DOT Proposes Filling the Gap in Second Avenue Protected Bike Lane

The gap in the Second Avenue protected bike lane, from 23rd Street to 14th Street, would be filled under a plan before Community Board 6. Image: ##http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/2013-09-second-ave-bicycle-upgrade-mn-cb6.pdf##DOT##

If you ride on the Second Avenue protected bike lane through Kips Bay, you know it can get a little hairy on the way downtown: The section between 23rd Street and 14th Street has no physical protection. On this stretch, the barrier of parked cars yields to a narrow painted buffer, creating an opportunity for illegal parking and offering minimal separation from speeding drivers. Under a DOT plan [PDF], that gap could be filled to create a continuous protected bike lane from 34th Street to 2nd Street.

The plan calls for adding a parking lane to this stretch of Second Avenue, creating protection for the bike lane as well as space for painted pedestrian islands. At intersections where drivers turn left, it includes mixing zones where turning drivers cross the bike lane. Parked cars would take the place of one lane of moving traffic, dropping the number of general traffic lanes from four to three, which matches the configuration south of 14th Street. The Select Bus Service lane on the west side of the avenue would not be affected.

Why the change? Motor vehicle volumes on this stretch of Second Avenue have fallen dramatically in recent years, according to a presentation NYC DOT gave last week to the Community Board 6 transportation committee, and the agency says the new configuration fits the current level of car traffic.

From 2011 to 2013, DOT’s seasonally-adjusted motor vehicle counts between 14th and 15th Streets have shown big drops in mid-week traffic: volumes are down 11.8 percent during the morning rush, 23.1 percent midday, and 15.3 percent during the evening’s busiest hour.

In a sign that car-centric metrics still count at DOT, the presentation notes that the avenue’s “Level of Service” — which measures driver delay — would remain a “B” under the new configuration if traffic volumes hold steady.

DOT presented the proposal to CB 6’s transportation committee on September 9, and committee members requested a walk-through with DOT. The committee is scheduled to meet again on October 7, and the full board meeting is scheduled for October 9. While CB 6 generally supported the redesign of First and Second Avenues in 2010 and 2012, the transportation committee has a record of dragging its feet on these votes.
  • AlexB

    This isn’t helpful for cyclists. We need the bike lane extended north at least to 60th ten times as much as we need this.

  • J

    We may disagree on priorities, but this certainly IS helpful to cyclists. That stretch is downright scary to ride on, especially at night with lots of speeding cars, double-parked cars and few streetlights. This is a big improvement.

  • Wonder if we can get De Blasio to understand that people in cities with double-digit bike modal share agree that “mixing zones” are a joke. This would be more likely to happen if e.g. TA and StreetsPAC say that mixing zones are a joke.

  • Seth R

    This is great news, but why are they adding parking where there was none before? Especially in Stuyvesant square it seems like it would make more sense to fill it in with plantings.

  • Anxiously Awaiting Bikeshare

    What alternative would you propose?

    Not questioning your motivations, just unaware.

  • r

    Why is it an either/or choice? It’s different community boards altogether?

    This project is supremely helpful. Drivers routinely park in this bike lane and anything that can protect cyclists is a win in my book. Plus losing a moving lane will help slow down the insanely fast traffic.

  • Clarke

    The stretch by NYU hospital there around 2nd and 18th desperately needs some on-street parking space for ambulances. As it is, they’re forced to idle in bike lane…always glad to yield to emergency vehicles, but if they need parking spots, use these zones for hospital-only or emergency-vehicle-only parking in this area.

  • Anonymous

    I guess we have different levels of perception of fear. The stretch between the Midtown Tunnel and the Queensboro Bridge is a lot hairier than between 14th and 23rd. I would love to see something done about this craziness in Midtown. I’d love to see the sharrows turned into dedicated bike lanes and traffic lights for bicyclists and left-turn signals for cars that keep left turning traffic away out of the lane (and, to make myself unpopular here now, to keep bicycles out of cars’ ways.)

  • Jeff

    What’s the deal with the painted pedestrian islands both in this plan and in the current configuration below 14th St? Does it have something to do with emergency vehicle access into the bike lane, or what?

