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New York City bike lanes have improved drastically

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If you think the city’s bike lanes are bad now, check out what they were like 15 years ago

Flickr/John St John

The de Blasio administration and the city’s Department of Transportation are making strides in their “Vision Zero” initiative, an action plan intended to help put an end to traffic deaths and injuries, but there is still a long way to go. In 2016, the DOT expanded the number of protected bike lanes by an unprecedented amount in any previous year, adding roughly 75 miles to the network, however, critics say that it’s not enough.

If you think conditions for cyclists are bad now, this resurfaced video from 2002 might help to put how far the city has come into perspective. The grainy public access footage from the now inoperative bikeTV shows documentarian Clarence Eckerson as he makes a voyage from his home in Carroll Gardens to Herald Square, and let’s just say it wasn’t an easy task (h/t CityLab).

In Eckerson’s video, bike lanes in Brooklyn go completely ignored as civilian and even official city vehicles utilize them as parking spaces, rendering the lanes useless to cyclists. When the lanes weren’t filled with cars, they were often in disrepair or covered in trash. In Manhattan, the lanes were slightly better but still a far cry from ideal. Some lanes were given added protection by way of a buffer between them and car lanes, however, double parked vehicles often defeated the purpose and forced cyclists back into the thick of car traffic. The best conditions were lanes that were painted in bright colors and lined with plastic bollards, making it more difficult for drivers and cyclists to come into contact with each other.

“I give my overall experience, as an experienced cyclist, a C, but if I were a beginning cyclist or thinking these lanes would motivate anyone to do anything, it’s about an F, and that’s pretty sad,” Eckerson stated in the video.

CityLab caught up with Eckerson and asked him for his thoughts on the city’s current conditions for cyclers compared to those he experienced 15 years ago. Admitting that it has improved dramatically, he still sees room for enhancements.

“We need to work on more crosstown routes, and in the near future, commit to turning our protected bike lanes done with paint, plastic bollards and the occasional traffic island in to true raised, protected areas that are unable to be penetrated by bad drivers or parking,” he stated.