Reimagining Jay Street With Shared Space and Protected Bike Lanes

A two-way, center-running bikeway and a bus lane would be added to Jay Street south of Tillary Street under a concept suggested by Transportation Alternatives. Image: Street Plans Collaborative for Transportation Alternatives
A two-way, center-running bikeway and a bus lane would be added to Jay Street south of Tillary Street under a concept suggested by Transportation Alternatives. Image: Street Plans Collaborative for Transportation Alternatives

Jay Street is one of the major north-south spines of Downtown Brooklyn. The street is full of pedestrians near MetroTech, cyclists going to and from the Manhattan Bridge, and buses connecting to nearby subways, but it’s not designed to serve anyone particularly well — except, perhaps, people with parking placards. Double-parked cars constantly obstruct bike lanes and buses. Pedestrians deal with dangerous intersections. Everyone is frustrated.

In March, Transportation Alternatives hosted a workshop with Council Member Stephen Levin and Community Board 2 to solicit ideas on how to improve Jay Street. Now, TA is out with the results of the project, including a redesign that features shared space and dedicated lanes for buses and cyclists [PDF].

Some of the changes can be implemented relatively quickly — like adding lighting beneath the Manhattan Bridge and giving pedestrians a head-start on crossing the street before drivers get a green light. Cracking down on illegal placard parking is a matter of will and could happen overnight if the authorities decide that it matters.

Other ideas would involve more substantial physical changes to the street. The report recommends upgrading the bike lane between York and Prospect Streets to a two-way protected bikeway to allow for better connections to DUMBO. The bikeway could then be extended along the west side of Jay Street between the Manhattan Bridge and Tillary Street. The complex intersection at Tillary would receive wider pedestrian medians, neckdowns, and signal changes that give cyclists time to cross the intersection when it isn’t filled with cars.

A shared space design would give pedestrians priority on Jay Street near MetroTech. Image: Street Plans Collaborative for Transportation Alternatives
A shared space design would give pedestrians priority on Jay Street near MetroTech. Image: Street Plans Collaborative for Transportation Alternatives

South of Tillary, the bike lane would continue down the middle of Jay Street to Fulton Street, with a curbside bus lane replacing parking to give buses some space as they approach MetroTech.

Today, lots of people cross Jay near MetroTech, but the crosswalks and stop lights don’t always match the numerous pedestrian desire lines. The TA report suggests changing the street’s design to be more akin to shared space, where pedestrians are given more leeway and drivers no longer rely on markings and stop lights to navigate the street.

A redesign of Jay Street isn’t currently on DOT’s list of projects, and CB 2 has not yet passed a resolution asking DOT to study it. Jay Street has, however, become a focus of Transportation Alternatives activists in Brooklyn, who hope to get support from the community board and local elected officials before convincing DOT to take on the project.

While shared space on Jay Street might not be part of DOT’s agenda yet, the agency is moving forward with a plan to convert a pair of adjacent side streets to shared space, a design that blurs the lines between sidewalks and car lanes.

DOT is considering three conceptual designs for shared space on three blocks in Downtown Brooklyn. Image: DOT
DOT is considering three conceptual designs for shared space on three blocks in Downtown Brooklyn. Image: DOT

Last month, DOT hosted a public meeting where it presented three design concepts that would convert three blocks of Pearl and Willoughby Streets, in a corner of Downtown Brooklyn bounded by Jay, Adams, and Fulton Streets, to shared space. The three options offer varying levels of shared space. One would turn part of the area into a plaza and close the remaining two blocks to cars during midday hours. Another would retain shallow curbs, while a third would keep the entire street, from building to building, at the same level.

The project, which is partially funded, would entail a complete reconstruction of the street, with new benches, street lights, bollards, and pavement. Next up for DOT: Refining its design based on feedback its received so far, then presenting it to an advisory group before showing it to Community Board 2 early next year.

  • Anxiously Awaiting Bikeshare

    This would be fantastic! Much of the time when I ride this route there are more cyclists than cars.

  • Alex

    I love the center bike lane idea. I gave up riding Jay St to the bridges. Too chaotic, too many double parked cars, and too dangerous. But there really needs to be a safe, convenient link for cyclists coming from South Brooklyn to the bridges, whether it’s Jay or Adams. If they go with the shared space design for Jay, then part of Adams should be reconfigured with protected bike lanes.

