Tagged: transportation

Behold! New Bicycle Lanes Are Coming to East Williamsburg

One of the most infuriating aspects of having moved from Greenpoint-Long Island City to East Williamsburg–Bushwick, other than the difficulty of transporting household paper products in bulk, is that the area is decidedly hostile to bicycling.

Technically Williamsburg, Culturally Maspeth

The area is very industrial so there are a lot of trucks and commercial vehicles. Those vehicles are commonly double parked in the “bicycling margin” part of the roadways, forcing a cyclist into the middle of the road where motor vehicles travel. From my own observations, commercial vehicles also seem more likely to speed and engage in dangerous driving behavior for two reasons: First, commercial drivers are in a hurry to do their jobs and make their delivery schedules. Second, they also appear less cautious than other drivers often because they are driving someone else’s vehicle. And, as we know, because trucks and similar commercial vehicles are so heavy, they pose a greater danger to cyclists, pedestrians and even cars than a passenger vehicle in otherwise similar collision.

But it’s not just the trucks and commercial vehicles that make cycling so harrowing. Even private passenger vehicles engage in this kind of behavior, possibly because they are mimicking the behavior of their commercial counterparts. These drivers speed on side streets; they roll through stop signs, even when there are pedestrians present and are crossing the intersection; they make unsafe turns, failing to yield to traffic with the right-of-way; and on two-way streets, they will often cross the double-yellow line and speed against the direction of traffic in order to pass one of those double-parked vehicles that I mentioned earlier.

Double Parked

It’s not much better on the one-way streets. These streets, such as Scholes St and Montrose Avenue, are very wide. Cars will frequently drive side-by-side as if it were a two-lane road, except that it’s not a two-lane road. Those roads are designed to carry only one lane of traffic.

Side-by-side traffic on the single lane on Meserole Avenue.

Every traffic engineer knows that road width determines driving behavior, especially speeding, and these wide roads encourage some very dangerous driving behavior. Cars constantly race each other, as one tries to pass a slower vehicle to get ahead of it before the road narrows back to only accommodate one lane of cars. Every single time I bike along this corridor, I hear a car zooming past me with the sound of an engine in full throttle. When the car does overtake me and the other slower vehicle, it will pass me with as little as a foot of clearance. What’s even more infuriating is to see that almost every time a car does this, it will reach a red light and have to stop anyway. I usually arrive at that same red light a few seconds later. Congratulations, asshole. All that dangerous behavior resulted in no decrease in travel time.

And if all this wasn’t bad enough, the road conditions in this area are atrocious for cars and bicycles alike. Potholes, debris, and even deteriorated railroad tracks plague users of these roadways.

Cyclists especially feel all of these pain points on the east-west streets that funnel traffic between the Williamsburg Bridge and East Williamsburg–Bushwick, specifically the corridor along Scholes and Meserole Streets.

Bike Lanes and Road Diet

Scholes-Meserole Streets Corridor

Earlier this year, the NYC Department of Transportation planned a redesign of this corridor in anticipation of the looming L train shutdown in 2019. The DOT reasons that based on prior subway shutdowns, such as those after Hurricane Sandy and during the 2005 Transit Strike, the number of commuters crossing the East River by bicycle exploded as much as three-fold after Sandy and four-fold during the transit strike.1 The DOT is anticipating an increase in the number of cyclists in light of the L train shutdown and the the needs of commuters in neighborhoods between Bedford Ave and Myrtle-Wycoff stations on the L train route, specifically Williamsburg, Bushwick, and Ridgewood.

On Wednesday night, I began to see the new bicycle lanes on the aforementioned corridor along Scholes and Meserole Streets take shape. I am thrilled to see that this is coming to my neighborhood!

Fullsizeoutput 1029a

I can already imagine the reaction of area drivers who will claim that the narrower roadways will increase travel times. But this is simply not true. These lanes were only designed to carry one lane of traffic in each direction, and drivers will finally have to use them as they were designed. Just because some drivers once used the roadway to pass another vehicle—and now they can’t—didn’t help anyway. As I mentioned earlier, cars would race and pass each other only to arrive at the same red light within seconds of each other.

However, the efficacy of a bicycle lane and putting a roadway on a diet is only as good as the police enforcement. Although the new bicycle lane is not yet official, over the last two days, I already saw the most common problem plaguing bicycle lanes: cars using a bike lane as an automobile parking lane.

