Why Does DOT Keep Taking Away Inwood Bike Infrastructure?

Bike lanes on W. 218th Street in Inwood have been replaced by sharrows. An image of the former street layout appears below. Photo: Brad Aaron

A short stretch of bike lanes in Inwood has gone the way of the disappearing bike shelter, further reducing the neighborhood’s scarce cycling infrastructure.

West 218th Street, Manhattan’s northernmost cross street to extend west of Broadway, connects Broadway and Inwood Hill Park, and delineates the southern border of the Columbia University Baker Field complex. It is part of a marked and mapped bike route for cyclists headed to and from Van Cortlandt Park, in the Bronx. Not long ago, the four blocks of W. 218th west of Broadway had bike lanes. When the street was repaved recently, the lanes were replaced by sharrows.

Said a DOT spokesperson, in an email to Streetsblog: “Following a resurfacing project on that street, DOT updated the markings to reflect current design standards, which don’t allow for a five-foot bike lane on a street that width.”

The efficacy of sharrows is a topic of debate. But if a street is deemed too narrow for bike lanes, yet wide enough for two lanes of parked cars, the issue isn’t a shortage of asphalt — it’s the decision to prioritize free curbside parking over safe space for cycling. This in a neighborhood that has few bike lanes as it is, and where DOT has responded to residents’ desire for more bike infrastructure by nipping away at what little exists.

Much is made of securing the blessing of community boards before bike infrastructure can be added, but this is not the case when bike infrastructure is removed or downgraded. We know DOT did not ask Community Board 12 before repossessing Inwood’s lone bike shelter. We asked DOT, twice, if CB 12 was consulted on the decision to remove the bike lanes from West 218th Street. We’re still waiting for an answer.

Same block as above, looking east toward Broadway. Image: Google Maps
  • Clarke

    It’s plain fact that scraping a body off the street is easier than towing a car.

    But in all seriousness, sharrows are worse than nothing on streets…and just plain don’t mean anything. If cyclists can take the lane on any street without a designated lane, than what purpose do sharrows serve other than to give cyclists a false sense of security as a delivery truck passes less than two feet away at 50 mph?

  • Did the standard change from when the bike lane was first installed until now?

  • Anonymous

    Both the former bike lane and the sharrows are clearly in the door zone of the parked cars. FAIL either way.

  • Ian Turner

    I thought the city council had passed a law requiring DOT to consult with community boards before adding or removing bike lanes. No?

  • jrab

    Maggie Clarke told me once that the bike lane here was first striped because in the 1990s it was along the route to work of DOT’s quondam bicycle planner. Brad knows full well that CB12M is not going to remove automobile parking from residential streets like West 218th. The question I have is whether this is the same NYC DOT that Streetsblog commenters lionize as the be-all and end-all of big city public works bureaus.

  • they did. DOT… what happened? 
    It requires the city to inform community boards before any bike lane is removed:…at least ninety days before the construction or the removal of a bicycle lane is to begin, the department shall notify each affected council member and community board via electronic mail of the proposed plans for the bicycle lane within the affected community district and shall offer to make a presentation at a public hearing held by such affected community board.

  • they did. DOT… what happened? 
    It requires the city to inform community boards before any bike lane is removed:…at least ninety days before the construction or the removal of a bicycle lane is to begin, the department shall notify each affected council member and community board via electronic mail of the proposed plans for the bicycle lane within the affected community district and shall offer to make a presentation at a public hearing held by such affected community board.

  • I wonder if the notification process was assumed as met as part of the adoption of the Slow Zone last summer, which did of course go through the CB approval process with overwhelming support from the neighborhood, including Bike Upper Manhattan, which @jrab:twitter  and I are both active with. DOT’s presentation for its enhancements to the original slow zone application did not, as I recall, get into this detail so it was not clear that we’d lose the lanes on 218th. 

    I will say that now that 218th is repaved, it’s a much easier ride, and the sharrows are more visible than the lanes were. That said,  I agree in general that Inwood and Washington Heights continue to be ignored when it comes to bike infrastructure– we’ve continued to ask for additional infrastructure and all we hear back from DOT is that they are waiting to hear from CB12, or they are waiting for funds, or some other version of pointing to an imaginary ball in someone else’s bureaucratic court. 

