Sunday, July 24, 2016

A way among the tube socks

I am not a Bicycle Advocate, and I don't believe that Bikeshare is Transit. But I'm now convinced that the combination of bike share and protected bike lanes has improved mobility for a lot of people. It has worked for me when I've traveled to DC and London, and at home here in New York. The cost has been relatively low, whether measured in terms of dollars, square feet of public space, or advocacy hours.

In my experience, bikeshare is not effective for getting people out of cars and taxis and decongesting our subways and sidewalks without that network of protected lanes and quiet side streets. I am a cautious rider, and I avoid streets where it feels like drivers have too much power or speed. Rather than fear for my life I will just walk or take the subway.

A few months ago I was on Irving Place and wanted to go to Soho. I figured I'd ride the relatively quiet Eighteenth Street to the Second Avenue protected bike lane. But when I got to Third Avenue I found my way blocked by a street fair.

I turned south for a few blocks on Third Avenue. I hate riding on big avenues without a bike lane; the drivers are either speeding or frustrated or both. It was also difficult to remember which streets went which way, but I think I avoided the pattern at Stuyvesant Square that sends you back west on Fifteenth Street, and headed east on Twelfth.

I was looking forward to getting onto Second Avenue. But when I got there I found the avenue completely filled by another street fair. These were not genuine community festivals, but the generic fairs that have become the norm here in New York City. My way was blocked by tube socks and mozzarepas. There wasn't even room on the sidewalk to walk my Citibike.

I doubled back and rode down Third Avenue again. I checked again a few blocks later and I was past the fair, but that was just luck; I didn't know until I'd gone all the way down the block.

For bikeshare to serve as a true transportation option, we don't just need a bike route network , but a reliable one. If any part of it is unavailable, the whole network is compromised, and people will be less likely to rely on it.

Of course it's not just bikes; the car network is disrupted. But drivers have lots of alternate routes: a driver whose way is blocked on Second Avenue would not be terribly inconvenienced by driving on Third. But for me, with Second Avenue blocked the nearest protected southbound avenue is Ninth Avenue/Hudson Street/Bleecker Street, meaning I would have to bike clear across the island and back.

This is also an issue for pedestrians. Walking a long city block out of the way is not always practical, leaving those of us trying to get somewhere mixing with the zeppole eaters.

As many have said, we need to reform these street fairs. We also need to convert more car lanes to bike lanes on the avenues. But in addition, we need to preserve some bike access through street fairs. If they can have fairs on sixty foot cross streets like Eighteenth, they can leave twelve feet of space on a 75-foot avenue like Second.

At a minimum, we should have some notification system for when the bike lane network is disrupted, whether by street fairs, construction or something else. A tweet on the Citibike feed would help.