Eyes on the Street: The Nascent First Avenue Bike Lane

first_ave_bike_lane.jpgThe beginnings of the First Avenue protected bike lane, at St. Mark’s Place. Photo: Ben Fried

It’s not finished yet, but some segments of the First Avenue bike lane are quite rideable. I used about eight blocks of it this weekend.

This Saturday, I was able to bike from my apartment in Prospect Heights to the East Village, and back again, without really leaving a marked bicycle path. The only exceptions were the side streets at each end of the trip, and those felt a million times safer than crossing high-speed traffic sewers like Atlantic Avenue and Houston Street.

A lot of the bike infrastructure on that trip — including the Allen Street lane, the Sands Street bikeway, and the brand new Vanderbilt Avenue bike lane — didn’t exist a year and a half ago. The protected lanes on First and Second are creating some extremely useful connections to these recent improvements. You can ride for long stretches and feel like you’re using the genuine article: a safe, connected bike network.

Living where I do, I’m lucky enough to be able to take advantage. New Yorkers who live in East Harlem and on the Upper East Side deserve an ironclad guarantee that they’ll get access to this network of safer streets as soon as possible.

  • I look a ride Friday down there and I was pleasantly surprised at how safe they felt. Even the left turning lane that intersects lane every other block is fine. Drivers really were looking for me and they even gave me the right of way a number of times. These lanes are the gold standard for main Avenues.

  • Help win completion of the full 12-mile East Side Bikeway–with the Design D upgrade to First Ave. from 49th-57th Sts., and without the downgrade to a painted lane on Second Ave. from 23rd-14th Sts.–by the close of 2011!

    Look for T.A. East Side Committee volunteers at locations around the city collecting handwritten letters to Mayor Bloomberg to get this done. Volunteers will be at the Queensboro Bridge this evening 5:30-7:30.

    ~750 letters and counting!

  • mike

    anyone know what streets this covers along first ave?

  • J

    A friend of mine said as of Sunday, they having striping of some sort up to 23rd Street, but that only up to 14th Street was the striping being respected. I’m going to check it out again tonight on my way home.

  • mike

    thx J, looking to change my route to work

  • As they move up the Avenue it seems that cars need to be educated about the new configuration. DOT put up signs about the floating parking lane but it takes a few days if not longer for that to sink in – probably a few cycles of alternate side for people to get it.

  • 1st Ave (14th – 25th) has been on my route ever since I started at my job two years ago. This morning I had the pleasure of using the new lane for a solid two blocks between 14th and 16th. I got this very strange feeling that one rarely gets riding around NYC… I’ve gotten in before, on parts of Broadway, Allen St, and more recently 2nd Ave… What’s the word I’m looking for… Oh, right. Dignity.

  • I too saw these lanes on Sunday night. I also saw many cars who didn’t get what was going on. Given that much of the painting hasn’t been finished I can’t fault them for the confusion.

    I also know they are in the process of repaving 1st Ave north of 23rd St (to about 40th St), will there be dedicated bike lanes there as well?

  • Bill Lee

    You mean you saw many “drivers” who hadn’t figured it out. Cars are large, inanimate objects.(Christine excepted.)

  • s

    Am I the only one who thinks these new bike lanes 10 times more dangerous?
    These lanes attract pedestrians frustrated with sidewalk traffic, flakey people texting while they wait for the walk light, delivery vehicles, and the worst: mindless other cyclists riding the wrong way. These are the worst, because nearly every “wrong wayer” assumes it is the responsibility of the “right wayer” to move, and with a sidewalk on one side, and parked car on the other, there’s few options that don’t involve acrobatics and/or pain.
    Ever since I first rode down this type of lane on 9th Ave, I have always rode on the opposite side of the street so that I didn’t have to deal with this utter travesty. I have had more close calls in this new bike lane design than I’ve had riding with no bike lane at all.
    There are few places where this kind of design will work. It works on Allen St, because on the cyclist’s left side is a fenced off park/median.

  • UES

    s: it sounds as if you’re riding too fast. Slow down a bit, and none of those things will be a problem.

  • meb

    They’re also painting the bus lane that terracotta color on 1st ave in midtown to the UES. Alas, 1st ave is torn up for repaving north of 62nd or so.

