Latest Kent Avenue Bike Lane Complaint: Truck Traffic

kent_ave_two_way.jpgOne section of the Kent Avenue two-way bike path has been painted. Two more will follow. Image: NYCDOT [PDF].

We’ve got another dispatch from the ongoing bike lane drama that is Kent Avenue. At Wednesday night’s information session hosted by Brooklyn CB1, the DOT team gave a short presentation [PDF] outlining their plan to address truck traffic changes caused by converting Kent to one-way flow. Then the public was invited to comment.

north_wmsburg.jpgTruck routes in North Williamsburg and Greenpoint.

According to sources who attended the meeting, most of the 60 or so people who showed up were worried that the new pattern will send more trucks down their streets, especially North 11th Street — an existing truck route — and Wythe Street, which runs parallel to Kent and is not a truck route. While some stretches of the discussion were civil, a few opponents were not above browbeating tactics, shouting down testimony from bike lane supporters, we’re told.

A couple of things to keep in mind. The traffic changes are happening in three phases. So far only the first has been completed. Once the whole thing is finished and truckers have had some time to learn the new traffic patterns, the straightest shot heading south goes nowhere near Wythe or North 11th. DOT intends to promote this route, which takes trucks down McGuinness Boulevard instead, and work with the local police precincts to keep truckers off streets where they’re not supposed to drive.

As for the notion that the project makes streets less safe (some opponents went so far as to say the new traffic patterns will endanger children), it’s hard to take seriously. This is not just a one-way conversion: The crossing distances will be shorter and the roadway narrower on Kent Avenue, which motorists used to treat as a little stretch of autobahn in Brooklyn. Now that traffic will be calmer.

The bike lane was always intended to be a precursor to the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway. The new design now occupies the greenway footprint, so opposing the bike lane is tantamount to opposing the greenway. An area undergoing as much residential development as North Brooklyn sorely needs this new space for pedestrians and cyclists. Walking to the waterfront will feel much safer and more appealing, and biking to the Williamsburg Bridge won’t just be limited to a few brave souls. CB1 embraced those improvements when it approved the greenway plan last April [PDF]; the same benefits should feel much more tangible once the Kent Avenue bike lane is completed next month.

  • Green Lane

    It’s great that our professional bike advocates/public policy experts are out doing the pointless hippie Parking Day crap instead of calling Thompson on his pledge to rip out bike lanes – I’m sure Kent will qualify if a couple of people can get to the great Democratic leader.

  • Ben, what do you mean by “biking to the Williamsburg Bridge won’t just be limited to a few brave souls”? From what I’ve seen over the 10 years or so since the Willy-B’s bike path was remodeled, it appeals to riders from all over Brooklyn, coming from all points of the compass.

    In the larger context, I don’t see a reason for snide comments like that one on a “daily news source, online community and political mobilizer for the Livable Streets movement.” I believe that the best way to encourage livable-streets activism is to encourage bicycling, and I believe that active bicyclists are the best advocates for improved bicycle infrastructure. Your wording seems to me to encourage people to postpone cycling until some level of infrastructure nirvana is attained. Please explain how this is good for building a livable-streets movement.

  • OMG!

    Do you really think that SUV driver or any other is going to be looking to their left for contraflow bicycle traffic?!?!?!

    I’m not familiar with Kent Ave beyond what I’ve been reading on Streetsblog but I do have major reservations about bidirectional bicycle lanes like that pictured here. I could only agree to them if every time traffic crosses the bike lane it is ONLY at a signalized intersection and all parties (most particularly the bicyclists) obey those signals. Any unsignalized motor vehicle crossings (intersections, DRIVEWAYS!) if they exist are going to be problems.

    I’m all for innovative design but you got to be careful not to push the envelope too far. I trust NYCDoT has done their homework on this because I don’t know of anyplace else that has tried such a design in an on-street application where regular traffic crosses the lane.

    God! I sound like John Forrester but he does have some good points!

  • J:Lai

    I have a question, slightly off topic, for regular bikers on Kent St.
    I am an occasional user, and the current set up seems to require (if you are coming from Flushing Ave):

    1. riding in a shared traffic lane with cars on the right side of the road
    2. cutting across oncoming traffic to get to the left side to ride in the 2-way separated bike lane
    3. cutting back across oncoming traffic to ride in the northbound bike lane above approx. south 5th st.

    I found this to be somewhat difficult, and I imagine it would be much worse during rush hour when you have a lot of vehicle traffic. Also, I didn’t any type of signage warning cyclists of the need for this criss-crossing.
    Is there a better way that I missed, or are cyclists really expected to navigate in this manner, at least until the new bike lane is extended?

    Not to mention the fact that you get people using the new bike line as a play area for kids, but that’s a different issue.