  • Andy

    That’s not a sharrow, it’s an errant bike symbol. Sharrows go in the CENTER of the lane to show this cyclists are allowed the full use of the lane, and should be riding IN the lane instead of along the very unsafe doorzone. Especially in places with a narrow lane, frequent intersections with potential turns, and otherwise generally unsafe places for a driver to pass. The point is sharing the road, not relegating cyclists to the dangerous edge of the roadway to let car drivers pass just to wait at the same red light.

  • If that sharrow is meeting current design standards, the standards are very very wrong 

  • Guest

    I find sharrows useful in some applications.  On narrow streets with relatively low vehicular volumes, sharrows can be useful for indicating the proper location for cyclists OUTSIDE the door zone. 

    It can serve as a useful reminder for cyclists, and helps curb some road rage by drivers who don’t understand why the cyclist won’t move over and just get out of their way.

    This fails at that.

  • Jeff

    Sharrows should only serve to fill in a relatively short gap between more robust infrastructure for the purpose of guiding cyclists to the continuation of the route.  Relying on sharrows alone as a “bike route” is just silly.

  • J

    I think this highlights a bigger problem, which is the mediocre nature the vast majority of NYC bicycle facilities. We are arguing over sharrows vs door-zone bike lanes, when neither of which are all that useful in actually providing safe, comfortable bicycle infrastructure that people will use. Protected bike lanes and bicycle priority streets (bike boulevards) are what are really going to get people to use bicycles. DOT has done some good work on the cycle tracks Manhattan, but everywhere else in the city the bike infrastructure is quite mediocre, if it exists at all.

  • Ben Kintisch

    Boo.

  • JimM

    Looks like the traffic lane-bike lane-parking lane didn’t give enough room to pass safely, and the bike lane was right up against the parked cars.  The sharrow is probably safer: it warns drivers that they are sharing the space with bicycles, instead of presenting a too-narrow right of way for cars and bikes both.

  • Pretty hypocritical that they said there isn’t room for a five-foot bike lane in current designs. Just about every other street on that side of Broadway has recently had a large chunk out of it — a no-parking, no-driving space with a big sign post in it telling everyone the speed limit is 20 MPH on THIS SIDE of the street. I’m pretty sure the neighborhood is terrified that the local motorcyclist speed demons who’ve been using Broadway to show off and drag race in the summer will come up the “good” (read: more white, or as a black friend of mine from the “bad” side of Broadway put it, “where the rich people live”) side of Broadway and run over their children. Why not solve the problem by leaving in the damn bike lane? It’d slow people down and still make it easier to commute.

    While they’re at it, I wish like crazy that they’d resurface Seaman. There was a fork in the bike lane there. I mean, like, cutlery. Embedded, tines-up, in the asphalt.

  • Dave Thom

    As the person who organized the Slow Zone application for this area I can tell you that there was no discussion of removing the bike lanes as part of that process.  In fact, one of the arguments for the Slow Zone was that this part of Inwood was home to the few bike lanes that existed.  This came out of left field when the street was repaved; it surprised me as well.

    Despite the conspiracy theory voiced by Gus Andrews below the Slow Zone signs have nothing to do with bike lanes or taking of street space — those were simply placed in the pre-existing parking lanes (and upset quite a few people in the process, since apparently a vastly safer area was not worth the loss of a few parking spots in the minds of some).

    And Gus, Seaman, and any other Inwood street, should ideally never be resurfaced again as it is one of the few things besides speed bumps that slows drivers.  Why do you think Fieldston in Riverdale has such rough streets?  Fill the potholes (and remove the forks!) sure but the rougher the better.

    The sharrows on W218th are not so bad so long as the paint holds out, and the street is much easier to cycle on now that the cars have to slow for the speed bump.  Plus the lanes were routinely blocked by perpetual double parking.  So the effective loss is minimal.  But politically it would be great to turn this incident into fuel for bike lanes where it really matters — along Dyckman, through Inwood Hill Park, over the Broadway Bridge (lots of room but no bikes allowed), etc.  Or as pointed out by others a proper curbside bike lane on Seaman and not these junky carside lanes.

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