Eyes on the Street: Upper Manhattan Gets First Taste of Protected Cycling

Cyclists can wait to cross Amsterdam Avenue in a bike box, before they enter a parking protected contra-flow lane on the other side. A pedestrian refuge island also shortens crossing distances and calms traffic. Photo: BicyclesOnly via Flickr.
Cyclists heading north on St. Nick can wait to cross Amsterdam Avenue in a bike box, before they enter a parking protected contra-flow lane on the other side. A pedestrian refuge island also shortens crossing distances and calms traffic. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/bicyclesonly/5241841682/in/photostream/##BicyclesOnly via Flickr.##

DOT’s planned safety improvements for the intersection of St. Nicholas and Amsterdam Avenues are currently being installed, as shown in pictures snapped by Streetsblog reader BicyclesOnly. Major features include shorter crosswalks, additional pedestrian space, and Upper Manhattan’s first segment of physically-protected bike lane.

Up to now, the intersection has been a dangerous one. According to a DOT presentation from April, 23 pedestrians were injured there from 2006 to 2009. It’s no mystery why. With two large, fast-moving avenues crossing at an irregular angle, it was a recipe for trouble.

The redesign installs a pedestrian refuge island and a Greenstreets triangle to shorten the distance across the intersection on foot. It also turns the blocks of St. Nicholas on either side of the intersection into one-ways, headed into the intersection. Motorists who want to continue on St. Nicholas in either direction need to do a dogleg onto Amsterdam and then turn back to St. Nicholas. Here’s a map:

Image: NYC DOT

Cyclists in the northbound bike lane on St. Nicholas — the only on-street bike lane in that direction — get an innovative new treatment from DOT for their uphill passage. Sharrows direct them from a bike lane on the right side of the street to one on the left side, where they cross over a traffic calming concrete island and into a bike box. From there, they are guided across Amsterdam and into a one-block, contraflow bike lane up St. Nicholas, protected by angled parking. Southbound riders aren’t quite so lucky; they’ll travel south in the St. Nicholas bike lane as usual, but have to take a detour onto Amsterdam and then turn left to reconnect with St. Nicholas. Even so, the general traffic calming effect should be welcome.

Sharrows lead cyclists across St. Nicholas traffic and over an island that sends motor traffic onto Amsterdam Ave. Photo: BicyclesOnly via Flickr.
Sharrows lead cyclists across St. Nicholas traffic and over an island that sends motor traffic onto Amsterdam Ave. To the left of the frame will be a large Greenstreets triangle. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/bicyclesonly/5241278847/in/photostream/##BicyclesOnly via Flickr.##
DOT workers installing the one block-long contraflow bike lane on St. Nicholas. Photo: BicyclesOnly via Flickr.
DOT workers installing the one block-long contraflow bike lane on St. Nicholas. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/bicyclesonly/5241835320/in/photostream/##BicyclesOnly via Flickr.##
  • LN

    Ahem, taste is right -Its one very short block of protected cycling, accessible only after going up on the sidewalk/new concrete triangle, potentially conflicting with pedestrians.

    Still the pedestrian improvements are great – I just wish the bike passage wasn’t an afterthought in this intersection. The St. Nich bike lane worked great before, now we are asked to follow a confusing maze of twists and turns when we used to go straight with the light and traffic.

  • LN, my personal impression is that the bike lane was part and parcel of the redesign, not an “afterthought.” The old design wasn’t as trouble-free as you remember, either; cyclists on St. Nick northbound waiting to cross Amsterdam had to look out for right-turning motor vehicles cutting heedlessly across the bike lane to head uptown via Amsterdam.

    I hope DOT considers reviving the intersection of St. Nicholas, West 168th St, and Broadway in a similar manner.

  • Is it just me or does anyone else find it really annoying that cyclist pictograms used on bike lanes in NYC (and SF, DC..) have helmets?

  • Shemp

    LN, St. Nick didn’t work well at all at these intersections with avenues – the merge/crossing going north on St. Nick was not signalized in most cases: ergo dangerous and confusing. That island looks huge – go slow over it and everyone should be fine.

  • It is a taste (one block), but a welcome taste. Ditto on Jonathan’s request for a similar treatment at W168th, Broadway, and St. Nick. Also, we could use this treatment at W121st, 8th Ave, and St. Nick.

  • flp

    @jonathan obviously the bike lane was part of the plan, as can be seen in the images, but the concept of afterthought here refers to the poor incorporation of cycling traffic within the NYCDOT redesign. the simple fact is that there is no need for such a convoluted path from st. nick S to st. nick N. why couldn’t there have been a simple straight bike sharrow across amsterdam a la sands street to the manhattan bridge? fwiw, i’ve been riding this intersection for 15 years, and, though it was not perfect, i really had few problems with the old design. it was just a matter of timing and placement to avoid the st. nick to amsterdam traffic. i am very glad, though, for my wonderful pedestrian neighbors to have these safe crossings!

    on another note, why do i get a sense of blind devotion to cheerleading every NYCDOT bike infrastructure addition here on streetsblog and most of #bikenyc despite the many flaws that have been pointed out by cyclists themselves? the city and its agencies are not little children that need constant positive reinforcement. they should be professionals at what they do, but, sadly, they often fall short. critiques are all part and parcel of growth and development, so it would be much more productive to acknowledge the problems and try to encourage redesigns of redesigns. i for one feel that most of the cycle tracks are crying for a redesign.

