Felix Salmon

John Cassidy Watch, externalities edition

Felix Salmon
Mar 10, 2011 23:21 UTC

I’m beginning to think that John Cassidy must have a serious masochistic streak: he’s now back for a third round of smack-downs, after having drawn unanimous scorn for his first two attempts to demonize bike lanes.

Cassidy purports to take seriously the question of his negative externalities when he drives his Jaguar. But he gets it embarrassingly wrong:

In the case of motor vehicles, there are several negative spillovers, the most obvious of which is pollution and the associated climate threat…

A second issue is congestion…

This gets things completely backwards. The amount of pollution emitted by today’s cars is actually pretty low, while the amount of congestion they cause is enormous. I’d be happy to introduce Cassidy to Charlie Komanoff one day, the guy who’s actually done all the hard empirical math on this question. The pollution-related negative externalities associated with Cassidy’s drives into Manhattan are tiny, while the congestion-related ones are enormous — well over $100 per trip.

And Cassidy’s proposals for tackling congestion are weird indeed: carpool lanes? I have no idea how that’s meant to work on 52nd Street. Meanwhile, the one thing which does work — congestion pricing — is conspicuously absent from Cassidy’s list.

All of this rhetoric allows Cassidy to set up a classic straw man:

Some would say that reducing New York’s carbon footprint is of such importance that we need to utilize bike lanes and other techniques to further inconvenience car drivers.

Actually, John, amid all the thousands of words which have been directed at you since you embarked upon this bizarre crusade, no one said anything like that at all. Big cities like New York are already by far the carbon-friendliest places in America, as Cassidy’s colleague David Owen would be happy to explain to him.

But Cassidy drives blithely on:

I haven’t seen any cost-benefit analysis backing this up, and, frankly, I don’t think such concerns are driving the debate. If global warming disappeared tomorrow, the bike lobby would still demand more bike lanes.

Well, John, here’s a cost-benefit analysis for you. It’s a massive Excel file, It has almost nothing to do with global warming, and it’s completely compelling. The bike lobby has a solidly-grounded empirical basis for the advantages of building bike lanes. You, on the other hand, have an XJ6, an 8pm reservation on Grove Street, and an overgrown sense of entitlement.

Cassidy claims that he wants

some sort of efficiency test beyond the rule of two wheels good, four wheels bad. Do the putative gains in convenience, safety, and fuel-economy from a particular bike lane outweigh the costs to motorists (and other parties, such as taxpayers and local businesses)?

At this point it’s clear that Cassidy has no idea what this kind of analysis — which actually does get done — is involved in these things. He gets the benefits largely right, although I think that he massively underestimates the value and importance of safety gains. If you significantly reduce pedestrian fatalities, as the Prospect Park West bike lane has done, that in and of itself is reason to build it. As for the costs, there’s really very little evidence that motorists and taxpayers and local businesses bear any costs at all.

Cassidy’s in such a bizarro world here that he even wonders out loud whether the Prospect Park West bike lane might endanger pedestrians, when in fact it protects them. And when he forays into the issue of pedestrian safety — an issue which the pro-bike-lane crowd would happily make the sole deciding issue for every single lane — he decides that what’s important here is “the growing problem of cyclists terrorizing pedestrians”. Again, without any empirical evidence to back up his assertion that this problem is growing at all, and certainly without any recognition of the fact that cars are much deadlier in collisions with pedestrians than bikes could ever be.

Cassidy reckons, in his conclusion, that the question of whether to build bike lanes is not a question of a public-interest transportation facility against private-interest parking spots. Instead, he says, “it comes down to one private user versus another” — presumably the bikers on the lane, versus the car drivers who would otherwise be able to park in those spots. Well, that’s an easy balance to strike. When Cassidy plonks his Jag down on a West Village street and disappears off to dinner, he’s just using up space: he’s not serving any public interest at all, and he’s blocking that part of the road for anybody else who might want to use it. When a bicyclist travels down a bike lane, by contrast, she’s there and she’s gone. She uses up almost no space, and she immediately frees up the lane for the next cyclist to come along behind her.

