CB 5 Closes in on Requesting Complete Streets Study for 5th and 6th Avenues

Fifth Avenue at 48th Street: Lots of space for cars; bike riders and walkers on the margins. Photo: Google Maps
Fifth Avenue at 48th Street: Lots of space for cars, with people walking and biking on the margins. Photo: Google Maps

The campaign for a more bike- and pedestrian-friendly design on crowded Fifth and Sixth Avenues has crossed its first major milestone, with Community Board 5’s transportation committee advancing a resolution asking DOT for a complete streets study.

The resolution, which passed the committee last Monday in a unanimous vote, is set to be taken up by the full board on December 12. “It’s just acknowledging that there’s a problem and that they need to be studied,” said Transportation Alternatives volunteer Janet Liff. “The proposal is really to take a look at the concept of a complete street, which includes pedestrian space, bulb outs, bike lanes, and express bus service.”

TA’s campaign for to make Fifth and Sixth Avenues safer is “emphasizing that pedestrians do come first,” Liff said. Committee chair Raju Mann also told Streetsblog that discussion of the resolution last month focused primarily on pedestrians.

Even with scarce accommodations for bicycling, Fifth and Sixth Avenues continue to rank among the busiest Manhattan avenues for cyclists. Over an 18-hour period in September 2012, DOT counted more than 5,000 people biking on the pair of avenues, exceeding every other northbound/southbound pair in Manhattan, though Eighth and Ninth Avenues, which have protected bike lanes, sometimes do see more bicycle traffic [PDF].

When activist group Right of Way painted guerrilla bike lanes on Sixth Avenue in September, DOT spokesperson Seth Solomonow said the agency would consider street design requests from the local community board. Monday’s vote puts CB 5 closer to making that request happen.

Short stretches of Fifth and Sixth Avenue are also part of Community Boards 2 and 4. Caroline Samponaro, TA’s senior director of campaigns and organizing, said approaching those boards would be a “next step” after securing support from CB 5. In addition to a coalition letter signed by block associations, commercial landlords, and small businesses, TA’s online petition for the complete streets study has garnered more than 10,000 signatures. “People are aware that on just two avenues in each direction there are these improvements,” she said. “They’re asking: ‘What about us?'”

CB 5’s committee also advanced a resolution on Monday asking local police precincts “to more vigorously enforce automobile and bicycle laws.” CB 5 includes the 18th (Midtown North), 14th (Midtown South), 13th, and 10th precincts. Liff said there was some resignation among committee members about the limited impact a resolution is likely to have on the precincts’ priorities, but the resolution passed unanimously.

The area has seen several sidewalk-jumping crashes causing serious injuries and deaths, including the crash that maimed British tourist Sian Green in August. In 2012, the district’s four precincts issued a total of 80 speeding tickets — that’s less than one every four days. Midtown North issued one summons for speeding last year, while Midtown South didn’t write any speeding tickets in 2012. Speeding enforcement has more than doubled this year, but that’s still not very significant: One driver every two days is getting caught speeding by these four precincts.

Meanwhile, this year’s small uptick in speeding enforcement is dwarfed by the number of tickets that precincts have been issuing to Citi Bike riders. In August, Midtown South launched a ticketing blitz against cyclists using the protected bike lane on Broadway, including one woman who says she was ticketed for making a turn with a green light.

Samponaro said with the resolution, the board was putting the precincts “on notice” that they must also respond to dangerous conditions of Fifth and Sixth Avenues. “The streets just don’t function well,” she said. “The design problems with the street encourage chaotic behavior.”

Update: Council Member Dan Garodnick, focusing his remarks on pedestrians, expressed support for requesting a DOT study of Fifth and Sixth Avenues. “We need the Department of Transportation to study pedestrian safety in Midtown Manhattan,” Garodnick said in a statement. “Fifth and Sixth Avenues are two of our busiest thoroughfares, and are even more crowded as we enter this holiday season. Let’s take a fresh look at this area, and consider ways to protect New Yorkers — and tourists — from danger in our streets.”

  • qrt145

    Avenues in this neighborhood are about 1/3 mile from the next avenue going the same way (for example, from 6th to 8th). That means that for someone who needs to go on 6th but wants to use bike infrastructure, the detour is 2/3 mile, which is probably more than most people are willing to do. That’s why we need bike infrastructure on every avenue.

  • BornAgainBicyclist

    I’ve seen surveys that say people are willing to go a couple of miles out of their way to use protected paths. However, that’s probably for longer rides where doing so wouldn’t add more than 10 or 20 percent of time or mileage to the overall ride. So yeah, if you’re riding 2 or 3 miles to get across and down- or uptown in this area, that 2/3 mile matters.

  • qrt145

    I agree. I’m willing to take a 2-mile detour to the greenway if I’m going on a 10-mile trip, but not for a 2-mile trip. I guess I’m willing to accept a 20% increase in distance, roughly. Everyone may have a different tolerance.

