City Council votes to ban cars in bike lanes

Sep 17, 2019

City Council voted Tuesday to prohibit cars from standing or parking in bike lanes.

City officials said the rule change, submitted to the council by Mayor Lovely Warren, will encourage more people to ride bikes and help Rochester meet its transportation and climate goals.

A car stands in the bike lane outside City Hall. Legislation adopted Tuesday would make the practice illegal.
Credit Brett Dahlberg / WXXI News

“We need to market our city to the outside world,” said Chief of Staff Alex Yudelson. “We know we need to attract business. We want to attract young people. We want to retain young people. We want to make all of our city accessible by all means of transportation for everybody.”

Yudelson said a more bike-friendly city is more attractive to younger residents.

“They want a city that’s more bikeable and more walkable. They want to be able to live, work and play in the same area,” he said. “They’re not drawn in by the idea of driving everywhere.”

Building a city that is friendly to people on bikes also improves health and creates stronger neighborhoods, Yudelson said.

Prior to the rule change -- spurred in part, city officials and bicycle advocates said, by WXXI News reporting -- the city had no universal ban on cars in bike lanes. Most bike lanes were covered by no stopping, no standing or no parking signs, but even then, the city had no way to cite a motorist specifically for stopping in a bike lane.

Now, Yudelson said, police and parking enforcement officers will be able to track their enforcement efforts and see how often the rules are being broken.

The rule change is also about education as much as it is enforcement, Yudelson said.

“The city is a victim of its own success in some ways,” he said, creating more bicycle infrastructure -- and more bicyclists -- than some people were ready for.

“All of the things that we’ve been doing have come on really fast,” Yudelson said. “Partially what we’re doing here is trying to create a culture change in Rochester.”

Without those education and enforcement efforts, bicycle advocates said, people on bikes are put in danger when they try to use the city’s growing bicycle infrastructure.

“It’s a universal rule that any city gets what it tolerates,” said Jesse Peers, the cycling coordinator at Reconnect Rochester, a nonprofit that works with the city to encourage alternative transportation. “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 and abilities on bikes.”

A W.B. Mason truck stands in the bike lane on Andrews Street while its driver unloads a delivery.
Credit Brett Dahlberg / WXXI News

That increased enforcement could be a burden for some in the city, though. Al Colon, a delivery truck driver for W.B. Mason, was parked in a bike lane unloading his truck on Andrews Street last week.

“There’s pretty much nowhere to park,” Colon said. “Everywhere says no parking.”

Fining him or his company for stopping in bike lanes would slow down his deliveries and inconvenience him and his customers, he said.

But Peers, who was on the working group that developed much of the new legislation, said the rules are meant to prioritize safety over convenience.

“Big delivery trucks are not a good fit in tight urban environments,” Peers said. “We need to be enforcing the rules and considering other methods of delivery that don’t endanger people and discourage people from getting around the city safely.”

But an incident hours before the vote illustrated how difficult it might be for the city to meet the letter of its new law.

A city-owned SUV idles in the bike lane outside city hall hours before the city council voted in favor of legislation, submitted to the council by Mayor Lovely Warren, that prohibits cars from stopping in bike lanes.
Credit Brett Dahlberg / WXXI News

A city-owned SUV driven by the director of emergency communications idled in the bike lane on Church Street in front of City Hall on Tuesday afternoon.

Justin Roj, the city communications director, explained that the car was in the bike lane for only a brief time while the driver took a call.

“What I would refer to as ‘stopping’ is stopping at length,” Roj said. “It’s not contrary to the way, in essence, the spirit of the law is seen.

“I don’t think it’s irrational or irresponsible for somebody to pull their car over to let their passenger out or pull their car over to let a passenger come in,” even if the driver is stopping in a bike lane, he said.

“It’s no different than a cyclist entering a vehicle lane when necessary to do what they need to do.”

The SUV pulled away when a WXXI News reporter began taking pictures.

This story has been updated to reflect a clarification of the purpose of the SUV parked in the bike lane outside City Hall on Tuesday afternoon. City Communications Director Justin Roj had told WXXI News that the vehicle was there to pick up Deputy Mayor James Smith for lunch. “I was mistaken,” Roj said on Wednesday.