DOT Passes on Protected Bike Lanes for Tribeca, Gets CB Committee Support

With the exception of the Hudson River Greenway, routes between Tribeca and Greenwich Village can hardly be described as bike-friendly. Cyclists must compete with gridlock near Canal Street and the Holland Tunnel, while wide north-south arteries like Varick Street and Sixth Avenue are daunting roads. DOT is proposing a mix of upgrades between Warren Street and Washington Square, including buffered bike lanes and shared lanes — but nothing that would physically protect cyclists from the often-heavy traffic in this area. The plan received a 6-5 supportive vote from Community Board 1’s Tribeca committee Wednesday night.

DOT's proposed bike route from Washington Square to Warren Street is a mix of bike lanes and sharrows. Image: ##http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/2013-07-10-w-broadway-church-mn-cb1-2.pdf##DOT##

The route winds its way through the Village, Soho, and Tribeca [PDF]. Starting from the north, Washington Square would receive curbside green bike lanes on its east and south sides, and shared lane markings on the two-way section of Washington Square North.

West Broadway and LaGuardia Place would receive shared lane markings from Sixth Avenue to W. Third Street. Where LaGuardia Place widens slightly for one block between W. Third and Washington Square South, DOT is proposing bike lanes.

Cyclists on West Broadway looking to continue southbound would be directed to Varick via Broome Street, which would receive a green striped bike lane along the southern curb. However, for the block between Thompson Street and Sixth Avenue, DOT is proposing to add on-street parking along the south side of the street and install sharrows instead of a lane. From Sixth Avenue to Varick Street, Broome Street widens; the street would have curbside parking on both sides and an adjacent bike lane.

The agency is proposing even less for Varick Street, which is often full of traffic bound for the Holland Tunnel and Canal Street. Varick would receive shared lane markings in the leftmost lane from Watts Street to Beach Street, and for the single block between Broome and Watts, Varick would only receive bike route signage.

DOT proposed routing cyclists onto the sidewalk on the east side of Varick at Albert Capsouto Park, to avoid one block of rough cobblestone surface between Canal and Laight Streets. The sidewalk, which is not heavily used, would receive stencils like the ones through City Hall Park, but CB 1 committee members strongly objected to the concept. The resolution supporting the proposal included a request that DOT examine alternatives to the sidewalk route at Albert Capsouto Park, which DOT says it will reconsider.

Below Canal, DOT is proposing buffered bike lanes. Southbound, a left-side buffered lane is planned for West Broadway from Beach Street to Warren Street, while northbound Church Street and Sixth Avenue would receive a right-side buffered lane from Warren Street to White Street.

DOT says these sections of Church Street and Sixth Avenue, which would have three motor vehicle lanes both before and after reconfiguration, are 60 feet wide. This is the same width and lane count as Columbus Avenue, which has a protected bike lane that’s set to expand this year. Streetsblog asked DOT why it did not propose a protected lane for cyclists in Tribeca. We’ll let you know if we hear anything back.

Update: DOT spokesperson Nicholas Mosquera says the agency did consider a protected bike lane on Church Avenue, but rejected it because local buses stop on the right-hand side of the street. A lane on the left side was also rejected because it would have required cyclists to cross multiple lanes to connect with the northbound route on West Broadway, and would have also interfered with a curbside bus-only rush hour lane. “Traffic volumes here are much higher than on Columbus Avenue with exponentially more bus traffic,” Mosquera said via e-mail. “The resulting traffic impacts would make the street as unpleasant for cyclists as it would be for drivers.”

The issue now moves to CB 1’s full board, which meets July 30. Given the close vote, protected lanes may have been a street safety step too far for the committee to consider. Charles Komanoff, who attended the CB 2 meeting, described many of the committee members as “reactionary,” adding that he wasn’t sure the resolution would have passed without the proviso opposing the one-block sidewalk route.

CB 2’s transportation committee, which covers the area north of Canal, also had the project on its agenda Wednesday night. Streetsblog has a request in with the community board about whether a resolution was passed on Wednesday, but has not received a response.

  • dave “paco” abraham

    The sidewalk on the east side of Varick at Albert Capsouto Park is one I regularly use to avoid the one block stretch of cobblestones between Canal & Laight Streets. I am typically there in the evening but other than Tribeca Film Fest time, I have never seen pedestrians outnumber cyclists on that sidewalk with me. If the board can’t tolerate the shared space, perhaps DOT can implement is new ideas for car/bike friendly cobblestone treatments like DUMBO may be getting?

