Beyond Thermoplast, Street Signs and Signal Timing

Last week we asked the Department of Transportation why the agency had not followed through on making safety improvements on the Fifth Avenue bike lane in Brooklyn by end-of-summer. DOT responded with a statement saying that "Share the Road" signs had, in fact, been installed and that, as part of the new citywide bike safety initiative announced two weeks ago, the agency was developing a new and improved way of marking "Class III" bike routes.

I am on Fifth Avenue pretty much every day either on foot, bike, bus or in a car but I had no idea that new "Share the Road" signs had been installed until DOT’s press office said so. I finally got outside with a camera this morning and here is what I found:

class3bikelane2.jpg

Most of the signs have been placed very high up near the tops of lampposts, 12 to 20 feet above the street, I’d say. They read, "Bike Route" in green and "Share the Road" in yellow. The signs seem to be about 24" tall and 18" wide. They are placed on virtually every corner facing both directions. Yet, I had not noticed them until I went out and consciously looked for them.

class3bikelane3.jpg

The signs became noticeable once I knew that they were there. But until I knew to look up for them, they were invisible to me and, I imagine, most other street users. It is great that DOT is acknowledging bicyclists with these street signs but I don’t think that they will do much to make Fifth Avenue safer for bicycling. I would like to see the agency put down bicycle stencils as a temporary measure until the new Class III bike route markings have been developed. Who knows how long the new markings will take to be approved.

class3bikelane1.jpg

While high-visibility stencils are, in my opinion, better than street signs in helping motorists be more aware of cyclists, they are still not enough. Take a look at these images from Paris, France, below. In the last few years, as a part of its new Mobilien system, the City of Paris has created numerous, physically-separated lanes for the exclusive use of buses, bikes and taxis:

paris_protected_cyclist.jpg

Perhaps if you got rid of parking on side of the avenue you could do something like this on Fifth and Seventh Avenues in Brooklyn.

paris_separate_from_traffic.jpg

It is time for New York City to expand its street design toolbox beyond Thermoplast, street signs and traffic signal timing. New York City should be leading the world in urban streetscape design. We should be taking the best ideas and setting the example.    

paris_most_of_street_bus.jpg

  • Here is what Transportation Alternatives’ *Bicycle Blueprint* (1993) says about “Class III” bike facilities [page 33, “Street design” chapter]:

    “This chapter addresses Class II facilities — on-street bike lanes. Class III (signed only) bike routes are not considered here as facilities that contribute meaningfully to cycling.” (a separate chapter looks at Class I greenway-type bike paths).

    I was a co-author of the book. – Jon Orcutt

  • Yeah, I agree Orcutt. The signs are relatively useless, especially at the height that Aaron shows in these photos. Stencils and striped lanes are much better, but protected greenway-like areas the best.

    The only thing you need on the curb is a cut-out every block for pick-up and drop-off of people and goods. No Parking, that should be on side streets and charged at market rate.

  • todd

    Best to put these on Prospect Park West and/or 8th avenue. Both avenues are one-way and will provide for the biggest benefit for cyclists and least intrusive for motorists. I can’t see these exclusive lanes ever getting built on 5th and/or 7th…They are far too busy and these lanes would be far too obtrusive.

  • Eloy Anzola

    I agree with Todd. As I stated on the previous related post…

    I suppose the 5th Ave bike lanes are already designated, and there is no easy way to change that.

    Proper signs would help, but 5th Ave is simply a terrible and dangerous choice for bicycle lanes — nothing is likely to change that anytime soon.

    For Aaron suggestions to work, the lanes should be built in the appropriate streets.

  • I agree – the current most-commonly-used “bike lanes” in the city leave bikers neck-and-neck with tons of fast-moving, cold, hard steel. And they’re often abused by drivers, unles they’re patrolled by cops, which is a waste of law enforcement use when we could easily create wide, buffered lanes instead, which enforce themselves by not allowing car access.

    We need to stop thinking of bike lanes as “an accomodation for fringe cyclists” and instead think of them as the cheapest, easiest, most flexible mass transit option. Fill a lane with cyclists and fill another with cars and you quickly see that’s so.

    We know that creating more car lanes draws more cars to fill them, rather than alleviating congestion.

