As long as you have cars on a street, people are going to need to load and unload them. This is a pretty basic fact, but you'd be surprised to know how often it's ignored. The most recent example is in the redesign of Grand Street in Soho that was implemented this fall.
In the past there weren't as many cars, so the city could simply provide one big pool of curbside parking and there was enough for long-term parking, short-term parking and loading. Over the past fifty years more people have acquired cars, and long-term storage has crowded out loading.
Of course, the need to load and unload has never gone away. People have developed ad hoc workarounds, but they just pass the problem on to someone else. Parking on the sidewalk takes space from pedestrians and puts lives in danger. Parking in bike lanes too. Enough said about those.
The other fix, double-parking, is not much better. When it blocks an entire travel lane it causes congestion and inspires horn-honking, one of the chief complaints about the new Grand Street design.
Before the bike lane was added to Grand Street, there was a single travel lane that was wide enough for drivers to double-park and for other drivers to pass them. From a motorist's point of view this may sound ideal, but it's bad for pedestrians and cyclists. The street alternated unpredictably between stretches where a car could comfortably pass a cyclist (or vice versa) and stretches where a the safest action was for the cyclist to ride in the middle of the remaining pavement, preventing unsafe passing but potentially provoking reckless actions from impatient drivers.
The other main problem was that it was simply a waste of space. At a given time there may be two or three cars unloading on a single block, but an entire lane-width was sacrificed for this 24/7.
The current design is a big improvement: it takes that lane-width and allocates it to bikes, making east-west travel much easier. Most notably, the innovative layout uses parked cars to prevent drivers from blocking the bike lane. It even addresses the issue of loading space during business hours, but for some reason not on weekends, which is what some residents are complaining about. It simply needs to be adjusted so that there is room for loading on weekends. Future street design changes should similarly leave space for loading and unloading.
A thought came to me when I was writing this: in many bike lane installations like this, there is often opposition from "community leaders," who usually happen to be motorists. The DOT regularly assures motorists that no parking spaces will be sacrificed for the bike lane. In this case, they were not being truthful; it's not clear whether they anticipated the conflict over loading, but from now on they really have no excuse.
It's not fair - or necessarily even effective - to put in the bike lane and leave the bike activists to fight with residents over loading zones. It runs the risk of provoking a backlash that could convince skittish politicians to abandon the bike lane. From now on the DOT and bike lane proponents should be up-front about the need for loading zones pretty much around the clock.