Will 2nd Ave Get Its Protected Bike Lane After Subway Construction Wraps?

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If you look closely, you can see that the Upper East Side segment of the Second Avenue protected bike lane is still in DOT’s renderings. Image: NYC DOT via DNAinfo

As the first phase of the Second Avenue Subway wraps up sometime in the next two years, the largest construction zone in the city will turn back into a functional street. Those 40 blocks of Second Avenue on the Upper East Side won’t be the same as before, though. Back in 2010, the city laid out a plan to add bus lanes and protected bike lanes on that stretch when construction is over.

Seven years is a long time for a plan to sit on a shelf. Will the city follow through on the 2010 redesign?

The bus lane will fill the gap in the exclusive right-of-way for downtown-bound M15 Select Bus Service. It’s a foregone conclusion. But the protected bike lane is a different story.

Under Mayor Bloomberg, City Hall at one time lost enthusiasm for its 2010 pledge to build continuous bike routes on First and Second Avenue from Houston Street to 125th. East Harlem and Upper East Side advocates had to fight pretty hard to compel the city to honor that commitment.

So a protected bike lane between 60th Street and 100th Street on Second Avenue can’t be taken for granted. After DNAinfo ran a story about DOT’s plan to add benches and bike racks to Second Avenue sidewalks when subway construction finishes, Streetsblog emailed DOT to double-check on the bike lane.

A spokesperson said the agency intends to make good on the 2010 plan:

DOT will extend the protected bike lane on 2nd Avenue as the Second Avenue Subway work is being completed and MTA restores the roadway above. However, DOT will need to study the streets near the Queensboro Bridge for traffic issues before implementation of any street redesign. We will consult with the Community Board on our plans.

It should be noted that Manhattan CB 8 voted for the bike lane in 2011, so there’s a design handy that’s already been through the community board process. This part of Second Avenue should be entirely within the bike-share service area by then, making a redesign all the more urgent. DOT’s statement is also vague about how Queensboro Bridge “traffic issues” may affect the extent of the bike lane.

Assuming DOT implements the bike lane north of the Queensboro Bridge, the stretch of Second Avenue between the bridge and the Queens Midtown Tunnel will then be the one major gap in the East Side’s on-street bikeways. It’s a huge void in the city’s bike network, with torrents of traffic to and from the East River crossings and zero protection for cyclists. Even the 2010 plan called for sharrows on those 30 or so blocks.

The city has already set a precedent for exceeding the standards laid out in the 2010 plan. On First Avenue south of the bridge, DOT is set to replace several blocks of sharrows with beefed-up protection for cyclists. A similar improvement on Second Avenue in Midtown would be a huge step toward a connected, protected bike network in the heart of the city.

The 2010 plan for bus lanes and bikeways on the East Side provides no protection for cyclists on Second Avenue in Midtown. Map: NYC DOT
  • Simon Phearson

    I’m really concerned by the possibility of a bike lane on 2nd on the left side, specifically at the Queensboro bridge. I can’t think of any way to route on the left-hand side of that moonscape without putting cyclists in danger – I see so many trucks turn off of 2nd at 59th at high speed and with a wide radius, unsuspecting cyclists are bound to be killed unnecessarily there.

    I find myself increasingly opposed to real bike infrastructure like this, for this reason. Sure, it’s nice in theory, let’s get more cyclists out there, but then there’s the one block or the one intersection where it mashes with irregular street grids or parking scofflaws and you’re not just inconvenienced, but actually in danger. I’d rather deal with drivers in sharrows than navigate mixing zones every other block, or be chevroned through an intersection in a position that puts me in truckers’ blind spots even as they’re about to take a dangerous turn, or veer into oncoming traffic because there’s nowhere else for me to go. The situation at 2nd and the Queensboro right now isn’t great, but if you hang to the right you can at least stick with a predictable traffic flow. Require us to be on the left? How many people have to die before we figure something else out?

  • The Queensboro crossing and to a lesser extent the tunnel crossing are a very thorny engineering/design problem. But there’s a long distance between them. Should that be nothing but sharrows?

  • Joe R.

