MTA, DOT Sketch Out East Side Plans: Separated Lanes for Bikes, Not Buses

design_b.jpgOne configuration in the plan calls for a protected bike lane and a curbside bus lane. Image: MTA/NYCDOT

The MTA and NYCDOT released an outline last night for faster bus service and safer biking and walking on First and Second Avenues. The redesign is the flagship project in New York City’s plans to enhance its surface transit system by improving bus service, a long-held priority for transportation advocates and a stated goal of Mayor Michael Bloomberg going back to his days as a first-time candidate for office.

At a joint presentation to a group of local electeds and community board members known as the Community Advisory Committee, the agencies laid out a preliminary plan [PDF] to redesign the corridor from Houston Street to 125th Street with protected bike lanes, pedestrian refuges, and a package of bus enhancements. Physically separated bus lanes, viewed by many transportation planners as the most effective method to improve travel times on highly trafficked streets, are not part of the plan.

Advocates and elected officials reacted with measured praise, characterizing the proposal as a starting point which they hope to improve upon. “What was presented tonight is a good beginning,” said Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, who represents the east side of Manhattan, “but we haven’t seen enough information from the DOT and MTA to say for sure if we’re getting the best bang for our buck in terms of actual transit improvements.” The window of opportunity to make adjustments will be dictated by the project timeline, with the first phase of the redesign slated for construction this October.

The design calls for buses to run in a dedicated lane along the
right side of the street, either next to the curb or alongside a parking lane, depending on the location. Despite
support for separated bus lanes from 19 elected officials, the agencies intend to rely on camera enforcement, not segregated rights of way, to keep the bus lanes unobstructed by traffic. Overall, the MTA and DOT estimate the bus improvements will reduce travel time along the route by 20 to 25 percent.

On most of the corridor, the plan calls for bike lanes along the left curb, protected by a floating parking lane. At dozens of crosswalks along the corridor, the design would also install pedestrian refuge islands in this parking lane. If built, it would constitute the longest on-street protected bike route in New York City. Still, as currently conceived, the protected bike lanes are not continuous.

corridor_map_small.jpgFor a larger version of the corridor map, click here.

On 30 blocks of Second Avenue in Midtown, as well as about 10 blocks of First Avenue south of the Queensboro Bridge, the plan calls instead for a shared route bike lane marked by chevron stencils. According to DOT Bicycle Coordinator Josh Benson, the MTA and DOT were unwilling to continue the protected bike lane through those areas because “the traffic levels are the most intense in the entire city. Every inch of that space is at a premium.”

Additionally, all changes to the street are on hold anywhere construction of the Second Avenue Subway is underway. For the time being, there will be no physical alterations to enhance bus service roughly between 70th Street and 100th Street on Second Avenue, and no protected bike lane on Second Avenue between 34th Street and around 100th Street.

When an audience member asked how drivers would know to stay out of the bus lanes, Ted Orosz, the director of long-range bus planning at New York City Transit, contended that the lack of a separated lane would actually make bus operations smoother: “Trucks are going to get to the curb anyway. There’ll be a garbage truck. There’ll be an oil truck. There’ll be a Snapple truck. And the bus won’t be able to get around it… A barrier to keep traffic out also keeps buses in.” Orosz did suggest augmenting the city’s terra cotta bus lane paint with “some sort of soft mountable barrier that communicates, ‘Yeah, I’m not supposed to be there'” to drivers.

The plan uses two different bus lane configurations. In one design, planned for First Avenue south of the United Nations, an exclusive bus lane would be offset from the curb, meaning it would be situated between a parking lane and general traffic. In the second design, on Second Avenue below 34th, the bus lane would instead run right next to the curb, with the parking lane eliminated. While the offset bus lane is expected to reduce travel times the most, the MTA and DOT argued that it was inappropriate for narrower or busier parts of the corridor.

The “Design A” configuration: Class 1 bike lane, off-set bus lane.

The curbside bus lane poses a greater challenge to deliveries, according to Joe Barr, DOT’s director of transit development. “We need to look closely at how this works with loading,” he said, suggesting that a midday loading period might be necessary with the curbside design. On the Upper East Side, planners are still studying the business needs along the corridor and have not yet announced whether offset or curbside bus lanes will be installed.