On top of that, every driver who decides to bicycle on one of the new lanes is one less driver for Cassidy to compete with in crosstown gridlock. By rights, he should be loving the way that bike lanes are reducing the number of cars on the road, rather than railing against them. But for all that he claims to be “wonky” in this post, it’s clear that he’s much more interested in coming up with any conceivable justification for his already-existing prejudices than he is in dispassionate analysis. The fact is, it’s the bicyclists who have all the data on their side. The car lobby just has inchoate rants.


Cars are unique among all common modes of *urban* transportation in that their sheer size — particularly in cities, which by definition have limited, expensive ground area for a large population to share — leads to a competitive, vicious circle of congestion when they’re overused. When more people drive, congestion gets worse for everyone, potentially destroying the positive economic effects of agglomeration, and as such the state has a vested interest in reducing congestion by discouraging driving.

Cycling, walking, and transit use are so much more space-efficient that, at typical urban densities, they are subject to a cooperative, virtuous circle of congestion that reinforces the positive externalities of urban agglomeration. More cyclists make for safer cycling conditions [P.L. Jacobsen, Inj Prev 2003;9:205-209], more foot traffic leads to lower crime rates, more transit riders creates demand for more frequent service. Looked at another way, each of these modes is subject to much higher thresholds where the virtuous circle turns vicious. The space occupied by three cars can easily fit 30 bicycles, one bus with 70 passengers, or hundreds of pedestrians.

Drivers tend to blindly bring their competitive outlook to all urban transportation, which is why Cassidy and others end up with such inane arguments.

Posted by PaytonC | Report as abusive

John Cassidy vs bipeds

Felix Salmon
Mar 9, 2011 07:00 UTC

Aaron Naparstek has a masterful demolition of John Cassidy’s bizarre anti-bike-lane rant, but he somehow skips over the most wonderful bit of all:

I view the Bloomberg bike-lane policy as a classic case of regulatory capture by a small faddist minority intent on foisting its bipedalist views on a disinterested or actively reluctant populace.

Yes, you read that right: the New York populace, it seems, is basically comprised of cars, to the point at which bipeds are “a small faddist minority”.

Now it so happens that I’ve met Mr Cassidy a few times and he’s always looked perfectly bipedal to me. And for all that he enjoys parking his Jaguar XJ6 on Manhattan streets — he’s just written 1,250 words on the subject, after all — I’m quite sure that he always gets out and saunters happily among the other New York pedestrians as he makes his way to his dinner in the West Village.

It can hardly have escaped Cassidy’s notice, on his regular peregrinations from car to restaurant and back, that New York’s streets are positively bustling with bipedal life. There’s good reason for this: New York is a very dense city, in which 8 million or so bipeds — birds not included — cram themselves into a rather small area. His Jaguar XJ6 takes up about 100 square feet of street space; if everybody in Manhattan was so greedy, we’d turn the city into something more akin to Manhattan, Kansas.

And so New Yorkers turn to other modes of transportation. Primarily, we walk, taking up very little space while doing so. When we don’t walk, we cram lots of people into efficient vehicles like subways or buses. And sometimes we bike, since doing so makes a great deal of sense in a pretty flat city where space is at a premium.

Driving a car, on the other hand, is an enormously expensive thing to do, with most of the costs being borne by people other than the driver. Yet here’s Cassidy, the economics correspondent of the New Yorker:

From an economic perspective I also question whether the blanketing of the city with bike lanes—more than two hundred miles in the past three years—meets an objective cost-benefit criterion. Beyond a certain point, given the limited number of bicyclists in the city, the benefits of extra bike lanes must run into diminishing returns, and the costs to motorists (and pedestrians) of implementing the policies must increase. Have we reached that point? I would say so.

Well yes. If indeed the limited number of bicyclists in the city was a given, then Cassidy might have a point here. But it’s not. Bike lanes attract bikes no less effectively than roads attract cars and the number of cyclists in New York has been growing just as fast as the city can create new lanes for them. See if you can follow Cassidy’s logic here, because I can’t:

From San Francisco to London, local governments are introducing bike lanes, bike parks, bike-rental schemes, and other policies designed to encourage two-wheel motion. Generally speaking, I don’t have a problem with this movement: indeed, I support it. But the way it has been implemented, particularly in New York, irks me to no end…

Thanks to these four-wheel friends, I have discovered virtually every neighborhood of the city and its environs, and I would put my knowledge of New York’s geography and topography up against most native residents…

Let us have some bike lanes on heavily used and clearly defined routes to and from the city—and on popular biking routes within the city and the boroughs. But until and unless there is a referendum on the subject—or a much more expansive public debate, at least—it is time to call a halt to Sadik-Khan and her faceless road swipers.

