Saturday, October 20, 2007

Will Bicycling to Work Get You Killed?

A mildly interesting discussion in the comments on the NYT Freakonomics blog.

I like the statistical point that it makes more sense to compare trip to trip and not mile to mile, since people who bike likely have shorter commutes. I also like the point that it would save more lives if people wore helmets on ladders instead of helmets on bikes.

Will biking kill you? The short answer is maybe. But if you live, you'll probably be very healthy and live longer.

Monday, October 08, 2007

My Bike NYC Master Plan

Instead of just complaining, I thought I'd actually be constructive and show what we want (that's the royal we, of course).

[Before you go on, take a quick and wild guess as to how many north/south traffic lanes there are spanning the width of Manhattan at 57th St.]

As it stands now, every time I bike, I am never in a bike lane. Not even the paint on street kind. There just aren't any coming from Astoria and going anywhere in the city. There's just not there. Screw the city's master bike plan. It won't happen and even if it did, it's not that good. Lines of paint don't cut it.

I don't need miles and miles of disconnected bike lanes. I want a few good lanes: separated from parked and moving cars, free of pedestrians (the dirty secret of good bike lanes is that as soon as you make them good, people start walking their dogs in the bike lane, making it a bad bike lane).

Here's what I want. I added all the orange lines to the map. Those are my two-way dedicated bike lanes. Each one would replace one lane of traffic. Notice it's not much.

On north/south streets in Midtown, there are 109 lanes for cars! Wow. I counted them (thanks to Google Earth). I had no idea. That's a lot of pavement, about the width of 7 football fields smooshed together. And they say there's no space! Bullshit. Two lanes for bikes is nothing. If it weren't so much work, I'd draw a third lane on my map just on moral principle.

I don't need a bike lane door-to-door. But I do need a bike lane for the bulk of my ride, the part though high-traffic areas. For the short parts, I can manage on each end. For bikes to be the answer, people have to be able to commute on a dedicated bike lane for most of their journey.

Here's the beauty of my plan: it's easy. It doesn't take much. In Manhattan, basically two north and south bike lanes and a couple of cross-town lanes. You don't *need* a bike lane every block. It would be nice, but I'll settle for never being more than a mile from one. Then you can get where you're going. That's the key.

Here's what's important:
1) They've got to be two-ways. Because that's what bikes need. And that's what delivery bikes do (why don't more people care about the safety of all the Mexican and Chinese bikers who bring you dinner?). It takes up less space to make one two-way lane than two one-way lanes. And going a long avenue out of the way is too much to ask a bike going a few blocks.

2) Bridge access is the most important thing for getting into Manhattan. You need to cross the East River safely and legally (and in style). How is a novice biker supposed to exit the Queensboro Bridge in Manhattan and do something planners apparently never though of, head south? It can't be done legally and safely.

Ironically, heading South can be done somewhat safely but illegally, as most bikes do, by going the wrong way under the bridge on 1st Ave and then going west to Second Ave. Avoid the secret car entrance and heading briefly into traffic (usually there's very little). Here again there already is space for a bike lane, if only they could find somewhere to store those Jersey Barriers blocking the way.

Legally, you have to bike too many blocks out of the way and then risk your life and slow down traffic by biking through the main car entrance to the bridge. Crazy. Even by car-planning standards.

3) Allow bikes to actually commute through Central Park. Not just bike around the loop, like bikes and cars do. But bike both ways, like people want to bike. I bike by Central Park every time I go to work and I don't ride through the park. I can't. This fact shocks even jaded non-biking New Yorkers every time I tell them.

You're only allowed to bike through the park clockwise. To go west, I have to go up to 72nd St., so of course I don't. To go east, there's no bike entrance to enter the park from Columbus Circle. So I don't enter. And remember this park is one those "green" lines on the official map. Ha.

4) Access to the West Side path. It's a good path. But between pedestrians, cars, and bikes going very fast (like me), it's not ideally. Still, the problem is there's no good way to get to and from the path, especially down the Village where I'm usually going if I'm on it.

Last but not least, can we stop bike maps from printing any lines where there is actually nothing to help bicyclists? The official NYC bike map has lots of dotted red lines, implying you should bike there routes. You shouldn’t. The map “borrowed” and photoshopped above has red lines around the U.N., giving the illusion that there’s some reason to actually bike on this route, like a bike lane. There isn’t. I understand that it’s nice to pretend the route is complete. But it’s not. That’s the point.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

How New Yorkers Ride Bikes

We went to see David Byrne talk about bikes. At Town Hall and part of the New Yorker Festival.

It was nice. Certainly a preaching-to-the-choir kind of event. But I enjoyed it.

What I liked:
That 1,200 people would pay $25 to see David Byrne talk about bikes.

Jan Gehl's spiel about biking in Copenhagen. The moral often seemed to be focused on the ability to look at cute girls while riding. Right on. But more practically, he highlighted the idea of what a city could become if only we had the will.

Jonathan Wood's deadpan commentary on pictures of bad bike-path design. See the Cycle Facility of the Month.

Seeing Calvin Trillin read about biking in NYC. I always like putting a face to a byline.

Fuseproject's bike helmets designed for bikers who don't like bike helmets but like hats. Basically it's a simple helmet that you can put a variety of hats on. It looks great. I'm so ready to buy... if only they were for sale.

Things I learned:
In Copenhagen, they paint a small little median in the middle of roads so it's easier for people to cross streets wherever they want. Brilliant. Why didn't I think of that?

In Copenhagen, they time lights for bikes going 20 km/hour, about 12.5 mph. So simple... time lights for bikes. It had never crossed my mind.

That they actually planned on a bunch of people riding their bikes to a bike event. TA provided valet bike parking. I declined. Because I like parking my bike on the street. Plus street parking is a lot faster when getting your bike back.

David Byrne sure is an awkward public speaker for a performer. It was charming and endearing to see him fiddle with his reading glasses to remember the lyrics of a song, song with a large choir of 70- and 80-year-old people (though perhaps David could have learned his lines better).

What I wanted:
Answers. To the nice man from the DOT: I believe that you like bikes and mean well. But I want to know who the bad guy is? Where is the obstruction? What are we up against? Why can't things get done? Why are bridge access lanes Jersey-barriered off at the same time the DOT says there's not enough room for bikes?