Presenters said Select Bus Service on First and Second Avenues will make use of features piloted on the city’s Fordham Road route. Fares will be paid before boarding; riders won’t have to show anything to the bus driver, but fare inspectors could ask for a receipt at any time.

The new, articulated three-door buses will also have not-quite-level boarding. The bus floor will be three inches above the curb, less if the bus kneels. “It’ll be a much easier and faster on-and-off, but it’s not true level boarding like on the subway,” said Barr.

Streetsblog will continue our coverage later today with reactions from transportation advocates and elected officials. Here are some plans of each configuration the MTA and DOT discussed last night.

  • Great… So the only stretch of these avenues on which we actually need protected bike lanes is not getting them?

  • It’s great to see new tools in the BRT street design tool kit and how that fits together with the tool kit for bike lanes.

    What is extremely worrisome is that there might be a gap in the protected bike lane for 30 blocks in midtown on Second and 10 blocks on First. East Midtown is dense and highly traffic congested. It is also the number one route for cyclists coming off the Queensboro Bridge and the East River Greenway, where a gap extends for 23 blocks.

    If that gap is kept, the East Midtown meat grinder will continue and cyclists and pedestrians will continue to die so that a few more cars can use their precious free east river crossing.

  • Very disappointing. I thought this was going to be a visionary boulevard?! But instead, DOT came out with bus lanes without separation and tons of paint and plastic bollards. I was hoping for something like this: http://postcarboncities.net/files/paris_rochechouart2.jpg

    And what’s up with the shared bike lanes in midtown? Seriously? WTF?

  • Mike Epstein

    Sharrows through midtown? Yikes. That’s precisely where a protected bike lane is absolutely essential. Having ridden through these sections a few too many times, I’m pretty sure that sharrows would be completely useless here.

  • Just looking back at colors on the Corridor map. One thing they got right was making the Design C without protected bike lanes RED. That’s completely right, because it’s where blood will continue to spill.

  • J

    Let’s hope that at least the mountable barriers (more than just Bot’s Dots, though) are installed, although Orosz’s tone makes me skeptical. I also find it ironic that physical separation is listed as a problem since it allows trucks inside? This is a simple matter of enforcement. It’s hard to get in and out of a physically separated lane quickly. Therefore, make the fines $5,000 and enforce vigorously.

    What is being proposed is a non-solution. It merely accepts that traffic is bad and that the bus lane will be violated. This is a sad lack of leadership by the MTA, at a point when elected officials are finally showing some leadership.

  • J

    The 40 blocks with Design C maintain FIVE travel lanes for cars and have no protected space for buses or bikes. How can anyone claim that this is at all visionary or even much better than the status quo? Ugh.

  • J

    Let’s hope that the protected bike lanes are popular, and spur a popular clamor for the gaps to be connected.

  • Geck

    “the traffic levels are the most intense in the entire city. Every inch of that space is at a premium.” Arg! That is where we need the protected bike lanes the most.

    DOT and MTA should look to what they have done in Paris for deliveries in separated (or curb side) bus lanes.

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2008/04/22/paris-is-the-new-london-will-new-york-be-the-new-paris/

  • DOT’s own Street Design Manual suggests considering separated busways “where a Bus Lane is appropriate and the street is a high–volume bus route and has adequate right–of–way to accommodate a busway [page 58].” Doesn’t that apply to First and Second Avenues? Do we have to file a FOIL request to find out what happened to that option?

  • Geck

    Jonathan,
    Apparently the MTA is against them thinking they will get blocked by delivery trucks parking in the separated lane and the buses won’t be able to get around them.

  • Boris

    There is already a bus lane on First and Second Avenues and very restrictive parking policies. Most deliveries in the area are done by truckers who already know what they have to deal with. Getting them to use the loading zone in a parking-protected bus lane should be very easy. And the 0.01% of trucks that do try to get into the bus lane can be deterred simply by installing large “Do Not Enter” signs on each block. A parking-protected design would actually increase the amount of parking and loading zone space- a clear benefit to local merchants.