The message here is that cars can and should be able to go anywhere in the city they like — that’s part of what makes them so great. Bikes, on the other hand, should be confined to a few “heavily used and clearly defined routes”, which would probably run parallel to existing subway lines. If you want to use a bicycle to explore the city, then you’re just going to have to take your chances in traffic, like Cassidy did in the 1980s.

In those days, there were few cyclists on the roads, and part of the thrill was avoiding cabs and other vehicles that would suddenly swing into your lane, apparently oblivious to your presence. When I got back to my apartment on East 12th Street, I was sometimes shaking.

Sorry, John, but the purpose of biking is not to “thrill” you so much that you end up shaking. And you surely know, even if you’re loathe to admit it, that traffic expands to fill the roads available: if you build more road space, you don’t reduce congestion, you just increase the number of cars. And similarly, if you reduce the amount of road space, you don’t increase congestion so much as you reduce the number of private cars. Which is a feature, not a bug.

Cassidy is convinced that the addition of bike lanes has increased the time he spends stuck in traffic, or looking for his beloved free on-street parking. (As Naparstek notes, his argument can basically be boiled down to “Street space should not be set aside for bike lanes. It should be set aside for free parking for my Jaguar XJ6″.) But the fact is that impatient motorists will always want to blame someone else for traffic, when, clearly, they themselves are the main culprit in that regard.

Cassidy has no problem with the vast number of parked cars which take up precious road space in New York because he regularly aspires to transcending his bipedal nature and becoming one of them himself. But if you replace those parked cars with a healthy, efficient and effective means of getting New Yorkers safely around town, then watch him roar. Jaguars — whether they have four wheels or four paws — are good at that.

Update: Adam Sternbergh piles on too, and Cassidy responds to us all.


Love this! Can’t believe I haven’t read this till now…

Posted by sammydavisjrjr | Report as abusive

18 questions for Martin Erzinger

Felix Salmon
Dec 31, 2010 00:44 UTC

M Schuler of Colorado leaves a blistering comment on my post about Martin Erzinger, the Morgan Stanley broker who bought his way out of a felony charge. It’s required reading for anybody who is inclined to believe Erzinger’s defense, that he fell asleep at the wheel, drifted off the road, and never had a clue that he’d hit anybody.

It’s also required reading for anybody who still lets Martin Erzinger or Morgan Stanley manage their money. Erzinger’s behavior is unconscionable, and Stanley’s continued employment of him is a massive blot on the firm’s reputation.

In any case, here’s the meat of the comment: 18 questions for Martin Erzinger. I very much doubt he’ll ever attempt to answer them.

1. Is it reasonable to believe that less than 10 minutes after completing a workout at your club you would fall asleep in the middle of the afternoon while driving your car?

2. Is it reasonable to believe that you would be suffering from sleep deprivation caused by sleep apnea to such an extent that this deprivation would cause this mid-afternoon narcolepsy?

3. Is it believable that this malady was not “diagnosed” until a week after the accident?

4. Is it believable that the “diagnosis” itself says “the patient “may have developed sleep apnea around the time of the accident”?

5. Is it believable that a qualified doctor would allow the patient to continue driving (thus risking his own liability and medical license) after such a serious accident?

6. Is it believable that you would remain asleep after hitting a cyclist, leaving the road, driving over two hundred and sixty feet through terrain rough enough to tear the bumper off your brand new car?

7. Is it believable that you were (as you testified in court) aware that the car came to rest on a steep angle and yet still be “dazed or asleep”?

8. Is it believable that upon coming to rest your body would not be hyperaware due to the over whelming amount of adrenaline coursing through your veins?