    Honestly, I was in Manhattan last week, took a look at some of the bike lanes (not on 2nd Avenue) and came to the conclusion bike infrastructure or not, this is NOT a place I would care to ride in. Not matter what you do, it’s just too f-ing congested and the air quality is awful. I can’t help thinking riding a few miles might be like smoking a pack of cigarettes. Outside of the greenways by the rivers (and both of them still have issues which make them no as good as they could be), I personally wouldn’t bother riding around Manhattan. I’ll take the subway as close as it takes me, then walk the rest of the way.

    If we had the money and political will for completely grade-separated infrastructure then I might feel differently, but as things stand now unless we get 90% of the motor vehicles out of Manhattan it’s never going to be a great place to ride, at street level anyway.

  • Joe R.

    We have solutions for that, otherwise known as bridges, viaducts, flyovers, or even tunnels. NYC just doesn’t want to spend the money to keep cyclists completely separate from motor traffic in those thorny situations you mention.

  • Simon Phearson

    So you’re fine putting in a lane the whole length and letting cyclists fend for their lives at the Queensboro crossing? Since you acknowledge that it’s a “very thorny engineering/design problem,” we know that you’re thinking carefully about it!

    I don’t think it should be sharrows everywhere, but take a look at the protected infrastructure we actually have and are likely to get. Do you think it requires any more skill or experience to navigate miles of sharrows than it does: to safely navigate a mixing zone without losing a tone of time; to recognize the dangerous conditions at the Queensboro crossing and to know what to do in response; or to deal with parkers in the lane? The whole point of protected infrastructure is to cater to the interested but concerned rider, but it seems like a lot of what we design has incredibly dangerous and scary gaps and, where it doesn’t, still poses lots of challenges and risks.

    You know, I wouldn’t be anywhere near as opposed as I find that I’m becoming if we didn’t have a law requiring us to use poor infrastructure. Failure to use the bike lane is a favorite harassment charge of the NYPD – like red light tickets at T intersections – but for some reason no one at Streetsblog seems to have a problem with that particular law. Is there a reason for that?

  • Simon Phearson

    You’re not wrong about the air quality. On my morning rides, it’s not uncommon to find a discernible layer of soot on my teeth by the time I get to my office in midtown – though I think most of that is coming from riding along Queens Blvd. and over the Queensboro, which is almost always standstill car traffic by the time I do so.

    That’s also why I aim to get into town before 7. The air isn’t burn-your-nostrils bad until about then.

  • Joe R.

    I’m starting to get more and more like you here. I couldn’t care less about bike infrastructure because the kind we’re lucky to get won’t make cycling for me any safer, or faster, or less stressful than what already exists. As far as I’m concerned, only two things I want from NYC at this point, both of which will make my life as a cyclist significantly better. One, return the streets to a state of good repair and keep them that way. Two, start using things like roundabouts more, and in general start a project to remove as many unneeded traffic signals as possible.

    Keep the bike infrastructure, unless there are plans to build something resembling best practice in places like the Netherlands.

  • Joe R.

    For what it’s worth, I get the same layer of soot on my face if I ride here in Eastern Queens at any time between maybe 7AM and 8 or 9PM. Air quality seems at its best between midnight and 6AM.

  • BBnet3000

    The spot you’re talking about would not be a mixing zone, it would get a separate signal phase for bikes.

  • BBnet3000

    Nobody in the world grade separates bikes from cars to the degree you’re talking about, except perhaps in some Dutch suburbs, but never in a city center.

  • BBnet3000

    The gaps in these protected lanes undermine the whole idea of the protected lanes to begin with, as well as the idea of cycling in New York City in general. They’ve basically taken no care to make the cycling network comprehensive in Manhattan.

  • BBnet3000

    The positive health effects of cycling outweigh the negative health effects of exposure to pollution.

  • Joe R.

    The Dutch have in fact been grade separating busier intersections. Also, while you say the Dutch never do so in a city center, do the Dutch have any city centers with miles upon miles of heavy, dangerous, fast moving motor traffic like NYC? The only reason the Dutch have avoided the need to grade separate is for two reasons. One, their city centers are a lot smaller. Two, they’ve successfully managed to dramatically reduce motor vehicle volume in city centers. Had these two things not been true, I’ve little doubt Amsterdam would have a spaghetti-like network of bike viaducts above its streets simply because there would be no other way to have lots of cyclists safely and efficiently get around.

    Of course, I won’t hold my breath for such a thing in NYC. We’re lucky to get sharrows or wide parking lanes at this point.