  • Moser

    Andy, if you look at the small inset map above and identify Kent Avenue you will see that it’s a waterfront route with very low volume crossing the Avenue (essentially to a few apartment building garages). Additionally, the lane along the northbound side of the bike lane is a floating parking lane similar to that on Grand Street in Soho, not a travel lane. The car to the right of the red truck in the photo is parked.

  • J-Lai: Cyclists are expected to navigate in that manner until conversion is completed, with the added proviso of “there are siganlized intersections and you wait for them to clear”.

    Conversion… is in progress. What’s your proposed alternative to the DOT’s three-phase job; should they do it all at once, using 3x the employees? If so, who’s to fund them, at the expense of what other projects?

  • And to add to Moser – Andy, virtually every point where traffic crosses the twinned cycle track, is a signalized intersections. I’m cool with Idaho stops but not with blowing reds, and the only way you’ll be in any danger here is if you blow the reds.

    Those folks get my best of luck and what’s coming to them.

  • J:Lai

    kaja —
    I’m just saying it might be nice to have a sign like “warning: bike lane ends ahead” or something like that so people who are unfamiliar with the current layout will not suddenly get dumped into oncoming traffic with no warning.
    Especially at the changeup around south 5th, if you are heading north, there is a real potential to be unexpectedly heading into oncoming bike and/or car traffic.

    If I’m not mistaken, road work that affects the flow of car traffic is always indicated with signs and road markings or cones — I expect the same for bicycle traffic.

  • If all streets had bike lanes like this there’d be no salmon.

    Even so, I wonder if the lack of some physical separation from motor vehicle traffic might legitimize wrong-way cycling.

  • Andy B: Kent has very few crossings. Montreal has 2-way separated paths on ordinary streets with regular crossings, and people seem to be used to it.

  • Okay I here ya’ and I’m VERY glad to here that (nearly?) every crossing is at a signalized crossing. It is what I would expect from NYCDoT.

    I just know that when I driving and I’m pulling out of an UNSIGNALIZED intersection onto a one-way street in the manner that SUV driver is doing in the picture, most if not ALL of my attention is us focused to my right for traffic, not to my left. This becomes even more true when the road is busy and sight lines compromised by parked cars.

    Even if a driver is being very attentive to the bike lane, there come a point where a driver can not take in and calculate all the potential “targets” moving on the road (This is talked about in regards to pedestrians crossing busy multi-lane roadways all the time and pedestrians have a less obscured field of vision). I see a design like this having the potential of pushing that cognitive envelope if an unsignalized intersection where to cross a bike lane like this.

    And Mike E.

    There are plenty of designs out there that are less than optimal and others that have come about to correct those imperfect solutions. If I’m starting a bike network from scratch, I would not be willing to implement a design that has questions about its safety just because someone else is doing it. It would be best to use the latest design solutions. Those Montreal bike lanes were implemented years ago and would not be considered state-of-the-art by most bike / ped planning world today even if the locals are “used to it.”

  • Moser

    No, the main routes in Montreal have all gone in in the last 3 years.

  • Really! Interesting?

    Well they are a different country and many in Quebec would rather be a different country a second time around too. I for one sure wouldn’t propose Montreal like facilities in the US and I haven’t heard of them being replicated elsewhere in Canada but I could be mistaken.

  • > most if not ALL of my attention is us focused to my right for traffic, not to my left

    You’d be doing it wrong. (Drivers like you mean bicyclists’ self-preservation demands they look at the faces of drivers at intersections, and treat as suspect any driver whom they haven’t seen look in their direction.)

  • Andy:

    1) “most if not ALL of my attention is us focused to my right for traffic, not to my left”. How do you deal with pedestrians when making turns? Theyre coming at you from both sides.

    2) “I for one sure wouldn’t propose Montreal like facilities in the US” Is the population of Canada fundamentally different from that of the US? Do urbanites in Montreal behave differently than those in the US? Why do you assume that invisible political lines actually mean anything? It’s the same argument used for every single improvement. “Oh sharrows may have worked in San Fran, but theyll NEVER work here!”, “Oh, bulb-outs are everywhere in Boston, but drivers here would hit them!”. None of these arguments are accurate.

    The only question I have with this bike lane is for the turn lane in the picture. Do they have a signal independent of the bike lane, or does everybody get green together? If the latter, than I wonder why the green wasnt extended through the intersection.

  • Actually, Montreal is a similar density to New York, and its street system is nothing if not more complicated. Their drivers are just as bad – if not worse – than New York drivers. And, they don’t allow right turns on red. It’s a great model for New York.

  • brent delf

    Andy B from Jersey- “I do have major reservations about bidirectional bicycle lanes”.
    Unfortunately, anyone who has ridden over 10 feet in an NYC bike lane can attest that ALL bike lanes are bidirectional in practice- might as well just stripe them that way so the guys delivering for Luigi’s Pizza will at least stay on the correct side of the lane

  • Moser

    My sense about Canadian cities is that the French speakers take a French approach to governing and basically impose things the government wants to do, which at present is bike lanes and bike sharing, while the English speakers wring their hands for 20 years and don’t do a lot.