9. Is it believable that upon becoming aware that you had driven off the road over rough terrain in a brand new $100,000 plus Mercedes Benz, you would not get out of the car to inspect it for damage prior to driving out of the ditch and onto the road?

10. Is it believable that you would try to reenter the highway without looking behind you for oncoming traffic?

11. Is it believable that such a glance over your shoulder would not reveal the cars stopped across the highway at the point of your departure from the road and the body of the cyclist you hit lying in the road less than 90 yards behind you?

12. Is it believable that “an honest man” would not have any concern for damage he might have caused while “asleep” while driving”?

13. Is it believable that if you were going to call for a tow for your disabled car, that you would not call while the car was in the ditch, but would drive it out of the ditch, risking further damage, and proceed to drive over three miles to hide behind an abandoned Pizza Hut before calling for a tow?

14. Is it believable that an “honest man” would say he had called police when there is no record of such a call in the police call log nor on his cell phone records?

15. Is it believable that an “honest man” would tell Onstar not to use the email address they had on file for him (which was correct) but to use his wife’s email address?

16. Is it believable that an “honest man” would have his company’s employment attorney contact the District Attorney in order to attempt to influence the entering of a felony “due to the effect on his job”?

17. Is it believable that, knowing you had severely injured the son-in-law of a friend, you never visited the injured cyclist, never admitting hitting him? (In court you said “I’m sorry this happened to you”.)

18. Is it believable that an “honest man” would not notify the Security and Exchange Commission, as required by law, that he was charged with a felony until ordered to do so by a judge over 180 days after the accident?

Writes Schuler:

These are only a few of the questions that should have plagued the District Attorney prior to unfairly reducing a felony charge against Marty Erzinger to a couple of misdemeanors.

If you find the answers to these questions as unbelievable as I do, you must conclude that neither the District Attorney nor Mr. Erzinger could meet the reasonable standard of an honest man.

I, for one, would never want this man in charge of my money, nor any firm which happily continues to employ him.


Morgan Stanley couldn’t care less about the behavior of its employees.

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Why Martin Erzinger’s victim doesn’t need his money

Felix Salmon
Dec 22, 2010 16:33 UTC

Remember Martin Erzinger, the Morgan Stanley broker who bought his way out of a felony charge? He’s been sentenced now—a year’s probation, and 45 days of charity work. (Some people do that kind of thing voluntarily, and don’t consider it a punishment at all.) And Al Lewis has a magnificent column on the case, which uncovers an interesting twist: Erzinger’s victim, Steven Milo, is the son-in-law of Tom Marsico. Yes, that Tom Marsico, the one with $55 billion in assets under management.

Mutual fund magnate Tom Marsico was at the Vail Valley Medical Center on July 3, tending to his son-in-law, Dr. Steven Milo, who’d been hit by a black, 2010 Mercedes while bicycling…

Into the ER rolls Martin Erzinger, a wealth adviser who oversees more than $1 billion in accounts at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney in Denver.

Erzinger says hi to [Marsico's wife] Cydney.

“Marty and I have been acquaintances for some 20 years,” Marsico explained. “I said, ‘Geez, Marty, is there anything I can do for you? He said, ‘Oh, no, I’m just in for some preliminary tests.’”

Erzinger was in and out in 20 minutes, Marsico recounted: “He checked out just fine.” But Marsico’s mind raced. Black Mercedes? Erzinger? “I was putting two and two together and I thought, ‘Oh, God. No. This can’t be.”

The Marsico connection underlines why Milo was naturally more interested in justice than in money, and why it’s unconscionable that DA Mark Hurlbert would ever suggest—as he did, when he dropped the felony charges—that “justice in this case includes restitution and the ability to pay it.”

Milo is going to suffer greatly for the rest of his life as a result of Erzinger’s actions, but Erzinger’s future income isn’t going to help him. Instead, Milo will have to life with the knowledge that his assailant, who left him to die on the side of the road, not only avoided jail, but even blamed “new-car smell” in his attempt to duck responsibility for his actions.

Erzinger should be in jail right now, rather than managing hundreds of millions of dollars of other people’s money. I hope his clients drop him—and that other Morgan Stanley clients, too, move their money elsewhere. Perhaps to Marsico Capital. I can’t see how anybody would want to park their money with a firm which continues to pay Martin Erzinger millions of dollars.