  • Alan

    This is apparently the standard Dutch intersection design:
    http://wiki.coe.neu.edu/groups/nl2011transpo/wiki/ba51e/

  • First of all, protected lanes and mixing zones are helping, but to get even more people cycling because they feel safe and are safe, there should be separate signal cycles for bicycles, at least at major intersections or any intersection where conflict-risk is higher. For both left and/or right turns. This is not rocket-science but NYCDOT will need to look beyond the NACTO guides for specifics.

    This will certainly present a technical and political challenge to automobile entitlement, but especially if NYC is not going to abandon one-way arterial streets it should make a huge difference in cycling safety and speed.

  • J

    Yes, you’re right that midtown is worse, and I would love for that stretch to be fixed as well. My point, though, was that this is a helpful project.

  • J

    I agreed about the need for signal protection. It’s about $, though. Signals require a LOT more money than mixing zones.

  • J

    Probably. I think it also has to do with street cleaning and snow plows. NYC currently doesn’t have sweepers or plows that can fit into anything less than 11′ of clear space (check any existing ped island). FDNY, Sanitation, and most other departments don’t care about cycling or really street safety, so this is what we get within existing constraints.

  • david

    There are separate bike signals at major intersections..

    David

  • Anxiously Awaiting Bikeshare

    Thanks for sharing. I’d love to see something like that at least tried out in this stretch of road to see how NY drivers react.

  • Anonymous

    Given the multi-year struggle to get the present facility installed on First & Second Avenues, I was expected years more to address the problems with this gap, the midtown gap, and the Second Avenue subway gap. Earlier this year I was plans at a Second Avenue Subway meeting that showed a protected bike path on the Upper East Aide on Second Avenue, and now this. It may be that the midtown gap is the last to be closed, and will take years of sustained effort, but this a good augur for that effort. I can’t see the point in complaining.

  • Robert Wright

    A simpler first measure would surely be to get the police actually to enforce some of the existing rules. All along the first and second avenue lanes, there are signs telling drivers to yield to cyclists when they’re turning across them. They don’t. Mind you, given how many of the vehicles obstructing the bike lanes are police cars, it’s not that surprising that the police aren’t that worked up about enforcing the law in this area.

  • Robert Wright

    There are separate bike signals at the Cadman Plaza/Clinton St/ Tillary St intersection near the Brooklyn Bridge. Which is great because I not only get drivers refusing to yield to me when I have the light at that intersection but get the occasional one leaning out to yell at me about how I don’t have the light there at all.

  • Clarke

    *some major intersections. Sometimes in places with limited/no turns at rush hour (and places with lines of vehicles turning on side streets have no separate signals)

  • Robert Wright

    The big issue about the midtown gap is that, if it were closed, the east side bike path (from 38th street south) would become far more useful. It would be far easier to access from the north. The path is certainly a longer route distance-wise but it has very few of the intersections that are the main danger on the Hudson Greenway. It also offers good access to the Manhattan Bridge.

  • Charles

    I like it too. It builds on typical cyclist behavior and seems to make more intuitive sense than the “bike boxes” that trap you in the middle of an intersection. But it doesn’t allow you to make a left turn without stopping and waiting for traffic to clear, which some cyclists would chafe at.

  • Anonymous

    Lots of times, cars are stuck in the mixing zones because the side street is backed up with cars. So they just sit there and the bikes and pedestrians squeeze through.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I wonder what is up with the East River Greenway/UN deal.

  • Anonymous

    Even better for most street users than the parking or the protected bike lane is simply narrowing the crossing distance for pedestrians (by 20%!) and the number of moving lanes will slow speeders and cut down on changing lanes

  • guest

    Are there any prospects for an actual bike lane on 2nd Ave between Queensboro Bridge and Midtown Tunnel? That stretch is the most horrifying one to me in all of Manhattan, and with no bike lane along East River in the 30s/40s/50s, there really is no safe way to bike downtown for these 20-something blocks.

  • These designs are great but are not a match for e.g. the parts of Manhattan including the area mentioned here. 14th and 23rd are two-way, 2nd Ave of course is not. This kind of structure based on one-way arterials and local streets is simply rare if present at all in the Netherlands, and from what I have seen is at most uncommon in much of the rest of Europe. In other words, this design goes against what actually works to benefit the needs of the majority of cyclists — and is a basic impediment to high levels of cycling and safe walking for everyone (fully able-bodied people find it easy to cross one-way arterials between the traffic-timed schools of motor vehicles, and they also argue that this makes one-way arterials safest. I only agree to the extent that they are safer under current speed levels, intersection design, level and quality of enforcement… but as mentioned Dutch streets are two-way and all are safer than streets in NYC.)

