By Joy Bergmann
Frustrated by e-bikers “going 20, 30 miles an hour,” putting his outdoor dining customers and employees at risk, Flor de Mayo restaurant manager José Chu decided to try a new tactic on Wednesday. He put two portable speed bumps — purchased on Amazon — across the Amsterdam Avenue bike lane between 83rd and 84th Streets.
“We did not put this thing on because we want to cause any trouble or problems with our regular bikers. It’s just to protect the customers and also our employees and the neighbors that walk up and down the block,” Chu told WSR. “All you have to do is slow down a little bit as a courtesy to people on the street. We all share the roadway.”
Chu said he believed he was the first businessperson along the UWS Amsterdam corridor to use such a technique.
The experiment lasted about 24 hours.
Shortly after WSR’s Thursday afternoon visit, Chu said, a man in a City Department of Transportation [DOT] shirt came by and told him the bumps had to be removed. He complied.
“The inspector told the manager the speed hump was not permitted as it is a hazard to cyclists,” said Lolita Avila, a DOT spokesperson, adding that complaints about Open Dining set-ups can be reported via 311.
This particular DOT inspection may have been prompted by a Twitter post by Gretchen Connelie, an avid biker and Morningside Heights.
Connelie told WSR that when she first spotted the bumps on Wednesday afternoon, she wasn’t sure what to think. “Is this genius or is it terrible?” She stopped, took a photo and continued on, pedaling slowly over the hump. She says it jolted her so severely her bag bounced out of her Citibike’s basket. She then decided the bumps were, “an accident waiting to happen.”
Bicycling fans responding to her post agreed with that assessment. Advocacy group Bike New York tweeted, “We think they are terrible & need to be removed immediately.” Transportation activist Thomas DeVito posted, “Looks like a lawsuit to me….eeeesh.” One man claimed to have gone out and moved the bumps aside.
Connelie says she doesn’t see any malicious intent by the restaurant. “I’m just not sure they understand how dangerous they could be.”
Chu says he rode a bike over the speed bumps and didn’t feel endangered. “If you go slowly, you’re fine.”
WSR asked DOT for other techniques that might help restaurants calm — but not hamper — bike lane traffic around Open Dining sites. They didn’t answer the question.
“What can we do? Give me something better and we’ll try it,” sighs Chu. For now, he says he’ll keep advising everyone — diners, staff, residents and cyclists — to look in all directions before crossing the bike lane.
Lee Uehara agrees with that advice. As education manager of the UWS’s CityBikeCoach.com, she has another suggestion. “Restaurants should stop expecting dinky signs written on small chalkboards to do the job. They should have large signs — like 3 feet by 4 feet and with 3-to-5-inch letters — in high-visibility and contrasting colors placed 10 to 15 away from their street huts,” she told WSR. “This gives the cyclists, who should be looking ahead anyway, plenty of time to slow down and proceed with humanity in mind.”
But would a big “slow down” sign really change speeding bikers’ behavior?