  • Joe R.

    Perhaps but there’s also the negative health effects of stress. Frankly, I find walking in Manhattan stressful enough. I was looking at how many things would block my forward progress on a bike. I’d be a nervous wreck after a mile or two of that. It’s bad enough out here in eastern Queens that I don’t bother riding until after 9 or 10. It seems like an order of magnitude worse in Manhattan.

  • Simon Phearson

    I hope you’re right!

  • BBnet3000

    This is not an either-or proposition. Of course we should be reducing traffic in the city center, and we aren’t. But are you really saying we shouldn’t be building bike infrastructure until we have reduced traffic in Manhattan to the levels seen in a Dutch center-city?

    There are plenty of places where Dutch cyclists have to ride next to heavy traffic, but always on separated cyclepaths. They’d never have people on bikes sharing a lane with auto traffic except at very low traffic volumes. The Avenues need comprehensive protected lanes.

  • Simon Phearson

    I dunno, I kind of got used to it. Where I ride in midtown, the traffic is slow enough that I can read it and react as needed. I feel like a cowboy riding within a herd of cattle.

    I recently spent a week riding around a small, primarily car-oriented city. It seemed like every street was designed as an arterial. With little car traffic, speeds were very high even on “side streets,” and the drivers weren’t looking for me or other cyclists, so on the whole it was far more stressful than riding here.

  • Joe R.

    I’m saying we should be building the type of bike infrastructure in Manhattan which meets all the criteria of typical Dutch infrastructure. Namely, separation from auto traffic, separation from pedestrians, and few or no stops. Protected bike lanes on the Avenues don’t accomplish any of those goals, nor can they ever unless traffic volumes are drastically reduced to the point the traffic signals can be removed.

    Ask yourself what would the Dutch do in Manhattan as it stands now, assuming that it’s not politically feasible to reduce traffic levels for a long, long time? My educated guess would be they would either avoid building bike infrastructure altogether as it would be very costly, or they would totally grade separate.

    A third possible solution which might be nearly as good as complete grade separation would be to close off minor cross streets to cars on the side of the avenue with the bike lane. With no cross motor traffic, you don’t need mixing zones, nor is there any need to stop at red lights. Just put a yield to peds sign at the intersections. At major cross streets have a viaduct to carry the bike lane over. The only flaw with this idea is that it will require closing off minor cross streets to motor traffic. Even that is likely a political nonstarter.

  • Joe R.

    You get used to it for sure, but you don’t realize the constant, heightened survival mode you’re in until you compare it to riding on something completely stress-free like a greenway. I tend to think over the long haul being in fight-or-flight mode for long periods can’t be good for you. I noticed myself how much better I like riding when I do it at 3AM compared to rush hour. Sure, you have the occasional fast car flying by, but that time of night I hear them from a few blocks away.

  • vnm

    The air cyclists breathe is exactly the same as the air motorists, bus riders, and pedestrians breathe. So using air quality as a reason not to cycle is the same as using it as a reason not to be in NYC at all. Actually motorists have it the worst, because in addition to breathing in the soot the car in front of them produces, they also breathe in fumes from the various lacquers, plastics, and what have you that go into manufacturing dashboards, seats, etc. The book by Anne Lutz Fernandez and Catherine Fernandez has the chapter and verse on that. So, if you’re not willing to ride a bike b/c of air quality, then you’re definitely not willing to drive a car because of air quality.

  • Joe R.

    Correct. I find riding in a car in NYC way worse than riding a bike, to the point I quickly become nauseous. Point of fact, I do my best not to venture out at all, either on foot or bike, during the hours when air quality is likely to be at its worst. That’s especially true during the summers when I’ll almost never go out before about 8 or 9 unless I absolutely have (i.e. to mail a package at the Post Office, or perhaps for an appointment of some sort.

  • Steven Leslie

    The real solution to the East Side avenue chaos is to build the esplanade along the UN and fix up the other dodgy bits of the waterfront greenway. That would allow most riders to skip the Qnsboro bridge and Midtown tunnel madness. I’ll go way out of my way to ride on a greenway. I recently read thru the plan and it looks great, but for reasons unexplained construction won’t take place til 2021-25. Why so long?