Felix do you work for TMZ or Reuters? I can’t tell after this article. This is not a quality article about the public markets. I can’t believe Reuters let you publish this. This a joke! Why are you writing about some broker in Denver? This is a ‘hack’ article and you know it. You are looking for another Wall Streeters are bad guys article and this is what you found.

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How much carbon does bike-sharing save?

Felix Salmon
Dec 2, 2010 13:56 UTC

How should bike-share services pay for themselves? Up until now, the main model has been sponsorship and advertising. But CityRyde has a bright idea: why not sell carbon offsets?

The idea’s pretty simple: as bike-share use rises, the amount of carbon-emitting vehicle use falls. So bike shares save carbon; CityRyde even has a methodology to determine exactly how much. (One thing I’d like to see, though: virtually all bike-share programs involve trucking bikes from the center of town back into the periphery, not to mention transporting broken bikes to be fixed. So somewhere in the methodology there should be an accounting for the amount of carbon emitted by the bike-share program itself.)

In any case, if the bike-share program sold carbon offsets to companies which want to claim to be carbon-neutral and to individuals wanting to offset their carbon emissions, that could raise some revenue: CityRyde co-founder Jason Meinzer told me his rule of thumb is that you could bring in between $25 and $100 per bike per year that way. For a scheme with 50,000 bikes in New York City, that would equate to between $1.25 million and $5 million per year: hardly chump change.

Meinzer didn’t share with me exactly how he got his numbers, though, so I ran a smell test. Let’s say each bike travels 15 miles per day, 350 days per year: that’s 5,250 miles per year. A lot of bike rides are simply for pleasure, and others—especially in a city like New York—replace walking or taking mass transport. Those are activities with negligible marginal carbon emissions.

But let’s say that 1/3 of bike journeys would otherwise have been taken in a car of some description. That means that each bike saves 1,750 passenger-miles in cars. If one car carries the same number of people as two bikes, on average, then that’s 875 car miles saved. At 1.2 pounds of CO2 per mile, that’s basically half a ton of CO2 emissions saved per bike per year. And while the market in carbon offsets is far from transparent, my feeling is that you’d be lucky to get $5 per ton, which would equate to $2.50 per bike per year. That’s a full order of magnitude lower than Meinzer’s lower estimate.

Meinzer’s methodology is a lot more sophisticated than that, and I’ll update this post if he wants to share his own math. But at $5 per ton, selling carbon offsets would gross only about $125,000 a year—which, by the time you subtract the cost of measuring the carbon saved and administering the sales, leaves you with little or nothing in net revenue. So while it’s an intriguing idea, I’m not yet convinced it’s a practical one.

Update: Meinzer says that he does account for the carbon costs of the program, in the “Project Emissions” and “Leakage” sections of his methodology; I don’t see it myself. And he explains that he gets his much higher estimate for total revenues from selling carbon offsets at a much higher price:

Our credits most certainly will be sold at a premium due to the novel co-benefits associated with their generation even outside of the carbon mitigated; e.g. health and social (and remember some credits sold for as high as $111 last year). This has been validated by the carbon brokers we’ve been working with over the years. Moreover, outside of the “price-point” per carbon a key angle we are taking to obtain an even higher premium on our credits is via creative bundling; by lumping the carbon credits w/ the sponsorship and advertising. Case in point – Blue Cross Blue Shield donated $1.5 million to have their name tied to the existing 1,000-bike Minneapolisbike share. Had they been able to purchase the offsets stemming from that program the donation would have been MUCH higher. This argument is reinforced by the fact that this donor in particular clearly has a key interest in health, and so the aforementioned co-benefits of our credits would prove even more attractive given the health-benefits of biking. Most big names companies are already offsetting their carbon emissions each year anyways for a variety of reasons, even outside of a regulatory mandate.


To the guy who said “CityRyde is going to sell carbon offsets to generate revenue for its business eh?” — No.

CityRyde is going to sell the methodology to generate carbon offsets to sustainable transportation initiatives in order to help them generate revenue to support the construction of sustainable infrastructure. As someone who’s actually followed the company, I can tell you that generating funding for green transportation is precisely what they’re trying to do.

