DOT Proposes Safety Improvements for Queensboro Bridge Approach

DOT is proposing a two-way protected bike lane for a block of First Avenue beneath the Queensboro Bridge. Image: ##http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/2013-04-01-queensboro-connection-mn-cb6.pdf##DOT##

At a meeting of the Community Board 6 transportation committee last night, NYC DOT presented a plan to add some protection for cyclists heading to and from the Queensboro Bridge in Manhattan [PDF]. The proposal would add a protected bike lane on First Avenue between 59th Street and 61st Street, including a two-way segment on one block that will divert southbound bike traffic away from a hectic block of Second Avenue. The project could be implemented as early as this summer.

Cyclists exiting the Queensboro Bridge reach ground level at 60th Street and First Avenue. Presently, southbound cyclists are supposed to travel north on First Avenue, west on 61st Street, then south on Second Avenue, where they must navigate busy bridge entrances between 59th and 60th Streets.

Under DOT’s proposal, southbound cyclists would instead use a jersey barrier-protected two-way bike lane on First Avenue between 60th and 59th Streets, connecting to a shared lane on 59th Street. Before reaching Second Avenue, all westbound car traffic on 59th Street diverts to a Queensboro Bridge ramp, after which the bike route would continue as a contra-flow buffered lane with flexible barriers to protect cyclists from oncoming eastbound traffic.

Currently, cyclists access Second Avenue via 61st Street, and cross a busy entrance to the Queensboro Bridge. DOT is proposing to route cyclists via First Avenue and 59th Street instead. Image: ##http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/2013-04-01-queensboro-connection-mn-cb6.pdf##DOT##

The plan would also add a one-way protected bike lane on First between 60th and 61st, linking the bridge path entrance to the existing northbound protected bike lane on First Avenue.

The proposal would not close the gaps in protected bike lanes on the East Side. Instead it calls for shared lane markings on Second Avenue from 59th Street to 58th Street, and on First Avenue from 56th Street to 59th Street. The shared lanes on First would direct cyclists to the third lane from the left, since there are double left turn lanes there now. This is different than existing shared lane markings on Second Avenue at 36th Street, for example, where left-turning traffic going to the Queens-Midtown Tunnel shares a lane with cyclists continuing straight on Second Avenue.

At last night’s meeting, some in attendance raised concerns about cycling in a shared lane removed from the edge of the street on both 59th Street and First Avenue. Committee members requested that DOT consider installing flexible barriers to separate bikes and left-turning vehicles from through lanes, according to Steve Vaccaro. A similar set-up exists at the entrance to the Holland Tunnel on Varick Street.

The committee is next scheduled to meet on Monday, May 6. DOT staff said last night that the plan could be implemented in the summer or fall, if the agency receives a supportive vote from the community board next month.

Also last night, DOT presented preliminary plans for traffic calming around P.S. 347, on East 23rd Street between Second and Third Avenues. This plan would bring sidewalk extensions and pedestrian countdown signals to the area surrounding the school, which serves many deaf students.

The committee also voted 11-1 in favor of a resolution that encourages the MTA to reinstate flashing blue lights on Select Bus Service vehicles. The lights were turned off by the MTA after complaints from Council Member Vincent Ignizio and State Senator Andrew Lanza of Staten Island. State law restricts flashing blue lights to the vehicles of volunteer firefighters and select emergency vehicles. A bill sponsored by Assembly Member Micah Kellner could allow the MTA to turn the lights back on.

  • Mike

    The funny thing is that DOT is talking about how dangerous it is for cyclists coming from the bridge to cross the bridge entrances on 2nd Ave, but their plan doesn’t do anything for cyclists going *to* the bridge from 2nd Ave, who still have to cross those same entrances. DOT could have easily fixed that problem with the common-sense solution of unlocking the gate to the path on 60th Street between 1st and 2nd, allowing everyone to access the bridge either there or at 1st Ave, and removing the needless up-and-down or down-and-up hill climb.

  • Ben Kintisch

    This tiny piece of bike infrastructure is nice, but can we please extend the parking protected lane north now? The protection disappears just as cyclists have to begin climbing a hill, so cars gun it and overtake the bikes at a scary speed.

  • J

    Excellent point. Coming from the north or west, there is really no good way to get to the bridge entrance, even with this project. From 2nd Ave, I typically take the 60th Street bus lane from 2nd to 1st Ave, then do a U-turn and go back up the hill onto the bridge. Taking the bus lane is illegal, but feel much much safer than any alternative. I’ll almost certainly keep doing that even after this project is implemented.

  • J

    I’m really glad that the gaps in the bike lane are starting to be filled. Here are my top two suggestions for projects to close small but important gaps in the bike network:

    1) 8th Ave in front of the Port Authority
    2) Connect 2nd Ave Southbound to Allen St southbound, (before crossing Houston Street!)