  • BBnet3000

    Jay Street is one of the important corridors in the whole city, which calls for a high level of design and really getting it right. A 2-way bikeway on a street like this is not a best practice, especially one requiring a weird crossing at Tillary southbound and presumably Schermerhorn northbound to get to the center.

    Either by removing parking (the side streets should all have loading zones even today) or converting the street to one way (as Smith is south of Schermerhorn) they can free up the space for full segregated cyclepaths on the sides of the street. Under the best possible option this would include bus islands so that people on bikes do not have to mix with buses.

    A connection to one of the East River Bridges (there are only a few of these, and they aren’t building them anymore) is too important to half-ass like this, especially since the DOT won’t be coming by for another 20 years to improve it again.

    Also, why would you ignore Smith Street? It’s part of the same corridor for people coming from the south. This stinks of people from Prospect Heights who only have to deal with it for a few blocks from Bergen and are not thinking of the full network.

  • Eric McClure

    There is space for about 55 cars to park curbside on Jay between Willoughby and Tillary. The majority of that space is designated No Standing, and nearly all of it is regularly parked in by court employees, police, and Brooklyn DA staff. Meanwhile, the three-level Marriott garage in the middle of that stretch regularly has at least double that number of spaces free. The city could take a long-term lease on 60 spaces in the garage for +/- $300,000 a year, remove all curbside parking from Jay Street and replace it with curbside dedicated bus lanes (or bike lanes), and solve about 80% of the problems on Jay instantly.

  • Eric McClure

    No one’s ignoring Smith Street. Whatever problems there are on Smith, they pale beside the double-parking, bike-lane and bus-stop blocking, and u-turns on Jay, and as busy as Smith is, it has just a fraction of Jay Street’s pedestrian activity.

    As someone who’s put a lot of volunteer hours into advocating for change on Jay Street, I encourage you to do the same on Smith. It takes a village, for lack of a better phrase.

  • BBnet3000

    I take Clinton nowadays northbound, even though I take the Manhattan Bridge. It adds an extra third of a mile but takes the same amount of time because of more green lights and less bike lane interference from cars. You see more timid cyclists and parents with children on the back of their bikes along this route as well.

  • Reader

    The ideas that came out of the workshop are just ideas. Conceptual designs. They show what can be accomplished, but not what necessarily has to be done.

    But I do agree that a 2-way bikeway isn’t the best idea. For starters, it will be obsolete very quickly, as bike traffic continues to pick up. We need bike lanes that are wide enough so that people can pass other people. Also, a red light would mean a line of cyclists stretching back for a block, which is not ideal. You want bike lanes that are wide enough for two or three cyclists to wait next to each other so they can bunch up at the light, as is common in Copenhagen.

    When DOT comes to CB2, it needs to come with a design that looks toward the future, not the past, as you mention.

  • Adrian

    The best part of this for me is the separate light phase for bikes at Jay & Tillary. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve nearly been taken out by someone turning left from Jay onto Tillary as I go southbound on Jay. It’s like I’m invisible at that junction….

  • BBnet3000

    I’m sorry I mentioned Smith as I’d rather talk about this proposal itself, but my point is that bike infrastructure is supposed to be comprehensive. The gaps in ALL of the protected bike lanes in Manhattan are possibly the biggest problem in cycling in New York today.

  • camp6ell

    My anecdotal observation: if u-turns could be avoided (any kind of central barrier) and if double parking could be avoided (make each way only wide enough for one motor vehicle to travel, and make sure they can’t move into bike lane as an option), that would solve the Jay St problem right away. A couple of grand in paint and plastic bollards would be a start… no real “redesign required.”

  • BBnet3000

    There’s still way too many bikes here to have them riding single file even if the existing lane functioned as (under)designed.

  • Alex

    That’d be me. The stress induced on Jay just isn’t worth it to me. I even take Henry home at night. Of course, I also use the Brooklyn Bridge, so it’s not so inconvenient.

  • This seems like a good way to kill a lot of bicycle riders. Center bicycle lanes are a poor idea, worse when two-way, and place bicycle riders in dangerous positions way too often. There is a reason you never see them anymore in The Netherlands, Copenhagen, and similar places.

    There is also the problem of how bicycle riders access destinations along Jay street. Rather difficult from the middle of a high traffic road.

