On Tuesday, Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg was asked her thoughts on motorists blocking bike lanes, and whether the law should always be enforced, even when the obstruction is brief.
"I think, as the mayor said, it still happens here," she told WNYC's Brian Lehrer, in response to audio of Mayor de Blasio condoning the practice last March. "Between physical barriers and enforcement, I think we can do a lot to improve that."
On the enforcement side of that equation, at least, it's hard to feel as though the city is making much progress. One month after a livery driver blocking a bike lane near Central Park forced a 23-year-old cyclist into the deadly path of a sanitation truck, the city's police officers continue to be either disinterested in or painfully oblivious to the laws concerning bike lane obstruction.
On Monday night, one of many such examples was captured by cyclist Chesney Parks, after he had the rare experience of getting the cops called on him by a driver parked in the bike lane. Apparently, a U.S. postal worker had parked their mail truck in the bike lane, and allegedly started "threatening" Parks for pausing to send a text in her path.
The video begins after their initial dispute, as three members of the NYPD arrive in a cruiser (which they park in the bike lane, naturally) and explain that the mail truck is legally allowed to block the bike path when "in service of performing a duty."
If I sound more agitated than I was when talking to Officer Blum, that's because I was. Three cops surrounding a cyclist in the bike lane at the request of an illegally parked USPS employee? Bring back Blum! I much preferred him. pic.twitter.com/sBvw7IxO4C
— Chesney Parks (@chesneycheckers) August 20, 2018
"She had every right to be there," explains a man who identifies himself as Sergeant Wu of the 7th Precinct, citing an unspecified section of the vehicle and traffic law. "You do your research. I'm not here to humiliate you."
According to Steve Vaccaro, a lawyer that often represents cyclists, there's no provision anywhere in city or state traffic law that says a mail truck can park in a bike lane. "It's just not true," he told Gothamist.
There's also nothing in there about moving vans. And yet, just one week earlier, the same cyclist had another run-in with a 7th Precinct officer, this one regarding a commercial vehicle parked in a bike lane on Clinton Street near Rivington for over an hour. After hearing out Parks's pleas for the driver to be issued a summons, the cop offered an inside look into the department's official policy of looking the other way.
Officer Blum was way nicer and way more helpful than other officers I've talked to about the same thing. But what he says about his supervisor and bike lanes should be enough to boil any cyclist's blood. pic.twitter.com/KqNZoszCtN
— Chesney Parks (@chesneycheckers) August 14, 2018
"When my supervisor tells me something, I still have to abide," the officer said. "The supervisor explained it to me like this, with commercial vehicles, for argument's sake, double parking... according to the laws I've been told, they have a legitimate window of five minutes before I am allowed to do anything."
The officer eventually promised he'd issue a summons to the moving van—though Parks says he returned 20 minutes later, and did not not see a summons.
We've reached out to the the NYPD to ask whether the department believes mail trucks have special access to bike lanes, or if they believe that there are "legitimate windows" for commercial drivers to park illegally—we'll update if we get a response.
In the meantime, we know that Trottenberg and the DOT are expecting—and encouraging!—a whole lot of soon-to-be stranded commuters to turn to bikes when the L train shuts down in April. And we also know that the NYPD leadership in the 7th Precinct—which covers the immediate vicinity surrounding the Manhattan-side of the Williamsburg Bridge—seemingly doesn't have the strongest grasp of the laws meant to keep those cyclists safe.
Maybe the mayor, his transit czar, and his police force should get their enforcement priorities on the same page before then.
Morning of Wednesday, August 22nd. Two blocks from Williamsburg Bridge. 222 days until L train shutdown pic.twitter.com/x2wIQCSAdn
— Jake Offenhartz (@jangelooff) August 22, 2018
You can listen to Polly Trottenberg's full interview on The Brian Lehrer Show here.