Take Action: Support the Prince/Bleecker Bike Route Plan

Ian Dutton and community leaders speak out at an August 30, 2006 rally for bike safety on Houston Street.

This comes from Ian Dutton, a member of Manhattan’s Community Board 2 who has been fighting to improve bicyclist safety on Houston Street:

Those of you who have been following the saga know that last year, Manhattan’s CB2 and neighborhood residents called for DOT to implement safe space for bicyclists into the reconstruction project for W. Houston St.

At last month’s CB2 Traffic & Transportation Committee meeting, Ryan Russo and Josh Benson of DOT presented an alternative proposal for a bike route based on parallel streets, Bleecker St. and Prince St., citing safety concerns particularly involving turning traffic and trucks on W. Houston St. The board initially was skeptical that there was nothing DOT could envision to make W. Houston St. safe for the many cyclists that use Houston St., but Russo and Benson were firm that the reason they could not propose a plan for Houston St. was safety-based and not on DOT’s insistence of accommodating increasingly heavy traffic volumes.

Now this month, at the Tuesday, April 10 meeting of the CB2 Traffic & Transportation Committee, the second item on the agenda is a public discussion of the DOT’s proposed alternative plan.

It is crucial that supporters of the plan make their feelings clear at this committee meeting to counter arguments that no one favors this plan for bike lanes or that there will be negative effects of removing parking from several blocks. This alternative plan in fact has many benefits for cyclists, allowing for designated space on streets that are much more pleasant to ride on than Houston St. while still creating a crosstown corridor that links to the Hudson River Greenway.

What you can do:

1. Attend the committee meeting and make sure that you voice your support! The meeting is on Tuesday, April 10, at 6:30pm, at the LGBT Community Services Center, 208 W. 13th St. between 7th Ave. and Greenwich Ave. (ask at the front desk for the room assignment).

2. Write a letter to DOT and CB2. Visit http://www.bikehoustonst.net to download a Word file — the first page gives you some suggested points and the second page is an outline that you can fill in with a few sentences of your own. Then email it back to info@bikehoustonst.net.

  • ln

    Well this posting makes no sense–where do you stand? Houston St. bike lane or Prince/Bleeker? The DOT is NOT planning to do both, they are trying to get out of making Houston St. safe! Seems like you agree with the DOT that Houston should never be biked and never made safe? And as I understand it, Ian Dutton has always pushed for river to river Houston St. Bike Lanes not a diversion onto Prince and Bleeker.

    The DOT plan to take bikes and all other traffic calming devices off Houston St so that it can become a newly paved speed-way is a big mistake. How does the DOT plan to protect pedestrians from these fast-turning killer trucks? Physically separated N-S Houston st. bike lanes would be a big step torward protecting both cyclists and peds.

    Bleeker and Prince are too congested and do not go river to river, so they do not offer the same safe and complete passage that physically separated Houston St. bike lanes will offer. So cyclists are be pushed back onto an even more dangerous Houston St. to get across manhattan completely & quickly and the carnage will continue. I urge everyone to think carefully about what the DOT is trying to do.

  • DOT is bending over backwards to avoid inconveniencing drivers or slowing down traffic on Houston Street. I live at Avenue C and 2nd Street in the East Village, and I feel like I’m risking my life every day when I ride my bikes on Houston or when I cross the steet on foot as a pedestrian. Neither the Bloomberg Administration nor the DOT give a damn about the safety of pedestrians or cyclists on Houston Street. The DOT proposal for Bleeker/Prince is simply a calculated attempt to divert attention from the issue of safety on Houston Street for cyclists and pedestrians alike.

  • Sorry Arron, but I say screw the Prince St plan, I think it is not favorable to cyclists. I totally disagree that the Prince St is a better plan – I want to see the lanes on Houston where they are needed and where cyclists will automatically ride.

  • Classic political manuever – divide and conquer. And it seems to be working. Can we punt this until there is a new commissioner?

  • Ian

    Unfortunately, I am in Ireland right now and have limited internet access.

    Let me summarize really fast. We spent an hour grilling the DOT bike program manager and director of alternative modes – the non-car sliver of DOT – about why they were avoiding the Houston St. solution. They said in no uncertain terms that they – not the car people – were behind this, and that they could not find a design solution to make truely protected space for cyclists on Houston St.

    There are so many ways to debate this – and I’m sure y’all will. The basis of their arguement is that what is killing and injuring people on Houston is turning traffic, and that there are just too many intersections with too many turns, and too many trucks, to make a safe Class I lane. I can’t say I totally agree, but I don’t totally disagree.