  • BicyclesOnly


    I for one am speaking honestly when I praise the First Ave. bike path. (Houston to 34th). Second Avenue from 23rd to Houston has problems, and I’ve always said so.

    I only use St.Nick uptown a couple of. times a month, so I can’t really speak to whether this is an improvement or not. My impression is that the new design caters to less confident, experienced cyclists than the more subtle fix you describe.

    But as a cyclist, I do have a tendency to embrace infrastructure that’s designed specifically for me, even when it’s not the way I would have designed it. And as an advocate, I’m aware of the need to support an agency with which I have broad areas of agreement, when its being heavily and unfairly criticized. And I do think city employees tend to be underpaid, so it doesn’t hurt to thank them publicly when they do their jobs. But if you want to see how I deal with DoT presentations I don’t like, check out my flickr set discussing the West 77th/78th St. bike lane. Or my very public criticisms of DoT’s failure to address the deadly hazards for cyclists on the Central Park transverse roadways.

  • LN

    Actually a less confident and experienced cyclist would have no idea where to go, as the Northbound bike lane indeed ends at the new island and picks up on the other side – its hard to know which curb cut is intended for bikes on the N bound – and the sharrows replace what was a delineated bike lane on the S bound.

    And since I have been riding the St. Nich bike lane for over a decade and a half several times a week, I report that this particular intersection was the safest of the big ones for bike passage, albeit very dangerous for pedestrians. The lights worked for the bikes, and there were no turns.

    The unresolved unsafe peel offs of traffic on the uptown side are further downtown – these have no lights.

    FYI Already a car has crashed into a light pole at this intersection.

  • Severin

    Maybe the part that runs through the pedestrian island should be painted green for continuity/consistency and decrease likelihood of confusion.

  • Good morning, grumblers!

    First off, in defense of the “less confident and experienced cyclist.” Just because people don’t ride their bicycles every day doesn’t mean that they have no idea where to go. It may take them an extra light cycle to get there, but they’ll get there.

    Second, considering the idea of a center protected bikeway à la Sands St. The lanes on St. Nicholas both uptown and downtown are on the sides of the street, not the middle. The southbound cyclist would have to cross the southbound motor vehicle (cars, trucks and frequent buses) lanes to get to the bikeway. This crossover would have to happen no later than the corner of 163rd St & St. Nicholas in order to avoid the backed-in parked cars that are medial to the bike lane on St. Nick between 162nd and 163rd. Then again on the south and east side of the intersection, the cyclist would have to cross the leftover northbound traffic that turns left on 161st St from St. Nick in order to get to a notional protected bike lane behind the backed-in cars on St. Nick between 161st and 160th, and again at 160th cross the southbound/eastbound traffic (including buses) that was diverted to Amsterdam from St. Nick between 162nd and 160th.

    Third, on cold winter evenings with little foot traffic, it’s easy for northbound cyclists to cross Amsterdam with the walk light and get back onto the St. Nicholas path because there’s no northbound turning traffic off of St. Nick, it’s all diverted to 162nd St.

    Fourth, as BicyclesOnly said, DOT deserves support for designing and constructing a solution to a problem that the community had identified (the difficulty of crossing that intersection) and in addition taking bicyclists into account.

  • flp

    it appears that perhaps my earlier description was not clear, jonathan. my suggestion was not to have a center cycle track, but, rather, to simply have a straight diagonal bike sharrow directly linking the two segments of st. nick across 162nd & amsterdam, one for each direction, facilitated by a bike signal light when the amsterdam ave traffic has the red. for the southbound bike traffic, a bike box at the amsterdam end of st nick easily solves the right turning car traffic problem.

    in the meantime, i prefer to be a grumbler than a sycophant or kiss ass, thank you.

  • flp

    oh, and by the way, interesting how folks who critique (not bash by the way like the pro car peeps) bike lanes, DOT, TA, SB etc. are labeled grumblers. this is a big part of the problem i have with all the cheering of the DOT. if someone does not like a bike infrastructure addition, they are considered to be trolls, etc. if they like it, they are level headed, reasoned etc.

    such silliness.

  • flp, there is no southbound traffic any more on St. Nick between 162nd and 160th, so any kind of bike lane in that direction couldn’t be a “sharrow,” because there’s no car traffic to share with.

    Let me speak to the point about cheerleading. If there’s an organization that in your opinion includes conscientious people, that does good work, that has a vision, and that is accountable for subgoals leading to that vision, why wouldn’t you support that organization, even when its particular subgoals are not your exact cup of tea?

    DOT lays out its vision right here:

    Our mission is to provide for the safe, efficient, and environmentally responsible movement of people and goods in the City of New York and to maintain and enhance the transportation infrastructure crucial to the economic vitality and quality of life of our primary customers, City residents.

  • flp

    jonathan, i realize i left out the idea of having a southbound contraflow bike lane on the southern segment of st. nick. to put it more simply, DOT could have made the two segments of st. nick nearly mirror reflections of each other: one side with a contra flow bike lane and the other side a regular bike lane.

    in the end, the point is not that i do not support the DOT in general, but, rather, i just do not support all their redesigns.

  • I agree with others that continuing the Kermit green paint over the sidewalk portions where the cyclist is to ride would clarify the route.


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