Will NYC DOT Test Out Protected Intersections in 2017?

Safer bike signals
DOT will be implementing more "split LPIs," which give cyclists and pedestrians a head start on turning drivers, but it remains unclear if the agency will test out other treatments, like protected intersections. Image: DOT

One of the line items in City Hall’s recent Vision Zero budget announcement devotes about $650,000 per year to “targeted safety enhancements and upgrades” in the city’s bike network. Intersection design is one area where NYC is getting outpaced by other American cities, so we followed up with NYC DOT to see if we could get more details about this.

The agency says the funding will be used for staff time, equipment, and supplies to “implement upgraded intersection treatments along bicycle facilities, including piloting and studying innovative design treatments.”

Currently, most intersections along protected bike lanes in NYC either have dedicated signal time for cyclists to eliminate conflicts with turning drivers, or “mixing zones” where turning drivers and cyclists negotiate their way around each other. Evidence suggests that dedicated signals are safer than mixing zones.

A third treatment is what DOT calls a “split LPI,” which gives cyclists and pedestrians a head start, then shows drivers a flashing yellow to proceed with caution (“LPI” stands for leading pedestrian interval). DOT has put this type of signal at nine intersections along protected bike lanes and says the funding announced yesterday will be used to convert more mixing zones to split LPIs.

What NYC lacks so far are protected intersections, a Dutch design concept that makes cyclists more visible to drivers turning across their path and, on two-way streets, creates a safe route for cyclists to make left turns. There are now a dozen of them on the ground in American cities, including Chicago and San Francisco.

It remains unclear if NYC DOT will test out the protected intersection concept with this new funding, but it’s an idea that could make a big difference for cycling. Elements of the protected intersection could be adapted for NYC’s protected bike lanes on one-way streets, or as an alternative to bike boxes on un-protected bike lanes on two-way streets, where left turns can get especially hairy.

NYC is in the unusual position of playing catch-up with other big American cities on this bikeway design — let’s not fall farther behind.

  • kevin

    Don’t use green lights for pedestrians and bikes. Use white lights.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    1. Protected intersections are already in use in other US cities. Is it actually necessary to have an NYC-specific pilot?
    2. The LBI treatment is a step backward from the goal of 8-80 and for all but a small portion of the cycle operates as a mixing zone with the expense of a dedicated signal. What a huge step backward from that first wide, split-phase cycletrack in Chelsea from 2009.

  • Albert

    <<>>

    Aha, so *that’s* what those new invitations for drivers to violate the green bicycle signal phase are supposed to be for! I thought they were just so drivers wouldn’t have to wait for those precious extra seconds. In effect, they simply encourage drivers to turn across the bike lane at the same time that cyclists are perceiving that they have the right of way. Remember, this flashing yellow phase for drivers comes after their red phase, so each yellow flash is like saying, “Go, driver! Now! (with caution, of course) But Go!” Any driver watching that signal certainly won’t be noticing that the bicycle signal is still green, much less look behind them for approaching cyclists.

    From the cyclist perspective these new signals seem unnecessarily dangerous and misleading.

    Question — If this new phase makes any kind of sense, then shouldn’t there also be an equivalent phase for cyclists at true split-phase intersections? That is, during the turning driver green phase (after the bicycle signal has turned red), shouldn’t the bicycle signal start to flash yellow at some point, allowing cyclists to proceed ahead? (“With caution,” of course.) Fair is fair.

  • J

    it wouldn’t even be hard to implement protected intersections on existing protected bike lane corridors. Here is an example I came up with for 1st Ave, where a simple island (in orange) is installed to slow car turning movements, plus some minor restriping of approach to replace the mixing zone. Viola, protected intersection. Why not try it and see how it works, even if it’s just at one intersection at first?

