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Upstate NY City Makes it Illegal to Block Bicycle Lanes

3:38 PM EDT on September 24, 2019

The City of Rochester in upstate New York has been working for years to add bicycle lanes to its streets. Now it will be illegal to park in them. Image: City of Rochester

The City of Rochester in upstate New York has for the last few years been adding bicycle lanes in hopes of retaining and attracting young people to the town on the shores of Lake Ontario. But up until a few weeks ago, it was perfectly legal to park a car in one.

Finally, the City Council voted earlier this month to give police the authority to write a ticket for simply blocking a bike line, thanks to a bill submitted by Mayor Lovely Warren, the radio station WXXI-AM reports.

Before the bill was passed, most bike lanes in the Flour City were only protected from being blocked if a car driver was violating an existing "no parking" regulation at the site — so police could only issue tickets when a parker was violating a "No Standing" or "No Stopping" or "No Parking" regulation on the block. Now, police can issue tickets just for blocking the lane — solving a problem city officials and bike advocates said was keeping people from pedaling.

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren. Photo: City of Rochester
Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren. Photo: City of Rochester
Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren. Photo: City of Rochester

"Without enforcement, bike lanes are not usable, they're not safe, and they're really not helping Rochester meet its goals with getting more people of all ages on bikes," Jesse Peers, the cycling coordinator for the pro-bike group Reconnect Rochester, told the station.

The city completed its bicycle master plan — which aims at attracting residents by making the are more bicycle friendly — in 2011, and it has led to new bicycle-only and shared lanes across the city, with a focus on the Downtown area.

Of course, passing a law banning a practice is one thing, but getting it enforced is another.

Just hours before the vote, a member of Mayor Warren’s team was spotted blocking a bike lane a government-issued SUV.

A reporter for WXXI radio in the Lake Ontario town took a Kodak (okay, a picture, but let’s remember the history of this municipality), of the director of emergency communication idling in a bike lane in front of City Hall just a few ticks on the clock before the panel rubber-stamped legislation making such a move illegal.

City spokesman Justin Roz initially told reporters the car was there to pick up a deputy mayor for lunch, but later claimed the drivers had pulled over to take a phone call, pointing out that was a reasonable use for a bike lane that wouldn't break the new "no stopping" law.

"What I would refer to as 'stopping' is stopping at length," Roj told the station. "It's not contrary to the way, in essence, the spirit of the law is seen."

Forward-thinking medium-sized cities such has Rochester, which has a population of just over 200,000, have for the last few years tried to make themselves more bike-friendly using an "if you build it, they will come approach" to bicycle infrastructure.

Last year, the website ranked Fort Collins, Colo.; Boulder; and Providence as the top three medium cities for bicyclists, with Ann Arbor and Alexandria rounding out the top five.

Interestingly, the city council in the Virginia suburb recently went against some public opinion and voted to go ahead with a controversial bike lane in that city.

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