Is New York City Bike Friendly?

I just read an article by Wes Siler of Newsweek called “Bikers And The City” where he writes that New York City is the least bike-friendly city he knows (especially when compared to his native London). He explains:

the Big Apple is bad for bikes because of the laws. New York provides no separate—much less free—parking for scooters and motorcycles. Riding the line between lanes, considered the main benefit of two-wheelers elsewhere, is classified as “reckless riding” here. Just ask any of the judges I’ve seen down at the Traffic Violations Bureau. Obtaining a license is a huge chore, requiring hundreds of dollars and lots of patience; the current waiting list for the lessons necessary to obtain a license is more than three months long.

With due respect to Mr. Siler, I do not agree with his conclusion.  As they say in England, it’s “rubbish”.

Free parking for scooters and motorcycles is a good idea in that it will encourage more people to use this more fuel efficient type of transportation but not much of anything is free in New York City.  Why should scooter and motorcycle parking be any different?  There is, however, plenty of parking spaces for motorcycles, bicycles and scooters (albeit not segregated from other vehicles).  In fact, where Muni Meters are installed (most of Manhattan), there are no parking spots delineated by pavement markings.  This creates ample space for a two-wheeled vehicle to legally park in between cars or at the end of a line of cars.  Bicyclists don’t have to look very hard for parking spots either.  There are signs affixed to poles on almost every street which provide a safe place to lock up a bike.

Mr. Siler is right that riding between lanes is illegal in New York City (in fact, throughout New York State).  It is a moving violation, and if you receive such a NY traffic ticket and are found guilty, the judges at the Traffic Violations Bureau will impose 2 points on your driver license.  Further, driving between lanes is not reckless driving per se but could give rise to a separate charge of driving recklessly if the circumstances warrant (ex., causing an accident).

While weaving through traffic might be considered a main benefit of having a scooter or motorcycle, it is extremely dangerous.  We have designated lanes for traveling to avoid chaos and keep vehicles from drifting from side to side.  A motorcyclist who drives between two cars is just asking for trouble.  Routine actions such as a parked driver opening his driver-side door or a car changing lanes could spell disaster.  Indeed, I am surprised that a civilized city like London would not outlaw such dangerous conduct.

Finally, Mr. Siler gripes about a 3-month “wait list” to take motorcycle lessons.  I know that there is no “wait list” at Motorcycle Safety School which has 5 locations in the greater Metropolitan area, and certainly people should  not be allowed to drive an engine with 2 wheels without proper training.

Even with safety restrictions and traffic laws in place, it happens to be much easier to get around the City in a motorcycle or scooter than a car.  While encouraging such “green” transportation is important, it should not be at the expense of safety.

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