Questions Arise Over Placement of Chelsea Bike Lanes

Image: NYC DOT

On Wednesday, DOT outlined a proposal for new Class II bike lanes in Chelsea between Eighth and Ninth Avenues and the Hudson River Greenway. While safe streets advocates welcomed the news, there is concern that their planned location, on W. 29th and W. 30th Streets, may not be ideal for unprotected lanes.

According to DOT’s presentation to the Community Board 4 transportation committee (PDF), W. 30th ranks in the 89th percentile in fatalities and serious injuries. Lincoln Tunnel traffic and trucks en route to and from a USPS facility are ever-present. Marilyn Dershowitz was struck and killed by the driver of a postal truck earlier this summer while cycling on 29th between Ninth and Tenth Avenues. All things considered, committee members worried that unprotected lanes won’t make the two streets safe enough.

“To encourage bicyclists on these streets is a little like leading sheep to a herd of wolves,” said Bret Firfer, as quoted in a DNAinfo report on the meeting.

DOT emphasized that 29th and 30th are the only streets between 23rd and 34th that would allow for an eventual uninterrupted river-to-river route for crosstown cycling. But members of the committee offered 25th and 26th Streets as an alternative, while acknowledging that 25th would mean a couple of turns to reach the Greenway, and in the future would require riding around Madison Square on the East Side.

DOT reps believe 29th and 30th would be no more dangerous than other area streets, and said they don’t believe cyclists would take a detour to find a safer route.

“We are also very concerned about this block, but the fact of the matter is that there are cyclists that exist on this road,” said DOT’s Josh Benson. “We’re very limited in what routes work at all for cyclists. I don’t know if there are better choices out there.” At this point, DOT plans to stripe lanes on the south side of 29th and 30th, along with other traffic lane alterations, in the fall.

“I am not sure there is a right or wrong answer,” transportation committee member Christine Berthet told Streetsblog. “We are just trying to find which pair the cyclists would use most.”

  • AlexB

    Seems like there should be a floating parking lane near the post office and sanitation dept, west of 9th, to protect cyclists in that area.  You’d have to remove parking on one side to fit it properly (I think), but the extra space would be good for those big trucks to turn.  A regular class II lane elsewhere would be sufficient.  There are crosstown lanes on 20/21, so I’m not sure 25/26 is all that much of an improvement. 

  • AlexB

    Seems like there should be a floating parking lane near the post office and sanitation dept, west of 9th, to protect cyclists in that area.  You’d have to remove parking on one side to fit it properly (I think), but the extra space would be good for those big trucks to turn.  A regular class II lane elsewhere would be sufficient.  There are crosstown lanes on 20/21, so I’m not sure 25/26 is all that much of an improvement. 

  • Anonymous

    Ride The City recently routed me up the 6th Ave Calss 2 lane, and it was terrifying.  An unprotected lane that narrow and that ignored might be worse than no lane at all, especially if cyclists are prohibited from riding outside of it.  I like AlexB’s idea of protecting the riskiest parts, and striping the rest as Class 2 if that is all that is politically and logistically do-able. Those blocks are all pretty much No Standing 8am-6pm except Commercial Vehicles Metered Parking, right?

  • Anonymous

    @station44025:disqus ,

    What part of 6th ave?  Are we talking the “midtown 6th ave bike lane”?

    That one’s a joke.  I always use that one as the example on how the law in NYC is that bikers shall use the bike lane unless conditions make it unsafe. 

  • Eric McClure

    OK, so why not flip the bike lane and 8-foot parking lane, and make it a Class I lane?  You could take one foot from the combined 20-foot lane, one foot from the 8-foot parking lane, and one foot from the bike lane to allow for a three-foot buffer between the bike lane and protective parking.  Seems like a fully protected bike path is a much better option.

  • Parksloper

    Why does it always have to be either/or? There are very few crosstown bike lanes. It’s not that the DOT has limited streets to put them on, there are 200+ crosstown streets to use, but rather they have limited will to take the space away form cars and trucks in order to improve bike safety along these routes.

  • Cberthet

    The key question is whether cyclists would chose a safer path with a few detours or a faster straighter path

  • J

    @EricMcClure:disqus I think that’s a really interesting idea, with Grand Street as the existing precedent for such a design. The section of Grand west of Broadway is the exact same width (34′), so it is certainly possible to squeeze in a class I lane. However, this is a route with heavy truck traffic, and DOT is probably scared of creating too tight a squeeze for trucks in the area or removing too much parking. The plans do call for removing parking already, so maybe that isn’t as big an issue in this case. I imagine that the trucking groups would almost surely be outspoken against significantly narrower streets, since the trucking industry in that area is slowly being pushed out already.

  • Grizzly Adams

    First of all Bret Firfer, it’s a “pack” of wolves, not a “herd.”

    Second of all, if we have a particular group of people on our streets who behave in a way that is comparable to a pack of wolves, then lets create policies and practices that get rid of the wolves, rather than banishing the sheep.

  • Grizzly Adams

    First of all Bret Firfer, it’s a “pack” of wolves, not a “herd.”

    Second of all, if we have a particular group of people on our streets who behave in a way that is comparable to a pack of wolves, then lets create policies and practices that get rid of the wolves, rather than banishing the sheep.

  • Cberthet

    Bret rides a bike

  • I used to think the far West Houston Street bike lane that runs down the middle of the street, and through an underpass, on a heavy truck route, was DOT’s worst idea.. until this proposal came along. 

    Doesn’t putting a bike lane on a street imply it’s a fairly safe route for cyclists? If trucks didn’t see Ms. Dershowitz right in front of them how will they ever notice a couple of stripes on the ground? Flipping the lanes as Eric McClure  suggested is one idea. Creating shared space on the sidewalk might be another solution.

    Time for DOT to go back to the drawing board. If they can’t design a bike lane with a minimum level of safety then cyclists should not be encouraged to use this route at all.

  • Ben from Bed Stuy

    I want to see protected lanes installed wherever and whenever possible. But, a painted lane, especially where there are very few, is a good start. Once a lane is there, if it sees heavy use, it can be upgraded to a protected lane. So, if we can get a protected lane, that’s the best. But let’s not let the perfect be the enemy of the good!

  • carma

    i think that most streets that are this type of width should have a bike lane similar to this design.  you see this already on several streets around the city.

    in fact, this is the best way to implement a lane without taking any parking from cars.  you will have very little resistance on all fronts and you can get more lanes down.

    what you need is MUCH more of these lanes, and ppl will eventually use them.  i see these lanes as wide enough that if you hug the outer edge of the lane, you will not encounter any dooring in the door zone, nor do you encounter any traffic as a striped lane already reduces the speed of most drivers.

  • Driver

    A lane like that will get squeezed on both sides.  The 8′ parking lane will put cars right at the painted line for the bike lane, and any trucks that park there will be partially in the bike lane.   Look at the floating lane on Columbus Ave for an example of this. 
    A 20′ combined lane will have trucks hugging and in many cases entering the bike lane from the travel lane, especially if another truck is parked at the curb. 
    From a safety standpoint this does not sound like a good setup for cyclists.  I think that cross section diagram is a gross misrepresentation of what that street will actually look like.  Like I said, look at Columbus Ave with the 8′ floating lane and 10′ traffic lanes.  Vehicles are much closer to each other than what is pictured.  Of course they didn’t think to put trucks in the picture. 

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