  • Joe R.

    I think it’s not so much the distance savings but the time savings which are the deciding factor in whether a detour is worth it. The protected paths on the Avenues save nothing in terms of travel time over just riding in the street, so it makes no sense to detour for one. On the other hand, a greenway can save a considerable amount of time by avoiding stopping or slowing. If the extra time taken getting there is less than the time savings, then it’s totally worth it. I would imagine on a short trip it really isn’t.

  • TomG

    Is cb5 just midtown? Does that mean the UES will get screwed again? It’s crazy. A relatively safe ride from 40th st on the east side back up to 90th takes me less than fifteen minutes, even stopping at all the lights on first, while the same trip in the other direction is forty minutes of harrowing, law breaking, and generally unsafe unpleasantness. A fifth avenue protected lane all the way up would be so nice.

  • Greg Costikyan

    Ah, no. Long blocks are about 1/6th of a mile. A quick look on Google Maps says 6th to 8th Avenue on 50th Street is .3 miles. Still a substantial detour, but about half of 2/3rds miles.

  • Albert

    A bit of amplification regarding this line: “TA’s online petition for the complete streets study has garnered more than 10,000 signatures.”

    Although this petition is certainly available to be signed online, the vast majority of signatures were gathered on the street by asking hurried passersby at random to stop and devote a minute to physically writing their names and contact info on an actual petition sheet. To me, that gives those 10,093 signatures more weight than they’d have if they were only accomplished by “the choir” clicking on a link and letting their browser input the rest.

  • qrt145

    That’s exactly what I wrote: the distance between 6th and 8th is 1/3 mile. The scenario that I had in mind is that you want to start and end at 6th Ave, but take a detour to use 8th Ave. You have to make the detour from 6th to 8th, and then you have to undo it. Hence the factor of 2.

  • Anxiously Awaiting Bikeshare

    So you have to go back to the original avenue (6th ave in this example) which makes it 2/3 of a mile total there and back.

  • Guest

    Waste of time. Not a chance this will ever go anywhere

  • bob21

    8th and 9th aves work better for all users, most definitely including drivers – the turn bays are terrific (IMO, the city should put right turn bays on every applicable block on every avenue). Obviously need protected bike lanes, but more pedestrian space around Rock Center would be wonderful too. So many express buses use 6th Avenue, this would help commuters a lot. This cannot happen soon enough.

  • Reader

    That’s what they said about Times Square, 8th Ave, 9th Ave, 1st Ave, 2nd Ave…

  • BrooklynCoffeeLover

    1st Ave is a mess though. They put the bike lane on the wrong side of the street. I wish there wasn’t a bike lane there.

  • Andrew

    They put the bike lane on the side of the street where it wouldn’t conflict with the bus stops.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I’ll say it again: turning Park Avenue into a “bicycle boulevard” is a better solution for access to the heart of Midtown. I say that as someone who rides there three or four times per week, and generally prefers to use Park north of Union Square despite it having no bicycle infrastructure at all.

    I could use 6th Avenue, but find even the part of it with a bike lane scary. I sometimes ride on 5th Avenue south of 42nd Street. But north of 42nd Street it is so jammed with buses and taxis at nearly all hours that there seems to be no room at all. Not many SOVs or even trucks. We wouldn’t want an improvement that slowed buses.

  • Ian Turner

    Funny, I love the 1st ave bike lane.

  • TomG

    Wrong side of the street? What the heck are you talking about?

  • I used to be very uncomfortable with bike lanes on the left side. I probably complained here a few years ago about the Lafayette St. lane.

    But I have now become completely accustomed to being on the left. In fact, the left side now feels like the appropriate side on which to ride in a wide one-way avenue, so much so that I ride on the left even on most avenues that don’t have bike lanes, such as Madison, Lexington, and Third. (However, for some reason I feel more comfortable on the right side when I use Seventh Avenue.)

  • BrooklynCoffeeLover

    The bike lane on 1st ave. is on the left side of the street. All the drivers turn left because 1st is on the east side of town. They should have rearranged the road so that the bike lanes were on the right side of the street. Too many times cars turning do not see/stop for the bike and come close to hitting them. It’s very dangerous but could be an easy fix.

  • BrooklynCoffeeLover

    Yes, but they could have reconfigured the entire road. Not just kept stuff where it is and squeeze in a bike lane. I see bikers almost get hit daily there because of this. Now most bikers will just bike in the bus lane.

  • I like Park Avenue also; but going north I like Madison better. I stay on the left. It gets even better when you get past 59th St., as the intersections are very calm with the park only a block away — there are very few cars turning left to get over to Fifth Avenue

  • BrooklynCoffeeLover

    It’s not about left or right side. It’s about the flow of traffic. All the traffic on first is turing left (because that’s the way to the city). So if the bikes were on the other side of the street, the cars wouldn’t be turning into the bikes every light.