    A typical modern Dutch allows cyclists on the bike path to always turn right at intersections, but outside of the signaled pathways and main part of the pedestrian crossing — this is of course impossible to do on 2nd Ave because the bike path is on the left side of the street, and the only time one can turn right is on a red, first by letting peds cross, second by checking to see who is coming because the vehicles that have the green have priority, then merging. This is all obvious and something every cyclist does so I spell it out only to make it clear how the Dutch system is faster and safer.

    Turning left with a green is fast in the 2nd Ave situation, but aside from watching for peds one has to “mix” with motor vehicle traffic. “Mix” sounds too positive, like a social interaction when everyone is more or less equal in weight. This is clearly not the case with this design! So we should call it something else even though automobiles are supposed to give cyclists priority… perhaps the “Formal non-discrimination but physical discrimination zone”. Maybe NYCDOT under a new head will sponsor a contest for a new name as a distraction for actually articulating a new design and then encouraging popular support for it.

  • Mike

    Ugh. This is a case of a policy being perhaps better for the gen-pop and worse for me as a commuting cyclist. I ride 2nd from 32nd St to Houston most days, and the protected lane has become a pain between bike congestion, the mix of speeds / abilities, and the “interaction” with parked cars / pedestrians.

    I find myself taking the lane outside the protected parking area more often than not, for speed reasons and also for light timing. The lower unprotected section makes this transitioning between bike and car lanes easier.

  • carma

    i use the bus lane in this area as i also see many other cyclists do the same.
    in the 40’s, 50’s its not too bad. but once you hit 36th st right by the midtown tunnel entrance, it becomes quite a mess.

    too much car traffic trying to get into the midtown tunnel. its gonna be tough to get a bike lane in there.

  • Scared of 2nd Ave

    Thanks for your comments; my fear of this stretch of 2nd Ave is what keeps me from commuting to work by bike, so it’s helpful to learn how other cyclists deal with it. I always see delivery vehicles parked in that bus lane and, well, buses use it – how often do you have to swerve into traffic to pass obstacles? The bus lane has fewer pedestrians in it than your average bike lane though, so that might make things a bit easier!

  • J

    The real solution here is to retime the lights for something more friendly to bikes. Encouraging 30 mph is stupid in an area with lots of pedestrians and cyclists. Really the lights should be timed at around 20mph. This would lead to less speeding, fewer deaths, and much more bike-friendly streets.

    This would also discourage a lot of red light running by cyclists. When you hit a red light every 4-5 blocks, it certainly feels like the city is trying to punish you for being slower than car traffic.

  • Gramercy biker

    A protected bike lane would make the 14th-23rd Street stretch a viable place for kids to pedal. There are lots of children in the neighborhood, including at the elementary school and two middle schools at 20th Street. The protected lanes on First Avenue and on Second above 23rd get tons of use by people of all ages, though expert cyclists in a hurry may find them crowded (ultimately that’s a good thing, no?). The Midtown stretch of Second Ave is terrible. However, construction has begun on the waterfront north of Glick Park at 37th street. This is a key part of the much hoped for UN/East River Greenway.

  • Clarke

    I’d take the Hudson Greenway intersections over whatever the hell goes on at Waterside Plaza on the East River any day

  • Sean Kelliher

    Does anyone know – will people from the community be able to speak at either the meeting on October 7th or 9th?

    Last year, I wrote to the DOT and Community Board 6 a few times about this problem, and asked if a parking lane could be installed. The DOT responded that traffic volumes didn’t permit any changes and that the NYPD was responsible for keeping the lane clear. Community Board 6 didn’t respond at all.

    This section has also been problematic since the lane was installed. It’s almost always blocked. This change, if it actually happens, is welcome.