    Time to embrace that same effect for bikes. Create a real bike lane, remove a car lane, and traffic will shift to accomodate the change.

  • Clarence

    Here’s another typical example of odd placement from the sign folks: a few years ago on Henry Street (in Brooklyn) the DOT installed two real Share The Road signs (Note: these actually have a bicycle glyph on them!) The problem? These signs are placed at the intersections of DeGraw and Sackett (just prior to Union Street.) As anyone in Brooklyn knows, this where Henry becomes wider again and less chaotic for cyclists.

    They would have been far more useful and helpful at Warren, Baltic, or Kane where Henry is so narrow it is near impossible for a car and bike to co-exist alongside one another. This leads to tension and chaos.

    Even when I am bicycling at 15 to 20 mph I will get incessant honking from a car driver behind me who might be delayed for a few short seconds over that span. And we are talking (if they don’t speed) maybe 5 to 10 seconds tops! I can’t imagine what a mom or dad with child must have to endure…

    These are little things, but little things that add up that feeds NYC cyclists mistrust of the city not doing things correct. Had ANYONE at the DOT asked ANY cyclist in the neighborhood we could have told them that Share the Road signs would have been better placed back three or four blocks back for all users.

    These are the kind of procedural things that I am really hoping are going to be cleared up with some of these new initiatives/plans from the DOT and City Hall. I do have my hopes up for the first time in over 10 years and it sounds as if the Commissioner and Mayor are listening so this could be very exciting and beneficial to everyone for a change. Fingers are crossed.

  • Andrew

    Is it me, or do these “share the road” signs seem like they are geared toward cyclists, commanding them to share the road and let the cars get through.

  • mfs

    there’s a great idea in this post that can be expanded citywide. In every bike route that doesn’t have a separated lane in the city, the city should paint two bike stencils on every block in the right-most traffic lane in each direction.

    It’s:
    1) easy as pie
    2) not very expensive (relative to a bike lane)
    3) requires no traffic engineering
    4) raises driver’s awareness of cyclists on the route
    5) is easily seen by drivers and bikers
    6) is already consistent with city policy (i.e. the bike master plan)
    7) can be a stop-gap measure until a bike lane is created
    8) overcomes guyfromDOT’s concern about signage overload
    9) provides a navigation tool for cyclists
    10) confirms to a cyclist without a map handy that they are on a city-approved bike route.

  • I agree that 5th Ave doesn’t work well as a class 3 bike lane, having ridden down it w/ my family a few weekends ago. However before we dismiss these types of facilities altogether, I think we should remember that they can be a successful part of a city bike system, as long as they are signed and marked correctly, and compliment a series of level 1 and 2 lanes that are also accessible and provide connectivity between bigger destinations.
    These types of facilities are common in Europe (Paris calls them Green Zones, and traffic is limited to 30KPH on them) mainly on residential streets where speed is not an issue and there isn’t room for a separate lane.
    However, as Clarence points out, New York isn’t really ready for such things until there is more balance between bikes and cars on the road and a shared culture is fostered.

  • ddartley

    “Perhaps if you got rid of parking on side of the avenue you could do something like this on Fifth and Seventh Avenues in Brooklyn.”

    That’s the problem; I don’t think side-of-street parking is going away any time soon.

    And that’s the reason I want to start pushing my CENTER-of-Avenues bike lane idea.

    And THAT’S why it would be nice if the DOT would provide a way to contact Ryan Russo–he’d be the one to send such ideas to, but all you can do is fill out a webform to send a message to Weinshall.

  • someguy

    Could you explain how this center-of-avenue idea works? I don’t see how it would work on a street with limited width such as 5th or 7th Avenue without removing parking.

    Also, if you write correspondence to DOT it should find its way to the right person.

  • I actually think that the wide stretch of Fifth Avenue from Carroll to the Prospect Expressway is one of the best on-street bike lanes in the city and a really nice ride most of the time. There is plenty of room and lights are timed so that traffic can’t move too fast, it seems. I much prefer bicyling on 5th to any of the other options — 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th or 8th.

  • mfs

    because of all the quick ins and out shopping parkers on 5th, I feel like I’m always about to get doored on those lanes. plus the B63 bus is continually crossing back and forth over the bike lane.

