Details on East Side SBS Come Into Focus at CB 8 Meeting

We’ve got a few dispatches from last week’s Manhattan Community Board 8 meeting on East Side bus and bike improvements, which we couldn’t attend ourselves. First, Michael Auerbach, who’s doing some fantastic livable streets advocacy at Upper Green Side, filed a report for Second Ave Sagas about how Select Bus Service will function alongside the subway construction zones on Second Avenue.

The area from 100th Street down to 67th Street, where the roadway has narrowed to accommodate subway construction, had been a big question mark in all the SBS presentations so far. Auerbach reports that DOT and the MTA intend to install temporary bus stations with off-board fare machines in the vicinity of 89th Street and 68th Street. That will be all for SBS buildout until conditions on the surface get back to normal, which means no dedicated lane for buses on this stretch. Auerbach writes:

DOT regulations require the MTA to maintain 4
lanes of moving traffic through the SAS zone at all times. A DOT
official even went as far as to say that the current curb side lane
(once a fully functional bus lane back in the day) is now NOT in fact a
bus lane, but simply a lane for buses. Which also means it’s a lane for
cars, and a lane for trucks… The statement makes one really wonder
whether or not SBS will be able to truly achieve its stated goal of
speeding bus trips along the corridor.

Streetsblog reader BicyclesOnly tells us that when the discussion turned to pedestrian and bicycle improvements in the East Side plan, parents told DOT they want to see better safety measures.

Heidi Untener, who bikes to school with her kids, criticized the decision to avoid implementing protected bike lanes on long stretches of Second Avenue. Untener got some spontaneous applause when she said that East Side
congestion is driven by the free price of driving across the East River
bridges, and that high traffic volumes are no justification for relying on the un-protected, shared route bike lanes in DOT’s "Design C" configuration.

At one point, when asked about the dangers of riding side-by-side with traffic in narrow, shared lanes, DOT Bicycle Program Coordinator Josh Benson said the agency’s intent is for cyclists to take the full lane in such situations. Benson added that DOT is updating its "Share the Road" signs to avoid giving the impression that cyclists should cede the center of the lane to motorists.

There was no vote but the early word is that CB 8 transpo committee will hold one at its next meeting.

  • There’s not much point to taking the full lane when traffic is stop-and-go. In the real world, cyclists will ride in the bus lanes in the sharrowed portions (assuming the bus lanes are kept clear for buses). That’s bad for bus passengers, and it’s a direct result of NYCDOT’s lack of reasonable provisions for cyclists in these sections.

  • The fact that cyclists are allowed use of the full lane does not mean they are required to do so, when circumstances allow safe passage otherwise. I think enabling cyclists to ride up the middle of the left hand lane on Second Ave. without harassment where no cycle track is provided improves the situation. it may the the only solution on the 40 block long construction zone on Second Avenue in CB8, where presently there is no plan for any bike infrastructure–not even sharrows–nor for any bus lane, separated, painted or otherwise.

  • I still think it’ll be massively cheaper to give SBS fare inspectors handheld card readers, which can check whether a card is valid. For an unlimited card, it would eliminate the need to swipe at an SBS validation machine. Since the majority of swipes in the city use unlimited cards, it would reduce the number of validation machines required.

  • Mike

    Cyclists already ride up the middle of the left lane on First and Second Avenues without harassment. This isn’t Bedford Ave we’re talking about here. I don’t see what sharrows provide that you don’t already have (besides perhaps a false sense of security).

  • BicyclesOnly

    Mike, in my experience, you’ve got to cruise at no less than 17-20 MPH to hold a traffic lane on First or Second, without some form of harassment–tailgating, honking, crowding or unsafe passing. My assumption is that the Design A and B portions of the SBS corridor are intended to provide a cycling facility for those who aren’t capable or comfortable with cruising at that speed while at the same time maneuvering around opening doors, turning vehicles, taxis pulling over, and other hazards likely to arise. In my opinion, the problem with the Design C and construction gaps in the SBS design is that it attracts novice and intermediate urban cyclists to this corridor and then dumps them without any protection in a scenario where they will almost certainly be pushed into sideswipe, dooring, and other risks at the margin of the roadway. I am not worried that experienced cyclists, who can already hold a lane on First or Second without any help from DoT, will be harmed by a false sense of security if sharrows are installed. I do think that the Design C areas of the corridor should be upgraded to Design B, for two reasons: because the DoT’s justification for Design C doesn’t hold water, and because Design C is patently unsafe for novice and intermediate cyclists under the conditions and in the locations in which DoT proposed to apply it. In the construction zone of Second Ave., where there is no reasonable argument for short-term installation of a cycle track, I think running sharrows up the middle of the left lane along with a 10 MPH limit on that lane and signs stating that bicyclists are allowed use of entire lane and motorists should change lanes to pass, would at least protect intermediate-experience cyclists, and possibly novices as well. This is the only scenario that satisfies the DoT’s apparently inflexible “four lanes of traffic” rule for the construction zone, while at the same time providing meaningful protection for the cyclists who will be drawn to the SBS corridor.

    I agree with you that sharrows alone would do little or nothing. Sharrows alone may chill motorists out somewhat in turning, merging, or other low-speed scenarios, but they are not effective in getting motorists to drive patiently behind a cyclist at 10 MPH on a straightaway with fluid traffic.

  • Mike

    The “change lanes to pass” sign idea is a very interesting one for taming drivers. Reminds me of San Francisco, where lots of places have signs saying “Bicycles allowed use of full lane / CVC 21202 / Change lanes to pass”.

    Did you suggest this to DOT at any of the meetings? Any response?

  • BicyclesOnly

    That’s exactly the sign shown at the mtg–right next to the lame side-by- side silhouette sign that DoT is still using to illustrate “sharing the road” in the narrow, congested lane of 7th Ave.that forms the major gap in the broadway cycle track, at 47th St. DoT guy said with apparent sincerity that the SF sign would be considered for use in NYC.

  • Given all the disruptions caused by Second Avenue Subway construction, why not run an ambitious experiment and completely close that section to automobile traffic? Let’s have bicycles, buses, and emergency vehicles only, and deliveries limited to special hours. It could be a little pedestrian oasis on the Upper East Side.

  • I’m with you in spirit, Urbanis, but getting DoT merely to state in sigange what it agrees is the rule–bicyclists allowed use of full lane when lane is narrow=–seems to be taxing DoT’s ambition as it is. Here is the other sign shown to the DoT.

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