    Could something be done? Make Houston St. all no-left-turns? Maybe…but I know where this has gone in the political arena, and the only place that an edict can come from now is the mayor’s office (Bloomberg or Doctoroff), and thus far they have chosen not to get involved. Even the new commish would have to overrule the engineering staff and even the bike program, and that would take a bit of political will. And ultimately, if this is to be part of the Houston St. reconstruction, we have to have the redesign done in a scale of months.

    I am taking a “take what we can get” attitude? I’m afraid so. The “alternative plan” does have several benefits (and, yes, some gaping holes). But we’re not even going to get that far – like, removing 160 parking spaces for more sensible streets – unless we at least advocate for this as a starting point in the neighborhood. SoHo streets are so disfunctional, this should be considered just a step.

  • flp

    soho streets are disfunctional? just think of how much more disfunctional they will be when houston street becomes the highway that we all fear and was robert moses’ wet dream!

    left turns be damned, install the houston street bike lane NOW!!!!

  • Thanks for clarifying Ian.

    I hope the bike community can find consensus on this. I’ve seen disorganized and unfocused advocacy result only in frustration all around. If we take Russo and Benson at their work and they truly believe this is what’s possible, then I think the bike community should seriously consider this plan as a step in the right direction. It’s not perfection, but it’s what’s on the table right now.

  • ln

    Replace number 2 with this:
    2. Express yourself in writing!
    Contact CB2 cb2manhattan@nyc.rr.com. or 3 Washington Square Vlg Ste 1A NYC 10012-1801 fax (212) 979-2272 and phone (212) 254-5102 to voice your opinions on this issue.

    Contact Ian Dutton, CB2 member and founder of Bike Houston Street info@bikehoustonst.net and ask him to change his mind about removing his support for a Houston Street Bike Lane.

    Contact TA info@transalt.org and tell them how you feel about changing their stance on a Houston Street Bike Lane.

  • just saying

    Great ln, you are sowing the seeds of continuing the status quo and setting this area back 10-15 years.

    Where might we reach you to express our dissatisifaction?

  • ln


    Just to realize where they are now, lets recall where they were at the end of August

    Many elected officials rallied around making Houston Street safe for cyclists and pedestrians. Review them here find their contact information and call them on it!

    It is not acceptable to accept DOT’s view that they cannot make a street safe!

  • flp

    say what, just saying?

    in case you have not been following, it is in the hands of cb 2 now to decide on what options to consider, so what is wrong with contacting them? also, ian dutton did do a big flip flop on the houston street bike lane issue, and this is a big reason why cb2 and DOT are entertaining the ridiclous bleecker/prince streets option! just look at the name of his domain in his e-mail address. he should change his viewpoint and NOT compromise. his (and many others’) compromise simply falls in the hands of the DOT and city’s attempt to pander to motorists and truckers!

    DEMANDING a bike lane for houston is what cyclists want. cyclists are the ones to be considered here! a bike lane on houston sreet will benefit local residents and pedestrians because it will provide a modicum of traffic calming!

    btw, just saying, are you willing to divulge your contact on this page for all to write you and complain what a short sighted point of view you appear to be taking? probably not. for the record, i am not willing to divulge mine, thank you very much!

  • John

    Let’s keep our eyes on the prize — a bike lane on Houston Street. On my way to work today, I counted the number of lanes on Houston Street. If you count the parking lanes, the street is 8 lanes wide! There is plenty of room to put bike lanes on Houston, especially if the phrase “Share the Road” means anything. Anybody up for an impromptu grassroots demonstration on Houston Street to drum up some coverage in the local media and to put some pressure on DOT and Bloomberg? Let’s turn the heat up a bit.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    When I bike-commuted in Soho (Williamsburg Bridge to Sixth Avenue) it was on Broome and Grand streets, and I never had a problem. I don’t see a pressing need for bike routes in this area. Traffic generally moves slow enough on Prince and Bleecker that a cyclist can take the whole street and not inconvenience anyone.

    I do see a pressing need for traffic calming and human-scale streetscapes on Houston Street, both for cyclists and pedestrians. The proposed Houston Street bike lane seemed like a possible way to do this.

    If the DOT won’t do it, my question is not, “well, where can we put the bike lane?” but “how else can we calm Houston Street?” If they won’t do anything about that problem, I see nothing wrong with saying, “well, then we won’t support any of your alternatives.”

    The only advantage I can see to the Bleecker/Prince plan is the removal of parking, but in that regard it has the potential to alienate motorists without much benefit to cyclists, and it could encourage motorists to speed as well.

    My understanding about the Bike Boulevards in Berkeley was that one key feature is that in particular areas, the street is closed to motorized through traffic, with a barrier or a change of direction, but cyclists are allowed to continue through. Can anyone confirm this? And am I right that the DOT plan for “bike boulevards” on Prince and Bleecker streets involves no such restriction on auto travel?

