Subway Meltdowns and the Need for Protected Bike Lanes (for Those Who Don’t Just Pack up and Leave)

Image: @bikesnobnyc/Twitter

They say New York is the Greatest City in the World™, but on days like today, it’s hard to take that title seriously. AM New York reports:

Train service was restored Monday morning more than two hours after a track fire at the 145th Street station in Harlem shut down C and B trains and partially suspended A and D trains, the MTA and FDNY said.

Trash on the southbound A train tracks caught fire at about 7:25 a.m., an FDNY spokeswoman said.

Service resumed with extensive delays on A, B, C and D trains at about 9:50 a.m., the MTA said.

As someone who works at a transit advocacy organization, it’s especially exciting (for lack of a better term) when these transit meltdowns hit you personally. As I was walking to the A train, my wife, who left home shortly before I did, texted to say there were no A trains. This happened at 8:22 a.m.

She decided to take her chances with the 1 train. That didn’t exactly work out.

So she took the M4 bus, which travels at 5.1 mph on average, to 125th Street. By 10:30 a.m. she was still in transit — on a D train at 42nd Street.

I decided to bike to work (which I should’ve just done in the first place, but I had a busy weekend, didn’t feel like packing a change of clothes and had the nerve to think that maybe I’d get a seat on the A and have a relaxing subway commute).

There are two things on my mind after this morning’s commute:

First: Riding a bike needs to be an option for more New Yorkers. It’s easy for me to bike to work because I live and work within a mile of the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway, which makes for a fast, car-free, and rather pleasant (though often windy) commute along the Hudson. But many New Yorkers don’t have such easy access to a safe, attractive bike route. Obviously biking to work isn’t a solution for everyone, but it would be an option for more people if we had a comprehensive network of protected bicycle facilities. That’s not to say we aren’t making progress: the New York City Department of Transportation has installed over 40 miles of  protected bike lanes, which “has correlated with a massive increase in ridership, from 91.3 million in 2010 to 164.3 million in 2015.” To see that growth continue — and to ensure commuters have an alternative to a subway that seems to grow less reliable every week — the city’s cycling network needs to expand even faster.

Second: This can’t be good for the city and the region. Think about it. If you’re an upwardly-mobile twenty-something with a graduate degree, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to want to live in a place that offers solid career prospects and a high quality of life without needing to own a car. Employers who want to hire people in this demographic group want to be in these places too. New York certainly fits the bill, but it’s not alone. Plenty of other cities are making investments in their transit systems and building out bike networks. As TSTC’s Vincent Pellecchia wrote last month,

A vast, well-functioning mass transit network should be what sets New York apart from other major metro areas. But with the deteriorating conditions we’ve seen across the system in the last several months, is our transportation infrastructure as likely to repel people and investment as much as it attracts?

This is not a hypothetical; the problems with the region’s transit system are already playing a role in where people are choosing to live, both within and outside of the city. Moreover, people around the country are already making the move to these more affordable cities.

This morning’s subway delays were caused by a fire. Tomorrow it will be signal problems. Or a derailment. Or more signal problems. New Yorkers can handle a good deal of discomfort, but at some point it starts to wear you down. Eventually we decide that paying $3,475 for rent each month isn’t worth it if we can’t get to work on time, or if, say, your ride to the airport costs more than your flight because someone threw trash on the subway tracks.

3 Comments on "Subway Meltdowns and the Need for Protected Bike Lanes (for Those Who Don’t Just Pack up and Leave)"

  1. Protected Bike Lanes are dirt cheap to build compared to other infrastructure. In Manhattan DOT spends $500k per mile to create a PBL. Therefore, to DOUBLE the lane mileage of PBLs would cost $20 million.

    $20 million ? That is the cost of a consultant to “study” the Hudson Tunnel or some similar boondoggle.

    Let’s double PBL lane mileage in NYC for a mere $20 million and provide mobility alternatives for millions of New Yorkers

  2. I went to a NYMTC lecture today that addressed the coming of the Autonomous Vehicle(AV). It was both informative and interesting.
    The lecturer, an engineer and planner, asserted that AV’s are coming for sure. Sooner rather than later. In Cities first.
    He also contends as a result AV’s will increase both the total vehicle miles traveled and the total of passenger miles traveled. More people in cars though will only hurt ridership on public transit. If driverless Uber drops the overall cost in half who will want to ride the subway or buses.
    He also said the demand for parking spaces will drop–less private ownership–but the demand for curbside parking spaces will increase. Seems odd but if all those shared AV’s are picking up and dropping off and waiting driverless at the curb for a summoning call there’s got to be more curb space available where this increased traffic is.
    I mentioned to him that NYCDOT and some transportation players are now going about eliminating curb parking space(for protected bike lanes, for bus-only lanes, for day lighting, etc.) won’t that run up against this reality in the very near future(90% penetration over 20 years). He agreed there was a problem here but they are talking with NYCDOT.
    Let’s see how this goes.

  3. Arturo from the Bronx | August 5, 2017 at 5:52 pm |

    Ahhh, bike lanes. They’re probably a good option for the tiny percentage of folks who live within reasonable biking range to their jobs, don’t have to wear a suit and/or have a place to change or shower at work.

    One needs to be physically fit and ailment-free (some of us commute with artificial limbs or congestive heart failure you know) and not afraid to get into a confrontation with angry motorists, wayward pedestrians or kamikaze bikers. All of these are present every single day.

    Adding the bike lanes suggested will displace many lane-miles of motorists, buses and alter traffic patterns for walkers and drivers (UPS, bus and taxi included), drivers who must drive. Taking lane-miles away from high importance and/or high capacity uses in favor of bicycles isn’t always the best use of Manhattan roadways. Ditto for arterial roads in the Bronx and Brooklyn.

    So yes, it’s a nice option when the subways are messed up, but the real solution is to have a revolution in Albany and City Hall. Why is it that construction costs are triple what they are in other similar-sized cities, why is it that it’s OK to plan a signal replacement project that takes 16 years, why is it wonderful to divert millions from the MTA to put colored LED lights on the bridges, governor? We need better politicians. Now.

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