  • I was at the CB2 meeting and, absent-mindedly, left the building after stepping out from the executive session following the presentation, meaning that I didn’t hear whether a resolution passed or not. However, it did not seem that board members had much to ask about it.

    There were people with complaints about the plan, but they were all sour, petty complaints that had no connection to reality, and to put it perspective these complainers had already been complaining about other proposals unrelated to bike lanes through the evening, all evening, to the extent that the committee chair kept scolding them.

    Putting aside complaints specifically from people who had no questions to ask, it seemed like a rather routine proposal. I’m hoping that’s good news… perhaps there were no questions from them because they were open-minded and receptive – the proposal, frankly, doesn’t involve much in the way of real changes anyway.

    There should be protected lanes in this district wherever it’s possible to squeeze them in. It would be nice to see the DOT commit to a protected bike facility on 6th Avenue going uptown. Sharrows on West Broadway are really not sufficient infrastructure for most bike users, particularly the ones skittish about riding in open traffic lanes. These proposals only seem to provide route marking, at best, but no one currently using bicycles in NYC really needs that anyway. Would you let a child use these proposed sharrow lanes unattended? Of course not.

  • Anonymous

    I still think the existing Lafayette Street bike lane should be upgraded to a two way parking protected lane.

  • J

    With all the ridiculous debate over the 1-block sidewalk routing, I’m glad Streetsblog keep it’s eyes on the prize, which is high-quality bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

    Sadly, this proposal and many others are missed opportunities for real protected bike lanes, which would also add greenery and shorten pedestrian crossing distances. There is plenty of space for high-quality bike lanes, the main thing missing is a backbone at DOT.

  • That’s virtually across-town from this. Though still in the same district.

    They’ll never approve it btw. Although there will be a ton of space for it now that a lot of auto-related facilities are disappearing between Spring Street and Astor Place

  • Daphna

    Two things are missing: 1) DOT proposing protected bike lanes instead of buffered bike lanes, and 2) community board members who would approve such safer street designs.

    The DOT should treat community boards as advisory only, which they are. That is one way to solve the problem.

    The other way to solve the problem is that community boards need to start being populated by people who are willing to understand and be educated about safer street designs. Community boards currently have too many people who are invested in the status quo, who benefit from it, who are afraid of change, who can not envision something new working, who care more about drivers than other street users, or who do not understand that street space needs to be re-allocated based on new priorities.

    That such wimpy bike infrastructure only passed with a 6-5 vote shows the problem. It is upsetting that better infrastructure is being denied based on a few misguided people on community boards. It is frustrating that the DOT continues to give community boards up or down say. The DOT still does not get credit for reaching out to the community and still does not get positive press from doing so, so they should not bother. The DOT should follow the law that the city council passed to try to slow down bike infrastructure, which means the DOT must let the community board and city council rep for the area know of the proposed change 90 days in advance of installation, and must hear feedback. Then the DOT should implement the plan no matter if the community board approved or disapproved it, or failed to weigh in. The DOT could hire a PR firm and get get publicity that way instead. Trying to get good publicity through getting community board approval is not working and is just causing plans to be watered down, cancelled, or to be non-robust in the first place just so they will garner approval.

  • Daphna

    That Transportation Committee of Manhattan CB2 meeting was not on the Streetsblog calendar. It would have been nice to know they were considering bike lanes. If you know of such a meeting in advance, could you submit it to streetsblog to add to their calendar in the future?

  • Ha ha, well I’m the community coordinator for the TA Manhattan Activist Committee, and I get most of my info from here!

    I only knew about just the CB1 meeting, and not the extra CB2 meeting, until maybe about 8 hours in advance. Someone in our activist group lives in CB2, gets their newsletters (don’t even ask me about the terror in getting on these mailing lists), and gave me a heads up that day… so at the very last minute I dropped my evening plans and ran over to make sure, as a private citizen, that the interests of cyclists and complete street advocates throughout the city (among many organizations) were represented.

    Backchecking on Streetsblog, even their notice for the CB1 meeting was posted as late as June 30th, I believe, which gave me a window of 10 days to react appropriately. I often try to plan commitments weeks in advance, and I’ve been known to attend 3-4 events an evening if needed. I’m different from most people. So I worry that so much of this stuff gets handled without the public REALLY having a chance to weigh in.