  • Anonymous

    Throughout the process of winning the “complete streets” corridor for first and Second Avenues, advocates pressed for the most robust possible design of bike lane. That is, separate and parking-protected, with concrete pedestrians islands to shorten crossing distances, protect pedestrians, and buffer cyclists. DoT’s position was that (1) the volumes of traffic between 59th and 34th were too high to take a way a lane without significantly impacting motor vehicle traffic speeds and (2) the somewhat narrower width of Second Avenue between 23rd and 14th precluded a parking-protected facility. Now we learn that, because the volumes were loser than anticipated between 23rd and 14th, there is room for a protected facility because a lane of motor vehicle traffic can be sacrificed without significantly impacting MV traffic flow.

    Clearly there is a safety rationale for filling in the midtown gap regardless of traffic impacts, but it is equally clear that this safety rationale alone is not enough to carry the day. focusing on the realpolitick, the questions are (1) does DoT still find that the MV traffic volumes are such that a protected facility would have a significant adverse impact on traffic speeds and (2) is there sufficient cycling traffic volumes such that creating a protected path for cyclists is justified, even if it means an adverse effect on MV traffic.

  • Eddie

    The sidewalks on that stretch are usually not very crowded. Children are allowed to ride on the sidewalks.

  • Joe R.

    15 to 20 mph light timing should be the default on any street with a bike lane. Although there are also safety reasons cyclists pass red lights (i.e. to get ahead of the pack of cars) I think the primary reason they do so is the sheer number of times poor signal timing requires cyclists to stop. Retiming the lights to speeds which are compatible with both cyclists and appropriate speeds for motor vehicles in crowded areas would greatly reduce the problem. I personally don’t consider stopping every few miles burdensome but stopping every few blocks is totally ridiculous. Yes, it does feel like the city is punishing you for being slower than car traffic.

    As an aside, the city could also experiment with intelligent light timing, especially on one-way streets like the Manhattan Avenues. On days when there’s a headwind, you reduce the speed. On days with tailwinds, you increase it. It’s relatively easy to calculate how much to change the light timing depending upon the prevailing wind speed.

  • Pedestrian

    As a frequent sidewalk walker, I’d prefer that kids be in bike lanes. Sidewalks may work for 4-year-olds, but they’re not so great for 14-year-olds.

  • Anonymous

    IMO, protected bike lanes like 1st & 2nd have a maximum safe speed during rush hour of about ~15 MPH. They have great utility for cyclists comfortable at those speeds. But they are frustrating for cyclists who want to go faster.

    Bike infrastructure is not one size fits all. Protected bike paths are what has made Citibike such a big success, have helped many novice cyclists graduate from Greenways to riding on the grid, and turned a lot more people into daily riders. So there are benefits that come with the cost in terms of convenience to more experienced, faster cyclists.

    Cyclists who feel it is too dangerous or slow for them in the protected bike paths should ride with traffic on the Bowery/3rd or another route, or take a chance of a ticket riding outside the bike path on 2nd. I would defend against any ticket with the argument that the separated path is not safe and usable at speeds of ~20 MPH, and therefore under 34 RCNY 4-12(p)(1), a cyclist moving at that speed is not required to use the bike path.

  • Joe R.

    Steve,

    I’ve always been curious if the “bike lane is not safe at higher speeds” defense would be a valid reason for not using it. Looking at the law, it seems to me that a cyclist may ride outside the bike lane if they deem it dangerous for any reason, including being unsafe at speeds they feel comfortable riding at. I would hope a judge would agree although I can see some idiot NYC judge saying 20 mph is “much too fast” even though it’s still well under the speed limit. My own feelings on this is any bike infrastructure which is unsafe to use at any speed up to the speed limit shouldn’t be required to be used by cyclists.

    That said, I feel all bike infrastructure would work better if we could minimize speed differences between cyclists. The best way to do this in my opinion is for NYC to legalize electric assist bicycles. Those could enable seniors to cruise at 20 mph right next to people like myself while still getting the benefits of some exercise.

  • Anonymous

    Excellent addition. Protected on 5th and 6th next, please!

  • Mike

    It’s interesting though, as riding 3rd or Bowery is so much a more Wild West experience than 2nd or 1st. I think the presence of bike lanes with cyclists tends to have a halo effect into the traffic that makes it easier for cyclists who opt to take the lane.

