After CB 4 Committee Signs on, DOT Will Study Safer Fifth and Sixth Avenues

Sixth Avenue at 14th Street, which is part of an area DOT will be studying for pedestrian and bicycle upgrades. Photo: Google Maps
Sixth Avenue at 14th Street, part of an area DOT will be studying for a street redesign. Photo: Google Maps

After a unanimous vote of support from Community Board 5, a request for DOT to study protected bike lanes and pedestrian improvements on Fifth and Sixth Avenues in Manhattan got another boost from the CB 4 transportation committee last Wednesday. After the committee’s unanimous 6-0 vote, a DOT representative said the agency intends to begin studying the potential redesign of the avenues this fall.

“We don’t have any information that we can share with the community board right now, because we are looking at the corridor,” said DOT’s Colleen Chattergoon. “We hope to do some data collection in the late fall.”

While most of Fifth and Sixth Avenues are within the boundaries of Community Board 5, which had already supported the request, advocates are looking for backing from community boards 2 and 4, along the southern sections of the avenues. “You have a constituency who supports making Fifth and Sixth Avenues into public spaces that are safe, efficient, pleasant, and basically serve people better,” said Transportation Alternatives volunteer Albert Ahronheim, before presenting a petition signed by more than 10,400 people and letters of support from 118 businesses along the avenues.

The request now heads to CB 4’s full board on May 7. Advocates hope to secure support from CB 2 soon, as well.

Also on Wednesday, DOT presented plans to adjust stop lights along Ninth Avenue. DOT planner Greg Haas said the agency was considering adding a dedicated left-turn signal for drivers going from 43rd Street to Ninth Avenue. While through traffic would keep a green light, the turn signal would be red for the first fifteen seconds, giving pedestrians a head start, before becoming a flashing yellow signal indicating that drivers should proceed with caution.

Some committee members were concerned that drivers would be confused by a flashing yellow arrow. While the exact details of the light at 43rd and Ninth remain to be ironed out, Haas said that, in other locations with similar conditions, DOT will be looking to add flashing yellow arrows instead of the dedicated green arrows it has installed elsewhere in Midtown and nearby areas. Haas noted that when there is a green arrow, many pedestrians continue to cross while some drivers behave more aggressively. (Last year, 16-year-old Renee Thompson was killed in an Upper East Side crosswalk by a truck driver with a dedicated green arrow.)

Finally, the committee received a suggestion from the 10th Precinct to request rumble strips from DOT for cyclists in the Eighth and Ninth Avenue protected bike lanes near senior housing. The precinct has been highly responsive to complaints from seniors about cyclists, even as its enforcement of serious moving violations has fallen this year. The committee sought clarification on what a bike rumble strip might look like and wanted to test them at limited locations before requesting a widespread rollout, but did not have serious opposition to the precinct’s request.

  • Jeff

    While the 5th and 6th ave news is vague yet promising, I’m super psyched about what the 9th ave and 43rd st announcement means about DOT’s attitude. It shows a willingness to alter designs to the reality of how people use the street, even if it might hurt motorists’ feelings a bit.

  • NYer

    “Some committee members were concerned that drivers would be confused by a flashing yellow arrow…”

    Then those drivers should be aggressively swept off of public streets by NYPD and automated enforcement and should be forced to take drivers’ ed classes or banned from driving in the city altogether.

  • Jeff

    Sorry but that might hurt motorists’ feelings.

  • HamTech87

    I’m all for more protected bike lanes, but I hope they also consider expanding the sidewalks in a big way. Otherwise, those pedestrians are going to be walking in the bike lanes.

  • This proposal for cycle-lane rumble strips – is this dangerous to cyclists? Unlike in a car, a road hazard can throw a cyclist off the front at speed. There isn’t a legal speed limit in these lanes other than the posted limit of 30mph – as long as cyclists are not blowing reds at that speed, they’re completely free by law to travel up to that speed (though a practical top-speed is more like 20mph) – perhaps the DOT should clarify or specify a bike-lane speed limit before resorting to physical encumbrances.