    But yes, if I know enough in advance that something is not on the SB calendar, I will post it immediately! I’m happy to give back, because they’re a real resource to me.

  • hellskitchencyclist

    Can somebody explain to me WHY NYC bicyclists, given the terrible rates of fatalities and the unconscionable lack of provisions for even basic street safety for cyclists and pedestrians, haven’t organized in the way AIDS activists did with ACT-UP. By that, I don’t mean just attending community meetings. I mean getting out there and making the streets safe ourselves–by taking shifts at dangerous intersections and forming citizen bike safety patrols. We need to demand bike safety—it isn’t going to happen otherwise. The “nice” attitude towards biking will get us nowhere.

  • hellskitchencyclist

    I’ve posted a few times on my FB page about the death rates for pedestrians and cyclists in NYC, and people are shocked and outraged. Basically, it’s legal to kill somebody with a car in NYC, as long as two conditions are met–you aren’t drunk–and you don’t drive away. It scares me, because it means that cars can be as aggressive as they want. To those people who say that cyclists acting up would just cause a backlash–AIDS is now a chronic but manageable disease, and that’s largely because of ACTUP. More people have died in the last ten years from bike accidents than in 9-11 in the US. Cars do not belong in NYC. We need to fight now for congestion charging and against driving in the city. With a little elbow grease, driving in the city could become as “unhip” as it is un-cool. I don’t think that’s too far out of reach. As it is, a huge proportion of the people driving in NYC do not even LIVE in NYC. They’re from New Jersey, Westchester, etc. People in the outer boroughs will have a much harder time being persuaded–rightfully–because they lack the necessary transport infrastructure. But Manhattan needs to be freed from driving gridlock. It just doesn’t make sense, and it adds to the Urban Heat Island Effect, increased deaths, gridlock, and many forms of wasted time, energy, and life.

  • hellskitchencyclist

    I guess I’m feeling particularly outraged on this specific article because my partner works on Varick and she takes this route every day–from the Greenway via Canal Street. Every day, I am afraid she won’t come home or will be injured. When are we going to wake up? There’s no reason to let cars dominate the City.

  • Joe R.

    I totally agree. I should point out also that despite some City Council members framing congestion pricing as something which would hurt the little guy in the outer boroughs, hardly anyone who lives in Manhattan and works in the outer boroughs uses their car to get to work. They may use their car for local errands or weekend trips, but not for driving into Manhattan. Hardly any city residents would be directly affected by congestion pricing.

    Frankly, I would go one step further than congestion pricing. I would ban private cars from lower Manhattan altogether, and levy congestion charges for entering the rest of Manhattan. Long term I would improve public transit in the outer boroughs. As public transit improved, I would make more and more of the city off limits to private autos. I personally feel a combination of mass transit, cycling, and paratransit can eventually be viable in most parts of the city so that people don’t need to use private autos but we need to plan for this. We’ll need a lot more subway mileage in the outer boroughs. We’ll also need to ensure that most neighborhoods have shopping within walking distance.

  • Joe R.

    The problem here is that patrols aren’t going to make things much safer for the average cyclist. The real issue is NYC just has too many cars on the roads. This leads to congestion and aggressive driving practices. Long term the only way to fix the problem is to reduce motor traffic volumes by 90% or more. That’s only happening via policy changes. What we need to do is to educate the non-driving majority in NYC why it’s in their best interest to support politicians who will pass measures to drastically limit the number of motor vehicles in NYC to only those which are 100% essential.

  • Joe R.

    The problem here is that patrols aren’t going to make things much safer for the average cyclist. The real issue is NYC just has too many cars on the roads. This leads to congestion and aggressive driving practices. Long term the only way to fix the problem is to reduce motor traffic volumes by 90% or more. That’s only happening via policy changes. What we need to do is to educate the non-driving majority in NYC why it’s in their best interest to support politicians who will pass measures to drastically limit the number of motor vehicles in NYC to only those which are 100% essential.

  • hellskitchencyclist

    I think that makes a lot of sense–having lived in both Paris and Amsterdam for years–closing off the lower part of Manhattan mirrors the closing off of the inner arrondissements of Paris–which has only increased commerce and is widely loved by everyone. We need to start a radical congestion charging movement, NOW. Where is the energy for that? I read these bike/transport blogs hopefully, but everybody seems so tepid. I’m personally not tepid about this.