    I wonder how the pave in the Tour this year compares to the streets in NYC prior to resurfacing…

  • No, UES, I have to agree with S. I rode the 2nd Avenue lane tonight, and on three corners, pedestrians stepped out into the bike lane without looking while I had a green light. They assume that they can use the lane as an extension of the sidewalk… which is slightly more tolerable when they’re moving, but when they step off the curb and stand in the middle of the lane waiting for a walk signal, it’s mind-blowingly frustrating. Even when I ring my bell frantically, it seems to be no match for the blasé pedestrian.

    The same thing goes for jaywalkers rushing to beat traffic across the street while they have a don’t walk signal; they dash across the bike lane without even looking.

    At the very least, a simple solution would be to place “LOOK” signs or markings on the sidewalk and in the painted pedestrian island off the curb, much like what is done in the malls along Allen Street.

    And don’t get me started on the salmon on this stretch. Faced with no other option, I’ve already twice dismounted and laid my bike across the lane to make a point about the one-way lane. I’m hoping that the completion of the First Avenue lane will help alleviate this, but that’s probably wishful thinking.

  • “Faced with no other option, I’ve already twice dismounted and laid my bike across the lane to make a point about the one-way lane.”

    Wow. Antics like this is what give cyclists such a bad name.

    Look, salmon are annoying, but that bike lanes looks more than wide enough for bidrectional traffic. Pedestrians getting in the way are annoying, but welcome to NYC, pedestrians are number 1, as they should be. Slow down and deal with it.

    I don’t think some of you realize you’re making the same exact arguments drivers make against bikes.

  • Danny G

    Gotta agree with jass on this one. There’s a reason most every human being learns to walk before they learn to ride a bike. Walking is the essential human activity and should be respected as such (props to the disabled as well).

    These new avenue-style lanes work best with a constant flow of bike traffic; if current trends continue, they will become both too crowded to be ignored or to salmon on. So fill these babies up!

  • Jass and Danny G,

    In my case, it was too crowded for salmon to be ignored. I was in the back of a line of about ten cyclists.

    How am I the bad guy for making a point about following the letter of the law? I am incensed by the fact that when I nearly hit a pedestrian when I have the right-of-way, they will inevitably still blame me… simply because of other cyclists who refuse to follow the rules. Sometimes, I feel like I’m the only one who seems to recognize that respect by other street users is not given, it’s earned. Every time someone else breaks the law riding their bike, it makes my bike ride less safe. Salmon endanger me – even in curbside lanes, when I can be forced into the door zone of a car, or into moving traffic in mixing zones. They also endanger pedestrians… as I noted, they barely look in the direction of traffic in bike lanes, let alone the opposite way. Yes, there’s education that needs to be done all around, but yelling “BIKE LANES ARE ONE WAY” just doesn’t work.

    “Kill ’em with kindness” works with pedestrians and drivers, but it just doesn’t work with other cyclists. You’ll have to beat them over the head with simple rules before they learn.

  • s

    Time and time again it’s been proved to me that the only way the bad, blind habits of others will change is through them being made fully aware of the how stupid they are behaving. Polite reminders like bike bells and stern stares aren’t enough for someone dumb enough do go out of their way to endanger others. They need to be inconvenienced enough that they have to take a step back and consider what they’re doing.
    It isn’t cyclists like Chris O’Leary here that give cyclists a bad name, it’s those people he is trying to educate. Who else will? NYC officials clearly have no interest.

  • If I’m a douchebag for doing what’s right, then so be it. Until people learn how to ride respectfully in this city, my life will continue to be put in danger by other cyclists, and I will not stand for that. Because of salmoners and people who blow through red lights, I’m already considered a douchebag to everyone else. Might as well add cyclists to that list, too.

    If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

  • Let’s keep the discussion civil everyone. If you’re just hurling insults, your comment will be deleted. Here’s our comment policy if you need a refresher.

  • Suzanne

    Hate to say this but this is the reality of New York, where people don’t believe in no stinkin’ rules. I agree with Jass and the rest – pedestrians are annoying but they’re “kings/queens of the road”. Part of living in this city means dealing with crazy, oblivious and sometimes obnoxious fellow New Yorkers. You just have to slow down, take a deep breath and zen yourself a little.

