CB 4 Committee Says Yes to West Side Protected Bike Lanes Up to 59th Street

DOT’s plan to extend the protected bike lanes on Eighth and Ninth Avenues from the low 30s north to 59th Street won unanimous approval from the transportation committee of Community Board 4 last night. With the exception of two blocks of Eighth Avenue in front of the Port Authority, the lanes will be fully protected through the length of Midtown.

Bike traffic on the Eighth Avenue protected bike lane. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/bicyclesonly/3723831856/##BicyclesOnly/Flickr##

The redesign will make cycling a more attractive option to access the city’s biggest employment center and the theater district, and it will bring badly needed safety changes to the wide and chaotic west side avenues where they pass by Penn Station, the Port Authority, and the Lincoln Tunnel. Since 2005, eight pedestrians and one motorist were killed in traffic crashes on this stretch of Eighth Avenue, according to DOT; six pedestrians were killed on Ninth. Similar safety improvements caused traffic injuries for all street users to drop by 35 percent on a stretch of Eighth Avenue further downtown.

On each avenue, the space for the protected bike lane and pedestrian refuge islands will come from narrowing the existing travel lanes by two feet each, not removing a travel lane, DOT officials said. With the addition of left-turn space in the form of mixing zones — where bike traffic and turning cars overlap — and signalized turn bays at major intersections, traffic capacity will in fact increase on Eighth and Ninth Avenues. “If anything, speed should actually improve,” said DOT Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione.

Construction would occur in two phases. The lanes would be built south of 42nd Street in the spring of next year with the northern sections completed that fall. The full board of CB 4 will meet to vote on the proposal next month.

Unlike the bike lanes on the east side, DOT’s plans do not call for the lanes to run without protection for any significant distance. Between 40th and 41st Streets on Eighth Avenue, however, the protected lane will become a buffered lane running to the right of the Port Authority cab stand. The plastic bollards currently in place there will remain to the right of the bike lane, however, providing some protection at that location. On the following block, cyclists would share the second lane from the left with motor vehicles turning left.

The need for this design stems from the double left-turn lanes onto 42nd Street, said DOT bike and pedestrian direct Josh Benson. “If the bike lane was between those two left lanes and the curb,” he said, “it would be very difficult to go straight on your bike.”

Many cyclists and community board members urged DOT to find some solution that protected cyclists as they passed through those two dangerous blocks. Jay Marcus, the committee co-chair, told DOT that perhaps they should totally reimagine the corner of Eighth and 42nd, “similar to what you did in Times Square.” In the committee’s resolution, they asked that DOT try to improve the design of those two blocks.

The committee also requested that DOT widen the sidewalks on Eighth Avenue in order to ensure that the bike lanes don’t get filled with pedestrians overflowing off the curb. “You’ll have all those commuters walking to the Port Authority,” worried Lourdes Calderon. Benson said that it was possible that something could be worked out for the areas above 42nd Street, where DOT would have some extra time to develop a plan.

Reactions to the plan from the public were generally positive, but a significant number of west side residents worried that law-breaking cyclists were endangering pedestrians. Many of them cited news reports about the Hunter study of bike-on-pedestrian injuries to make their case. A pair of local business owners, who got some outsized attention in this DNAinfo report, also claimed that the bike lane would make parking and loading impossible at their establishments. The committee accepted DOT’s word that the agency would add adequate loading zones and work with the NYPD on increasing law enforcement, and asked for progress reports on those issues.

  • Urbanis

    This is fantastic news! I have long felt that the 8th and 9th Avenue lanes, while a welcome addition to the cycling infrastructure, were limited in their utility because they fail to provide protection precisely where it’s most needed–the traffic hellhole that is Midtown.

    Next on the agenda:
    (1) extend the 6th Avenue bike lane from 42nd St to 59th St and make it protected
    (2) add a bike lane on 5th Avenue, ideally protected, from 116th St to Washington Square Park

  • Anonymous

    This is very welcome news indeed, and it’ll make my commute to work much easier, but I’m concerned that a protected 8th Avenue lane won’t be much help to cyclists north of Port Authority, as pedestrians have been using the existing bike lane as a sidewalk extension for years. What that stretch 8th Avenue needs is a protected bike lane *and* wider sidewalks.

  • Congratulations and thanks to CB4 Transportation committee members and the advocates for this key vote in support. Will look forward to endorsement at the full board meeting.

    Next up: filling in the gap on Columbus/9th between 77th Street and 59th Streets…and figuring out a way to connect the 8th Avenue path with Amsterdam (or to reconfigure CPW with a protected or at least buffered uptown path?)

  • I think it’s worth pointing out that the New York Times offices are across Eighth Avenue from Port Authority. The reluctance on DOT’s part to imagine a way to protect vulnerable road users on that two-block stretch might also have something to do with the newspaper. 

