Discussion of Complete Streets for Fifth and Sixth Avenues Advances at CB 5

Sixth Avenue in Midtown: six lanes for motor vehicles, with pedestrians and cyclists squeezed into the margins. Photo: Google Maps

The sidewalks of Fifth and Sixth Avenues in Midtown are packed — sometimes overflowing — and the streets see some of the highest bike volumes in the city. While this should be one of the world’s premier walking districts, both avenues are designed primarily to move motor vehicles, and injury and fatality rates are high. Since last summer, Transportation Alternatives has led a campaign to improve conditions for walking and biking on Fifth and Sixth.

At the monthly meeting of the Manhattan Community Board 5 transportation committee this Monday, safety enhancements for these two avenues were on the agenda. TA organizer Miller Nuttle sends in this recap:

Community Board 5’s transportation committee discussed the merits of two potential resolutions: One calling on NYPD to step up enforcement of driving and bicycling infractions in their district, and one asking the DOT to study the feasibility of installing “Complete Street” improvements on Fifth and Sixth avenues.

There was near unanimous support among board members for a study of these two avenues, and the committee plans to vote on the resolution at their next meeting. Inspired by a similar proposal put forward by CB 5 two years ago, T.A. has worked with neighborhood residents to collect 10,093 petitions and 1,599 hand-written letters calling for street safety improvements on these avenues. Last night, those residents delivered those petitions to the board to demonstrate the widespread demand for safer, more efficient Fifth and Sixth avenues.
The next CB 5 transportation committee meeting is scheduled for November 25.
  • Charles

    The silver bullet would be to put cashless EZ Pass tolls on those streets. Many, many people are driving there that have no business doing so and would not if they had to pay. Cutting down the traffic would do wonders for the pedestrian environment. And not that many locals would be affected negatively. After all, the area is basically an office park and tourist shopping district. Why not make it more pleasant?

    True story: once a real estate broker insisted on driving me everywhere. He racked up parking ticket after parking ticket as we toured apartments throughout the Upper East Side. At the end of the day, he was desperate to get me to sign an application. He insisted on driving to his office, which was somewhere on Fifth or Sixth avenue in Midtown. I think he actually had access to a garage space, but needless to say, we got stuck in the mother of all traffic jams just blocks away. He let me out and went to park. By the time he returned, the office was closed.

    I ended up using a different broker.

  • Anonymous

    While I agree with congestion pricing and all that, my anecdotal impression of traffic in this area is that personal vehicles are a minority. Most of the moving traffic seems to be taxis and buses; most of the parked vehicles seem to be delivery trucks, commercial vans, etc.

    Of course if taxis paid congestion pricing and passed it on to the consumer, the number of taxis *might* be reduced slightly. But taxis are a special case because they could stay all day within the congested area, so they should be made to pay a congestion fee per trip, and not per entry to the CBD like private drivers would.

  • Charles

    True, but it seems to me there’s also a sizeable amount of private cars there. Taking away a few of them–and taking back a travel lane for pedestrians/cyclists–could yield dramatically improved conditions.

  • Dumbfounded

    I too agree with congestion pricing, but I don’t think it make sense to make taxis pay a congestion fee per trip. The goals of congestion pricing are to discourage people who don’t have to drive from driving and to make driving easier for those who do have to drive. If congestion pricing is going to pass the legislature the latter must be emphasized. Taxi drivers, delivery trucks, repair people who drive around with a van full of parts when they make service calls, and people who must drive for health reasons would all benefit tremendously from reduced congestion. A relatively small payment would allow them to make additional service calls, make more trips in a shift, add a few stores to a delivery route, etc. Drivers of trucks, taxis, service vans are the natural allies of congestion pricing, since they would all benefit disproportionately from its implementation. Somehow this simple point gets lost in many discussions of congestion pricing.

  • Anonymous

    I would love to see protected bike lanes here on these avenues, either with bollards or parking protections. But I also would like to see that these lanes are somehow protected by sidewalk incursions by pedestrians. The Broadway bike lanes are basically additions to the sidewalks at this point, especially around midday. Not sure of any solutions, except for ticketing pedestrians walking in the bike lane. But you know that would never happen, and I’d personally prefer the NYPD focus on ticketing speeding and reckless motorists anyway.

  • Albert

    Pedestrians walk in protected bike lanes because the sidewalks have been narrowed over the decades to give more space for motor vehicles, and it’s natural for people in a hurry to spill out into an open-looking bike lane to escape an overcrowded sidewalk. Pedestrian enforcement won’t be necessary once there’s a critical mass of cyclists consistently using the lanes. We’re not there yet, but we’ll get there before too long.

    And who’s to say the original wide sidewalks of 5th avenue couldn’t be restored as part of Complete Streets? More room to stand and watch parades!

  • The sidewalks are blocked by people selling drawings and CDs and collecting UHO donations. I’d love to walk on the sidewalk.

  • Albert

    Yes, indeed. And street furniture. And sidewalk cafes. And people petitioning. And all the things that sidewalks are made for (and some things they’re not made for). But with cars taking up 75% or more of the space between buildings, there’s little room left for people and the things they want & need to do.

  • MontrealUrbanist

    6 vehicle lanes here is absolutely insane.

    Cut that to 2 lanes for parking (that turn into curb extensions at intersections), 2 lanes for vehicles, narrow the lanes, and use the 7-8 meters you save on sidewalks and bike paths.

  • Mark Walker

    Several bus lines run on Fifth and Sixth. They could use dedicated lanes. I’d love to see the M5 converted to SBS.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I’d like to see making Park Avenue a bicycle boulevard as an alternative to biking on these streets. Ie. a through street for bicycles, but a local street interrupted every 10 blocks or so for motor vehicles.

    Going from Brooklyn to Midtown I choose to ride up Park rather than 6th.

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