    Also, the more of these bike lanes there are the more people will ride. The more people ride, the more aware drivers *and* pedestrians will become. And, if the PPW bike lane is any example, bike lanes often not only calm traffic but lead to less crowding on the sidewalks which means everyone gets more civilized, including the peds.

  • Suzanne, a lot of us read this site because we want to fight tirelessly against drivers who break the law and get away with it. We don’t chalk their reckless behavior up to “the reality of New York.” But when it’s other cyclists or pedestrians who break the law and put us in danger, we seem perfectly willing to shrug our shoulders and say it’s part of living here. I can’t understand why.

  • mike

    Someone riding the wrong way in a bike lane is annoying but they’re really not endangering your life. Seriously. Life is a dynamic system, things are changing all the time. Better to be aware and pay attention than to think adherence to some arbitrary rules will protect you.

  • J

    I think that many of the problems discussed here will be alleviated by the creation of the pedestrian refuge islands, and the completion of the paired lanes. These islands give pedestrians a place to wait that isn’t in the bike lane. They work wonderfully on 8th & 9th Ave, but each one takes a couple of weeks to complete, so the striping will be finished long before the refuge islands are done, so use a little patience as the project is completed.

    They are now installing them on First Ave and I’m pretty sure they’re scheduled to be installed at nearly every intersection where there is a protected bike lane. Unfortunately, it looks like we may it may be another year before the 2nd Ave refuges are installed. In the interim, DOT has created painted ped refuges on 2nd Ave, which peds seem hesitant to use since they offer almost no protection from cars. For these lanes to work properly, DOT simply must construct ped refuges at all locations. Otherwise, they are setting up the kind of cyclist-pedestrian squabbling seen in the comments above.

  • Mike, a salmoner can certainly kill me if they force me into the path of a moving traffic, into the door of a parked vehicle, or into a head-on collision with a cyclist.

  • On the full-width bike paths (8th & 9th Aves, B’way) there is pretty much room enough for everyone, but the Second Ave. path south of 14th is quite narrow and IMO cannot safely accommodate salmon or pedestrian invasions along with the considerable flow of lawful southbound bike traffic.

    As a practical matter, public remonstration is the only available tool against salmon and invading pedestrians, and it works. It has to be done thoughtfully and with civility, but it absolutely has its place, no less than telling people to take their bag off any empty subway seat, or telling a dog owner to clean up after their dog. And it also requires that cyclists follow the rules themselves, at least in circumstances when failing to do so materially impacts the safety or convenience of others.

    For most cyclists, getting and appropriately using a nice loud bell is a great start. Most cyclists (including me until recently) shun bells because they are useless against motor vehicles. But they are definitely effective against pedestrians, especially if you start ringing soon enough to get three or so rings in before you reach the pedestrian. That way, they’ve got the Doppler effect of the ring changing in pitch as you approach them. You’ve truly got to be in another world not to notice that. For the pedestrians who look at you as you approach ringing, but refuse to move or yield the right of way, stopping and calmly advising “you don’t belong here. It’s a bike lane. Please move.” is perfectly appropriate. In contrast to most horn-honking by motorists, the purpose of which is to force people with the right of way to yield it, most cyclist bell-ringing at errant pedestrians or salmon in a bike lane or path is not only appropriate but probably required by law.

  • J,

    I hope you are righ–but fear you are not–when it comes to pedestrian refuge islands on Second. My understanding is that DoT thinks Second Ave. is too narrow south of 23rd street to accommodate the islands (the roadway does narrow south of 23rd).

    Of course, if DoT fails to put the islands in between 23rd and 34th on Second, that will belie the claim that it is the narrowed roadway south of 23rd that precludes the islands.

  • Ben

    Yay! More bike lanes!

  • J

    Also, I must say that the pedestrian is king for oh so many reasons. Walking is the most basic form of transportation which is available to everyone. There is no cost involved. Users of all other modes become pedestrians at both ends of their trip. It is the slowest form and the most vulnerable. That is why peds are given the highest priority.

    How many people have careless pedestrians killed this year? How many people have careless drivers killed? Comparing the two is almost comical. As a cyclist, I agree that pedestrians can be annoying at times, but I know bikes are annoying to cars. Ever had a car whip by you at 40mph. It’s terrifying. As a ped, you get a similar feeling when a bike whips by you at 15mph.

