Wednesday, October 11, 2006

On why bikers don't obey the law, part I: the Queensboro Bridge

It always pisses me off when people complain about bikes running red lights and not obeying traffic laws. Traffic laws are there for cars. Cars kill people. Not bikes. We wouldn’t need red lights if it weren’t for cars.

Running a red light on a bike is akin to jaywalking: nominally illegal but something we should all do because it’s smart, right, and prevents a fascist obedience to authority from developing. (But I also firmly believe that bikes should not ride quickly on sidewalks and always respect pedestrians in crosswalks if they have the walk sign).

Anyway, leaving aside my moral argument, bikes also don’t obey the law because we can’t. Sometimes obeying the law is dangerous. Sometimes it’s just plain bizarre. Let’s say I’m going from my place to Central Park (4 miles away) and back.

First you get to the Queensboro Bridge Bike Path. A nice green line on the bike map representing the best New York City has to offer bikes: a dedicated bike lane separated from traffic. Great. And it is pretty good. But not if you follow the law because you couldn’t bike on the damn thing. And once you get used to ignoring the no-bike signs on bike paths, well, you start to take all rules and regulations with a grain of salt.

The entrance is a bit of a traffic mess, but not too bad. There’s actually a sign indicating you’ve found the bike/pedestrian path. It might be nice for tourists to say, “To Manhattan” or something. But I’ll let it slide.

The first signs of trouble is the bridge closed at night sign.
I can’t figure out if these closing are over. I think they are, but I’m not sure. Anyway, I try to get back before 10PM because the bus shuttle is impressive to have, but still sucks.

And notice the first of the “dismount” signs. On the bike path. Look, bicyclists simply aren’t going to dismount. It goes against everything bikes are. And asking bikes to dismount just makes biking wrong. Besides, the bridge is a-mile-and-a-half long. I ain’t walking, damnit. Why not ask something reasonable, like slow down? I’ll slow down to be considerate to workers.

On the Manhattan side another sign saying bikes must dismount and walk bikes. Uh, why? Of course, nobody does.

The damn closed gate. This gate makes bike (and pedestrians) go a block out of the way to get on and off the path when this is the ideal exit. It’s something to do with traffic flow from the bridge, but the traffic just hits a light either way it goes. Something could clearly be worked out here. And when the gate was open for weeks, traffic flowed just fine.

Then you get more generic warning signs (that could be avoided if the gate was open).

Woh! Truck crossing?! Looks serious, but it’s not.

Finally you get to Central Park (S.E. corner) and your welcomed with a sign saying “do not enter,” “authorized vehicles ONLY,” and “entrance closed.” But this in the entrance you’re supposed to enter. You see, all this refers to cars, not the people and bikes that actually use the entrance. How about a sign saying “Welcome to Central Park. Come on in. Open! (closed to vehicle traffic).” Just an idea.

So you bike around the park, next to cars, and return to Queens. Here’s the Manhattan side of the bridge bike path. Does this look like a welcome path?

The sidewalk isn’t closed. It’s open. And it goes to Queens! It’s like they’re trying to keep it a secret. And because the gate above is closed, the path starts in the middle of a crosswalk, just begging for bike/pedestrian problems and red-light green-light confusion (because coming off the bridge bikes have to go North, but there’s traffic coming from behind, and oh well, trust me).

Going down into Long Island City, you hit the Walk Bike signs again. This one is pleasantly covered with graffiti.

Dismount 100ft ahead! Blocked by construction. But then we’re already supposed to be dismounted for construction.

More reminders, just in case you were thinking of biking. Again, one word: why? It’s a friggin’ bike path!

And another:

And finally, a double whammy of stop and dismount signs. And then the gate blocks off an unused lane that could be a bike path. Instead we all bike the wrong way down a one-way street. The space is there for a bike lane. The lane is even there. And yet, they make us criminal.

So what’s my point? Not that you shouldn’t bike in the city. I love biking in the city. But it is frustrating (but then so is driving. So is the subway. Biking is better). It would take so little for things to be so much better.

On this “Class One” bike path, there is a sign saying “closed” and then at least nine signs telling you not to bike on the bike path. And this is a major bridge we’re talking about. Everybody from Queens has to cross it to get into Manhattan (well, you could go over the Triborough, but check out this latest report of the crack addicts on that bike path). Making the bridge bike friendly—and what you do before and after the bridge—would be the easiest way to make biking more friendly.

[see all posts about why bikes shouldn't obey the law]


Zora said...

I think the 'dismount' signs at the end of the bridge were put up because a bicyclist _did_ kill a kid coming off the Brooklyn Bridge a while ago.

But I can't find the cite because everything in Google of course references bicyclists getting killed. (AND the drivers of the cars never even getting charged!) Ugh.

I think bicyclists should at least _stop_ at red lights before proceeding. Pedestrians are jumpy, and you never know what cars are going to do.