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How to buy your way out of a felony charge

Felix Salmon
Nov 8, 2010 13:38 UTC

One of the main contributing factors to the financial crisis was the feeling of impunity and omnipotence which pervaded Wall Street. No matter how egregious their behavior, financiers knew that they would end up wealthy and comfortable. That, in turn, made it much easier to overcome their natural risk aversion.

Jon Hendry now points me to a very shocking real-world (non-financial) example of this. Martin Joel Erzinger is a star broker at Smith Barney, overseeing over $1 billion in assets for “ultra high net worth individuals, their families and foundations”. On July 3, Erzinger was driving his black Mercedes in Eagle, Colorado, and ran over a cyclist — New York physician Steven Milo — from behind:

Milo suffered spinal cord injuries, bleeding from his brain and damage to his knee and scapula, according to court documents. Over the past six weeks he has suffered “disabling” spinal headaches and faces multiple surgeries for a herniated disc and plastic surgery to fix the scars he suffered in the accident.

“He will have lifetime pain,” Haddon wrote. “His ability to deal with the physical challenges of his profession — liver transplant surgery — has been seriously jeopardized.”

Erzinger immediately drove away from the scene of the crime, eventually stopping in a parking lot on the other side of town, where he called the Mercedes auto assistance service and asked that his car be towed.

This kind of egregious hit-and-run is, obviously, a very serious crime. Milo is incredulous at the suggestion from Erzinger’s attorneys “that Erzinger might have unknowingly suffered from sleep apnea”, and wants Erzinger to be charged with a felony. Justice must be served: the case “has always been about responsibility, not money”, he wrote to DA Mark Hurlbert.

Yet Hurlbert, looking at Erzinger’s wealth, decided that the case really was about the money after all:

“The money has never been a priority for them. It is for us,” Hurlbert said. “Justice in this case includes restitution and the ability to pay it.”

Hurlbert said Erzinger is willing to take responsibility and pay restitution.

“Felony convictions have some pretty serious job implications for someone in Mr. Erzinger’s profession, and that entered into it,” Hurlbert said. “When you’re talking about restitution, you don’t want to take away his ability to pay.”

In other words, Erzinger has bought his way out of a felony charge, over the strenuous objections of his victim; it’s very unlikely that online petitions will do any good at this point. Just another thing to add to the list of things that money can buy, I suppose.


I don’t get it… even from a cold-hearted market perspective, would I trust my investment in the hands of someone who (if we dare give him the benefit of the doubt), was too unobservant/distracted/careless to notice that he caused an accident and left someone for dead on the side of the highway. Heck no! Lock the bugger up and through away the key–his usefulness to society is over.

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Bike lane datapoints of the day

Felix Salmon
Oct 8, 2010 21:00 UTC

Matt Chaban has found a new study from Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer, looking at the amount of misbehavior going on in New York’s bike lanes. I’ve uploaded the study here and embedded it below; many thanks to Stringer for putting together the resources to make it happen. The study’s main finding will come as no surprise to anyone, although it’s good to have in vaguely empirical form:

The data is clear: while bike lanes bring a tremendous benefit to New York City, misuse by all parties—motorists, pedestrians and cyclists—undermines their success.

Stringer sent out observers to 11 different bike lanes on three days this week during the morning and evening rush hour. Over that time, a total of 1,781 infractions were observed. Stringer has his own pie chart, but I’ve made my own to more clearly separate out who’s at fault in each case:


All of the observation points were at bike lanes, so it shouldn’t come as much surprise that bike-lane salmon outnumber street salmon. All that says is that when there’s a bike lane to hand, the salmon will flock to it, rather than ride in the street. Also, it’s worth noting that the chart adds up only bike-related infractions. If a car ran a red light, or a pedestrian jaywalked, or anything like that, it wasn’t counted.

A few of the findings were particularly striking:

  • Unmarked police vehicles love to use bike lanes to speed past traffic in non-emergency situations. The police love to flaunt their impunity.
  • For one hour at Grand and Bowery, there were more bike salmon in the bike lane than there were bikers riding the right way.
  • Pedestrians completely ignore the bike lane on Broadway, treating it as pedestrian space.