    We all share a small amount of space, so conflicts are just something you have to deal with in a big, crowded city. As more people bike, though, there is more pedestrian awareness of cyclists and vice versa. In time, space can be apportioned to reduce conflicts between the two as much as possible. In the mean time, be safe out there.

  • s

    I think that the attitude that “this is just the way NYC is, and it cannot, will not change,” to be depressing, if not farcical.
    I have a feeling that a simple public ad campaign, much like the recent bike lane awareness campaign, would really open some minds.
    As a side note, This morning, I saw 2 police cars parked in the 1st avenue bike lane between already parked cars and the curb.

  • J, are you sure refuges are planned for 2nd Ave? That lane is MUCH narrower than any other avenue protected lane in the city — specifically, the buffer looks to be only 2-3′ wide — and I’m not sure there’s room for refuge islands. Alas.

  • BicyclesOnly, I disagree with you about remonstrating with salmon. I mentioned this last year and my feelings have not evolved.

    Building on what Suzanne wrote above in comment no. 20, the long-term effect of protected bike lanes will be to slow down all bike traffic to about 10mph, or the speed of a careful novice bicyclist. This will alleviate Chris’s concern about risking being doored; at 10mph your stopping distance is short enough to eliminate concerns about being taken by surprise by someone opening a door into traffic.

    Ten mph is still about three times walking speed and gets you from Park Slope to Grand Central in less than an hour.

  • Herzog

    Here’s what I think (minus the insults).

    Firstly, if you don’t have a bell on your bicycle, then complaining about errant pedestrians or cyclists is completely silly.

    Second, if you are not willing to slow down when there are pedestrians or salmon in the bike lane, then you are responsible for the dangerous situation.

    Third, politely scolding at errant pedestrians or cyclists is acceptable (even yelling if necessary). However, physically interfering either by intentionally blocking the cyclist’s path, or pushing a pedestrian is entirely unacceptable.

    Fourth, pedestrians have the right of way in crosswalks, unless they have their own red (orange?) light. However, regardless of the circumstances, if they are blocking the bike lane and you cannot pass safely, then you must slow down and or stop, rather than trying to blow past.

    IMHO, this is all pretty basic stuff. If you replace “bike” with “car” and “pedestrian” with “bike” and “bike lane” with “road,” then you pretty much get a set of instructions for motorists that I think most here would agree upon.

  • csm

    I avoid dealing with pedestrians and wrong-way cyclists by never riding in a protected bike lane. I used to ride on the left of 1st Avenue, but now I ride on the right; likewise with 8th, 9th, and 2nd. No, I’m not going to slow down to 10 mph.

  • Jonathan, I respect your view though I disagree with it. But I also disagree that the optimal speed for bike traffic on bike paths is 10 MPH. I’d hope that these paths could accomodate bike traffic at speeds as high as ~15 MPH.

    This is because I see bike paths as filling a gap in the bike infrastructure. I would agree with you that riding in a dooring zone caps safe speeds at ~8-10 MPH, which is the effective safe limit for the typical on-street bike lane. At the same time, it’s not feasible to take the lane and ride with traffic (unless one will tolerate a high degree of harassment and danger from impatient motorists), unless you can cruise at ~15-18 (or more) MPH. But where does the cyclist with a top cruising speed of ~10-15 MPH ride safely? If protected bike paths could allow speeds of up to ~15 MPH, it would provide a transitional riding experience space between painted lanes and taking a lane and riding with MV traffic. Intermediate cyclists could develop the chops needed to ride in traffic in the bike paths, and then move on if they wished.

    If bike paths have a practical limit of 10 MPH or so because of a dooring hazard across the buffer and motorist and pedestrian invasions, then are they really worth all that much more than painted lanes? I know novice cyclists may think so because paths eliminate the possbility of MV’s colliding with one from behind, but in fact that is one of the least likely collision scenarios.

  • Herzog

    csm,

    You’re not going to slow down? Let me tell you something. There are plenty of motorists with an attitude like yours (plenty in Eastern Europe, for example). They drive fast cars and refuse to slow down for pedestrians and other road users. Those motorists make entire cities very unpleasant and dangerous.

    I’m glad with your attitude you’re in a small minority and that you ride a bike rather than drive a 4000lb car.