The DOT went through all this trouble to add a bicycle lane to improve traffic flow and increase safety, and all it takes is a few drivers to clog it up and force cyclists into the vehicle travel lanes, which then angers drivers who now must slow down for the bicycles that have to go around the parked cars.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

  1. Anecdotally, the lower increase in bicycle commuters after Sandy compared to the increase during the transit strike is because a lot of people had the week off work as many businesses in Manhattan couldn’t open. 

If Two Unnamed Cops Say Traffic is Bad Because of a Conspiracy, Then It Must Be True, Right?

Earlier this week, The New York Post published a front-page propaganda piece about the reason why vehicular traffic in Manhattan has been getting worse. The story claims that it’s a conspiracy, between two different mayoral administrations, to “shift as many drivers as possible to public transit or bicycles.” Talk about blatant lies.

Of course, the story quotes two unnamed sources within the NYPD to base this conspiracy, and you should be really suspicious about the story. First, the whole story relies on anonymous sources. Who are these guys? Traffic beat cops? Second, these sources don’t point to any directive or mandate from one of their superiors or from the mayor’s office. They just know…like in their gut. Or maybe they overheard something at a station house. We don’t know because they don’t say.

Not only that, the article lets one of the sources claim that traffic is being engineered for partisan reasons to “blame congestion on President-elect Donald Trump, whose Trump Tower in Midtown is now ringed with security.”

But again, how do they know this? Do they have a proverbial “smoking gun” for a partisan plot to cause a massive traffic jam?

Clearly, the whole traffic-engineering conspiracy theory is partisan propaganda: to support the flooding of Manhattan streets with automobiles and reverse just about every traffic calming measure the city has undertaken to make the streets safer for pedestrians and bicyclists—and other automobiles, too.

Since what this story propagates is bullshit, what is the real reason for traffic? According to De Blasio spokesperson, Austin Finan, who was the only official source to go on the record, the increased traffic is a healthy sign of “economic growth, record tourism, construction activity and a growing population.” The streets, he continues, “are overburdened like never before.”

But since The New York Post is listening to crackpot theories, here is my list of reasons behind the insane gridlock on Manhattan streets:

  1. Deliveries: It’s the Christmas season, and there are an insane number of delivery trucks circling the streets to drop off your Amazon purchases. That’s a lot of additional traffic. And in Manhattan, it’s not like they can pull up to a parking lot. They usually have to double park.
  2. Double parking: I don’t understand how on-street parking is legal in Manhattan. When all those spots are taken, others resort to double parking to pick up and drop off passengers or goods.
  3. Dignitaries: And, even if Trump wasn’t President-elect, Manhattan streets were already crowded with all kinds of VIPs who drive and park as if they’re above the law. These dignitaries take up bike and car-traffic lanes to park their vehicles.

Those who complain about traffic forget that the purpose of streets is not to maximize the number of cars it can carry, but to transport a maximum number of people and goods.

One thing that certainly won’t ease traffic is to undo the pedestrian plazas and bike lanes to add more traffic lanes.

For example, Los Angeles learned this lesson after spending five years and $1.6 billion on expanding the perpetually congested Sepulveda Pass on Interstate 405. Adding 15% more automobile capacity on that stretch of freeway didn’t reduce commute times. They actually increased, on average, by a minute. How is that possible?

According to Juan Matute, who is the Associate Director of UCLA’s Institute for Transportation Studies and also spoke on the record, “increases in traffic generally correlate to economic activity. When construction on the Sepulveda Pass began in 2009, the country was in the midst of an economic recession. As the recovery progressed, more people began traveling for work or to go shopping or out to dinner.”

“Moving more people,” he says, “is a social benefit in and of itself.”

It’s not a conspiracy. It’s the economy, stupid…

He Would Have Gotten My Vote

Earlier today, Larry Harnisch posted some clippings from the Los Angeles Times published sixty years ago today. As a transportation wonk, the headline “L.A. Welcomes Harbor Freeway Extension With Four-Block Traffic Jam” caught my eye as it succinctly summarizes the cycle of freeway expansion–congestion–more expansion—more congestion.

Accompanying that article, however, is a brief wire report of an assemblyman, Charles Chapel, questioning the wisdom of using money for freeway construction.[1]

Chapel on Freeways 1953

Chapel says, “Freeways, instead of solving our problem, are contributing to it.” He even advocates for mass transit options, “I don’t care what kind– elevated or surface or subway or what.” As cities, including Los Angeles, consider multimodal transportation solutions, his views seem prescient today.

  1. “Assemblyman Chapel Asks for Freeway Probe.” Los Angeles Times. August 8, 1953: 1.  ↩