Bike & Ped Improvements Slated for Manhattan Bridge Approach

DOT plans to build a physically-separated two-way bike lane on this one block stretch of Canal Street at the foot of the Manhattan Bridge. The project also includes pedestrian safety fixes.

The Manhattan approach to the Manhattan Bridge, where Chinatown and the Lower East Side come together in a jumble, has long presented one of the most confusing streetscapes in the city. Pedestrians, bicycles, cars and trucks compete for space in a chaotic rush of traffic that often feels dangerous and unnavigable.

Now the city’s Dept. of Transportation is going to do something about it.

In a presentation given to the Community Board 3 transportation committee back in July (download PDF here), the DOT proposed several major improvements to the area, including sidewalk extensions, pedestrian refuge islands and decreased crossing distances for those on foot. Pedestrian safety improvements for two schools in the shadow of the bridge, IS 131 and PS 124, are a key part of the plan and have already been put in place.

The committee unanimously approved the proposal.

Perhaps the most dramatic element in the project is a "complete intersection" redesign for Canal St. at Forsyth St. This is where the bridge’s newly reopened northside bike path currently ends, at a blind corner that practically guarantees conflict with pedestrians and cyclists riding the wrong way along the one block stretch of Canal St. leading to Christie St.

The DOT’s plan will separate bike and pedestrian flows with a fence and provide a one block physically-separated bike path (with bicycle traffic signals) on Canal St. The DOT press office did not respond to questions about the project and would not say when it would be completed.

A DOT source says that it is difficult to say when the project will be completed now that it is in the hands of the sometimes slow-moving Dept. of Design and Construction (DDC). A similar fate has befallen the Sands Street bike safety improvements on the Brooklyn side of the Manhattan Bridge. Announced on June 14, 2005, the project appears to have stalled since being handed off from DOT to DDC.

Top photo: Geoff Zink. Plan and photographic rendering were pulled from DOT’s presentation.

  • Ugh. Yet again DOT tries to bolster a bad design by adding a failure fence.

  • Hilary Kitasei

    It would be nice if the project could include removal of the electronic message sign that looms up in front of the grand arch and flanking colonnades designed by Carrerre and Hastings. It is a shame that one of the greatest long views in the city is marred. How was it allowed to happen in the first place? Doesn’t the Art Commission review things like this??

    Everytime I see that structure — and the sea of billboards — I’m reminded that Canal Street became the transmanhattan expressway even without Robert Moses.

  • sarah

    What about the mess that is the Brooklyn side of the Manhattan Bridge? I almost have gotten killed several times by cars speeding to get on the BQE. Not to mention the terrible shape the streets are in.

  • Brooklyn

    This is a nice acknowledgement of actual use — that block of Canal seems lightly used by cars and trucks, at least relative to the madness that is the Bowery intersection.

    Inbound from Brooklyn, I’ve never seen a cyclist continue east on Canal. 99.9% of them will take the one-block wrong way in order to go north on Chrystie Street. The design of the ramp is retarded (as pointed out by the presentation) but these changes will ameliorate the worst hazards.

  • Al Smith

    bad design? care to elaborate, daniel?

  • mork

    It’s too bad bikes can’t just go straight from the bike path onto Chrystie, parallel to the motor traffic coming off the bridge. Going down to Forsyth and back up is where the real problem lies.

  • Ace

    Some simple signs reminding us that no peds on the uptown side and no bikes on the downtown side would be nice.

  • A much better plan would be to channel bike traffic next to the park up Forsyth to Houston Street. Forsyth is virtually traffic-free and plenty wide enough for a separated bike path along the park; it would be far safer than any of the other major alternatives (Bowery, Chrystie, Allen).

  • Hilary Kitasei

    Speaking of bike paths on bridges… I was wondering why a lane on the underutilized direction can’t be allocated for bikes which would go against the traffic (e.g., a southbound lane of the Henry Hudson Bridge in the evening, and a northbound one in the morning). Couldn’t this work on the Verrazano and every bridge without a bike lane? I noticed in the DC area how often lanes are reversed to accommodate traffic flows. Why not to accommodate bikes?

  • This is wonderful news. The Brooklyn side isn’t too great either, though, especially around the BQE…

  • Ian D

    “The DOT press office did not respond to questions about the project and would not say when it would be completed.”

    I just rode through here last Thursday and noticed the pavement markings. I was able to see that the off-street 2-way bike lane was marked off, so this news backs up my theory.

    My thinking is that if the pavement markings are already in place, the project’s implementation can’t be far off. They wouldn’t make surface markings if they weren’t planning on doing it very soon.

    While I, too, would prefer to be able to ride right off the bridge and onto Chrystie St., I understand the reasons that this is being prevented. The combination of the speed of cyclists exiting the bridge coupled with the blind turn that cars coming off the bridge make onto eastbound Canal would make for fatal conflicts. The only ways to prevent it would be to dream that cyclists would observe a traffic signal (anyone want to debate whether that would commonly happen?) or reverse the traffic direction on that segment of Canal.

  • anon

    I’m THRILLED that the DOT is doing something about this stretch at long last. It sounds like the new recruits in the agency are plugging away at fixing many of the most glaring problems in the pedestrian and bike network. Kudos to them for bringing some common sense into that agency!

  • Another component of this same project — turning excess street space into park space at Hester and Forsyth — is well underway. So I’d expect construction to proceed quickly at Canal as well.

    The real mystery is what happened to Sands Street. Has it been totally forgotten?

  • mork

    Re: Sands Street

    I took a look at it today from the B train. I could still see construction equipment being stored there.

    Hasn’t the plan always been to finish the current Manhattan Bridge repairs and then start on the bike lane there?

  • The original press release said that the Sands Street project would begin construction “in 2006” as part of the ongoing Flushing Avenue reconstruction. Nothing about any relation to the bridge work.

  • Al et al –

    the problem they’re trying to fix with the fence is that cyclists descending an abrupt 8% grade into a blind corner are occasionally hitting peds and are u-turning West onto Eastbound Canal. Now cyclists will hit a fence instead. It’s great that there will be fewer bike-ped collisions, but it’s still a crumby solution to tweak another crumby solution.

  • Bill

    do bicyclists often run into fences rather than deal with the horror of turning!?

  • government official

    The Flushing Avenue reconstruction is at least a year behind schedule which, considering the size of the project, isn’t really all that bad, although it does mean a longer wait for the Sand Street bike path.


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