Eyes on the Street: The Snow Clearance Double Standard

Heavily traveled car lanes are always a priority for snow clearance after a winter storm. The same can't be said for important links in the bike network.

Saturday’s snowfall wasn’t much of an obstacle for motorists on Columbus Avenue. But long after the car lanes were clear and dry, the protected bike lane was a sheet of white.

The cyclist in the above pic, taken at 104th Street, was one of many who chose to ride in motorized traffic instead of the snowy bike lane. Though it’s been a decade since DOT added protected bikeways to its toolkit, the city still can’t manage to consistently clear them of snow and ice. If the city fails to plow a bike lane before an extended cold snap like the one gripping New York right now, that segment of the bike network could be out of commission for days or weeks.

For the Sanitation Department, the cost of keeping the lanes passable should be minimal. “A pick-up truck with a rotating drum broom sweeper could easily average 10 miles an hour and clear all of Manhattan protected lanes in a half-day,” writes our tipster.

Making matters worse, there’s no surefire way to tell where Sanitation and DOT have cleared the bike lanes before you head out. While NYC publishes real-time GPS data so drivers can keep tabs on DSNY plows, people who bike and walk are left to guess what conditions they’ll face after a winter storm.