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/77b586db9b158d3ecf2177250b04d58b6f1e397c1d74d55085be97527273be03.png

  • J

    Also, NYC has yet to implement bike boulevards, which are common across the US, or better yet, “unraveled networks” which are entirely bike friendly neighborhoods. Both are achieved through a combination of traffic calming and diversion measures to keep motor vehicle speeds and volumes very low, while prioritizing through movement for people on bikes and on foot. It’s high time for NYC to start trying things again.

  • c2check

    I much prefer the small bike signals like are common in Europe, placed on the near side of the intersection at cyclist eye level. Portland has made use of them in a couple places.

    Unfortunately I’m not sure they fully comply with signals regulations (but they should)
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/bd33427ed828bdb1fad0e700aff0df17534daefe3adba10e09c318a0ed469f34.jpg

  • c2check

    Some nice bike boulevards could make an enormous difference in places like Williamsburg, as an alternate route parallel to Grand, for example.

    NYC could use tons of traffic calming measures in general…

  • Simon Phearson

    Are “split LPIs” top-class cycling infrastructure? They always terrify me, since they always seem to require guessing at what drivers are going to do. I’d rather be stuck at a dedicated red light than pull up alongside a slowly rolling driver and try to guess if he’s rolling slowly because he sees me or if he’s just about to turn.

  • AnoNYC

    Great design but I would fit some flex post along that painted buffer.

  • AnoNYC

    This city requires widespread traffic calming.

  • Joe R.

    Exactly what we need more of in this city. Protected bike lanes on regular streets do nothing to improve abysmal bike travel times. In fact, they often make travel times worse by preventing faster riders from going at speeds where they can make more lights. An unraveled bike network where bike routes are mostly separate could do wonders. Same thing with bike boulevards where bikes have priority over cross-street traffic. And lets please start using overpasses or underpasses to get through busy, dangerous intersections. Those would greatly improve both speed and safety.

  • Joe R.

    The location is good but this is a place where bikes should never get a red signal because there’s no vehicular cross traffic. Worst case should be a flashing yellow yield to peds when pedestrians have a walk signal. So while I applaud the signal design itself, it seems we’re still too quick to treat bikes like motor vehicles. Bikes can usually yield in situations which might require a motor vehicle to completely stop. Exceptions might be where poor lines of sight exist (and then stop-and-proceed if clear can apply).

  • J

    Yes! Even better.

  • J

    Yes, it’s incredible how much we ignore best practices from the Netherlands. It’s like we’re actively trying to keep progress slow.

  • J

    When cities like Atlanta and College Station are out-innovating you, you know someone is asleep at the wheel. Get it together Polly & Bill!

  • c2check

    Yeah, this particular location is maybe a bit silly, but it was the only decent photo I could find of the signal head.

  • AMH

    Yes! Design that prioritizes cycling is desperately needed. The new 6th Av bike lane makes the street feel marginally safer, but makes it much slower since you’re now forced to thread between pedestrians, turning vehicles, etc. In a Manhattan avenue PBL, I can’t make it more than 2-3 blocks in a single light cycle.

  • com63

    They already have one. Go check out the bike lane at 13th st and 4th ave near union square. This is basically a protected intersection and if different than the usual mixing zone turns.

  • ahwr

    It flashes red when pedestrians have a walk signal. Or at least the one on the other side usually did when I was there last year. I think originally it was a steady red. There’s no enforcement when people biking slow down and yield if necessary. There’s no enforcement when they blow through the light forcing pedestrians to yield either.

    Might be a bit due to this attitude:

    Who fuckin’ cares about a cyclist breaking the law?!

    https://bikeportland.org/2016/12/14/after-slapping-a-car-rider-gets-unexpected-chat-with-portland-police-officer-209514

    Too bad the video was taken down. Cop gave a pretty huge eye roll to that one. But mostly I think the lack of enforcement is because of under staffing of the police bureau.

    There are news stories when someone goes through a red and hits a pedestrian though.

    http://katu.com/news/local/gallery/video-shows-cyclist-riding-through-red-light-striking-pedestrian-11-19-2015

    Eventually for what it’s worth I’m pretty sure there will be cars crossing at that intersection.

  • ahwr