  • Sean Kelliher

    As Ben mentions, added two blocks of protected bike lanes is nice, but DOT’s plan really does nothing to improve the section of First Avenue between 49th and 59th Streets. It is an incredible scary section to ride and now will still be an incredibly scary section to ride with just some more useless sharrow markings on the pavement.

    Additionally, the “middle of the road” sharrows to accomodate left turning vehicular lanes at 57th and 59th Street is a scary idea. A similar design exists now at 30th Street and 9th Avenue in Manhattan. Getting across several lanes to follow the sharrow markings is hazardous. Then there is the problem of being between lanes of (often large) vehicles who drivers decide they may be in the “straight lane” or “turning lane” but really want to do something different.

    Designs like this are for the “strong and fearless.” Attracting anyone else would be challenging, and, overall, they’re really no way to grow bicycling in a city.

  • P B

    Not sure what needs to be done but I hate the part on 1st when you get to 56th street and the shared lane just ends. Not even a warning that you will now be entering 2 lanes of turning vehicles. And during rush hours there are ALWAYS cars waiting to turn from the 1st straight only lane. Then you have cars (and busses and trucks) trying to go around them, and it just becomes a big mess.

  • carma

    im glad im not the only one who feels removing the gate is necessary. it is so silly for pedestrians /cyclists to take the long ramp to 1st, when im sure a good portion of the traffic is going westbound rather than going towards first.

    when im on foot traffic from 2nd, its just so much easier to hop over the fencing rather than to walk all the way down to 1st to go back up to 2nd.

  • KSpo

    I always turn at 60th St. too. I don’t see any signage against doing so, but in any case it’s definitely the best/safest option (and this redesign does nothing to change that). If they would just open that freakin’ gate it would cut out the ol’ “u-turn to the bike path entrance while drivers barrel down on you” if the light is green.

  • Mik, J and Kspo,

    There was a second meeting concerning this project at CB8 a couple nights later, and 60th Street came up. 60th Street is indeed the DoT’s recommended route for use by cyclists southbound on 2nd Ave to access the Q’bo from the north. However the route is flawed because of the mid-block off-ramp for Q’bo MV traffic. Josh Benson of the DoT explained (to my surprise) that there is no control whatsoever for that mid-block MV traffic as it crosses over the path of the bridge-bound cyclist traffic mid-block on 60th Street. He said that a control for this flow of MV traffic wasn’t feasible because at peak volume hours, a back-up of traffic all the way upstream to the point where that ramp branches from the main roadway would occur. The risk of MV crashes on the span due to the back up on the ramp is the reason there is no traffic control at the mouth of the ramp.

    Obviously, one could imagine engineering fixes to the crash risk DoT is concerned about. Specifically, the right lane of the lower roadway could be signed and delineated with flexible bollards at mid-ramp to force MV traffic to commit to using the ramp (or not) mid-span far upstream from where any backup could reach. But that would slow things down. 🙂

    But even setting aside the MV crash risk up on the span, I have concerns about opening up the mid-block gate at the hairpin turn area at the foot of the bike/ped path ramp. That hairpin turn area already sees a lot of conflict, because you can’t see around the turn. I have been struck while heading onto the bridge by cyclists coming off the span at high speed who turn wide into the eastbound lane of the path at the hairpin turn.

    If the gate were opened up, some cyclists coming off the bridge would be trying to maintain downhill speed while making the straight shot westbound on 60th. Those cyclists would come into conflict with many different traffic flows: (1) bridge-bound cyclists and pedestrians coming up around the turn from First Avenue; (2) bridge-bound cyclists coming East on 60th wanting a straight shot up the eastbound ramp (and no doubt trying to conserve their momentum from the slight downward grade from Second Avenue); and (3) the MV traffic coming off the bridge mid-block.

    Without some kind of control for the MV traffic outflow, it would be asking for trouble to facilitate high-speed two-way bike traffic on 60th Street by opening up the gate. As it is, there is a game of brinksmanship at the mid-block area between the bridge-bound cyclists and the off ramp traffic. Often cyclists hedge this risk by shifting to the left to leave some room between them and the MV traffic flow (I certainly do). Opening the gate would mean that the bridge-bound cyclists would be encouraged to shift all the way to the right, enhancing the conflict with the MVs and leaving no room for error. The only way to make this conflict safe would be a traffic light for the MV traffic coming off the bridge (stop sign would not do it, IMO). I’m not saying that is infeasible, but it would be a heavy political lift due to the impact on MV traffic.

  • Jason Chin-Fatt

    Has there been any thought of improving safety leading to 59th on 1st Ave. It is a nightmare trying to navigate the lanes of traffic on 1st Ave. between 56th and 59th streets.

  • Driver

    I’ve never biked in this area but I have driven through here and can see what a mess it is for cyclists. If I were to ride here, it seems the safer route might be to cross over to the right lane or bus lane for a few blocks, where there would be significantly fewer turning conflicts, and then use the cross walk to cross back across 1st ave at the desired block.

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