A Ride Down NYC’s “Street of the Future”



For years, Livable Streets advocates have pleaded with New York City’s Department of Transportation to just try new things. Do street design experiments using temporary materials. Give new ideas a shot. If an experiment doesn’t work, take it down, redesign it, improve it or, heck, just restore it to how it used to be. What do we have to lose? If we don’t start figuring out new ways to design and manage New York City’s streets, all we’re left with is a future of ever-increasing gridlock, pollution and honking.

Finally, under the administration of new DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, innovation is happening on New York City’s streets. And it is happening fast.

Yesterday, StreetFilms’ Clarence Eckerson was down on Ninth Avenue in Chelsea when he stumbled across DOT’s new cycle track — the first significant length of physically-separated bike path ever installed in New York City’s urban core. Though the project was announced just weeks ago, the city has already built a quick-and-dirty version using inexpensive temporary materials.

Amazing. I guess we can check this off of the Livable Streets movement’s 2007 New Year’s resolution list.

  • cmu

    Wow, brings back memories of when I used to take my son to school sitting like that (and of when I was growing up in India). Or on the carrier in back as he grew older.

    Bet this (non-white) gentleman gets plenty of nasty stares and comments for “endangering” his child.

  • mark

    Wow. Thanks DOT!

  • That separated bike lane looks pretty good. I must admit, I was a bit of a skeptic, as I actually like to ride in traffic.

    I also think that buffered bike lanes are better than separated lanes because they allow the rider to freely move in & out of traffic as necessary, while still providing a buffered zone to protect from moving traffic while riding outside of the door zone.

  • gecko

    Double wow.

    Sure beats the traffic cones during the transit strike.

    Broad implementation of this and as soon as she succeeds in a towards zero deaths campaign sadik-khan should be headed for sainthood!

  • Gargamel Tralfaz

    Yeah, when I saw it yesterday, I gulped. Then gulped again. Then rubbed my eyes. Then asked the person on the street next to me to pinch me. It was at that point I realized, yes, I was in NYC and this was indeed a separated bike lane.

  • I should clarify my previous comment…

    Although I would probably prefer to ride in a buffered lane over a separated lane (because I think a buffered lane is safer for the faster riding I like to do), I do think we need to see more separated lanes. This will definitely let more people feel comfortable riding bikes in NYC.

  • wow, it’s like a dream!!

    along these lines of cheap and temporary fixes, more bike parking could be created almost instantly by converting curbside parking spots. the new bike parking in w’burg is overbuilt and unnecessary — in portland they have lots of on-street bike parking “lots” that were converted with “temporary” materials, undoubtedly much cheaper and quicker.

    sadik-khan for mayor!!

  • steve

    This short video disproves all the specious feasibility claims against separated lanes and shows that political will (or lack of same) is the the only thing holding NYC back from a dramatic modal shift. Let’s go!

  • steve

    CMU, I’ve done what the Dad in the screen shot is doing a few times too, but concluded that it was dangerous (plus got scolded by the cops). The answer is getting that kid on a bike of his own (with training wheels if nec.) in a separated bike lane!

  • Clarence

    Thanks Steve. I was waiting for someone else to say it first. Although I am sure there will be plenty of helpful, positive suggestions to the configuration for future rollouts (I even have a few minor possibilities I’ll hold off on for now) this design looks pretty excellent and we really need to celebrate. I was dancing while editing it last night!

  • gecko

    cmu, steve, My brother is 5 years younger and when I was quite young rode him like this and his feet either got entangled with mine or in one of the wheels and dropping the bike he got badly scraped up. Not something forgotten easily.

    It’s definitely dangerous.

  • momos

    Steve – I totally agree. This video shows the way to a dramatic modal shift in NYC. Welcome to the future!

    I notice something important in this video (thanks to Enrique Penalosa and Jan Gehl’s understanding of well functioning public space). There are kids in the new bike lane. Do you EVER see kids in NYC’s on-street bike lanes? What this indicates is how the new design dramatically improves the safety and integrity of this public space.

    This whole thing makes me delirious with shock and joy. I can’t believe the DOT 1). Did this and 2). Did it so fast.

  • This is fantastic!!! Great job DOT.. Keep this up and I might start liking you full time!

  • ddartley

    I rode it for the first time yesterday. Rode the length of it.

    Please don’t take offense at my little bit of negativity, everyone; I’ve accepted that this kind of bike lane is overwhelmingly the popularly preferred way forward, and if NYC is destined, as it seems to be, to get more and more of them, the lanes will certainly withstand my criticism or naysaying. So these are broad, vague, and very far-sighted comments; I’m not trying to pick a fight!