    Sorry if this is a little too conspiratorial for you all, but I remember reading in the Village Voice that when the building was first put up, there was a clause in the contract between the Times (building owner) and the building management that forbid them to rent the commercial street-level spaces to welfare offices or fast-food restaurants. If the Times was willing in the 90s to put its desires for a suitably posh environment in writing, do you think their image-makers have changed their mind since then?

  • Pedestrian

    Every time I read about local business owners opposing a bike lane, I wonder why the DOT doesn’t respond with harder numbers and figures showing them that bike lanes are good for business. 

    I’d love for TA or an independent organization to do an economic impact study on the effects of bike lanes. There are now so many neighborhoods with established bike lanes — Chelsea, the UWS, the East Village — and so many bike lanes about to go in, that there’s probably never been a better time to gather before-and-after data.  A lot of ink has been spilled about Times Square and that ped plaza’s positive impact, but it’s such a unique case that people may not think the lessons apply to the kind of mom-and-pop businesses that line other avenues.

    As the reaction to the Hunter study shows, understanding how bike lanes make people safe is a tough concept for people who are predisposed to hating bikes to understand.  But everyone understands the benefits of more money.

  • RayKrueger

    Is this in NYC?
     

  • RayKrueger

    Is this in NYC?
     

  • I’ve overjoyed that midtown west is finally going to get protected bike lanes.

    Still, my favorite quote in the DNAinfo article:
    Despite
    assurances by DOT officials that similar bike lane plans
    worked well on the east side, the Transportation Planning Committee
    asked the department to consult with them about how well bike lane
    enforcement is working before beginning the second phase of the plan.
    “Drivers are civilized on the east side,” said committee co-chair
    Christine Berthet.

  • J
  • Hilda

    There is an all important 2 foot buffer on the 8th and 9th Avenue lanes that is right next to the curb.  This makes such a huge difference when riding in the lanes, as when a pedestrian strays onto the sidewalk, there is room to manuever.  This buffer is completely missing on 1st and 2nd Avenue lanes.  You can see it in the photo above.
    How do these get added to the lane design?  This is slight differnece in design really makes such a huge difference.

  • Daphna

    Hilda, That buffer you are referring to is only part of the earliest protected bike lanes – this includes 9th Avenues from 15th to 30th, 8th Avenue from 11th to 23rd, and some sections of Broadway from 26th to 59th.  All the newer protected bike lanes, including 8th Avenue from 23rd to 34th Streets, do not have this buffer.  The bike lane starts right at the curb where it is impossible to ride, yet that is counted as part of the width of the bike lane.  Like you, I preferred the original protected bike lanes when the 1′ closest to the curb was marked like a gutter rather than pigmented green and counted as part of the bike lane.  The new lanes really should be 1′ wider since they include that non-usable space, but they are not.

  • J

    @8846d008c7013905f80380e9fe77af79:disqus Just to expand on Daphna’s comment, the original bike lanes needed a lot more space to construct and required the city to remove a vehicle lane. Remove a travel lane AND some parking on 8th & 9th Aves in midtown, and I can guarantee that you’ll create quite a lot of opposition. It’ll be a fight as it is. The proposed design works well, and I’ll take it.
     
     
    Another thought: 8th Ave, north of 42nd Street, is a disaster for peds, and I guarantee that peds will spill into the new bike lane during the PM rush hour when that bike route gets the most use. Traffic, however, actually speeds up a lot, north of 42nd St. In my experience, during the PM rush hour almost all cars turn in the left 2 lanes of 8th Ave approaching 42nd St. My suggestion would be to make them both left-turn lanes. Then you could narrow 8th Ave to 3 lanes, north of 42nd Street and widen the sidewalks significantly (similar to Broadway, north of 47th). I doubt traffic ever backs up on 8th between 42nd & 50th. Also there is a big problem of speeding there. This would be a good way to address both speeding and pedestrian crowding at once. It’d probably be really good for businesses there as well.

  • m to the i

    Its great to see communities supporting safer streets that can be used by people using different modes of transportation.  So many New Yorker’s seem to have moved beyond the question of whether or not bicycles and bicycle infrastructure belong on the street.  Its too bad that so much of the press is still stuck back there trying to weigh us all down.

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  • Marcus Schodorf

    I was at the meeting and actually was the one who suggested widening the sidewalk between 42nd and 43rd.  There already is no parking on 8th between 42nd and 43rd, so I suggested using that space for extra sidewalk width and protecting the bike lane with flexible plastic bollards rather than cars.  I went on to suggest that treatment up to at least 46th or higher, since as many other commenters have noted, pedestrian traffic is so high many people use the bike lane as overflow space.  The DOT reps seemed rather receptive, and the board was definitely behind it.

  • J

    @98be8d9d4b21b76a175363fa3b22475e:disqus That is really exciting to hear. Expanded sidewalks would be a huge and long overdue improvement for pedestrians in the area, and it would make the bike lane much more functional in the evening rush. Let’s keep pushing for this.