Friday Bikeway Omnibus Review

Furman_bike_lane3.jpgFurman Street, under the BQE. Photo: Paco Abraham

We’ve got a few different bikeway-related reader submissions that have come over the wire recently. First up, Dave "Paco" Abraham sends this picture of a two-way barrier-separated bikeway going in on Furman Street by the downtown Brooklyn waterfront. Furman is on the route of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, and with Brooklyn Bridge Park opening piece by piece, it’s already pretty common to see people biking in both directions on this three-lane speedway underneath the BQE cantilever.

Paco says it looks like the new bikeway is only going in between Joralemon Street and the entrance to the yet-to-open Brooklyn Bridge Park bike path, about a block away. We have a request in with DOT about the scope of this treatment. Extending it along the full length of Furman would plug one of the last major greenway route sections that feels unsafe to bike on between Greenpoint and the Columbia waterfront district.

Remember this from last week? It’s where the East River Greenway caved in at 72nd Street. The Parks Department told us they would have it fixed this week, and here it is, all patched up. Parks didn’t tell us, though, whether there’s any attempt underway to determine whether all the other sinkholes on the greenway are symptoms of a larger problem.

The final update comes to us from Ed Ravin. Actually it’s more like an epic saga with a happy ending. I’ll let Ed tell the story:

For years, the East River bridges have been the stepchild of emergency phone coverage. Up until the mid 1990s, the Brooklyn Bridge had four emergency phones hooked up to two regular telephone lines.  If one of the lines failed, all the phones on that side of the bridge would go down with it.

Starting in the early 1990s, the city began installing shiny new emergency phones along the city’s highways.  These phones are solar powered and use the cellular network to reach emergency dispatchers, so they have no wires and are much more reliable than the old land-line based system. But as was typical of many infrastructure improvements in the 1990s, the phones were installed only in places where motorists could get to them. Bicyclists and pedestrians, especially on crime-prone East River bridges like the Williamsburg Bridge, were on their own.

emergency_call_box.jpgA (broken) emergency call box on the Queensboro Bridge in 2001, conveniently placed for easy cyclist access. Photo: Ed Ravin

Adding to the problem was that the old landline-based emergency phones were maintained by the Fire Department, while the new cellular phones were installed by the NYPD’s Communications Division. The Fire Department wanted to get out of the phone business (as seen later in the 1990s, when the streetcorner fire call box became an endangered species), and were no longer installing callboxes. So the NYPD was asked to put callboxes on the East River Bridges. They said they’d be happy to do so but needed some other city agency to fork over the money for them.

As with all things for the East River Bridges, it turned out that NYCDOT was the "responsible" agency and we weren’t going to get any new phones on the bridges until the DOT paid for them. A cellular phone appeared on the Brooklyn Bridge walkway after some unfavorable press coverage, and that was it. When the Manhattan Bridge path was first opened, there were no callboxes at all, and the Queensborough Bridge (see photo) had not had a working callbox for many years.

Starting in the early 2000s, callboxes have been turning up one by one on the Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges, but still, there did not seem to be any consistent plan.

I recently moved to Brooklyn and began commuting regularly over the Manhattan Bridge, and was pleased to see that both the north and south paths had two cellular emergency phones, one at each anchorage. And it was a welcome surprise in mid-July when two more phones sprouted up at the towers. It appeared that someone had looked at the needs of the bridge and was finally implementing a plan.

manny_b.jpgManhattan Bridge, 2010: Reliable emergency call boxes finally have bike-ped spaces covered. Photo: Ed Ravin

Today I ran into a work crew installing a fifth phone on the Manhattan Bridge’s north path, right in the middle over the river. I was told that there are now 8 or 10 phones on each East River Bridge, all of them ringing through to 911 should you ever have cause to pick one up. It’s great to see that the emergency needs of the city’s bicycle and pedestrian-only places are, finally, part of the plan.

  • Danny G

    Call me crazy, but if the DOT puts the Furman Street barrier-separated path on the East side of the street (rather than the West), you could have NYC’s first traffic-protected and weather-protected two-way bikeway 🙂

  • BicyclesOnly

    These developments are wonderful–thanks for the updates, Ed and Paco!

