15 Blocks of Fifth Avenue Will Get a Protected Bike Lane This Spring

Image: NYC DOT
Image: NYC DOT

Soon cyclists won’t have to weave between double-parked cars and speeding traffic on the heavily-traveled stretch of Fifth Avenue south of 23rd Street. Last night DOT presented a plan to flip the biking and parking lanes between 23rd Street and 8th Street to Manhattan Community Board 2 [PDF].

The Fifth Avenue bike lane dates back to 1978, with a painted buffer that DOT added nearly a decade ago. That design is not working: The corridor gets more bike traffic than any other Manhattan avenue, according to DOT, but the bike lane is almost always blocked by double-parked cars.

Transportation Alternatives has been calling for a protected bike lane for several years, collecting 10,000 signatures to “flip Fifth” by the end of 2013. (It’s now up to 17,000.) DOT committed to studying a redesign a few months later, after Council Member Dan Garodnick and Community Boards 2, 4, and 5 all signed on in support.

DOT’s project will cover Fifth Avenue from 23rd Street to 8th Street, leaving the avenue without a bike lane in the heart of Midtown, as well as a block-long gap north of Washington Square Park with no protection. On the narrower block between 9th Street and 8th Street, DOT wants to remove 10 parking spots from the east curb to make room for a six-foot bike lane, five foot buffer, and plastic posts.

Fifth Avenue is going to get better. Photo: David Meyer
Fifth Avenue is going to get better. Photo: David Meyer

Overall, the project would remove a total of 38 on-street parking spots, 20 in CB 5 and 18 in CB 2, mostly to make room at intersections for painted pedestrian islands. DOT project manager Nick Carey said a protected bike lane on the final block of Fifth Avenue before Washington Square Park would not be possible without removing a parking or travel lane.

Meanwhile, only two intersections — at 14th Street and 8th Street — will get split-phase signals, which give pedestrians and cyclists a separate crossing phase from left-turning motorists. Split-phase signals are safer than DOT’s preferred intersection treatment, “mixing zones,” which require cyclists and motorists to negotiate the same space at the same time.

Overall, the 40 or so people in the room received the project positively, but there was a sense that DOT should go farther.

Last December, Garodnick and five other elected officials, including Council Member Corey Johnson and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, sent DOT a letter calling for protected bike lanes and bus lanes on the entire lengths of Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue. This project delivers on part of that goal but leaves a lot unfinished. Likewise, there’s no plan at the moment to extend the Sixth Avenue bike lane north of 33rd Street.

“The problem for pedestrian, motorists, and cyclists is we have this patchwork now,” Maury Schott, a former board member, told Carey.

Attendees last night said the block near the park should get protection too. Nearly every hand went up when committee chair Shirley Secunda who would be fine with losing the parking lane on that last block.

The committee endorsed the project, with additional requests that it be extended all the way to Washington Square, that the painted pedestrian islands be cast in concrete, that loading and unloading zones be considered to prevent double parking.

DOT will present the proposal to CB 5 later this month. The full board of CB 2 will vote on the plan on March 23 at 6:30 p.m. in the Scholastic Building, located at 557 Broadway.

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