  • If you like part of this proposal and want to see it implemented, or if you don’t like part of it and want to see it changed, start organizing potential users and people who live and work in the area!

  • SteveL

    Vehicles in Bus Lanes are very hard to defend against, though the manchester bollards do it quite nicely: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_Cw0QJU8ro

    one of those at every junction would stop people going directly in and out, leaving only parked vehicles. In-bus CCTV is being rolled out in the UK; the buses become the enforcers themselves. But that doesn’t prevent “exempt” vehicles from blocking it -police and others.

  • meb

    Extremely disappointing. I work on the UES and travel around midtown and midtown east by bike for my commute. This proposal does absolutely nothing to make my commute any safer. Pathetic.

  • was anyone there to see the crowd’s reaction? I think its clear livable street advocates are SUPREMELY disappointed but was the crowd on hand amazed?
    DOT, I’m honestly pretty angry that this is the solution you’ve come up with. Yes, it’s a slight improvement but mostly relies on NYPD enforcement or Albany’s political will. You’ve got much better supplies in your tool kit… use them to separate the bus lane and the bike lane.

  • Tim

    Supremely disappointing! Protected bike lanes must be continued through midtown. These streets are extremely dangerous and sharrows will be useless. This plan basically represents one step forward and two steps back for the DOT.

  • I too am disappointed, not only with the bus lanes but also the cycle tracks. However there is some improvement. At present, the East Side Greenway is not a viable route primarily because of the stairs at 81st St., the many cave-ins, and the abrupt termination at 60th Street that forces cyclists into one of the most dangerous sections of town, the Manhattan-side roadway system of the Q’bo Bridge/59th St. FDR ramps.

    Under the proposed plan, First Ave. would become a protected alternate cycling route past the 81st Street stairs in the Greenway, and would reduce the gap south of 60th Street to ten blocks from the current sixteen.

    As a cyclist living on the UES who uses cycle tracks almost exclusively when I’m cycling with kids, I typically will detour all the way to the West Side bike path in order to avoid Midtown East. If this proposed system of UES cycle tracks were in place, I would try using the park loop to the Broadway cycle track, Broadway south to my destination, with the return trip via First Ave. cycle track. For the ten-block gap, my daughter would ride on he sidewalk with me and her older brother in the roadway. Riding this way necessitates stopping at most blocks to guide the sidewalk child through the intersection safely and when s/he has the right of way–a big drag on time–and isn’t viable when the sidewalk is particularly crowded, but is feasible for a ten-block gap.

    A world-class bike network? No. A pleasant riding experience? No. But it is an additional option. And someday the construction on Second Ave. will die down to the point where it can get similar treatment, and the existence of the First Avenue cycle track will make the treatment of Second Avenue more likely.

  • AlexB

    WTF? No lane in midtown? Everyone else seems to agree. We need the 8th and 9th Ave lanes extended up into midtown too. Why does DOT seem to think people don’t want to bike into midtown? We need some crosstown streets with the protected lanes too, some way to connect the major bikes routes on the Hudson, East River, 8th/9th, 1st/2nd, Broadway through the heart of the business district. This is the only way to get anyone to really bike to work, extend the bike lanes to the work area. Duh.

  • AlexB, you said it: extend the bike lanes to the work area. Hear, hear.

    Bicycles Only: Thanks for the details. After reading your post, I verified that the lanes in the renderings were one-way lanes. As far as looping over to Broadway to go downtown, what do you do with the younger cyclists between 47th St and 42nd St, now that Times Square has been pedestrianized? Also, do you have any suggestions about what to do about salmon-cycling families who will be using the 1st Ave lane for downtown trips to avoid the lack of facilities on 2nd Ave? Maybe we should advocate for two-way lanes on both 1st and 2nd Avenues.

  • Mark

    Only a tiny percentage of New Yorkers will risk riding through the Midtown Meat Grinder. Would you let your 12 year old kid or your mom ride through midtown protected only by sharrows? The short protected lanes will be useful for local trips but are as useless for commuting. First & Second Avenues are very wide. A decision was made to give all the space to people who drive, and no space to people who bike. The sharrows are a joke.

