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Cool New Bike Barriers No Match For Drivers Blocking Bike Lane

The DOT is moving quickly to secure bike lanes. But can the city keep drivers out of them?

10:26 AM EDT on June 14, 2022

Union Square East bike lanes during Monday rush hour. (Hell Gate)

Last week, New York City's Department of Transportation announced that it would be installing new kinds of barriers along five separate bike lanes around town.

The goal: speed up DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez's promise to bolster 50 percent of the city's bike lanes in two years, without having to use costly and unwieldy concrete Jersey barriers or redesign entire streets. Five cyclists have been killed in the city so far this year, one more than in 2021, and overall traffic deaths are higher than they've been since 2015.

Over the weekend, the DOT installed the first of these new bike lane barricades—these sturdy little armadillo-looking things—on the two-way bike lane that lines the east side of Union Square, from 15th Street to 17th Street.

On Monday, Hell Gate dropped by for the afternoon rush hour, and found that just like armadillos, these little critters are sometimes roadkill.

When we arrived, we were greeted by this Parks Department trash truck, which forced cyclists into oncoming traffic.

An all-too-common sight for cyclists in New York. (Hell Gate)

A few minutes later, this big fella blundered through the lanes, the bumps barely registering a sway of its massive truck ass.

About ten minutes after that, a large van from the farmer's market drove through the park and through the lanes, but it was at least guided by a person with a whistle, who ensured a relatively clear path. We'll spare you the video embed. (All of this chaotic vehicle activity makes you wonder: What if we chose to not have cars in or around big pedestrian spaces like Union Square?)

Finally, after things settled down a bit, we were able to chat with some cyclists turning onto 16th Street about how they felt about the new lane barrier.

"I'm into it. I feel like cars park here a lot, so anything that prevents them from doing that is good," said cyclist Alan Dudley, who commutes to his job in Midtown from Bed-Stuy. "I prefer to ride with a line of parked cars next to me though."

Next up was Shareen Bamberg, who was riding a push scooter with her companion, Jacob.

"It doesn't make me feel safer but I'm happy that they're trying." Then the duo pushed off into the sunset.

We caught up to Kimberleey Acuahuitl as she was pedaling a Citi Bike. She thought the new black-and-white bumps were a nice touch, but when asked what she thought of biking in New York in general, she expressed frustration at how slowly Citi Bike is arriving in the outer boroughs.

"They should definitely expand it to more places. It's so difficult to visit my sister in Queens, it's hard to get to her on my bike," said Acuahuitl, who lives in Lower Manhattan. "For me, I can get out of my house and get to [Union Square] in ten minutes on my bike."

(Hell Gate)

On the campaign trail, Mayor Eric Adams said that "expanding Citi Bike well beyond more affluent communities by committing City funding" was part of his plan. So far, it hasn't happened, despite clear public support for it. We asked the Mayor's Office to comment and will update if they respond.

New York City is in the midst of a sustained post-pandemic bike boom. One-quarter of adults now ride a bike. Citi Bike alone saw a 32 percent increase in the total number of rides last year, and bike trips across the bridges into Manhattan experienced similar increases. Yet car ownership also exploded during the pandemic, and as anyone who has been on a bike in this town has noticed, it's not that there aren't bike lanes (we have more than 400 miles of them) it's that keeping drivers (and cops) out of them is a full-time job.

The little lumps did appear to deter rush hour vehicular traffic from swerving into the lanes, and they also look kind of cool. One thing that they haven't remedied: this busy mixing zone around the 17th Street curve, where Chaos Reigns.

The line of NYPD vehicles parked on the sidewalk in the southeast corner of Union Square remains unchanged.

(Hell Gate)

Here's a list of the four other locations where these bike lane experiments are happening this summer, and here is where you can give the DOT feedback directly. The pilot will last until the winter, when the agency will determine which one of these barriers are best.

The new black-and-white bike barriers extend from 17th Street down to 15th Street on Union Square East. (Hell Gate)

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