’m not their spokesman, but I’ll try.

First of all, they get sued no matter what they do. It’s a city of confrontation.

Second, NYC knows it will always have collisions, injuries and deaths. They would not view any one street design as a perfect protection against these problems, nor against litigation.

Third, they are SO bombarded with aggressive drivers, nonmotorized road users wanting some sort of relief from aggressive drivers, and the usual paint and path propaganda, that they buy into the idea that separation is necessary in NYC, even if not elsewhere, because NYC is unique.

I believe NYC does have a civility problem. Separated bicycle facilities don’t solve that problem, but in the minds of true believers, at least they avoid that problem. I think you can’t have a livable community without addressing THAT problem.

NYC does have other unique concerns. I suspect the biggest is the huge volume of midblock car stops, more than anywhere else, mostly because of taxis getting and discharging passengers. I think the designs they use to answer this are silly, but the ‘vehicular cyclist’ alternative hasn’t been made appealing to them. Yet.

7 Responses to Guest posting by John Schubert: New York, City of Confrontation

  1. I think the first three paragraphs capture the essence, though I personally believe they buy into the separation thing because they’re politically astute and pandering gets votes.

  2. I’ve heard lawyers say that it’s difficult to sue a community over a road design unless you can show that they were explicitly warned about a specific design and installed it anyway. That’s on a case-by-case basis, and I’m sure they don’t get such warnings about most anything they install (probably usually the opposite, they get encouragement from most advocates), so I think that’s also part of why they’re not too worried.

    Re: NYC being unique, I just got told that by a NYC friend in a recent FB thread about that Brooklyn lane that residents are protesting. I was trying to make the point that bike lanes are not really necessary, but eventually he played the “you don’t live here; they really are necessary here” card.

  3. I see so many cases in which the best solution is ignored because it’s deemed “impossible.” The solution for NYC — well, at least for Manhattan — is to sequence the traffic signals for 15 to 20 mph instead of 30 mph. All those one-way streets makes it relatively simple. Portland, OR sets theirs at 18 mph, and it makes their downtown very bikeable (but then they’re mucking that up with segregated facilities).

    Slowing the signal progression would also result in fewer cyclists running red lights. When I rode in New York, I found it hard to go more than two or three blocks without a red light.

    And of course the slower speeds would improve pedestrian safety.

    But reducing motorist speed is almost universally avoided. It’s the cardinal sin of traffic engineering.

    For me it keeps coming back to the Tyranny of Speed.

  4. But what is the actual speed of traffic in NYC? I’d be very surprised if it is 30 mph very often, given the congestion there. I used to have to drive there once in a while when I lived on Long Island and it was like swimming in molasses.

  5. Pingback: John S. Allen's Bicycle Blog » Green Wave, Checkered Flag

  6. Khalil’s and Mighk’s comments inspired me to write more about green waves than would comfortably fit in a comment here, and so I have put it in a new post.

  7. Greater maximum speeds often come with lesser average speeds because of the moving bottleneck phenomenon. You can often reduce congestion and increase throughput on busy roads if you reduce the maximum speed. But, as you say, Mighk, that would violate the taboo.

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