  • da

    For the narrow stretch of 5th Ave, perhaps a single row of parking in the middle of the avenue instead of two curbside rows. The center row could be used by cars going in either direction. That would make the street wide enough to accomodate bike lanes curbside in both directions. I’ve seen center parking in Boston’s South End I think.

  • Clarence

    I think it is great to spark all kinds of creative discussion about ideas and not necessarily shoot anything down, but I don’t know how any center/middle ideas will work on 5th Avenue? I’d need to see a real explanation of how that would feasibly work (and remember you got buses going up and down constantly.)

    One thought I had is this, find out which direction cyclists travel most on 5th Avenue (I’ll bet it would be north going to Manhattan) and just make a bike lane on that side of the street. Then go up to 6th Avenue and make a bike lane in the opposite direction on that street. Not a perfect solution by any means, but at least you would be able to accomodate a bike lane in one travel direction on these Avenues.

  • ddartley

    I’m glad that people are curious about the center-of-ave. bike lane idea. I would like to explain it more here, but as you can imagine, it requires a lot of explaining! For a couple examples, it would require bikes to be given a stopping zone out in front of the line where cars have to stop (or bikes could be given a lead green light, but painting the street is surely easier and cheaper); also, it would not be physically separated–cars would be allowed to cross through it (but not simply travel in it).

    The truth is it would not work on every avenue–sure enough I’m mainly familiar with the big avenues in Manhattan, and I don’t know well the Aves in Brooklyn you guys are talking about.

    Even if I show it to professionals in the field and they think it’s ingenious and practicable, I am sure it would be politically unpopular at first. For that and other reasons, I’m sure it’s something for years (and years) down the road.

    All that said, can anyone tell me whom I’d contact to get good looking, computer sketches made? All I have is my embarrassing pencil sketch. Should I just get off my ass and learn a graphics program?

  • Clarence

    You do realize that the NEW DOT Brooklyn approach to the Manhattan Bridge is going to be a combined, elevated lane in the center?

    http://www.transalt.org/e-bulletin/2005/June/bridge.pdf#search=%22manhattan%20bridge%20sands%20street%22

    It looks awesome really, and I have to be honest, when I first saw this announced last year, it gave me hope that the DOT might be starting to think in the right direction because it was so innovative.

    Based upon some recent policy decisions, maybe it was the first little sign?

  • kablooey

    I think Northern California’s bike policy works without having to completely restructure the roads. It was explained to me while riding in California that bicyclists are entitled by law to just as much of the road as any motor vehicle!!!!!!!

    From what I personally experienced and observed was that when there was enough shoulder on the side of a road for bicyclists to ride safely riders would ride there allowing cars and such to use a majority of the road. However, when conditions were not optimal for the bicyclist’s safety; parked cars, winding roads the bicyclist was entitled by law to use the entire road. And strangely cars appeared to me to respect and obey this law.

    I worry that restructuring our roads to create bicycle specific bike ways while being utterly fatastic could lead to complete bike restrictions elsewhere. Perhaps thats just inevitable. But I can’t help but imagine what our streets would be like if basic laws were enforced: double parking, signaling before turning, etc. And while bicyclists can be ticketed for speeding and going through red lights why should a bicyclist not be entitled to use as much of the street as a car or truck. Especially somewhere like 5th ave in Brooklyn where traffic shouldn’t necessarily be travelling any more than 20 mph in most parts anyway.

  • ddartley

    Clarence, yes, I’ve seen that and I was excited too.

    To me, though, there’s still a problem with lanes like that–they’re so dinky and narrow. Cars are given space to pass slower cars. In narrow bike lanes (especially physically separated ones), it’s much harder to pass slower people. Why can’t cyclists get a little more room?

  • ddartley

    kablooey,

    I have always had the same worries as you when it comes to setting aside space only for cyclists. Such “segregation,” to be dramatic, is definitely not my ideal, but it seems to be the only way New York is going.

    Of course more important than any of it is the goal changing our culture so that motorists don’t feel they have the right to absurd speed and the right to absurd use of public space.

  • Clarence

    ddartley,

    I think the DOT schematic is a little off. Since I believe they are also going to utilize that buffer on the far right in the photo as part of the median, it will be larger.

    I want to do a video on this and I am sure at some point we’ll realize that the width is better than it looks in the photo simulation.

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