    Keeping bikes “in their own, safe, protected zone,” is nice, but is also a bit of a double-edged sword: it ENABLES–both in the literal sense and in the addiction-psych sense–motorists to go too fast. I looked over at the cars to my right, and, even though they had less space than before, they were still going too fast, and that is what kills people.

    Motorists MUST be compelled to travel genuinely SLOWLY on every city street where they’re allowed. This kind of bike lane, even if it proliferates all over, is still very insufficient in getting us to that end. I’m worried that the cycling community’s euphoria over the lanes might make us forget that insufficiency. Much more must be done to tame cars than just the building of this kind of bike lane.

    And, now on a tangent, if one day enough IS done to beat cars down into submission and near-harmlessness, then maybe bike lanes will no longer be places whose primary purpose is to *protect* cyclists, but rather to enable THEM to go fast!

    And maybe THEN will be the time for THIS Renaissance artwork:
    http://flickr.com/photo_zoom.gne?id=1414440531&size=l

  • Holy Cow! Janette Sadik-Khan might just be the best and most effective public servant in the city right now! Somebody send her a dozen roses!

    (Hopefully the public adulation and power won’t go to her head, Robert Moses style. But I, for one, am willing to take that risk!)

  • steve

    Momos, I often ride with my 9 y/o son in on-street lanes, but I will only bring my 5 y/o daughter onto separated paths (or the CP Loop during car-free hours). I sometimes see parents with dangerously large kids in rear-mounted child seats or tag-a-longs (removable tandem attachments) in on-street lanes. I’m sure some of those parents would take the next step and allow the kids to ride along on their own bikes if cycle tracks like this were more broadly available. Here’s one kid’s view on the subject (and on the subject of the pedestrian block discussed below):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zVYxpanvjEE

    There are many different ways of promoting everyday cycling in NYC and they are not mutually exclusive, but the one that I like to focus on is getting more cycling families out on the road. Doing so creates at least three “virtuous cycles” that help reinforce cycling: (1) the parents are sure to be ferocious advocates for improved cycling infrastructure and safety once their own kids’ safety is at stake, (2) the kids will themselves becomes cyclists and perhaps advocates for cycling, and (3) increased prevalence of cycling famlies helps urban cycling shed its “weirdo” image. And all this is in addition to the enhanced “safety in numbers” effect of cycling families bring, due to the fact that they travel in small groups and therefore are even more visible, and (in my experience) inspire greater safety-consciousness among motorists than the typical lone, male cyclist. All reasons to expand the cycle track program!

    ddartley, I hear you on traffic calming but I have always believed it is important to keep the promotion of bicycle infrastructure and traffic calming separate. Both are worthy efforts but sometimes the optimal bike infrastructure does not necessarily calm traffic. For example, in the case of the DoT’s plan to establish an eastbound route on the Upper East Side, the optimal plan would have the route run through a block now closed to traffic on East 91st between Second and Third Avenues. I would not claim that this plan would “calm” traffic on the block, but neither will it materially increase it or the present any serious danger to pedestrian users of that block. See the video above for details.

  • Ian D

    Hallelujah!

    I was bike riding in Copenhagen yesterday… and like always, dreaming of New York ever grabbing the bull by the horns (or the bike by the handles)…

    I’m getting on my bike now to have a look! And as always, thanks for putting it on film for us, Clarence!

    And has anyone noticed all the butterflies that have been attracted to the plants in the new plaza at 14th St. and Ninth Ave.? Just a few months ago, it was exhaust fumes and honking… now flowers, butterflies, and people.

  • erik

    Fan-freaking-tastic! Separated is the way to go on the avenues… the big benefit is that is strongly discourages the double parking syndrome so near and dear to New Yorkers’ hearts. i can’t wait to see the first green-colored, separated lanes!

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Very impressive that it was done within weeks of the unveiling of the design.

    Unfortunately it is still, its on the wrong side of the road! Couldn’t find anyone on the APBP (Assoc. Ped. Bike Pros) list-serve who thought that left-side bike-lanes on one-way streets was a good idea except in VERY rare circumstances.

  • Andy B:

    I’m guessing it’s on the left side of the road because the right side of the road is for buses. It could cause some problems with people stepping out across the bike lane in order to access the bus stop. Also, the unseparated bike lane that it connects to is also on the left side for presumably the same reason.

  • steve

    Andy B.: Does John Pucher have an opinion on this?

  • flp

    indeed, the speed by which this plan came to fruition is un-F’ing-believable!!!!!

    alas, when i rode there is PM, i scolded a woman yapping on her cell phone that this is a bike lane, NOT a sidewalk. all she could muster was the blankest gaze. i am sure we will see more than a few of those in the coming weeks and months. argh!

  • Bink

    Love it. I’m not a New Yorker, how many blocks long is it? Or kilometers long, or miles long, or songs long…?

