DOT Reply on Brooklyn’s Fifth Avenue Bike Lane

Earlier this week we asked why the Department of Transportation had not followed-through on its promise to fix up the Fifth Avenue bike lane in Brooklyn by end of summer. Ryan Russo, the agency’s new Director for Street Management and Safety got back to us with this response:

Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn, between Carroll and Dean Streets, is now designated as a Class III bike route. As anticipated in the May 19, 2005 letter, we completed installation of Class III bike route signage along this route in July. The signage consists of standard "Bike Route" signs complemented with a special "Share the Road" message sign. We still intend to install Class 3 lane markings consisting of bicycle logos and chevron arrows.

As you are aware, the Department recently announced a comprehensive, citywide bike safety initiative that includes a commitment to install 200 miles of new bike facilities during the next three years including up to 45 miles of Class III routes. As part of this effort, we anticipate making further upgrades to the signs and markings used to designate future Class III routes. We are currently looking closely at the appropriate designs for these upgrades. In order for the Fifth Avenue route to utilize new Class III markings we have postponed the anticipated installation of the markings for Fifth Avenue until the start of the next markings season in April.

We walk and ride down Fifth Avenue every day but hadn’t noticed the new street signs. We’ll look for them and try to snap a photograph. We are glad to hear that DOT is looking into improving the signs and markings for Class III bike lanes. But April seems like an awfully long time to wait. Why not install some interim measure between now and then? By April 2007 it will be nearly two years since Elizabeth Padilla was killed riding her bike on the northern end of Fifth Avenue, now identified as one of the more dangerous bike riding spots in the city.

  • Interested in what shared lane markings look like, check out this one minute clip of “sharrows” being painted in San Francisco.

    http://homepage.mac.com/trorb/bikeTV2/iMovieTheater162.html

  • How could 5th Ave be “one of the most dangerous riding spots” in the city if it had exactly one fatality in 10 years, per the new report?

  • ddartley

    “Marking season?”

    Maybe there’s good reason for such a mysterious sounding thing, but it sounds to me like a symptom of Byzantine bureaucracy.

  • Mitch

    Do you think Class III bike-route signs will do anything significant to make Fifth Avenue safer for bikes? If the street was too narrow and crowded and dangerous before the signs went up, it’s still narrow and crowded dangerous now. (Admittedly, if the signs attract bikers to the street there might be a safety-in-numbers effect; do you think that effect would be significant?)

    My instinct would be that you’d need some sort of change in the street’s configuration to make it safe for bicyclists. Would it be possible to remove parking from one side? Would that free up enough room for a bike-only lane on one side and a shared lane on the other? Would that be remotely possible? Maybe you have some leverage now that Fifth Avenue is an official bike route.

  • Geoff

    I saw one of these “share the road” signs on 5th Ave. the other day. It was up *very* high on the lamppost at the south-west corner of 5th and Union facing north (for southbound traffic). It’s fairly certain, given its height, that very few drivers see it.

  • Facts,

    The northern end of Fifth Avenue was recently identified as being right in the middle of one of the top three cyclist fatality clusters in New York City:

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2006/09/14/bicycle-fatality-clusters/

  • Aaron,

    You are misleading and inaccurate in your writing.

    You said that 5th Avenue itself was one of the most dangerous riding spots in the City. Reread your writing. You are basing this on incidents at other locations. The subject is 5th Avenue, and it had one fatality in 10 years, period. Retraction?

    (The garden of a brownsone on St. Marks is in the middle of one of those “clusters” as well, should it be reengineered to save cyclists? Streets are lines, clusters are circles.)

    Also, you say the DOT “had not followed-through on its promise to fix up the Fifth Avenue bike lane in Brooklyn by end of summer.”

    First, there was a promise to do something; the date provided was an “anticipated” date, not a promised date. And second, half of the improvements (signs) were done by the anticpated date.

    It is a disservice to the credibility of your interest group to be a spinner at best and a writer of mistruths at worst.

  • J:Lai

    Am I the only one who thinks class III bike routes are useless? Putting a few signs that designate a road as a bike route does little or nothing to change the behavior of drivers and bikers.

    Class III designation is a way for the DOT to pay lip service to its commitment to cyclists without making any meaningful changes. I would rather that they just came out and said “screw you, we’re not taking space away from cars for the benefit of cyclists” instead of this charade.

