Bike lanes are pretty clearly not parking spaces, but, as any city cyclist knows, cars and trucks still insist on parking in them. In New York City, cyclists have become aggrieved enough about cars in bike lanes that in September activists launched a name-and-shame, crowd-sourced map of offending vehicles. It turns out, though, that this persistent misbehavior hasn’t just been around for a few years, but for more than a century.
In the 1890s, New York City started laying asphalt down on city streets, in large part because of lobbying from cyclists. Sometimes whole stretches of road would be paved, but sometimes the city would lay down asphalt strips specifically for cyclists to use. Right away, other vehicles started blocking them.
As The Bicycling World wrote in 1897, “it would seem as if an asphalt strip a few feet in width would fulfill every requirement of the cyclist, but it does not; and the reason why may be summed up in one word—‘wagons.’”
But it wasn’t just wagons. It was carts, trucks, carriages, and other vehicles, too. By 1899, one city councilman was pressing his colleagues to pass a law that would fine these bike-lane blockers, as the journal Public Improvements reported:
That $10 fine would be the equivalent of hundreds of dollars today, although the journal doesn’t report if the law actually passed. If it did, it had disappeared a century later, when in the 1990s, the New York City Council was again considering a fine for blocking a bike lane. In 2016 it is illegal to park in a bike lane in New York City; the fine now is $115. Perhaps after a century of trying to chase other vehicles out of bike lanes, it’s time for a new strategy—prioritizing protected bike lanes, for example—or a steeper fine.