  • hellskitchencyclist

    Citizen Bike Patrols–2 reasons–first, I’m thinking of the bike cops in Amsterdam and how helpful they were–there is zero presence of any kind of monitoring for our bike infrastructure here in NYC–and second, there is a “safety in numbers” effect for bikers. We *do* have maps that show clearly which areas are the highest fatality areas for cyclists. Those are places where bike activist patrols could arguably make a big difference. And, yes, of course, the main thing is getting cars off the road. I suggest a stickering/postering campaign targeting cars/drivers who are in bike lanes and/or otherwise being shitty.

  • I was thinking the same thing when I watched How to Survive a Plague. Why are we so timid? It’s our lives at stake. ACT UP fought with the ferocity that survival compels. When government policy is killing us, it’s not our job to be polite. And yet we try so hard!

    Transportation Alternatives is our TAG, an establishment-friendly advocacy org that strives to improve policy through the front and back doors of bureaucracy. They’ve been pretty successful; I don’t think we’d have most of the infrastructural support for cycling that we do have without TA’s lobbying. But the organization by its nature is self-censuring, to the point that communication among their members on mailing lists is silently moderated my admins. (Which is fine to do, if you post a moderation policy in advance — they’ve ignored my request to do that for many years now.)

    One big difference from the AIDS crisis is that we have the internet, and so we have Streetsblog and other blogs which, collectively, are the uncensored voice of transportation activism. I think that this too has been a vital component of what progress has been made in the past ten years. Some of the more compelling stories from the virtual press make their way into mainstream publications, and the stories we read here and the interactions we have are valuable in themselves. It helps us all keep going.

    My feeling is that NYC’s offline cycling advocacy became too TAG-y too soon. TA signs up all the boots on the ground and then orders them to stand down at critical moments like the erasure of the Bedford Av bike lane. We are invited to (and I attend) occasional “rallies” that are more like photo ops. Times Up is active, judging from their calendar, but if you want to participate in streets action demanding more bike lanes and making the ones we have safer, it’s pretty slim pickings. Why so?

    Protected bike lanes are too conventional and too radical at the same time. In the eyes of many hardened cyclists they’re for newbies, and VCists believe they’re downright harmful. We love them, and TA represents us ever so tactfully. But for motorists, protected bike lanes are a radical land grab and they appose them appropriately. So we have mad-as-hell motorists pitted against polite advocates, with indifference from radicals: it’s no wonder that the result is paint-on-the-street bike lanes full of double-parked cars.

    What is most needed, especially now during a mayoral campaign that may result in a loss of bicycle facilities, is direct action that puts people in the streets exactly where bicycle lanes, pedestrian plazas, and other street changes are needed.

    Maybe it takes Weiner with a bulldozer on the Broadway bike lane, to be our Reagan. We’ll fight his your-death-for-my-convenience politics, or the global street reclamation movement will leave New York further behind.

  • AlexB

    If there is going to be a bike lane on Church, and there is already a bike lane on 6th starting in the Village, why can’t they close the gap and add the bike lane between Canal and Bleecker?

  • J

    I have to say that it’s sad that there needs to be a follow-up email with DOT to determine why specific options were ruled out, with no information given at the time. Why are traffic volumes even relevant if no traffic lanes are being removed? How well does the bus lane even function at present? Is it even enforced? How many buses use it? Most importantly, why not continue a left side protected lane up to the village, where it would connect to a much larger bike network?

    A good connection to West Broadway sharrows (basically signage) seems remarkably unimportant to me, especially since West Broadway ends at Washington Square Park and the northbound and the northbound continuation of the route via University Pl ends at Union Square, with very little prospect for a northern continuation. Not exactly an amazing connection. The 6th Ave route ends at Central Park, which continues north all the way to Harlem and beyond. Seems pretty obvious which one we should prioritize, yet this type of conversation isn’t happening.

    The whole debate points to a flawed planning process for bicycle facilities. The decisions about where DOT pursues bicycle facilities are incredibly opaque and the planning framework (the 1996 master plan) is absurdly outdated. It seems like DOT is in the “let’s get whatever we can on the ground before the next mayor comes in” framework without regard to long-term consequences of those decisions. I think it is time to rethink where the city is going with bicycle facilities, perhaps with a new and better planning process, where the city meets with communities to identify clear, logical corridors for a network of high-quality bicycle facilities, sets a target for the type of rider that they will feel comfortable using these facilities (8-80), estimates the cost of doing them well, and then prioritizes the implementation of them. This will make the whole thing much more transparent and predictable, and give more legitimacy to DOT’s efforts.

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