    In a modest bit of additional bikeway news, I noticed that First Avenue from 72nd to at least 91st Street has been “pilot-striped” for narrowed traffic lanes and a buffered bike lane.

    Folks will recall that this section was slated for a parking-protected bike path with concrete pedestrian refuges, until DoT announced last June that none of the bike or pedestrian improvements in the East Side Bikeway as originally proposed and approved by the Community Boards would go forward until unspecified “future years.” But along with that announcement, and somewhat in tension with it, DoT announced it would upgrade the 4′ substandard First Avenue Bike lane by adding a buffer. Some were left scratching their heads as to why DoT would invest in an upgraded bike lane if it truly intends, as some DoT representatives have recently stated, to replace the lane with a protected path next year.

    In any event, it’s nice to see the “pilot stripes” (the faint white outlines to be used as a guide for the later crew that applies the thick thermoplastic striping), not only where the new buffered lane will be, but also where the new and narrowed traffic lanes will be. It’s still too early to tell whether the “footprint” of the buffered lane corresponds to a full-width cycle track (as DoT officials said it would, so it could easily be later upgraded) or the smaller footprint of the “cycle track lite” design that’s been installed on Second Avenue south of 14th Street.

    Folks should be aware that the existing bike lane has been sandblasted away, so until the new buffered lane is striped, a motorist could easily miss the fact that there is a bike lane (not much different than before!). I hope we don’t have to wait long.

  • BicyclesOnly

    Whoops, above meant to say “none of the bike and pedestrian improvements NORTH OF 34TH STREET”.

  • chris mcnally

    wow Furman st! That’s a fantastic place for a two way bike path. I used to ride on that street to get to Redhook from downtown Brooklyn. Some scary fast 18 wheelers use it and there is a ton of broken glass especially on the sidewalk.

    This being two ways would make it easier to get from Red Hook to downtown Brooklyn avoiding going over some hills.

  • mike

    The Furman Street lane is great news! The road suffered from too much capacity, which naturally led to dangerous speeding by car drivers, which in turn sent bicyclists scrambling for safety on a narrow and broken sidewalk, which ain’t fair to pedestrians! Sounds like a win all around. Here’s hoping they extend it (and uh, knock down the BQE while they’re at it).

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    Things are happening at breakneck speed!!! WoWsers!

  • re: #1 Danny G, “NYC’s first traffic-protected and weather-protected two-way bikeway”

    Yup. Good one!

    Real easy to create weather-protected bikeways debunking one the myths of the feasibility of mainstreaming cycling.

  • Great news about Furman St, esp I it runs the length of that racetrack…
    And I am not calling you crazy Danny, but the path under the FDR, downtown, stays dry while it’s pouring out. I spent several wet days repairing then test riding on stormy days under there. It’s really fun to ride in the rain, and not get wet.

  • Furman Street bike lane is short and sweet. I hope there are plans to extend it all the way to Old Fulton Street.

    Manhattan’s West Side bike path under the Henry Hudson in Riverside Park South is another section that’s reasonably sheltered from harsh weather.

  • Ed Ravin

    Just surveyed the Brooklyn Bridge bike/ped path – 8 call boxes total, 3 solar-powered cellular new ones and 5 of what appear to be landline-based call boxes, I believe those are also known as “DRB” for “Direct Response Box”. The DRB’s showed signs of recent maintenance, including one with a new coat of yellow paint.

  • Linda Robinson

    Danny G – RE: Weather protected…nifty idea, but the actual design would mean that the greenway would have to cross Furman Street at two locations (Montague St below the Promenade and then again at Joralemon). Only one of those locations is a controlled intersection, so you’d have a safety mess on your hands (not to mention a very weird design). Better just to finish the greenway in Brooklyn Brige Park (which is the plan) and then get rid of the current Furman St stop-gap measure.

    Stacy – As soon as the new greenway section within Brooklyn Bridge Park opens (any day now), you’ll have that connection: A continuous greenway from Degraw St to Old Futon St. Yee haw!

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