  • Yes, and English speakers sue a lot in court (particularly those in the US), while French and others consider an accident caused by poor designs just a part of doing business. I would think that of all people, those reading Streetsblog would understand this concept.

    And yes, while driving I’ll focus most of my attention in the direction of traffic once I’ve established that there are no pedestrians at the intersection (Driving can be really difficult to do at some places!). In the meantime without my knowing it, a cyclist could arrive from over a block away from a direction I am not expecting. With a facility design that has cyclists coming from a direction that drivers are not accustomed, you run a risk of collision if that intersection is unsignalized.

    Driving a car is probably the most difficult cognitive activity that most people will ever do. It is up there with neurosurgery. YES! Really! (But I don’t have the source for that tidbit in front of me.) It becomes exponential more difficult in an urban environment where the “moving variables” become that much more numerous. To combat this engineers use predictable designs (I know. They can become TOO predictable at times). Building a new facility with a design that drivers are not familiar with can cause problems if those problems are not mitigated. From what I’ve read here from others, I believe that NYCDoT has mitigated those concerns by signalizing most if not all intersection that cross this bidirectional bike lane.

  • The Opoponax

    What is with the obsessive line painting on this bike path? Maybe it’s just the Kent Ave. path I’m noticing lately because it’s in transition. I’ve noticed it on the bridges, too.

    Bikes aren’t like cars, which go extremely fast, are difficult to control, and give drivers a very limited view of their surroundings. I don’t need a double yellow line to deal with oncoming bike traffic, because I will see said traffic coming in plenty of time to make sure we don’t hit each other.

    Imagine the city funds that could be saved if we didn’t approach infrastructure with a bunch of assumptions based on cars…

  • The Opoponax

    “Driving a car is probably the most difficult cognitive activity that most people will ever do. It is up there with neurosurgery. YES! Really!”

    And the great thing about New York City is that if you don’t feel up to the task, you have almost endless alternative choices.

    Seriously, if you are so worried about your driving abilities that you don’t think it’s safe for bicycles to be on the same street as you on a protected path where there is almost no way for a sober driver to accidentally “not see” the bike lane and plow into cyclists, you should really not be driving, period. No one will think less of you in these parts if you put that limit on yourself, either.

    I bike on Kent Ave. several times a week, and have driven it under both the old and new configurations. Any driver who sees that bike path and is worried that their car presents a significant danger to cyclists using the new bike lanes is not fit to drive in New York City, plain and simple.

  • Opponax, I think the yellow lines make it clear that this is in fact a two-way bike path. Without the yellow lines, that’s not obvious to the casual observer.

  • Brian

    Sure there will be even more salmoning on Kent. Those riders go out their way to be annoying to other cyclist.

  • jhon

    For every one who wondered what it was all going to be like if Kent became a one way … here in 2010 it’s fact. The bike lane and creating Kent as a northbound one way was a shortsighted absurd piece of public planning. Wythe Ave is buckling under the weight of all of that traffic and is mostly a parking lot from the BQE to Grand Ave. The intersection at Division is a disaster of trucks, cars and hasidic mini vans and school buses laying on the horn for hours on end. There’s no follow through or patrolling by city planners through police presence, no attempt to control the situation it’s just been left as half-baked as it was planned and full of dangerous, lawless driving, noise pollution and disorder. Awesome.

  • Helen C

    Why are we having bike lanes at all?
    Why are making traffic worse than before?
    Why the bikers feel they are entitled to run over people and cars?
    Why are these new bikers think streets are where they should learn how to bike instead of the park or an empty parking lot?
    Do we intend to make biking a major mean of transportation instead of subway and bus?
    Shouldn’t DOT be working on improving current problems instead of inventing new ones?
    Why spending tax majority tax payers money on minority bikers?
    How can biking help NYC’s economy practically or making it a less attractive to live, work and visit?
    Should bikers be given tickets/penalised when they hit ppl or cars?

    Should there be license test for bikers? So that we know we have qualified bikers who understand the rules and etiquette of biking.

    If NYC decides to adopt biking as a mainstream transportation, it has to come up with regulations.

    I am a defensive driver in NYC, but have been approach by rude bikers telling me they own the streets of NYC and should be watched out every second. I have to say that I don’t mean to insult any of them, but they feel likes rodents and insects that came from no where.

    Biking does not necessarily fit every city especially NYC where it’s full of vehicles and pedestrians.

  • I have to say that I don’t mean to insult any of them, but they feel likes rodents and insects that came from no where.

    Um…. nobody is going to take you seriously if you talk like this.

  • yes

    Cyclists, I love riding as much as you do but I kindly and firmly ask that all traffic laws are obeyed. Stop at Red lights and follow the correct traffic direction. Please wear a helmet and please have a light for your bike front and back.

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