CB 7 Committee to DOT: Make Columbus Circle Safe for Biking

Momentum builds to redesign one of Manhattan's scariest places to bike.

Columbus Circle is a big traffic free-for-all -- and a critical point in the Manhattan bike network. Photo: Google Maps
Columbus Circle is a big traffic free-for-all -- and a critical point in the Manhattan bike network. Photo: Google Maps

Last night, Manhattan Community Board 7’s transportation committee passed a resolution calling on DOT to make Columbus Circle safe for biking and walking.

The traffic circle at the southwest corner of Central Park is a critical point for people biking between the Upper West Side and Midtown, but it’s a major void in the bike network. There are protected bike lanes on Broadway and Eighth Avenue south of the circle, and an unprotected painted northbound lane on Central Park West. But only a small segment of the circle has bike lanes — the southeastern edge between Broadway and the entrance to the park.

Since 2011, 13 cyclists and five pedestrians were injured at the Columbus Circle, according to NYC Crashmapper.

The resolution calls for “safe passage” for northbound and southbound bike traffic through Columbus Circle, separated from motor vehicle traffic, according to Willow Stelzer, a volunteer with Transportation Alternatives’ “Open Broadway” campaign to make Broadway north of Columbus Circle safer for biking and walking.

Most of the lane markings at Columbus Circle have faded, which makes the intersection extra confusing for everyone.

“There’s so much changing of lanes so quickly, I think that’s where the danger is,” said Stelzer. “Cyclists are kind of in the mix of all this movement of cars between different lanes — coming into the circle and going off the circle.”

“It’s like the wild wild west when you’re [biking there] because the cars are crossing over what should be lines in the road, but there aren’t any lines there,” said Claire Brennan, an Upper West Side volunteer with TransAlt who commutes by bike on Broadway from West 83rd Street to Union Square. “It’s not really their fault that they’re making these sweeping motions, because there’s no signage on the road. it’s just a free-for-all.”

Columbus Circle's "bike lane" in action. Photo: Claire Brennan
The Columbus Circle “bike lane” in action. Photo: Claire Brennan

Stelzer said she hopes DOT’s project will address the streets approaching Columbus Circle as well. The left-aligned Eight Avenue bike lane ends abruptly at 57th Street, two blocks to the south, but the Columbus Circle bike lane is right-aligned, so cyclists have to scurry over to the other side of the street in order to access it.

The text of the resolution won’t be available until it’s approved by the full board. CB 7’s next meeting is Tuesday, June 6, at Fordham University’s Manhattan campus (113 West 60th Street). Parts of Columbus Circle are also in community boards 4 and 5, which Stelzer said will also take up the issue, most likely in June.

  • MatthewEH

    Oh man, yeah. If I’m riding up 8th Ave to CPW, the scene at Columbus Circle is nuts. (Or lately, I’ve found continuing uptown to Broadway is a nice way to connect to the protected lane on Amsterdam, which starts at 73rd-ish.) Drivers never seem to realize which lane they might want to be in, and then make these sudden sweeping lane changes at speed, to hell with you if you’re just trying to bike along.

    I wonder if there’d be space for something like the treatment at Park Circle in Brooklyn: a bidirectional bike lane around the perimeter of the circle*. Bike-specific signals that coincide with the walk signals for adjacent crosswalks. Maybe this’d work well? Have traffic that wants to exit the circle make sharper turns to exit the circle rather than accelerating out of slip lanes.

    Something like this would also allow for keeping the bike lane on the left side of 8th Ave and building out protection fully from 57th street to 59th Street.

    * I could see some kind of compromise here, also: a bidirectional bike lane that covers from 8th ave counterclockwise to northbound Broadway, and from southbound Broadway near 60th clockwise to southbound Broadway near 58th. Trouble being a bidirectional lane in front of the TW Center would constantly get blocked by people doing dropoff, food carts setting up, etc., etc. Maybe add a sharrow in the lane left of the parking/loading area in front of the TW Center for riders coming south on Broadway who don’t want to go around the other way.

  • Vooch

    Edward Larabe Barnes had a plan to create a pedestrian plaza at Columbus Circle

    might be a good time to reexamine his approach https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/5addb6b6df550d4dd6c5cea14d7977ba033dd802060dd8350eabdd283c97f820.jpg

  • Morris Zapp

    If you’re crossing from where the subway stairs under the Krump hotel globe are, toward Time Warner Center, drivers headed north on Broadway invariably whip around that blind corner like bats from hell. Which is how people tend to drive around the circle in general.

    This is made worse by NYPD and others blocking the crosswalks there, or obstructing views by parking illegally.

  • walks bikes drives

    There is also in insane diagonal crosswalk there that makes the crossing distance much longer than it needs to be. This is the crosswalk with the curb cuts to get from the North end of TW to the subway under the Dump globe.

  • walks bikes drives

    A bidirectional lane from Broadway, clockwise around the circle, going around to 8th Ave (switching to one direction between Broadway and 8th) so there is no bike lane in front of TW.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    People might walk across it momentarily but it would only be blocked if the design allows it to be blocked. If the location is identified as being at high risk for blockage, it should be prevented by design.

  • HamTech87

    While we’re at it, it would be great to put a PPW-style protected bike lane along CPW. As for drop-offs and double-parking. Give CPW a road diet with one lane in each direction, and make the parking lane along the west side of CPW drop-off only. Parking on the east side of CPW should be rationed with pricing, and the pricing should align with what a garage costs.

  • J

    This is basically what happened, except for the columns and awkward shared space.

    What we need is way fewer traffic lanes, protected bike lanes, and clearer direction of movement. Take Broadway down to 1 lane in each direction plus turn lanes & PBLs, & one SB lane south of the circle. Make CPW one NB lane north of the circle. Make 59th St eastbound one lane only. And get rid of several lanes on 8th Ave.

  • Vooch

    I think that the Barnes drawing shows Columbus Circle entirely given over to humans and motor traffic reallocated elsewhere.

    Who was that evil madman that made Columbus Circle one way in the teens ?

  • KeNYC2030

    At the same meeting, CB7’s Transportation committee agreed to send DOT a letter inquiring about the feasibility of swapping CPW’s unprotected bike lane and the car parking lane on the east side. It wouldn’t exactly be PPW, but it would be far safer than current conditions.

  • MatthewEH

    Huh, interesting. Could be problematic at the intersections with the park transverses, though, and it might attract salmon. Lord knows there are a lot of salmon in the Amsterdam lane despite — as also holds for CPW — Columbus just being one crosstown block over. And this lane would be way narrower than the Amsterdam treatment.

    I don’t think a 4-to-3 conversion is workable on CPW. It gets seriously backed up in peak travel direction during rush-hour as it is, evening and morning.

  • By the way, Columbus circle is in Community board 4 … we look forward to hear the CB7 crowd coming to us and begging on its knees ! :))))

  • Willow

    Ha, love that image. I’ll be there Queen Christine! Thanks for adding us on the agenda.

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