That said, I did get flagged over (but not ticketed) by a cop for not stopping at a red light once. On a Sunday morning, in the Flatiron District--zero traffic for blocks and blocks. I think the guy just wanted someone to talk to.

Fotaq said...

I'll walk my bike as soon as I see signs on Queens Blvd (aka: "The Boulevard of Death") telling motorists to push their cars.

Would it be so crazy to actually give bikes the right-of-way somewhere, like on a bike path.

Nick said...

regarding night closure of the bridge - it's spotty. I was held up a few times earlier in the summer, because of construction. It's been fine this week, both Friday night and Saturday night (the 13th and 14th) the bridge was clear well after midnight.

Biking in New York has made me very distrustful of bike cops (since their primary job is ticketing bikers). I got a frivolous ticket on one of those days where they're on a mission to ticket bikers. Now, when I see bike cops, I just dismount and wait until they're gone.

I'm yet to find a single place in this city where the rights of a biker come before those of a car. Even the west side bike path is permeated with intersections where we have to wait for traffic. If an old man can be killed by an NYPD tow truck while riding on the bike path, then it's not a very good bike path. Let's hope the upcoming plans for adding bike paths will change some things for the better.

Fotaq said...

There's a sign now on the bridge given a date for a future closing. But I forget what it is. Maybe November 16-17? I'll assume that it will be open until then.

Jamie said...

A woman on a bike who didn't stop for a red light almost hit me and my dog while we were crossing the street. We had a walk sign. There was no option for us but to literally jump out of the way because she was going so fast. Bikes that don't obey the traffic laws do pose a serious danger to pedestrians!

PCM said...

No, Jamie. Assholes who don't yield to pedestrians with the right of way pose a serious danger to pedestrians.

Traffic lights are there for motorized vehicles that weigh thousands of pounds and kill pedestrians and bikes.

I must have run more than a dozen red lights today. I also biked the wrong way down a one-way street twice. I scared no pedestrians. I posed no more to risk to myself or anybody than had I been a pedestrian doing the same thing. And I did stop for a school bus with flashing red lights.

What's more, like it or not, I'm not going to stop running red lights. Nor am I going to stop walking against don't walk sign. Condemn me if you want. But them's the facts.

So now, that I've got that out the way, what are we going to do about it? Here's my logic:

The problem isn't bikes running red lights. The problem is bikes going too fast in front of pedestrians crossing with the light. The bike could also have the light, by the way.

What does yield to pedestrians mean? Can I cross the same crosswalk that a pedestrian is in? Of course. But should I zoom right in front of a pedestrian even if there's no contact. No. That makes you an asshole.

In too many bikers' minds, the comfort zone of pedestrians gets no consideration. That's not ride.

Bicyclists need to realize that pedestrians want and deserve more distance than is absolutely necessary for physical safety. It might be safe to zoom one foot in front of a walking person. But it's rude.

We should encourage bicyclists to not be rude. And to not cross right in front of pedestrians no matter what. Right is right. Running red lights has nothing to do with it.

And I just have to mention that pedestrians who run red lights pose serious danger to bicyclists and themselves. But I don't want to start a non-jaywalking campaign. I just want pedestrians to not walk in front of me when I have the green light.

kendawolfman said...

I love riding as much as the next guy, but MY safety comes first. A bicycle is a vehicle and therefore MUST obey the same rules as a car. I have almost hit people on bikes while driving my car because they cannot obey simple laws that were put there to protect them. A bike going through a red light might get hit by a motorized vehicle coming through the green light (which has the right of way). It may just be my opinion, but a law is a law, and if it saves my life, then it is worth it.

Jon said...

amen yo. I ride everywhere in Seattle... run red lights/ stop signs/ everything -- we think alike -- there is no point in following the law for cars. I may be young and cocky but feel I have good skills. I may push it, but always within reason. My favorite activity: finding that very small gapped-pathway among a super busy crosswalk - scares the shit out of people! ZOOM!

PCM said...

Boy, Jon, I was with you right till the end.

If you want to scare people for no reason, then you're an asshole. Why are you different than a car trying to almost hit a bike? You know, just for shits and giggles.

Anonymous said...

@PCM it doesn't matter if its more convenient for you as long as you aren't an "asshole" about it. Theres no such thing as asshole laws so in order to create a safer environment for everybody, from motorists to bikers to pedestrians we must enforce traffic laws on bikers. I live in Austin, TX and i couldnt tell you how many times ive come inches from hitting a biker because he felt he was above the law and ran a stop sign. You forget that motorists have less visibility and when you are approaching an intersection with a car about to pull out that you can't see is incredibly dangerous when you want to save yourself 10 seconds and run the stop sign. I also have almost been hit numerous times by bikers while walking on campus, the laws are in place for a reason, because the majority of people ARE assholes.
I hope you learn your lesson one day, I do not wish harm upon you but i am afraid your wreckless behavior will get the best of you eventually. And dont try to argue that disobeying traffic laws isnt wreckless behavior because that logic is horribly flawed.