  • The logic behind not using separated bus lanes is not very good at all. I’d stick the bus lane on the left side of the street next to the bike lane (like the paris picture linked above). Boarding would be done from islands taken from parking.

    Even worse is when the bus lane is between parking and the rest of the street.

    “While the offset bus lane is expected to reduce travel times the most, the MTA and DOT argued that it was inappropriate for narrower or busier parts of the corridor.”

    That’s just completely false. We have a lane like that in Boston, it’s impossible to enforce because cars are allowed to use it to park (and make right turns). So any ticket can be countered with “I was parking”.

  • zgori

    Don’t they get it? Enforcement doesn’t work when delivery companies get their tickets dismissed en masse!

    I use first and second ave every day to get to work, either by bike or by bus. I’m seriously considering getting a car. If I can find two coworkers to carpool with me from Brooklyn we can pay for off street parking for the same price as we’re now paying for metrocards. I was hoping this plan was going to make my life easier, but it looks now like it won’t help much at all. The clear message from the city and state these past few years is that cars are always going to come first, so I might as well just accept that and join in. I’d cut my commute from 50 to 15 mins each way.

  • Danny G

    Not bad for a beta release.

  • Disclaimer: I’m an East Midtown resident and I bike over the Queensboro bridge to LIC every day. I ride a dorky commuter bike, signal my turns, and do my best to keep my cycling calm and friendly. Like the other 1000 rush hour Queensboro bridge users, I have no way to get to work safely.

    East midtown at morning rush hour is a psychotic zoo of high-speed maniacal driving. Every few moments, the bus lanes are obstructed by taxi drop offs outside office buildings, big delivery trucks (water, beer, USPS, etc), and idling private buses (Hampton Jitney, etc).

    Buses don’t pass me on my bike – I pass buses. In 20 blocks, I pass several buses on my slow bike ride because they can’t get through the mess. And when the bus lane is not full of vehicles “stopped for a just a sec”, commuters and taxis flood into the “free space” of the bus lane to pass slower traffic in their rush to get to work on time.

    We here at Streetsblog are a creative and insightful bunch, and are clearly all underwhelmed by the DOT’s proposal. I think we all need to team up and present our own rebuttle of a proposal here and pass it along via TA to the DOT. Who’s with me?

  • I agree, Sean. I commute to Midtown East daily and see just what you describe. I favor a curb bus lane paired with a separated bike path both separated from traffic by a floating parking lane, with flexards and a buffer between the buses and the bikes. It might be a little less pleasant for cyclists than the cycle tracks depicted in the schemes unveiled last night, but it has a couple of advantages.

    First, by combining bus and cycle path in a two-lane separated path, then if a truck somehow gets into the path to park at the curb, the bus can detour around it through the cyclist portion. This should happen only rarely and since we are talking about professional drivers who are driving over the flexards it would be done carefully. It’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make to keep the buses running and the address the overblown MTA concern that the bus will be “trapped” in a separated lane.

    Second, I think the cycle track, standing alone, is a very vulnerable political target that may be sacrificed as soon as there is a fight over reduced parking. If the cycle track is seen as a dual purpose roadway–ordinarily bikes, who always have the right of way, but occasionally an emergency bus “escape route” for use only when a bus must get around another vehicle that is illegally blocking the separated bus route–it ties the political fortunes of the two together.

  • Without sweating the details this looks like a great improvement and will probably use it all the time as a cyclist: more space for the people!

    Regarding bus accommodation it will probably be better than Madison Avenue which (without any expert knowlege) seems to work quite well

  • BicyclesOnly, I like your idea, but I would like to add that the flexards between the bus lane and bike lane are the most important part. Cycling in the bus lane doesn’t sound too pleasant, so you’d need the flexards to give cyclists the security that they aren’t going to run down by the leapfrogging buses.

  • This seems to be the first time that pretty much everyone (residents, community boards, electeds, etc) want the same thing here, but for some reason the design has not serviced the goals.

    I know MTA and DOT had concerns, so I’ve read through their notes and spent some time this weekend thinking about how to service the goals, while addressing their concerns.

    I drew up a design here: http://www.seankenney.com/downloads/streetsblog/east-side-sbs.jpg More renderings at http://www.flickr.com/photos/seankenney/tags/sbs/

    I’m curious to everyone’s thoughts?

