Stay In Your Lane

Stay In Your Lane

On Monday I shared my latest Outside column, about blocked bike lanes:

The next day, a delivery worker was killed in a collision with a truck:

Which was not parked in the bike lane:

The Streetsblog editorial approach is to assign blame, whether implicitly or explicitly. I’m not interested in doing that here. Someone has died in the course of doing his job, and that’s a terrible thing.

However, in the context of bike lanes and trucks and deliveries and who should be doing what, it’s a poignant example of how reality defies the ostensibly easy solutions we’re inclined to put forth. I’ve often heard resentful cyclists say that instead of blocking the bike lane, driver sshould block the motor vehicle lane. That appears to be happening here, and look at the result.

This is also an example of how changes in the way we live our lives outpaces the changes we make to the cityscape. Since that bike lane was installed, at least two things happened: delivery people increasingly adopted e-bikes, e-scooters, and other small motorized vehicles; and the demand for residential delivery exploded. This street, reconfigured relatively recently, doesn’t really accommodate either of those things well. The advocate response to this would probably be, “Well, we need to eliminate all the street parking, then. Replace it with residential delivery zones and create a motorbike lane.” I find myself inclined to agree with that on a knee-jerk level, though I also find myself questioning the notion that we can dispense with private cars, even in Manhattan. However, advocates tend to dismiss and ridicule any justification for driving as selfish and indulgent. For example, if you point out that you may wish to utilize a private vehicle to get to a medical appointment in Manhattan, you will be universally derided by the Smugerati and your claim dismissed as spurious:

Wow. Look at all these people driving home from their doctor’s appointments. pic.twitter.com/aNDVTTAIXa

— Doug Gordon (@BrooklynSpoke) December 15, 2017

Though as someone who does occasionally need to take an older person to medical appointments in Manhattan, I can assure them it is really a thing. Certainly reducing motor vehicle traffic in the city makes it easier for those of us who “have” to drive ourselves, which is one of the reasons I’m generally inclined to support measures designed to do it, but I also find the idea that you can validate other people’s transportation choices from behind a keyboard or a desk at a municipal agency to be naive and maybe even a little insidious.

As much as I embrace the city’s enhancement of the bike infrastructure, it’s hard not to find it almost comically idealistic at times. Consider this new bike lane, on Edward L. Grant Highway in the Bronx:

I realize you can’t tell what’s going on here, because I suck at taking pictures and I’m shooting straight into the sun. In any case, on the left is a dedicated bus lane, and on the right is a protected bike lane.

I can’t tell you if the bus lane is working, because I’ve never taken this particular bus. However, the bike lane is totally unusable, in part because it passes right by auto repair shops and the like who invariably block it. In fact, all the cars you see up ahead are there for the auto repair shop, because–surprise!–auto repair shops attract automobiles.

Had there always been a bike lane here, and then someone opened up an auto repair shop and proceeded to chronically block the bike lane, I’d be upset. However, the opposite is true, and they put a bike lane in a place where it was guaranteed to become obstructed. It’s likely the same people who say we need to eliminate parking to make room for delivery trucks would say auto repair shops and gas stations and car dealerships don’t belong in cities and we should get rid of them too. Is a street full of cafes and shops selling artisanal soaps more pleasant than a street full of guys fixing flats and replacing broken windshields? Absolutely. However, it’s the pinnacle of arrogance to say the people who earn their livelihoods doing the latter should just up and move, or that the people who make a living driving people around the city need to get their cars fixed outside of the city. (Though it’s probably inevitable, since the city is already rezoning these places out of existence.)

As someone who rides this particular stretch of road fairly often, I’m someone who would clearly benefit from the lane–and yet I’m not, and I wonder if they ever should have installed it. In recent years I’ve increasingly felt that, if anything, the city should be putting the brunt of its transportation muscle behind the bus system. With bikes as transport, you’re often trying to win over new riders by building new facilities so they feel it’s safe and viable. But with the bus, the riders are already there–in fact part of the problem is the buses are sometimes so crowded you can’t get on them. Yet at the same time they can be so freaking ponderous that you can’t blame anyone who can afford it for saying, “Fuck it, I’m leasing a Hyundai.” Increase the speed and capacity of the bus and maybe fewer people would need to drive–which benefits the cyclists, and everybody winds.

Or maybe not. I’m a bike blogger, not a city planner. I don’t design the shit, I just ride around and complain about it.

Anyway, as I mentioned the other day, I was recently displaced due to work in my home–which I’m emphatically not complaining about when people with actual problems have been displaced by tornadoes. I only mention it because we had to beat a hasty retreat, and since I brought like three articles of clothes with me I did most of my riding on my A. Homer Hilsen (which, coincidentally, happens to be in stock at the moment over at Old Man Petersen’s House Of Lugs And Twine):

See, when I’ve got access to my entire wardrobe I’m liable to go full Fred one day and then go jorts the next. But when I’ve got one pair of jeans and a few sweaters this is the obvious and pretty much only choice, and I didn’t find myself wanting for anything. Oh, and speaking of the jeans, I’ve been wearing those new jeans from Vulpine for like the past month (riding included) and I think they’re great:

Yes, they’re a little pricey, but they’ve been extremely comfortable, and I’m sure there’s a market out there for them:

Sorry, that’s how people used to make jokes before the Internet. If you’re upset, here’s some bridge porn:

Suspension? Arch? We got ’em all!

Speaking of Rivendell, I mention them often only because I ride their bikes so often–in fact, lest you think Grant Petersen puts me up to it, it’s quite the opposite and I’m pretty sure it makes him uncomfortable, possibly because I’ve got a proven track record of destroying brands. So you’ll excuse me if I also mention my Platypus, which I rode yesterday:

Not only did I use the basket to carry food (not pictured) for a little picnic, but I also used it for some light trail riding:

And even stopped at the supermarket on the way home:

[Obligatory extortionary reusable shopping bag emblazone with smug messaging.]

Who needs a bike rack when you’ve got a cart corral?

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