  • steve

    Bink, it’s seven blocks long. Just over 1/4 a mile. Symbolically, it’s huge. In reality, it’s pokey.

  • John

    I rode it today and had to dodge 2 cars!. Hopefully it’s just a temporary adjustment period….

  • Mark4

    Why isn’t that kid wearing a helmet?

  • Cousin Al

    I just rode the new bike lane for the first time. It’s short, but sweet. I love things that bring back the simple joy of going on a bike ride. It was great because cars can’t double park in the bike lane, like they do everywhere else. I did observe a bike messenger riding in the middle of traffic, not using the new bike lane. I figured that he must have been going more than the few blocks it covers. It was very nice to be out of the door zone, too. I hope they expand this new design of bike lanes and make them with more permanent dividers.

  • gecko

    There’s a post on Streetsblog somewhere from a messenger who describes how this type of lane (cycle track) will probably slow him down since he has to negotiate the slower cyclists and being out in traffic is a lot faster though obviously a lot more dangerous.

    This is where express routes and technology like those provided by an agile monorail system with hybrid human-electric vehicles can have direct application.

  • I just went out for a look; there were 4 trucks parked in the bike path, blithely loading and unloading.

    This bike path is too wide; it encourages vehicular traffic. The only viable solution is to put bollards on every single block so they can’t get through. (Emergency vehicles could be equipped with transponders to lower the bollards.) Otherwise it will be a colossal failure.

  • Gargamel Tralfaz

    Colossal failure? DOT experimenting with new separated bike lane designs even if was a colossal failure – and it is not – is the biggest success NYC has had in FOREVER!

  • steve

    Trucks are known to drive on off-street paths like this one. It happens on the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge with regularity, and on the East Side Greenway south of 34th Street. Yes, we need official enforcement, but bicyclists shoudl use direct action as well. They shoudl engage the truck drivers politely but firmly and explain to them that they can’t drive there any more. Are there signs stating “bicycles only”?

  • Actually, there are no markings indicating that it’s a bike path at all — no signs, and not even bicycle stencils on the pavement. The only stencils are arrows.

    I did tell the drivers they weren’t supposed to be there; none of them seemed to care. The Rite Aid driver said he’d be happy to park across the street if I’d carry his deliveries across the street for him.

  • steve

    I think you’ll do better with signs up stating trucks not allowed. I hope DoT gets this and erects not only the customary “Bike Lane- Bike Only” but also “No Trucks Allowed”

  • its a great start. i made a special trip to the new 9th ave bike lane on Thursdays night. it was nice to be able to look at the restaurants and store along the route, since i didn’t have to keep a wary eye out for being doored. very nice ride! i did come across a couple cars and limos that had invaded the bike lane . the nj limo driver questioned my photo of him , he was saying he was discharging a passenger , but the car was empty. he was over bs with other drivers.
    i need to find ways to file complaints against the NJ taxi and omnibus drivers. i let my guard down and was almost doored at the end of the separated bike lane. A taxi had pulled over into the zebra stripes and discharged the passengers into the bike lane. the false sense of security i had previously due to the plastic poles were missing on the final block below 15 street.
    some photos 9th ave cars and then i circled around the block to ride it another time. i ran into a lot of cars parked and a film crew blocking the northbound 8 ave bike lane
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/organize/?start_tab=sets

  • steve

    The 9th Ave. cycle track is turning into something of a tourist attraction. We visited there yesterday and ran into several other bicyclists who were doing the same thing.

    A few observations:

    1) Construction is proceeding along nicely. DoT has begun the raised median/island at the 23rd St. entrance to the track, and it appears that the median will be extended south soon. Here’s a picture:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/43954081@N00/1515481773/

    2) DoT has also recent insalled a slew of CityRacks at the curb along the track, averaging one rack every 20′ (about 50-70 racks long a 7 block stretch). If it is DoT’s plan to systematically saturate all bike lanes and paths along with grid with this level of bike parking, then Hallelujah, but if this treatment is reserved for the cycle track, then I think it is a mis-allocation of CityRacks. Here’s a picture:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/43954081@N00/1515481801/in/photostream/

    3) Shortly after entering the track at 23rd, we found we were being followed by a livery. He knew he was in a place he did not belong and he exited at 22nd. The lack of signage warning motorists not to enter the track is a serious problem. DoT has erected interim parking regulation signs on the buffer, so it should be able to erect interim “bikes only” signs as well. Failure to do so increases the risk that someone will be seriously injured or killed.

    4) There were quite a few bicyclists riding couter-flow in the track. I really wish people would not do this. C’mon folks, there is an uptown buffered lane on 8th Ave.–don’t be lazy!

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