NYC cycle tracks
Having moved back to NYC within the last 5 years, I've been rediscovering it on my bicycle and with that I'm also learning about all the changes the last couple of administrations and traffic people have made in terms of bicycle infrastructure. And there are a lot of changes, bike lanes being most prominent. For the most part, it seems great. They are laid out in places they are most needed. They are not perfect, but on the whole it looks line an improvement. One thing did strike me as being either a wash in terms of safety or maybe even a detriment and that's cycle tracks laid out along the major avenues that carry loads of auto, bicycle, and pedestrian traffic along the island of Manhattan.
When I first saw them, walking by, they looked like a really clever idea. I'd never seen or heard of cycle tracks before. Living and working in Brooklyn, I don't come across them on a regular basis. The first time I rode one though, I was kind of dismayed. I was riding up 1st ave and from Houston st to about 80th st, it was SKETCHY! The biggest problems seemed to be that having been separated from standard car flow, foot traffic was spilling over onto the bike lane. Zombie-like pedestrians were staggering out into your path without looking anywhere and everywhere. And I can't say it was all their fault. They were trying to hail cabs, getting in and out of cabs, standing waiting for a light. Delivery trucks were getting loaded and unloaded and the workers were carrying cargo across the bike lanes.
It took a while to figure out what to do at intersections, where car traffic wanted to turn and cross the bike lane. Special traffic light patterns and lane markings had been put in with the best of intentions, but if you're going fast on your bike, the cabbies are trying to make money, and the lights are green, all that city planning stuff was out the window. The best thing to do was to leave the bike lane on approach to such intersections and -- as predictably as possibly -- get on the other side of the turning car lane. Doing this led me to a peculiar conclusion. It seemed that I was having far less stress playing in traffic amongst the yellow sea of aggressive, but predictable cabs, than surviving in the total chaos of stray pedestrians and slow CitiBikes.
Of course, there's an obvious solution to it: slow down! And overall, that's what I resorted to doing. But I am also puzzled. Is the problem just a function of an exponential increase in bicycle traffic in the city or are the cycle tracks not quite working as intended, swapping one hazard for another one?
Having lived and ridden in NYC for decades before the bike lanes were installed, I feel they've made things worse (for experienced cyclists) rather than better. Riding at speed with traffic flow is impossible in the lanes, and every 2nd corner (crossing right and left pointing one way cross streets- for non-NYers) is now an adventure.
Since using the bike lane is mandatory on avenues that have them, the choices of safe routes are effectively halved.
I use them but go slower in them than I would under other conditions but I am not bothered by them. I've noticed pedestrians are becoming somewhat less intrusive though there are many that are almost intentionally obstructive and resentful of the presence of the lane.
Once I got used to them I found my average speed in them wasn't all that bad.
I like the bike lanes, especially the ones that are separated from traffic by parked cars and have their own bike light which turns green before the light for cars turns green. I've seen pedestrians actually look for bikes before crossing the bike lane.