  • Clover

    Through all the meetings about Houston Street bike lanes, I too felt that it was best to find some way to protect cyclists on Houston.

    I attended the committee hearing with the DOT presentation of the alternate Bleecker/Prince routes, and I must say that the DOT changed many minds that evening with all of the specifics as to why West Houston is not a good option for a protected bike lane. It is not a flip-flop if you research an issue, gain more information, and change your mind.

    The Bleecker/Prince alternate route is a viable option, and if the cycling community attacks each other from within, we may lose our opportunity to make improvements to the DOT’s proposal.

    Let us learn a lesson from the Democrats and not eat our own for lunch.

  • bikah

    hmmm, how many people on this and other threads supporting the blckr/prnc option are DAILY hardcore cyclists?

    just checkin’ to see where the division in the ranks may lie.

  • Here is what I told Will of NYTurf today:

    DOT’s Ryan Russo and Josh Benson made a strong case for solving the Houston Street safety problem by using Prince and Bleecker as parallel routes. I was impressed by the thoughtfulness of their plan and the clear understanding of cyclists’ needs that went into their planning. I think it’s a good plan and it could work well.

    DOT has made clear that it will not put a bike facility on Houston Street at this time. They are convinced that a Class I facility on Houston Street is not safe. It doesn’t seem to me that any amount of public pressure will move them from that decision or convince one of their engineers to sign-off on the idea.

    Personally, I don’t want to wait 1,000 days until the end of the Bloomberg Administration and who knows how long after that for safe cycling across Lower Manhattan. So I’m willing to give this plan a shot. Russo and Benson are both daily bike commuters, smart guys and up-to-date on the latest urban planning thinking. I trust that they have cyclists’ best interest in mind.

    I think the cycling community’s efforts would be better spent moving on to the next bike lane battle and fighting the opposition that’s going to show up when neighborhood residents and merchants find out that they are losing nearly 200 on-street parking spaces.

  • Clarence

    I am leaning towards what the DOT has presented on Prince, etc. It is not every day you see that many parking spaces removed to accommodate cycling. If you look at it from that aspect, that’s HUGE. And if this plan has any amount of success (and KEY: the store owners do not lose any revenues, which they won’t since almost all don’t come by car) then this model can be used by other areas of the city looking for creative solutions.

    That will go an enormous way of helping alot of people beyond the CB2 area and thus is why I could be convinced this is the best choice right now and since the turnaround on this would seem swift, I’d take it.

  • John

    And what about those of us who live in the East Village? How exactly does the DOT plan make East Houston safer for pedestrians and cyclists like me who live on the Lower East Side? Houston is one of the widest streets in the entire city, and I see no reason why a couple of lanes can’t be devoted to cyclists. I support the proposal for Prince and Bleecker, but I will also continue to lobby the city for bike lanes on Houston. If the city can put a buffered bike lane on Eighth Avenue, I see absolutely no reason why the city can’t devote a few feet of precious pavement for such lanes on East and West Houston. I guess Bloomberg and DOT aren’t truly committed to pedestrian safety, giving New Yorkers cleaner air, and reducing greenhouse gases before catastrophic climate change occurs.

  • dreamon

    Put an elevated bikeway over the Houston median from the Hudson to the East River. It would be a blast and real safe, and hopefully, the first of many.

  • I can see several scenarios:

    1. Only accept Houston St bike lanes now and reject the Bleeker/Prince solution.

    Success would be many years away even if the stars align as Aaron points out. And then it would be over the objections of the traffic engineers who would consider it an orphan, let it fail and then say “I told you so”.

    I truly believe Ian and everyone else has done yeoman’s work in trying to make this happen. But there comes a point where advocates need to recognize a relatively good deal on the table and take it.

    2. Get behind Russo and Benson’s plan and let them own it and make it work.

    If it fails, it puts more pressure on a Houston St. lane down the road or for them to not use bleeker and Prince as through streets for cars. This would be around the same time as a new Mayor would be taking office anyway.

    If it is a success, this could be a model for the rest of the bike network.

    In terms of time, I don’t think we are losing anything by taking a chance on the Bleeker/Prince solution.

  • Steve

    I live uptown and I usually don’t comment on issues affecting roadways I don’t often use–like Houston–but . . .

    It seems that a number of the hard-core “Class I Houstonites” are not just trying to win optimal bicycling infrastructure but also trying to achieve other goals, such as pedestrian safety, general traffic calming, traffic reduction, and even (reading between the lines) a symbolic victory over the forces of motoring. I sympathize with all those goals. Often, bike infrastructure projects are a great way of dovetailing them into a single agenda. But it seems like that is no longer the case with this particular project, based on the comments of those somewhat inside the process (see comments of Ian D. and Aaron).