  • I’ve thought ever since participating in Summer Streets last summer that one of the solutions to the lack of an East River bike path between 38th and 59th streets would be to turn half of Park Avenue over to bicycles. The route could come in from the river, round Grand Central and down Park Avenue to 59th street. It would be a superb statement of intent about the importance of cycling to the city.

    Unfortunately, I fear it would be such a superb statement of intent that it will never get done.

  • I’ve had a few bad experiences in the 1st avenue bike lane and I wish it were on the side of the street away from most of the conflicts with turning traffic. It’s also fairly clogged with deliveries to restaurants, parked police cars and pretty much every other obstacle ever dropped in a bike lane. But I’m still glad there’s a bike lane of some kind there.

  • When my office was in midtown, I had a choice between riding from home to the office 7 1/2 miles via the Manhattan Bridge and 1st avenue bike lane or 9 miles via the Brooklyn Bridge and Hudson Greenway. The Greenway route took the same amount of time – 50 to 60 minutes – and felt far less dangerous. I used the Greenway.

  • Andrew

    Bus doors are on the right. Placing the bike lane on the right would have put the two in direct conflict.

  • BrooklynCoffeeLover

    Yes, they do open on the right, but I am sure there are other ways around this. Other streets don’t have this problem. Other countries have buses and don’t have this problem. It just seems like a bad solution to a common problem in NYC. Throwing bike lanes in to places that aren’t safe and saying ‘look, we are doing a good job.’ A bucket of paint only does so much.

  • Andrew

    Do those other streets and other countries have similar frequencies and ridership levels to the M15?

  • BrooklynCoffeeLover

    I would highly doubt that the M15 is the only bus in that position in the entire world. I am sure it can be done, but slapping down some removable paint and forcing bikes to compete with cars is not the safest way to do it.

  • Andrew

    Not is forcing bikes to compete with bus riders.

    I suppose I wouldn’t object if cyclists were absolutely required to come to a complete stop for any bus stopped at a bus stop and to wait until the bus had pulled out. (If necessary, enforce it with a retractable flap on the rear of each bus to block the way.)

    I suggest that bicycle advocates like yourself should avoid antagonizing transit advocates like myself. We share a lot of common goals, and I’d rather we be allies.

  • BrooklynCoffeeLover

    I am sorry if I cam off like I was trying to start something, I was not. Just trying to have a discussion. I take the subway, bus, bike and walk every day in the city and outer boroughs.

    I think NYC is doing a decent job with bike lanes, but we could be doing better. Increasing buses and bikes is the thing to do I believe. I just feel 1st Ave. wasn’t thought out properly. This comes from someone who has biked on it before the bike lane and after the bike lane.

    I wish we learned what other countries are doing properly and used those here: things such as separating bikes/cars from each other, not just putting cheep paint down. Creating new laws that punishes drivers that hits someone on a bike, whether or not he dies). If a crash happens, looking at that intersection and seeing what can be done to fix it. Getting more drivers off the road and get them on buses/trains/bikes. Try and curb jay-walking. (may be impossible in this city)

  • Andrew

    Thanks. But I’m not really sure how the First Avenue bike lane is any worse than any other bike lane. Sure, one could argue that there was a lost opportunity, but given the buses I don’t think there was.

  • Joe R.

    The bike lane could be to the left of the bus lane to avoid conflicts. You would have (starting from the right curb): bus lane, bike lane, parking lane or barrier, traffic lanes. While we’re at it, you could close off most of the side streets on the right side of 1st Avenue to motor vehicles other than the major cross streets (i.e. every ten or twenty blocks). This would eliminate the need for traffic signals in the bike/bus lanes, except at major cross streets, because there would be no conflicts with motor traffic. This could speed up bike and bus travel on First Avenue quite a bit.

  • Andrew

    Then how does one bus pass another bus? The M15 has two stopping patterns (SBS and local) – and disproportionately high share of wheelchair users (since it serves a lot of hospitals). A single physically separated bus lane would doom all buses on the line to be as slow as the single slowest bus.

  • Joe R.

    Make the bike lane wide enough so a bus can use it to pass another bus? Arguably the bike lane should be about ten feet wide anyway to allow fast cyclists to pass slower ones. Certainly cyclists will be happy to tolerate an occasional bus in the bike lane instead of cars turning left every other block.

  • Andrew

    I have no strong objection to that idea.

  • Charles

    Dream for a moment of Fifth Avenue as it always should have been. Pedestrian concourse down the middle. Two-way protected bike path. No thru traffic except buses. Deliveries allowed by valid permit.

  • JDC

    I used to bike from the east 60s across Central Park to 9th Ave (or sometimes even the Hudson River Greenway) to get to my office near Penn Station. Definitely less direct, but the lack of bike lanes on 5th, Madison, Park, Lexington, 3rd and 2nd Avenues makes bike commuting rather difficult to/from the UES.

  • Kevin Love

    In other words, just the same as would be done as a matter of normal routine in any Dutch city.

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