    Shared space was a great idea but has proven a failure in The Netherlands and are all being converted to standard designs. They worked well for a few years but then cars and trucks quickly dominated leaving things worse than before they were converted to shared space. For a more recent example take a walk down Exhibition Road in London. Shared space only works when motor traffic is limited to local access only and then for only a very short distance. Any through traffic creates problems.

  • Any idea how wide the proposed bikeways are? They look too narrow to allow safe passing, especially for a two-way if people are expected to move in to the opposing lane to pass.

  • BBnet3000

    The cross sections in the pdf arent dimensioned, but they and the picture above appear to be around 8 feet total, 4 in each direction, definitely not comfortable for passing (often even uncomfortable passing someone coming the other way!). Even if its 10, that’s not wide enough.

    The Dutch minimum is 11′ for a bidirectional cyclepath, which I think is the width of Sands Street, where its comfortable to pass, or the narrower parts of the Hudson River Greenway, which is still too narrow because of its heavy use and lack of a pedestrian path.

  • That seems about right. BTW, the Dutch will use more space for a two-way path than two one-way paths. The reason for this is that a rider who is passing another can make a safer judgement about fixed objects along a path but a moving object coming in the opposing lane is more dangerous and requires greater space. That said, I don’t think they would ever consider two-way tracks in an area like this.

  • Is the off ramp from the bridge the primary reason for not going with one-way tracks on either side? Is there a better way to route a SB bicycle & pedestrian path through this area? Under the ramp (and Bridge?) somehow?

  • I take it you’ve never experienced a center running two-way bike lane?This is the one type of bike infrastructure that makes me think vehicular cycling on a busy Interstate isn’t a bad idea.

  • Is the picture above backwards? Should the deadly bike lane be where the black car is? Also, does anyone know what the purpose of the sharks teeth are at this junction? You’ll see that occasionally where lights are routinely off or go in to blink mode, do they do that here?

  • BBnet3000

    There’s a fixation on 2 way paths recently that I think is the cause of this, not a problem with people making a left from the bridge exit onto Jay. The existing ped light phase for bikes to enter Jay works a lot better than trying to do a bike-specific phase at Tillary, thats for sure.

    There probably are better ways to route to the bridge, but not without expensive construction. The existing loop is OK for now and I’d rather they used any construction money to do something about the Manhattan end of the bridge.

  • ahwr

    What’s the best way to connect cyclists to the bridge path then?

  • Eric McClure

    No argument there. Building a robust and fully connected bicycle network will be key to growing cycling and improving the experience in NYC. Jay, however, is a huge funnel for commuters between Brooklyn and Manhattan, and it is incredibly chaotic. Assuming we’re not going to get 150 miles of well connected bike paths dropped out of the sky, this is one of the places I’d ix first.

  • BBnet3000

    I’d be OK with one on Delancey leading to Allen because left turns are banned for the entire distance and the bridge entrance is in the center already, but that’s the only location I can think of, and its a special case.

  • Eric McClure

    I think it’s really important that people not look at the report from the workshop as a “plan” – it’s absolutely not intended as prescriptive.

    What it is intended to do is to get people thinking, and to motivate action. It’s really unacceptable that no serious attempt has been made to fix what ails Jay Street, and this report, I hope, will spur the Department of Transportation to come up with a plan, or at the very least, prompt elected officials to lean on DOT to do that.

  • BBnet3000

    One of these on each side, at the absolute minimum.

  • BBnet3000

    The problem is, if this is the “thinking big” that advocates come up with, the DOT compromise is going to be even worse. Sadly they’ll probably run with the side bikeways and half ass it, and we’ll have single-file protected lanes like on 1st Ave, with some horrible arrangement for the bus stops.

    I certainly hope that the DOT will do something about Jay Street. Am I being pessimistic when I read Trottenberg’s statements yesterday as essentially saying that they are done building the core network? That Jay Street and Christie are the bridge approaches we are going to have to live with?

  • A fixation on 2-way is really stupid. Dutch, Danish, and others tossed them out decades ago except where they do not parallel motor traffic and there is space to make them exceptionally wide. A 2-way parallel to motor traffic and where it must cross junctions with other roads is quite dangerous.

  • hankcowboy

    i work at 300 Jay street at CiTy Tech. My students report complete fears about

    crossing the street, from one side to another. The traffic is crazy. What can we do to help make this wonderful plan a reality? What can we do to keep this from happening one more day?

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