    Will (#3) says bicyclists will “automatically” choose Houston. I think that’s too simple. I have taken Houston cross town when I am alone, and found it full of aggressive, impatient and poorly-skilled motorists who think they are on a controlled access highway. Yeah, it would be great to “calm” (i.e., “tame”) this roadway by taking some lanes away, but short of that, it’s going to remain stressful and dangerous for bicyclists.

    Even with a Class 1 bike lane, I don’t think I would ever take my kids on Houston (and yes, #15, I am a “daily hardcore cyclist” but I am also a parent and usually have at least one child with me). I would always stick to Prince Street or its equivalent. I doubt there are many parents that would disagree.

    I understand (even from a “pure” bike infrastructure perspective) that Houston has advantages over the side streets. There is too much competition on side streets, not only with double parked cars but also with pedestrians who are far more inclined to cross mid-block. If the Prince/Bleecker option is taken, the bicyclists who use that route will have to persistently and endlessly remind other road users of the bike lane rules. But the trade-off for this inconvenience is the superior safety and reduced stress the side streets offer. There are many bicyclists (both hard-core daily bicyclists and occasional bicyclists who might step up to daily bicycling) who are willing to make this trade-off. And the experienced urban cyclists will still have available to them the superior speed (and, let’s face it–the thrill) of Houston when they want it.

  • ln

    Thats 160 parkings spaces on two bike routes proposed to be removed, theres around 12 parking spaces per block on the shortest blocks. You do the math.

    I dont accept an either/or alternative. Why not bike lanes on Houston, Prince and Bleeker? I support all and more bike lanes! Bike lanes on Houston would save lives and bike lanes on the side streets that are already easily transversed by cyclists are great but avoid the real issues on Houston.

    Its a life or death decision here. Will the DOT and CB2 put up signage on Houston telling cyclists to move off that road because it will never become safe? I dont want to shed more tears for dead cyclists on Houston St. Do you?

  • More Bikes More Often

    Keep fighting for Houston lanes. It took ten years for the 8th Ave lane to happen. Until then take the Prince st route as useful in its own right. Get more cyclists on the street and you’ll have a more powerful constituency to get Houston lanes.

    Houston will always be the big prize, because big arterials have better light progressions and are much faster cycling routes. When given the choice most cyclists pick faster over safer.

  • jimbob

    Dreamon: “Put an elevated bikeway over the Houston median from the Hudson to the East River. It would be a blast and real safe, and hopefully, the first of many.”

    That doesn’t help people making non-river-to-river trips on Houston Street, which I think constitute the vast majority of Houstin St bikers.

  • jimbob

    More Bikes More Often: “When given the choice most cyclists pick faster over safer.”

    Even if that’s the case, you are talking about EXISTING bikers, not new POTENTIAL bikers. Do you want more people to bike or not? If so, you have to face the fact that the reason most people who are not regular bikers don’t bike more is because the safety issues frighten them (especially in NYC), not because it isn’t fast enough for their purposes.

    Your language exhibits the same spandex-jock-biker mentality that is currently holding back biking from being a legitimate and widespread form of transportation in this city.

  • I’m with jimbob on that one.

    I used to be a fast, fit, commuter cyclist.

    Now I’m a slow, out-of-shape, father of two cyclist.

    It’s remarkable how much that life change has changed my outlook on the kind of bike facilities that I’d like to see in NYC.

    What the typical bike advocate or “hardcore daily cyclist” wants, isn’t necessarily the thing that’s going to enable me to ride a kid to school on the bike or allow an older person to pick up groceries on a bike.

    I think our ultimate, long distance goal in NYC should be to have a city where your granny feels safe riding her bike. I saw it in Copenhagen. I know it can be done…

    And, yeah, physically separated lanes are a part of that vision for sure.

  • Steve


    As you can tell from my previous comment I agree with your point, but MBMO is right that we should not get caught in the “either/or” box. I would be the first to protest against any attempt to kick bicyclists off roadways and into bike lanes. Current NYC rules allow bicyclists to use a traffic lane rather than a bicycle lane in virtually every circumstance where that choice would be reasonable.

    As far as continued advocacy for a Houston Calss I after a Class II is installed on Prince/Bleecker–DOT would try to resist on the ground that the Class II obviates the Class I. But that is ridiculous. If there were serious momentum for a Class I on Houston, all DOT would need to do is remove the thermoplast on Bleecker/Prince and the supposed reduncancy would be cured. And if there was a viable design for a Class I on Houston that was truly safe, I would support that project at the cost of removing the Class II, because of the practical and symbolic significance of a Class I crosstown route on Houston.


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