Gridlock Sam Tells the Story of NYC’s First Bike Lanes

Last weekend, former DOT Deputy Commissioner "Gridlock" Sam Schwartz wrote an op-ed in the New York Times urging the city to start creating bike lanes that physically separate cyclists from motor vehicle traffic at some locations. This weekend, as DOT laid down a brand new "shared lane" design on Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn, a letter to the editor from a regional director of the New York and New England League of American Bicyclists criticized Schwartz arguing that physically-separated bike lanes are more dangerous than riding in the street (it’s worth noting that the writer lives in Waltham, Massachusetts, not New York City).

It seems to be a good moment to check out this short interview in which Gridlock Sam Schwartz tells the story of how New York got its first bike lanes in the early ’80s and why Mayor Ed Koch ultimately ordered that they be taken away.

The Bulldozers Came Out and We Removed the Bicycle Lanes
A Clarence Eckerson Street Film
Running time: 5 minutes 43 seconds

Over the last year or so I’ve been riding a very young child to daycare on the back of my bike three days a week. Increasingly, I find myself unwilling to ride in the street with the baby on board. Here’s a snippet of Sam’s interview that really sums up the argument, for me:

Yes, the very experienced rider in Manhattan traffic can do just fine and mix with the traffic and weave in and out of the traffic, but in 1980 I was a young father. I had a three year old son and he often rode on the back of my bike. I’d rather be in a protected lane. If you’re inexperienced you’re better off in a protected lane. As long as the lanes are ubiquitous enough it makes a lot of sense to have dedicated to roadway space for the bike riders. And I know all of the arguments.