  • csm

    Herzog,

    So you think that riding a bicycle at 20 mph is dangerous?

  • Herzog

    BicyclesOnly,

    I think you make several really good points. Personally, I think urban cycling infrastructure should be designed for speeds of 9-14 miles per hour.

    I disagree with the suggestion that “more experienced” riders will necessarily go faster.

  • csm

    I regularly hit speeds over 20 mph on my commute. I don’t see why cars should be allowed to move at that speed, and cyclists shouldn’t. Your premise seems to be that cyclists are basically pedestrians, but on wheels and at a slightly faster speed.

  • J

    Mike, the refuges are typically installed in line with the parking lane, which is always set about 11 feet from the curb to allow access for street sweepers and snow plows.

    You make a good point, though, about the smaller buffer on 2nd Ave. I’m pretty sure ped refuges can’t fit there the way it is designed, to still maintain sweeper & plow access. I will say that with such heavy pedestrian traffic on 2nd Ave, the refuges are desperately needed. Hopefully someone can quickly come up with an elegant solution, better than just paint.

  • Herzog

    csm,

    Your question does not have a well-defined answer since “dangerous” is a vague term and there is a wide range of circumstances in which someone might be riding at 20mph.

  • Herzog,

    I intended to acknowedge your point by saying more expereinced riders could move out of paths and into MV traffic “if they wished,” but definitely could have done it less telegraphically and more thoughtfully.

    There will always be experienced cyclists who want to be separate from MV raffic–including myself, when it’s a hot day and I’m in a suit and don’t want to sweat; or I’m carrying heavy or unwieldy cargo; or I’m escorting my kids, in-laws or other cyclists who aren’t comfortable in MV traffic.

    But we need a “big tent” in the cycling advocacy community, and there are more than a few cyclists who actively oppose physically separated bike paths because they believe cyclists should all ride “vehicularly.” These cyclists fail to understand that cyclists (especially commuter cyclists) don’t spring forth fully formed like Athena from Zeus’s head, able to cruise at ~20 MPH; building those kind of skills takes at least months and more often years. However the rational “vehicular” cyclists will support bike paths if it is explained to them that it is not a plan for forcing cyclists out of MV traffic, but rather an option for those who aren’t comfortable in MV traffic, for whatever reason. As long as there are avenues in NYC without bike lanes or paths–and the cycling laws do not change–cyclists will have the option of riding with MV traffic.

  • csm

    BicyclesOnly wrote: “These cyclists fail to understand that cyclists (especially commuter cyclists) don’t spring forth fully formed like Athena from Zeus’s head, able to cruise at ~20 MPH; building those kind of skills takes at least months and more often years.”

    What does cruising at 20 mph have to do with being skilled enough to ride in traffic?

  • Herzog

    csm,

    I read some of the comments again, and I think I misunderstood you comment. I didn’t mean to suggest that bicycles should not be allowed to ride over 10mph (or over 20mph). Just that cyclists, like motorists, must slow when it is necessary to ensure the safety of other road users.

    On the other hand, I am not opposed, “in general,” to cycling infrastructure that makes it difficult or unsafe for cyclists to travel over x miles per hour. As long as x > 9. Just as I’m not opposed to infrastructure that makes it difficult or unsafe for motorists to travel over certain speeds.

  • Herzog

    csm,

    In many places, you have to go very fast if you want to ride “vehicularly.” Sustaining a high speed and doing so safely requires skill.

  • csm

    Herzog wote: “On the other hand, I am not opposed, ‘in general,’ to cycling infrastructure that makes it difficult or unsafe for cyclists to travel over x miles per hour. As long as x > 9.”

    That’s fine with me, as long as I have an option to bypass that infrastructure.

  • mike

    Judging from the range of response here, the notion that everyone would comply with cycling rules seems quaintly optimistic!

