CB 2 Committee Votes to Bring NYC’s First “Green Wave” to Prince Street

Prince Street in Soho is a candidate to receive the city’s first “green wave” — traffic signals timed to align with cyclists’ travel speeds — after a vote of support from the Manhattan Community Board 2 transportation committee.

On Valencia Street in San Francisco, a "green wave" was so popular it was ##http://sf.streetsblog.org/2011/01/06/green-wave-becomes-permanent-on-valencia-street/##made permanent in 2011##. Photo: Bryan Goebel

Prince Street sees some of the highest bike mode-share of any NYC street, but the signal timing doesn’t synch up with comfortable cycling speeds, leading to red light-running. A green wave would re-time the progression of traffic signals so that drivers and cyclists can travel smoothly at a pedestrian-friendly 10 to 15 mph. In San Francisco, the treatment has proven popular on Valencia Street, a major bike route.

Members of CB 2’s transportation committee were very supportive when proponent Ian Dutton showed them a presentation about the concept [PDF], but they also said that the street is already cluttered and they didn’t want too much additional signage. (In an effort to keep drivers from rapidly accelerating only to stop at the next block, signs are usually posted to inform them of the slower timing.)

Although a green wave on Prince may not retime stop lights at high-volume cross streets like Broadway and Lafayette Street, it would still improve on the current stop-and-start timing for cyclists while calming car traffic.

A green wave has been discussed since bike lanes were first proposed for Prince and Bleecker Streets in 2007, but DOT and the community board have so far taken little action to make it a reality. Dutton’s presentation to CB 2 does not include Bleecker, though he noted that because it’s an important route for cyclists traveling south and east from Ninth Avenue, Bleecker might also be a good candidate for signal retimings.

On December 6, CB 2’s transportation committee approved a resolution supporting the green wave, 10-0, with one absence. Supporters are cautiously optimistic.

“It’s hard to tell what will happen when it comes before the full board at its next meeting,” committee chair Shirley Secunda told Streetsblog in an email. The full board will take up the matter on December 20.

  • Albert

    Wonderful news.  Potentially removes one of the main discouragements to cyclists to follow those autocentric “rules of the road” that we’re always accused of flaunting.

    Next, let’s start restoring 1-way streets to their original, neighborhood-y 2-way status.

  • Jesse Greene

    This seems like it could smooth car traffic too given that with the traffic in SoHo it’s pretty much impossible for anything to move faster than about 12 mph on average. Hopefully it will reduce sprinting to the next red light.

  • Jesse Greene

    This seems like it could smooth car traffic too given that with the traffic in SoHo it’s pretty much impossible for anything to move faster than about 12 mph on average. Hopefully it will reduce sprinting to the next red light.

  • jrab

    I like the Green Wave idea, but implementing it on crowded, narrow Prince Street is ridiculous. I gave up on riding on Prince Street when the Allen Street bike lane was created and it became easier to ride up to 3rd Street and use that to go crosstown.

    Did they pick Prince Street for the reason Jesse Greene states, that nobody goes faster than 12 mph anyway?

  • Joe R.

    Prince Street is really short, not much over 1/2 mile, so I’m not sure how much practical difference this would make in travel time. Anyway. I’d personally like to see signals timed for lower speeds on major arterials (i.e. the Avenues in Manhattan) which run for miles. That could seriously speed up travel times.

    Let me preface the remainder of my post by saying that I think signals timed for lower speeds in general are a good idea, regardless of whether the street is a major bike route or not, provided we tell motorists what that speed is. Even better, with electronic signs, you can vary the timed speed depending upon time of day and weather conditions. I think all this could serious reduce the epidemic of speeding in this city. I think timing for 18 to 20 mph, rather than 10 or 12 mph, makes more sense for four, possibly five, reasons. One, it makes more sense to slightly delay slower cyclists than to significantly delay faster ones, just as faster trains are given priority on railroads. And signal timing set for 18 to 20 mph doesn’t really delay 12 mph cyclists by all that much, requiring a stop maybe every 6 or 7 blocks, giving a delay of perhaps 25% or 30%. 10 mph timing delays a 20 mph cyclist by 50%. Two, faster cyclists tend to be on a route for more miles, whereas slower cyclists are often traveling shorter distances. As such, they might not be on any given route long enough to encounter more than one or two red lights anyway. Three, many slower cyclists are novices who just started riding. They will get either slightly or significantly faster as they ride more, and grow stronger. Four, 18 or 20 mph signal timing can work well to slow motor traffic but anything slower can be problematic because it’s difficult/tedious to keep a car going at a very low speed without constantly hitting the brakes. Modern cars are unfortunately grossly overpowered for low-speed driving. Five, although I don’t have a crystal ball, if velomobiles catch on here, even slower, weaker cyclists might be going 20 mph or more. See this great video for the potential velomobiles have as far as rapidly traveling short to medium distances: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPgDdAx9K7EAll that said, on some short side streets with heavy volumes where even fast cyclists can’t go at  top speed, 10 or 12 mph might be appropriate. Prince Street sounds like that type of street.As a general rule, commuter cyclists in the US tend to have better equipment and ride faster than their counterparts in Europe. Signal timing should reflect that. I’m also disturbed by the line “a pedestrian-friendly 10 to 15 mph”, with the implication that bicycles need to go slower on the same streets we allow cars to go 30 mph. This plays right into the hands of the people who scream at 10 mph cyclists that they’re going “much too fast”.Finally, no matter how well timed the signals are for any one cyclist, there are many things which can throw it off. Random delays to go around objects, traffic, headwinds, and so forth are all factors. It’s a pity the political will isn’t there yet to pass a reds-as-yields law. That, combined with better signal timing (or just getting rid of signals altogether on major bike routes) could make bike travel significantly faster.

  • it’s more the delivery trucks, jaywalkers, tourists who don’t know any better walking in the lane, and the sidewalk sellers with their carts that are on the problem on Prince Street.  Biking up to 9th street is longer but so much easier.

  • daddy

    Awesome! Everyday I ride Prince and am continually frustrated by red lights not timed at all. I disdain running reds but sitting at red light after red light on Prince one feels stupid.

  • J

    A note to commenters who suggest going to 3rd or 9th to go crosstown. A lot of people need to go to SoHo or Hudson Square, and don’t want to go out of their way. It is important to make high-quality bikeways at regular intervals, and this is surely a step in the right direction.

  • jrab

    J makes a good point, that many people are actually riding to SoHo destinations, but 3rd St is only three blocks away from Prince Street, and as several people have pointed out, the heavy pedestrian traffic on Prince Street makes it the westbound street least similar to a “high-quality bikeway.”

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