    I agree in general on the impact that protected lanes have for cycling as a whole – it’s just that in practice, they can be dangerous to even the moderate speed cyclists, since they seem to attract pedestrians, joggers, all manner of other small vehicles, like roller bladers and hot dog vendors. The Broadway protected lanes from 42nd St down are less than useless, practically speaking.

    I think I offer my initial comment more as a counterpoint to the “protected bike lanes == always better” argument, which in practical terms can be not so useful to the practiced commuter. Or maybe the idea that we all ought to be cruising around on Dutch iron bikes at 5MPH. For my part, I’d rather see more painted lanes and sharrows, but that’s a preference for my personal experience rather than general advocacy.

  • Mike

    Good point. My light timing comment is not quite worded right, as I was thinking of the need to plot my runs on 2nd so that I’m in the lane when I cross intersections that have bike lights, as I always feel ripped off waiting double time for those.

  • Joe R.

    I tend to agree. A lot of times these arguments over what type of infrastructure is best devolve into “nobody should be riding more than 8 to 10 mph”. Ironically, that makes the case for bike infrastructure a lot weaker when the end result of everyone “cruising around on Dutch iron bikes at 5 mph” is that cycling average speeds end up no faster than walking. The bike lane opponents will then rightly say what is the point of all this new infrastructure when you can just walk on the existing sidewalk, and get to your destination as fast? Bicycles are all about letting human beings travel three to five times as fast as they can by walking.

    The best infrastructure accommodates people of all ability levels, gives plenty of room for fast riders to pass slow ones, and avoids stopping or slowing down to the maximum extent practical. I still hold to my opinion that in NYC’s most congested areas the only way we can efficiently and safely accommodate bicycles is to completely grade separate them. Everything else involves massive compromises.

  • Ian Turner

    Um, grade separation also involves “massive compromises”, in that it involves huge expense and takes the pleasure/safety of daylight away from some road users.

  • Joe R.

    The expense is the primary downside but you’re off-base with rest. Most elevated bike infrastructure would be similar to pedestrian bridges. It will block some daylight but it’s not going to create the same atmosphere under it as a highway will. Incidentally, sometimes being under such a structure is advantageous. For example, if you build it above the sidewalks pedestrians get the benefit of a sheltered space free of snow and rain.

    Anyway, I hear a lot of complaints here about many aspects of existing bike infrastructure but not many potential solutions. Yes, money is an issue with grade separation but if we spend half a billion on a single highway interchange in some places I’m not seeing why we couldn’t spend the same on infrastructure which would benefit millions of city residents. Heck, we could even toll the entrances and charge something like $25 a year for an annual pass so they thing ends up financially self-sufficient.

  • TomG

    +1. That lack is the absolute worst. There is no safe way to get downtown from uptown because of it. if you are going to have a gap in the Greenway, you have to have a safe alternative but there is NOTHING. This makes a whole host of others bike lanes completely useless and inaccessible. That stretch on Second Avenue should be the the biggest priority in Manhattan. I don’t know why there isn’t more of an outcry over it.

  • Well, that’s a bit much. Of course I want there to be a continuous protected bike lane on Second Avenue; but to say that “there is no safe way downtown” is an extreme exaggeration.

    If you are coming from the Upper East Side, Fifth Avenue next to the park is a fine option, one which I use often. Once you get past the park at 59th St., you can use Park Avenue southbound. While neither of these streets has a bike lane, we shouldn’t make the argument that a bicyclist can ride *only* on a street with a bike lane. (And I am an ardent supporter of bike lanes!)

    South of 23rd St., Fifth Avenue has a bike lane, as does Broadway for a while. These lanes aren’t physically protected; but they don’t seem to suffer from the same problem of encroachment by cars that plagues the unprotected portion of the Second Avenue lane.

    And don’t forget that Third Avenue is two-way south of 23rd St.; so that another pretty good option for getting downtown.

    None of this should be taken as a diminishment of the good of bike lanes — I say that they should be on every avenue. But let’s not pretend that we cyclists absoutely cannot get from upper to lower Manhattan without them.

  • Matt

    I have been wondering the same thing. I understand that the section on 2nd ave. from the 59th street bridge to the midtown tunnel is too busy with car traffic to add a protected bike lane, but why there is not more of a push to create an East River bike lane like we have on the Hudson is beyond me. The current 2nd ave. bike lane from 59th street to the midtown tunnel is hectic at best.

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