Seda, a doorman at the Peninsula Hotel in Manhattan, stepped into the bicycle lane and raised both arms. The bicyclist braked, stopping without slamming into Seda — or the man, who crossed the bike lane and stepped into the hotel.
“He was going to hit him,” Seda said later.
New York City is carving ever more space on the streets for bike lanes, seeking to ease the crush of cars and provide an alternative to balky public transit by promoting cycling and trying to make it safer.
But one consequence of the proliferation of bike lanes is an increasingly crowded streetscape that has led to an uncomfortable coexistence.
Many doormen at hotels and apartment buildings say bike lanes have put them in harm’s way, forcing them to do what Seda did to prevent collisions with guests or tenants.
And drivers at the wheel of taxis, Uber and Lyft cars and limousines who double-park outside hotels, waiting for their passengers, say space is tight when they pull in next to a bike lane — so tight that bicycles going by sometimes dent their cars or sport-utility vehicles.
Bicyclists counter that people who enter bike lanes need to pay better attention, just as if they were crossing the street itself.
“We need the bike lanes, absolutely — if you’re riding, there’s no other place you should be,” said David Frank, a civil engineer who takes CitiBikes to job sites around Manhattan. “But bike lanes are dangerous for cyclists because people just walk out from behind parked cars in midblock without looking. If doormen have to look twice, so be it.”
In recent months the city has installed a protected bike lane next to the curb on 55th Street in Manhattan, past two pricey hotels, the St. Regis New York, where one night in a suite costs as much as $4,695, and the Peninsula, where deluxe suites go for as much as $5,495 a night.
Both hotels have put up signs warning cyclists to slow down and watch out for people stepping through the bike lane. Senih Geray, the general manager of the St. Regis, said the hotel had “made it a priority to educate our doormen and valets on necessary precautions to take and how to handle the change in traffic patterns.”
One doorman, Patrick Grennan, said some bicyclists zip through the bike lane as if “they think it’s the HOV lane on the highway.”
But Jon Orcutt, a spokesman for Bike New York, said, “The ship has sailed — the bikes aren’t going away.
“It’s an OK role for a doorman in 2019 to help with those traffic conflicts when they arise,” he said. “We need people to manage the curbs, where the bike lanes hit the sidewalk. The doormen should be the avant-garde of managing this heavily contested turf.”
The Peninsula was so concerned about bicycles going against traffic in the bike lane that it put up a wrong-way sign on the back of a sign post, facing errant cyclists.
Bikes and e-bikes, the motorized two-wheelers used by many delivery drivers for restaurants, are supposed to ride in the same direction as the street traffic, but sometimes go the opposite way.
The tension between bicyclists and doormen was probably inevitable.
The city expanded the ways the streets are used without being able to expand the streets. Their width is unchanged, but on many blocks, traffic lanes were narrowed to create space for a bike lane. On streets with protected bike lanes, a narrow buffer has also been squeezed in, making the traffic lanes even thinner.
“What is playing out is frustration among everyone who uses the streets,” said Marco Conner, the deputy director of Transportation Alternatives, a group that promotes cycling. “For bicyclists, they are navigating traffic with no protection, navigating among trucks and cars driven by other New Yorkers who see them, the bicyclists, as encroaching on their space because as a city, we have prioritized driving.”
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Transportation experts say New York is living through the growing pains that come with introducing a more ambitious biking infrastructure. Pedestrians and cyclists eventually change their habits, they say.
“Yes, cities do go through this transition, and yes, it is a difficult transition,” said Jemilah Magnusson, the global communications director of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.
She said places that have worked it out — she cited Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Mexico City — have managed to better regulate cars.
“You don’t have cars invading the cyclists’ space,” she said. “That’s really the main thing, that cars don’t feel the bike lane is just another place they can pull into or use as they like.”
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The numbers show that it is actually the cyclists and the pedestrians, not the motorists, who have the most to worry about.
There have been 194 deaths on the streets this year caused by drivers — 15 more than in 2018 — and 27 of those who died were cyclists, according to statistics from the city. Last year, 10 cyclists were killed. Two pedestrians have been killed by bicycles this year, the first deaths since 2017.
Some bike lanes bear skid marks as evidence of close calls or collisions. Miguel Ureta, a doorman at the James New York-Nomad, a hotel on East 29th Street, said one set of tracks belonged to a bike that hit a woman. She had stepped out of an Uber car and was crossing the bike lane on her way to a bar in the hotel when the bicyclist approached.
“She never saw him,” Ureta said.
He said she was thrown about 15 feet but was not injured seriously enough to need medical attention.
Some limousine drivers say they are dealing with more dents because of increased bike traffic. Elvis Santiago was parked next to the bike lane outside a restaurant when a pedicab hit his sport-utility vehicle, leaving a scratch a couple of inches long on the back door on the driver’s side.
The repair would cost about $1,300, he said. “I already checked.”
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Electric bikes, a particular source of frustration for doormen, are technically illegal in New York, and Orcutt of Bike New York said the city had confiscated e-bikes “in random bursts.”
The Legislature passed a bill several months ago that would legalize them, though they would still not be permitted in Manhattan. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has not indicated whether he will sign it.
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The city’s Department of Transportation, which decides where to put bike lanes, said it consulted with community boards in Midtown Manhattan. Each board supported the westbound lane on 55th Street and a companion eastbound lane on 52nd Street that was also installed recently.
A spokesman for the agency, Chris Browne, said the agency chose those two streets because it was feasible to squeeze in a protected bike lane without having to take away a travel lane or a parking lane.
Officials also contacted hotel officials in the spring and met with them at least twice, Browne said.
The agency, based on feedback from the hotels and others in the neighborhood, adjusted markings on the bike lanes and added “rumble strips” near the hotels. The strips, like speed bumps for cars, are supposed to alert cyclists to slow down because people may be crossing.
The agency has also been distributing handouts encouraging cyclists on the blocks with hotels to take it easy, he said.
Anderson Celius, a doorman on West 77th Street, said he asks cabs and Uber cars to pull in front of a fire hydrant so passengers can step onto the sidewalk without worrying that a bike might zip between them and the curb.
“Sometimes the bicycle lane is crowded with double-parks and cabs cannot see me,” he said, “and I’m back in the danger zone.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times .