Beyond Thermoplast, Street Signs and Signal Timing

Last week we asked the Department of Transportation why the agency had not followed through on making safety improvements on the Fifth Avenue bike lane in Brooklyn by end-of-summer. DOT responded with a statement saying that "Share the Road" signs had, in fact, been installed and that, as part of the new citywide bike safety initiative announced two weeks ago, the agency was developing a new and improved way of marking "Class III" bike routes.

I am on Fifth Avenue pretty much every day either on foot, bike, bus or in a car but I had no idea that new "Share the Road" signs had been installed until DOT’s press office said so. I finally got outside with a camera this morning and here is what I found:

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Most of the signs have been placed very high up near the tops of lampposts, 12 to 20 feet above the street, I’d say. They read, "Bike Route" in green and "Share the Road" in yellow. The signs seem to be about 24" tall and 18" wide. They are placed on virtually every corner facing both directions. Yet, I had not noticed them until I went out and consciously looked for them.

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The signs became noticeable once I knew that they were there. But until I knew to look up for them, they were invisible to me and, I imagine, most other street users. It is great that DOT is acknowledging bicyclists with these street signs but I don’t think that they will do much to make Fifth Avenue safer for bicycling. I would like to see the agency put down bicycle stencils as a temporary measure until the new Class III bike route markings have been developed. Who knows how long the new markings will take to be approved.

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While high-visibility stencils are, in my opinion, better than street signs in helping motorists be more aware of cyclists, they are still not enough. Take a look at these images from Paris, France, below. In the last few years, as a part of its new Mobilien system, the City of Paris has created numerous, physically-separated lanes for the exclusive use of buses, bikes and taxis:

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Perhaps if you got rid of parking on side of the avenue you could do something like this on Fifth and Seventh Avenues in Brooklyn.

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It is time for New York City to expand its street design toolbox beyond Thermoplast, street signs and traffic signal timing. New York City should be leading the world in urban streetscape design. We should be taking the best ideas and setting the example.    

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