  • Alexander Vucelic

    peak bike traffic on 1st avenue UES currently runs ~500-600 riders an hour. This is more than in the adjacent motor lane and represents 15-20% of traffic in less than 5% of roadway.

    Second avenue 40th-60th sees similar levels of demand despite ZERO roadway.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    I don’t think it’s fair to push all motor traffic to the East River, us riders need to recognize motor traffic does have the right to use some small percentage of roadway in the core. We can’t expect riders to own 100% of the avenues.

  • The bike lane on Second Avenue is on the left now. I have never had a problem with the left turn at 60th Street to head towards the bridge’s bike entry.

    (The problem comes when you try to pass the bridge exit lane and continue to the bridge’s bike entry at First Avenue . The thing to do is to ride near the double yellow line on that two-way stretch of 60th Street. That way, you are not stopped by all the cars exiting the bridge, only by those which are crossing 60th Street to go north. Once you can find a moment when there are no cars crossing 60th Street, you then proceed to the left of the cars that are turning right at 60th Street to go to First Avenue.)

    If the bike lane on Second Avenue were on the right side, then turning left onto 60th Street would be more difficult.

  • HamTech87

    We need both, especially when the Greenway isn’t part of the street grid.

  • ahwr

    Do you have a source on those hourly counts?

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2015/05/05/cb-6-panel-unanimously-backs-plan-to-fill-gap-in-first-av-protected-bike-lane/

    Less than 1500 bikes 7am-7pm in the summer and you’re saying more than a third of them show up in the peak travel hour?

  • Alexander Vucelic

    great find and illumimates a situation with DOT counts which notoriously undercount cyclists and overcount motor vehicles.

    DOT counts do not include commercial cyclists ( aka deliveries ) for example.

    note also that the specfic area quoted iis among the most Anti-cyclist in Manhattan. (6) 12′ lanes of 40 MPH motor vehicles making all sorts of crazy manuvers trying to shave a few seconds entering or exiting the FDR/59st Bridge. Cyclists have a couple of sharrows.

    Despite this designed-to-kill infrastructure, even by the DOTs distorted counts, 10% of Peak roadway traffic is cyclists.

    Above 60th on First Avenue, on a protected Bike lane the counts are dramatically higher.

  • Simon Phearson

    There’s no “bike lane” north of 60th on Second. There are sharrows south of 58th, and they’re on the left side, but no bike lanes.

    My concern here is less about turning left to get to the bridge entry than it is about safely leading cyclists over the Queensboro crossing, since the point of building a lane on Second is to complete the arterial loop half-started by the lane on First. That’s a very broad stretch to cross that poses many risks to cyclists riding on the left alongside through traffic, and the only workable solution anyone here has proposed to address it (split signals) would be highly inconvenient for any southbound cyclists using the lane there (they would be standing at the light for a very long time), which in turn raises the likelihood of non-compliance and, as I’d mentioned, cyclist deaths.

    The current configuration gives cyclists two options. If they’re going south over the crossing, they can hang right, which I think is the safest way through that intersection currently. If they want to go over the bridge, they can hang left. Putting a protected bike lane on the left side into that intersection cuts off one of those options.

    It’s interesting to me that you fudge the rules while going down 60th to get to the bike entry. Yet another instance where you don’t practice what you preach. I’m sure you have some special pleading-y reason for doing so, as well.

  • Matt

    Not that I don’t disagree with you, but do you have any sources? You’re making a lot of claims without backing them up.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    Joe,

    let’s work on “Opening” up the FDR to cyclists. I don’t believe it’s reasonable for cyclists to immediately take over 100% of the FDR. For the first few years, a shared FDR would be a good compromise.

    A modest proposal would be to split the FDR. The east half would be dedicated to motorists. On the west side of the existing Jersey barriers, a instant 11 mile protected bike route would be created. The FDR bike route would complement the Hudson Route which carries nearly 10,000 cyclists a day.

    Sharing is caring when it comes to the FDR.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    a fourth solution is to

    charge appropriate prices for cars and parking

  • JT

    “riding on something completely stress-free like a greenway”

    The greenways in Manhattan are *less* stressful than the avenues, but certainly not completely stress free – they can be crowded with many users and require a lot of attention to use safely.

  • I am fudging no rules. I am still on the right of the double yellow line. Note that the rule which calls for us to ride to the right allows us to deviate from this for reason of safety.

