Manhattan Council Member Carlina Rivera Wants to Make Cycling Easier

The first-year lawmaker dishes on her forthcoming bill to require bike lane detours around construction zones.

Council Member Carlina Rivera is co-sponsor of the bill to create more open space. Photo courtesy Karlin Chan, used with permission
Council Member Carlina Rivera is co-sponsor of the bill to create more open space. Photo courtesy Karlin Chan, used with permission

In the age-old dance between cyclists and construction zones, cyclists almost always lose. But maybe that can change.

On Monday, City Council Member Carlina Rivera announced plans to introduce legislation requiring construction companies to provide safe detours around the hazards created by their work crews and equipment. The bill would create citywide standards for bike lane detours — that they be clearly demarcated, be at least four feet wide, be protected from cars by solid barriers, and be separated from pedestrian traffic.

Streetsblog sat down with the council member Wednesday afternoon to discuss the legislation, and her unique vantage point as a legislator who bikes. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Your bill seems like a no-brainer. Why do we even need it? Doesn’t the city already handle this issue?

Right now, DOT policy encourages temporary protections around construction sites, but there are no uniform standards for the detours, and they’re not strictly enforced.

We’ve seen that in my district — there’s a site that led to the drafting and the introduction of this bill — and also, this is happening citywide. Some construction  will make the detour [with] protective barriers, but we’re trying to implement this to create a uniform policy that stops dumping cyclists out of the bike lanes right into the same lane as car traffic.

We are going to require that DOT be in communication with local stakeholders. For example, to notify the community boards and to post on their website whether any permitted construction is going to impact bike lanes.

You said a specific location in your district spurred you to introduce this bill.

It’s on First Avenue between Fourth and Fifth streets, right on the west side where the bike lane is. There was construction there, and there was no detour. As someone who cycles up First Avenue all the time, I can tell you that as soon as you got to that street, it just said, “Bike lane closed.” So you have to go and venture into the traffic, and you know that First avenue is incredibly busy, not just with [cars], but with the SBS, the M15.

There was no sign. There were no protective barriers. This was something people contacted our office about repeatedly, so we know that we really had to legislate this in order to protect cyclists everywhere.

And you have experienced this yourself?

Yeah, I experienced the sudden closure of the bike lane. And then you have to get into traffic. There was no sort of detail. It was a public safety risk — not just to the cyclists, but to pedestrians and motorists.

You have some people that do put up a sign and have included the detour, but it just doesn’t happen often enough. Since we are really trying to promote people to get on their bikes, and green infrastructure, I feel like this is the right time to introduce this and make it happen.

One location that comes to mind is Second Avenue approaching Houston Street.

I was actually going to bring up that site! They created a detour with a protected barrier, but it’s not clear whether it’s for cyclists or pedestrians. It’s very confusing.

How does your experience biking and walking on city streets inform you in your role as a legislator?

It allows [me] to, just, see the city in a different way. In terms of bike infrastructure, [in] my district, we’re very lucky that we do have a lot of bike paths. That’s why I think this bill is so urgent.

Not only do I love cycling, I think it’s an important way to get around. I always try to encourage my colleagues to, if they are physically able, to get on the bike. I not only have my own bike, I have a Citi Bike membership. And I’m a proud cyclist.

Especially if I’m in the district, that’s the best way to commute. I’m on the bike all the time.