Stringer’s recommendations make a lot of sense. Top of the list is increased enforcement against motorists blocking bike lanes: over the course of three days of observations, there were more than 275 vehicles blocking bike lanes, which between them got just 2 tickets.

And a dedicated bike lane patrol is a great idea: mobile police who can get around quickly and nimbly, and who experience the frustration felt by cyclists at first hand. I also suspect that cyclists might be less aggrieved if they got their tickets from someone on a bike.

The main good news here, though, is that Stringer is taking this issue seriously, he’s not taking sides, and he’s helping to push the city government in the right direction. Good for him.

Respect the Lane

More bikes means slower bikes

Felix Salmon
Sep 23, 2010 17:16 UTC

Rachel Brown has a fantastic little 5-minute film about biking up First Avenue to work:

I love the way that she’s caught on camera all of the annoyances which drive bike commuters mad: the cars cutting across the bike lane to make left turns; the pedestrians blithely stepping out into the lane in front of you; the trucks using the lane as a parking spot; the taxis driving up it. And, of course, the Evil Bike Salmon.

At the same time, there’s more than a hint of tension, in this film, between relatively serious bike commuters, on the one hand, and slow hobbyists, on the other. And this tension, I think, is likely to get worse rather than better, even as the other problems might alleviate themselves somewhat as the number of cyclists in New York grows.

There’s safety in numbers, when it comes to cycling, and a similar phenomenon is likely to happen with regard to pedestrians and car drivers being increasingly conscious of bicyclists in their midst. Already, the First Avenue bike lane has reportedly cut injuries to all street users by 50%. But as the number of cyclists rises, the average speed of cyclists necessarily falls. Everybody thinks of northern European cities like Copenhagen as bicycling paradises — and they are. But if you’re biking around Copenhagen, you’re going to go a lot more slowly than if you’re biking the same distance in NYC.

A slow cyclist can cope with most of the dangers and obstructions that Brown complains about much more easily than a fast cyclist — and the fast cyclists, as Brown’s film shows, are now shunning the lane entirely, moving over to the right-hand side of the street, where they’re much less likely to get cut off by a car. (Cars often turn left off First Avenue, which runs up the east side of Manhattan, but much more rarely turn right.)

It’s going to be very interesting to see how fast cyclists cope with an influx of slower cyclists in Manhattan, as bike lanes continue to get built and average bike speeds continue to decline. I love to zoom down avenues at high speed, but I also love being safe. Maybe that means I’m just going to have to start going a little slower.


CycleartNY is dead on. I’ve ridden these paths multiple times at rush hour, and they support up to 15 MPH bike traffic safely. That’s faster than the subway, and plenty fast for many, probably most “serious” bike communters.

Folks who want to ride more like 20 MPH can ride with the motor vehicle traffic, although they should not ride illegally in the bus lane as the video seems to suggest they consider doing. But these faster riders certainly shouldn’t expect to be free from all the same things found on a bike path–slow cyclists, pedestrians, counterflow riders–OR from double-parked and dangerously operated motor vehicles and opening car doors, which you find only occasionally in a bike path.

These bike paths have been in place just a couple of months. It’s a little early to declare them unsuitable for “serious commuters.”

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How the NYT sees bikes on Broadway

Felix Salmon
Sep 6, 2010 21:29 UTC

If you wanted proof that New Yorkers think of bicyclists more as pedestrians than as vehicles, all you need to do is look at this graphic in the NYT, which shows how Broadway is used between 59th Street and 17th Street. The lanes are labeled with only two colors: orange and green. Orange is vehicles: dotted means parked cars, while solid means they’re moving. Green is, well, pedestrians, or that conceptual combination of pedestrians-and-bicyclists: dotted means on foot, while solid means they’re moving, ie they’re on a bicycle.

The story itself — not to mention the headline on the graphic — is very car-centric, as Aaron Naparstek has been pointing out on his Twitter feed this morning. “For the first time in New York’s modern era,” writes Michael Grynbaum, “Broadway no longer offers a continuous path from the Bronx to the Battery.” That isn’t true, of course, just as it isn’t true that Broadway is any narrower now than it was in the past. Those things are only true if you’re looking at the road from the point of view of the minority of people who navigate it by car, as opposed to the majority of people who navigate it by bike or on foot.