  • csm, in my experience, it is not safe to “share the lane” on NYC streets with traffic lanes narrower than ~15 feet wide by riding abreast of (next to) the motor vehicle traffic. The hazards of dooring and sideswiping from extra-wide vehicles or their side-view mirrors is too great. At a minimum, you have to constantly look over your shoulder and scan the parked cars for occupants, which is very unpleasant. Very few avenues in New York City have traffic lanes ~15 feet or wider. (I get my 15′ rule as follows: generally accepted traffic engineering standards call for a 5′ ROW for cyclists, and NYC traffic including commercial behicles requires at least a 10′ ROW)

    Most agree that the solution is to “take the lane,” i.e., ride in the center of the left-most or right-most traffic lane so that the motorists are forced either to follow behind you or change lanes in order to pass. This is perfectly legal under the NYC traffic laws. But in my experience, motorists get very pissed off if you take the lane and cruise at speeds of less than ~15 MPH. It is not unusual, in my experience, for motorists to honk, tailgate, and pass at an unsafe distance and speed in a deliberate attempt to “teach a lesson” to the cyclists who try to hold a lane at <15 MPH. Conversely, I've found that I'll get this treatment only once or twice a week taking the lane at ~15 MPH (the speed at which my 12 y/o son and I ride to school each morning), and almost never at ~18-20 MPH (the speed at which I ordinarily cruise when riding alone).

    I'm ready to hear about and learn from other people's experiences, but those are mine.

  • BicyclesOnly, I don’t think the “optimal” speed for bicycle travel is 10 mph. I think that practically in a busy protected bike lane it is difficult and frustrating to ride faster than 10 mph. There are too many pedestrians and slow bicyclists in the narrow lane. When going more than 15 mph I prefer riding in the street, as the wider lane gives me the ability to swerve left or right to avoid obstructions.

    Over the last year I have become convinced that protected bicycle lanes are the best way to entice riders onto the street and allow them to get from “point A” to “point B” quickly and easily. The freedom I currently enjoy to bomb down 7th Avenue (in Harlem) at 21 mph may be lost, but I would hope that thousands of others would gain the opportunity to ride their bicycles safely and fearlessly.

  • Jonathan, I’m with you in principle and most specifics. When it comes to Broadway, the volume of tourist-heavy pedestrian traffic means a practical limit of 10 MPH, I’m OK with that (pending development of design refinements that can minimize cyclists-ped conflicts, which I hope DoT will pursue). But First and Second and First Aves. are a different story. There are some tourists in the East Village, but it’s no Times Square, and the cycling rates among E.Vill. residents are some of the highest in the city. The pedestrians found there can and should be taught to co-exist with cyclists in a dedicated right of way moving at speeds in excess of 10 MPH.

    Which is not to say I disagree with Herzog that cyclists are obligated to take all necessary steps to avoid colliding with pedestrians, including slowing down or even stopping, and should not use physical means to avenge themselves on rude pedestrians who block their right of way. But that’s very different than saying “pedestrians always have the right of way–that is, that they have a right to ignore cyclists’ right of way.

  • Suzanne

    Wow, touchy subject isn’t this? Not that I don’t understand why – cycling in NYC is pretty damn crazy and when I started I was (and continue to be) amazed by complete lack of respect for the law or even other people. This needs to change – there’s no reason us New Yorkers can’t walk, ride and drive with care and consideration for each other. The way people protected and helped each other after 9/11 and the blackout shows it’s not “just the way we are.” Fully protected bike lanes, pedestrian refuges and other infrastructure as well as congestion pricing and fair fees for parking make this a possibility by eliminating congestion and dangerous speeding.

    OTOH, as much as they drive me crazy, pedestrians are king! And for good reason!! Just as it’s a driver’s responsibility to drive carefully and protectively of cyclicsts it’s our job to do the same for pedestrians. Just this week a driver almost squished me as I was pulling up to a light… IN A BIKE LANE… because he apparently thought bike lanes were for making turns. I yelled at him that he was in the bike lane and in the yell-fest it became clear that he had NO IDEA how to drive with cyclists but the one thing I repeated several times was that he had to take care not to kill more vulnerable cyclicsts and pedestrians.

    Pedestrians are king because they’re our most vulnerable road users, the same way children and the elderly are the super-uber kings, regardless of how much they may get in one’s way. They’re kings because we could hurt them, just like that driver could have seriously hurt me.

    I agree that we shouldn’t put up with inconsiderate and dangerous behavior, but the most important thing to remember is to have care for one another! It’s not about blaming or punishing but having care for our most vulnerable fellow humans, which is why it is ALWAYS the responsibility of the bigger to protect the weaker. This is called civilization. People are idiots (or at least many of them are). Don’t compound it by being one yourself.

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