  • There are rumble strips in the PPW bike lane and they’re no big deal. Perhaps a minor issue for kids, but that’s about it. Most of them are worn away by now anyway. They’re such a nothing that it’s hardly worth objecting to them.

  • Thanks Doug… that’s quite reassuring, actually.

  • Joe R.

    Although it’s a moot point except maybe on long downgrades, I’m not even sure if the posted 30 mph limit can legally be applied to cyclists given the fact that bicycles aren’t required by law to have any type of speed measuring device. Certainly the police rarely give cyclists speeding tickets, but were I to get one personally that would be my defense. I’m also highly dubious that speed measuring devices could ever be required on bicycles due to the fact that their calibration would have to be periodically certified.

    All that said, I personally think some sort of GPS on bikes isn’t a horrible idea for two reasons. One, by its nature, GPS speed measurement is exceedingly accurate (it can accurately measure speed to tenths of an mph or better with the proper receiver), and therefore requires no calibration/certification. Two, a GPS log can be offered as a positive defense if in fact you do receive an improper speeding ticket.

    On the rumble strips, unless they resemble streets before they’re cut for repaving, I personally wouldn’t be concerned about them. At worst, they might startle an inattentive cyclist to attention, but I doubt they would result in someone falling off their bike.

  • Also I can’t think of a civilized city in the world that has a general speed limit for bike lanes. At most, you get “Slow” or “Caution” signs near busy intersections.

    But, hey, set the speed limit for bike lanes at 20 mph for all I care.

  • Clarke

    Rumble strips for cars entering merge zone/turning bays while we’re at it. Maybe full on speed bumps.

  • Clarke

    There are ones along a stretch of the East River Bikeway at the DOS and FDNY parking lots at Pier 35 (apparently to alert cyclists that those entering and exiting the lots will do so without care for anyone using the path). There signs telling cyclists to yield to those using the driveways (which strikes me as incorrect), but that’s another issue.

  • J

    It’s cool to see this kind of grass-roots effort start to yield success. Protected bike lanes on 5th & 6th Aves would be a game changer, in terms of improving the pedestrian realm and really taming the city’s traffic. It would give NYC streets a much calmer and more verdant feel, something truly lacking on both Avenues.

    I worry, though, that unless we start to address the auto-centric LOS analysis methodology (or implement congestion pricing), we’re still going to end up with big gaps in the network, as seen on 1st Ave (49th -59th), 2nd Ave (59th-34th), Columbus Ave (68th-59th), 8th Ave (39th-42nd), where vehicle volumes are too high to create high-quality bicycle infrastructure. We’ll still be left with sharrows where cycle tracks are most needed conundrum.

  • Bob

    Let’s go 5th and 6th! CANNOT come soon enough! If they get protected bike lanes, say, 59th St and below, this would be transformative for Manhattan. I have always thought 6th Ave should have a segregated bus-lane too as many express buses run on 6th. This would be terrific, TA has done an exceptional job on this

  • SteveVaccaro

    I share your concern. But notice that Second Ave. 23rd-14th is NOT listed as a gap. Because it was filled! Closing those gaps will happen with steady pressure, time, and most fundamentally, as the numbers of cyclists using those routes increases.

  • thomas040

    what did they announce about 9th av and 43rd?

  • J

    True, and there are several other good examples (1st Ave between 59th & 61st). Indeed, I think that as roadway space gets constricted, speed limits are reduced and better enforced, and biking infrastructure and transit service improve, driving will become even less appealing, bringing down traffic volumes to a point where gaps in infrastructure can be filled.

    However, this is a fairly slow approach, and does not address the flawed value structure of this type of decision-making which places maintaining traffic flow and parking above the safety and mobility of everyone else.

  • neroden

    (1) Double (or more) he sidewalk widths.
    (2) Build protected bike lanes.
    (3) Make the avenues two-way.
    The results would be fairly spectacular.

    Might be a step too far for the motorheads at this point, though.

  • Rumble strips are an awful idea for bikes. These already exist on the Hudson River Greenway in the 60s, 70s and 80s in several locations, and I can testify from personal experience that they are much easier to traverse at high speed than at low speed. I often try to speed up in advance of these strips to lessen their impact.

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