In the summer of 2006, New York City's Department of Transportation, led by Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, committed to expanding the city's bike-lane network by 200 miles in three years.
According to their website, by this February, the DOT had installed roughly 170 miles of new bike lanes as part of 69 different projects. But summer weather, and the doomsday transit cuts rapidly approaching, an increase of cyclists on the streets of New York City seems inevitable.
However, bike lanes are not a panacea to all the problems of urban biker. When not segregated from the road, they simply become a loading lane, forcing bicyclists to veer out into moving traffic to avoid parked vehicles. And even when you have segregated bike lanes, enforcement is required. For awhile when I lived in Red Hook, the most infuriating part of my commute was the segregated bike lane along Tillary Street approaching the Brooklyn Bridge.
The city had created a two-way bike lane there, separated from the street by cement construction barriers. Blocking the entrance to the bike lane was a waist-high, plastic pseudo-bollard intended to prevent cars coming off the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan from turning onto the bike lane.
There was not room in the lane for a cyclist to pass a car, so if a car did decide to come down the lane, and you were a cyclist coming up the lane in the opposite direction, you�d be completely blocked - on your right, a cement barrier, on your left, the curb. If the car didn�t want to hit you, it would have to stop and wait while you crossed over and got up on the curb to allow it to pass.
The first time I encountered a car coming at me the wrong way down the bike path I assumed it was an honest mistake, but then almost every morning on my way to work, I saw cars in the lane. It appeared many drivers were simply using the bike path as a shortcut to avoid traffic off the bridge into downtown Brooklyn.
The problems on the Tillary bike lane are not unique. I've also encountered delivery trucks parked illegally inside the separated bike lane on 9th Avenue. While increased parking violation enforcement would definitely help, I'd like to believe that shifting the public's attitude towards commuter cyclists would result in fewer car-bike-lane blockages.
Although it had many problematic elements, articles like last weeks NYTimes Style piece on urban cycling and the recent commentary on TopShop's decision to carry female cycling clothing, signal the beginning of a new era of the socially acceptable (and respectable) cyclist.
Photo: New TopShop cycling shorts

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