  • moxieb

    Facts,
    A garden on St. Marks is hardly a riding spot. 5th Ave, however, is one, and a heavily used on at that. I see nothing misleading about referring to 5th Ave — a street with 1 fatality in 10 years, centrally located in a fatally cluster — as one of the most dangerous riding spots in the city.

    It also seems fair to criticize DOT’s failure to fully mark 5th Avenue as a Class III bike lane by the end of summer. As an occasional freelancer, if a job was not entirely completed weeks past it’s estimated date of completion, my client would certainly see it as a broken promise. I see no reason not to hold the DOT to a similar standard.

  • So, Facts,

    The Dept of Health put a red circle around the northern end of Fifth Avenue and said that it represents one of the top three cyclist fatality clusters in NYC. What does that mean to you?

    To me it screams out: "Hey, Cyclists (including my wife who bikes this route at least twice a week during evening rush hour on her way to teach a class at BAM), be careful. This is a dangerous area for biking!"

    It sounds to me like you are writing-off the recent bike fatality epidemiology the same way tobacco company lawyers did back when they would try to make cancer victims prove which individual cigarette or pack of cigarettes gave them cancer.

    You can’t single out a pack of cigarettes for causing a person’s cancer just as you can’t single out Park Place and Fifth Avenue as the most dangerous bicycling intersection in NYC just because one woman died there. But the fatality cluster in this area tells us SOMETHING, doesn’t it?

    How should we be reading it, in your opinion? And more important, what should we do about it?

    But even more to the immediate point: What is the polite and acceptable amount of time for us to wait for DOT to paint stencils on a street? Is it acceptable professional etiquette for the DOT to miss its "anticipated" deadline without communicating that to the people who have been advocating for these safety improvements since Liz Padilla’s death nearly a year and a half ago (Full disclosure: That’s me. I’ve been organizing this campaign)? And if we are to be so pleased about the new street signs that have, apparently, been posted (I walk the avenue every day but haven’t noticed them), then why not give a call to the community members who are concerned about this and say, ‘Hey, we put up the new street signs — are they working for you guys?’

    Then there is the larger question of whether signs and stencils actually help to make cyclists safe. I don’t think I’ll get into that right now.

    On the micro-personal-advocacy level, it is the missing of the deadline and lack of communication that really gets me. In what kind of corporate culture is it OK to let deadlines simply disappear without letting anyone know — especially when the deadline has to do with life-and-death safety issues? I know that there are really good, well-meaning, and busy people working at DOT (there are also people sitting around waiting for their pensions to kick in). But I think this incident demonstrates the way in which DOT, the institution, often acts like an unaccountable bureaucracy with monopolistic control over a valuable public asset — the city’s streets. A more modern, business-like, customer-driven organization that had to deal with competition and accountability wouldn’t last long if it behaved like this.  

  • This would be a nice example of where Ryan Russo’s stated willingness to cooperate with local stakeholders:

    “I’d like to see a more cooperative relationship. I think there’s a lot of opportunity and a lot of common ground in many of the things that we all want to accomplish. So, let’s find that common ground and make things happen.”
    Ryan Russo, Streetsblog’>http://www.streetsblog.org/2006/09/14/streetsblog-interview-ryan-russo/#more-555“>Streetsblog Interview

    The three fatality clusters would seem to be a great place to start. There are three groups that are ready, willing and able to help out. Aaron’s’>http://www.parkslopeneighbors.org/vision.htm“>Aaron’s group in Park Slope, Sustainable’>http://www.ssbx.org“>Sustainable South Bronx for the cluter in the Bronx and http://transalt.org“>Transportation Alternatives which has a wealth of experience cooperating with the DOT. It would seem like a great place to start.

  • Eloy Anzola

    I don’t need many facts.

    I ride my bicycle almost everyday. The bike lane in Park Slope’s Fifth Ave (or all of 5th Ave Brooklyn) is one of the most dangerous of the city — don’t believe me? go ride it. —

    Simply put, 5th Ave. is very busy.

    With all its stores the avenue is, understandingly, full of pedestrians, jaywalking, and, of course, cars & trucks all over.

    Why anyone tought it would be a good idea to put a bike lane there is beyond me.

    Riding 4th Ave. is dramatically safer.
    The bike lane in 3rd Ave even better.

  • The case for early reading intervention. ,

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