    Anyway, a left-side bike lane on eastbound 69th St next to the double yellow line, in conjunction with a bike box at the light at First Avenue, by which cyclists could cross in front of cars stopped at the light, would solve the problem; this would formalise the practice which I described.

  • Simon Phearson

    Well, you didn’t disappoint. Of course you interpret an exception to avoid dangerous conditions as a license to weave around traffic that’s just getting in your way.

    And, as I suppose I should also expect, your proposed treatment for 60th is both counter-intuitive and inconveniencing for cyclists. Why wouldn’t you just merge in with turning traffic at the exit ramp? What you seem to be proposing is a lane that would go down the middle of car traffic or put cyclists on the far left of 60th street after the exit ramp, separating them from where they want to go by an unnecessary twenty feet or so at First, which would then require them to wait for a red light to proceed onto the bridge entry.

    I thought the designs the DOT put out were bad!

  • The left side of the eastbound lane on the two-way portion of 60th St. is the safest place to be on that street. Riding there removes conflicts with the majority of cars coming from the bridge. A centre-running bike lane, adjacent to the double yellow line, would be a big help.

    After 60th Street becomes one-way again, that lane would be on the far left of the street. There is no way to get bicyclists across to where they need to be except by means of a bike box. It should have directional arrows, like the ones that direct bicyclists in the left-side Second Avenue bike lane to cross to the right, just before Second Avenue becomes Chrystie Street. (I believe that that is at the light at E. 2nd Street.)

    Also, you evidently think that you are achieving some kind of “gotcha” moments.  You correctly note that the rules contain an exception clause; by its nature, this clause will rarely apply, as most streets present conditions that require us to follow the rule as written (to ride in the bike lane; to ride as far right as practicable on a street under 40 feet wide; etc.)

    Yet you bring up several exceptional circumstances (a one-block-long two-way portion of an otherwise one-way street; a section of an avenue with two left-turn lanes next to one another; a bridge landing where the configuration leaves no good choice for cyclists), and then act aghast that I invoke that exception clause. Either you do not grasp the fact that the exception clause exists to allow bicyclists to use discretion at precisely these sorts of locations, or you are playing some sort of pathetic game.

    Either way, I hope to continue not to disappoint. If you cite extraordinary circumstances, I will invoke that exception clause — exactly as it was intended to be used.

  • Arthur M. Lee

    Wow, sounds like living in the city is miserable for you. I’ve been riding my bicycle and motorcycle in the city for over 25 years. No health issues here. Are you a (ex) smoker?

  • Joe R.

    No, never smoked. As bad as living in the city can be at times due to the air quality, it would be much worse for me living anywhere else where I would need to travel by car regularly. My ideal place to live would be a large city where motor vehicles either weren’t allowed, or they were all required to be electric.

    I found out about my aromatic hydrocarbon allergy during a dental visit. I had a mold made for a crown using some kind of quick setting acrylic polymer. That night I had painful sores all inside my mouth. When I went back to the dentist the next day to have her look at it, I asked about the exact chemical. I forgot what it was, but it was in the aromatic hydrocarbon family. That actually explained quite a bit, particularly my extreme reactions to auto exhaust, particularly when I’m in a newer car where the outgassing interior mixes with exhaust fumes from the air. In a way, I’m kind of like a canary in a coal mine in that I get affected by exhaust long before it affects others. That’s actually not a bad thing since it means I’m forced to breathe relatively clean air to avoid feeling sick.

  • Arthur M. Lee

    I’m sorry to hear that. It would be great if cabs were limited to a 1/2 mile movement when vacant. Convert to e-hail (except for hotels and large venues) and call it a day.

  • Joe R.

    There’s a lot of things NYC can do both in the long and short term. Short term we can do things like limit cabs cruising for fares as you said, limit or get rid of free on-street parking (i.e. in some areas half the traffic is cars looking for free curbside parking), rationalize tolls so through traffic doesn’t pass through more congested areas, etc. Longer term NYC should seriously consider a ZEV requirement, first for large fleets, then eventually for every vehicle operating within city limits.

    The fact is poor air quality eventually makes everyone ill, even if the affect on others may not be so dramatic as it is with me.

    In a fitting bit of irony, outside of aromatic hydrocarbons (that also includes perfumes), I have no other allergies and I’m otherwise healthy.

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