  • Sean, after a harrowing ride this morning up First Ave, past Bellvue and NYU Medical Center, I saw your plans. They look great, and if the city would follow these, I think everyone would be much happier (pedestrians, bus riders and grudgingly even drivers).

    I am mildly concerned about peds in the bike lanes, especially by Bellvue (I assume that the busses would have to go on the east side of 1st Ave, to accomodate people leaving the L train at 14th, and going to the hospitals) — those areas get quite crowded, and I’m concerned about peds standing in the bike lanes.

    Overall it looks beautiful though. Thanks.

  • AlexB

    Sean, you are right, that is exactly what I had in mind too.

    Excellent drawings and renderings. Thanks!

  • AlexB

    Sean, only thought is that if a local bus is stopped at the bus stop, the SBS bus can’t pass because of the dividers you have separating the bus and bike lanes, as well as the bollards to keep cars out of the bike lane. As a biker, I love the separations, but I think the SBS has to be able to pass the local to maintain speed.

    Are you going to send these drawings to anyone?

  • I love both plans but there’s one thing that’s missing. It only favors Manhattan!

    What about having a plan like this for other parts of the city? I agree there has been a lot more bike lanes installed but there’s still a huge need to get more protected bike lanes in the other boroughs.

  • Alex

    What about curb bumpouts at intersection corners? I think they need to include those to reduce the crosswalk lengths and increase pedestrian visibility.

  • Joe Huff

    Come on?? Those bike lanes are a total waste of time and space. I hardly ever see any bicycle riders use them especially in the cold winter weather or even during the warmer weather, usually I see homeless people use them to roll their carts on when looking for bottles and cans to turn in. All those lanes do is increase the vehicle traffic by blocking one lane for bikes and making all the cars, buses and trucks use the remaning lanes. This is not some City in a country in Europe or Asia where alot of people use bikes and it never will be!!!!

  • AlexB

    Joe Huff, #35: You are wrong. Biking is one of the most pleasant and fastest ways to get to work, especially when you don’t have to fight traffic. I bike to work year round and love it. When it’s cold and rainy, you often have to wear a poncho and warm coat anyway, so what’s the big deal? When people can get to and from work safely and have a secure and convenient place to store their bike, many people will make the switch. I work on Broadway and there are cyclists going up and down it all the time.

  • Joe Huff

    AlexB #36 Well Alex if you actually use the bike lanes year round then you are in the minority in this City. All I see is a wasted lane of traffic which increases the noise from vehicles with their horns honking, more traffic accidents, an increase in vehicle congestion and pollution. Overall I think all those bike lanes are a bad idea in a crowded City with such limited space available.

  • Joe Huff #35-37. Biking fills in the holes in the public transit infrastructure. That’s the main reason I think it’s really taking off in Brooklyn. If you only saw Brooklyn by Bus or Subway, you’d experience only a fraction. You should hear Chuck Schumer wax poetic about biking Brooklyn. The main reason, I think, the Velib’ bike share is popular in Paris is it fills in the holes. The Metro stops running around 1AM and starts again around 5AM and most night buses come hourly. Bikes ad so much flexibility in moving across the city.

  • #35-38 = I agree NY is not Europe or China, but those areas also have more cyclists because they have better biking infrastructure. We need to plan and design a city that promotes alternatives to polluting traffic jams. The distances in this city are remarkably small compared to most major cities in the world, which makes biking a very powerful mode of transport for a large number of people.

    I ride frequently on the streets with or without bike lanes. I am very alert and safety conscious, but I’ve had a number of close calls. If the city is a safe place to cycle, then more people will ride a bike. And unless the bike lane system is comprehensive and linked together, then it’s hard for many people to get where they want to. When commuters start looking out their window and see bikes whizzing by while their taxi meter runs up, they might buy a bike as well. Not to mention (as many have above) the number of children and teenagers that would be able to safely ride with distinct bike lanes.

    It is inevitable that as winter approaches less people will ride their bikes. But, with just a little bit a warm gear, a splash guard and maybe a pancho – it’s still a great way to get where you’re going.

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