It’s hard to convey the overall tone of the piece with a few choice quotes; you really have to read the whole thing, with its absence of any quotes from bicyclists or pedestrians, and its framing of traffic reduction on Broadway as a war between drivers and faceless “transportation officials”. You can get a feel, though, just from the first word of the second paragraph:

It is Manhattan’s most famous thoroughfare, known around the world for its theater marquees and giant Macy’s. It has come to symbolize the outsize aspirations and swagger of New York.


In Grynbaum’s world, it seems, a road with “outsize aspirations and swagger” must be full of as many cars as possible; if it’s humming with pedestrian life, that somehow diminishes it.

And it’s weird to talk about how “moving traffic is down to a trickle” on Broadway below 34th Street without pointing out that the street begins anew there: of course there’s only a trickle of traffic, because at that point it’s a local street which you can only get to by first going west on 33rd Street and then doing a very sharp left turn, almost back on yourself, onto Broadway. There’s no point in having more traffic capacity on Broadway than there is on 33rd Street, because there’s nowhere else that traffic can come from.

The graphic does a good job, though, in showing the difference between successful and unsuccessful bike lanes on Broadway. Here’s a relatively sensible style, as seen around 22nd Street:


The pedestrian zone is an extension of the sidewalk, while cyclists get their own lane alongside other vehicles.

Here, by contrast, is the unsuccessful style, as seen around 40th Street:


Here, the pedestrian zone is particularly wide and pleasant, but it’s separated from the sidewalk by a bike lane. It’s only natural for pedestrians to want to cross naturally in and out of the pedestrian zone, and they’re obviously not going to do so across the road. Instead, they’ll wander across and along the bike lane, most likely without checking for oncoming bikes first. In fact, given half a chance, they’ll even move chairs into the middle of the bike lane, and sit on them. Given that traffic on this part of Broadway is pretty light, bicyclists find it easier, and much safer, to ride in the roadway rather than in the bike lane provided for them.

It’s a shame that Grynbaum seems not to have spoken to any pedestrians or cyclists when reporting his story. He might have got a very different perspective on the successes and failures of the pedestrianization scheme, and might have at least mentioned the way in which the Broadway bike lane dumps cyclists out into very hard-to-navigate Union Square traffic the minute it hits 17th Street. Instead, we get this:

Many drivers remain hostile to what some say has amounted to a tacit decommissioning of Broadway as a major thoroughfare. The street is increasingly shunned by drivers. Compared with a year ago, the number of vehicles using Broadway between Columbus Circle and Times Square has gone down about 25 percent, the city says. And in the morning rush, traffic on Broadway passing 23rd Street has fallen 30 percent since 2008.

“I know they’re trying to beautify the city, but it’s killing the drivers,” said Gus Salcedo, 40, a daily car commuter from Queens who was parked on Broadway at 33rd Street the other day. “It’s frustrating. They don’t want you to drive into the city.”

Memo to the NYT: there’s more than one way that a road can be “a major thoroughfare”. And the current way is much more successful than the status quo ante. Even for Mr Salcedo, who truth be told probably finds it easier to find his parking spot now than he did when car traffic on Broadway ran painfully across Sixth Avenue, and the corner of Broadway and 33rd Street was a nightmare not only for bikes and pedestrians, but for car drivers too.


I certainly welcome the changes along Broadway. It is about time that the city starts refocusing its efforts towards the majority in NYC – as in pedestrians who walk and rely on mass transit. I am a daily biker in this city, but on days I can not bike, I walk and take the train. Seeing that I utilize both the roads and pedestrian areas, depending on the day, I have noticed a drastic change in congestion and improved traffic flow on all fronts.

I am excited to see the work they are doing on Broadway between 23rd and 17th (which is odd to see nearly abandoned by cars) and Union Square North completed. However, Union Square still needs a lot of work around the whole park as that area is another death-trap for pedestrians and bikers. I feel like I see ambulances there on a daily basis!

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