DOT Plans Safer St. Nick @ Amsterdam, With More Uptown Action to Come

dot2.jpgNorthbound cyclists on St. Nicholas at Amsterdam will have to negotiate a dogleg to reach the parking-protected lane. The southbound lane, at left, will be opposite a row of back-in angled parking. The speckled blue areas indicate new pedestrian space.

At a Monday night meeting with the transportation committee of
Manhattan Community Board 12, DOT rolled out a slew of much-needed
street improvements for Washington Heights and Inwood. Several are
still in the preliminary stage, but one major
intersection in the Heights is slated for an overhaul this fall.

crossing of St. Nicholas and Amsterdam Avenues, at W. 162nd Street, is
a hub of neighborhood activity, with access to the C train, four bus
lines, a grocery store and other retailers, as well as the Morris-Jumel
Mansion. It’s also a confusing, hazardous mess. From 2006 to 2009,
according to DOT, 23 pedestrians were injured there, while CrashStat shows scores of collisions and one pedestrian fatality between 1995 and 2005.

plans to clean up the area [PDF], replacing asphalt with green space,
shortening crosswalks, adding a protected bike lane segment, shifting
bus boarding areas, and improving commercial loading access.

Specifically, an existing Greenstreets triangle at W. 161st Street will be expanded into what are now auto lanes, and will stretch to W. 162nd Street. Northbound cyclists in the adjacent bike lane on St. Nicholas will have to contend with only one lane of drivers between W. 160th and W. 162nd. After a dogleg through the intersection, the lane picks up on the north side of 162nd as a parking-protected segment for one block. As Brad Conover of Inwood and Washington Heights Livable Streets points out, while southbound cyclists should benefit from the replacement of northbound car traffic with back-in angled parking on the 162-163 block, only northbound cyclists will have a protected bike lane.

"I am happy that DOT is redesigning this dangerous intersection and is including a protected lane," Conover told Streetsblog, "but my preference would be for protected bike lanes running north and south for the entire length of either St. Nick or Amsterdam so that a biker could ride safely from Inwood or Washington Heights to the Upper West Side or Central Park."

As for pedestrian amenities, the aforementioned swath of expanded green space will include a bus stop. And two additional new spaces are planned: a Greenstreets triangle north of W. 162nd and a pedestrian refuge in the center of Amsterdam, also on the north side the intersection. St. Nicholas will also be resurfaced from W. 155th to W. 168th, making for a smoother ride for cyclists and bus riders.

Up in Inwood, the results of the Sherman Creek traffic study are in [PDF]. Conclusion: Inwood is flooded with auto traffic (particularly around the "free" University Heights bridge) and is a dangerous place to walk. The study contains recommendations for improvements to many neighborhood intersections, but since they are expected to be revised we’ll forgo breaking them down for now. One corridor to keep an especially close eye on is Dyckman Street, where advocates hope that any overhaul will include a separated bike lane connecting east- and west-side Greenways — infrastructure that IWHLS members believe would spark a virtuous cycle in Upper Manhattan.

"The ‘corridor treatment’ for Dyckman Street from Riverside Drive to the Harlem River Drive will (I’m hoping) build momentum for a north-south bike lane," says Jonathan Rabinowitz. "Vigorous advocacy and the help of real-world examples in our own neighborhood will lead to more improvements and a safer Washington Heights and Inwood."

  • Does this officially mark the first contraflow lane in NYC (not counting two-way lanes, i.e. Kent St)?

  • rlb

    Bravo DOT for working on this underutilized intersection.
    However, I would like to point out that generally speaking, Greenstreets should not be considered a pedestrian amenity. Currently extant Greenstreets are in fact the opposite – fully preventing pedestrian usage of what would otherwise be pedestrian space. Perhaps this will be different, but then I would not consider it an expanded Greenstreets triangle, but just an expanded triangle, with a portion of it devoted to Greenstreets as opposed to pedestrians.

  • I suppose a formal study was required so that actual numbers could be used, but anyone who’s had to bike (or even walk) across the University Heights Bridge is painfully aware how much that area is flooded with traffic. Riding from the bridge to the Fordham Metro-North station can be horrific.

    Three critical transit corridors that would be greatly improved with protected bike lanes:
    * 207th St./University Heights Bridge/Fordham Rd. to Pelham Parkway bike path
    * Dyckman St greenway connector
    * Broadway/St. Nicholas/Adam Clayton Powell to Central Park

  • rlb: “Bravo” might be a little strong; CB 12 has been discussing this particular intersection and the idea of making improvements to it since October 2007.

    On the Greenstreets: there were no representatives from Parks, and the issue of greenery was framed as something that the community garden around the corner would have to contribute to, not as a Greenstreet that would be Parks land. Your overall point is astute, however; too many times the “Greenstreet” is only a peek-through park, not actual square footage for rest and recreation.

  • J

    This is a great improvement for the area, and most likely the first contraflow cycle track (if you don’t count the 2-way cycle tracks on Kent Ave or Park Circle).

    I also agree with Conover, in that protected bike lanes could easily be installed on St. Nicholas from Central Park to 168th with almost no disruption to traffic. The traffic there is light, and the travel lanes are excessively wide (16 feet), encouraging speeding. In many stretches the lanes are so wide that cars will swerve into the existing bike lane to pass, often at high speeds. There is rampant double parking in the current bike lanes, especially around 125th St & 145th St. These conditions scream for a cycle track on this well used corridor, but I don’t expect it anytime soon.

  • J

    The plans for St. Nick & Amsterdam don’t appear to be just plantings. In fact, most of the space appears to be paved and left unplanted. This is probably to save money on maintenance. Benches near the trees would really make this a destination. There are some nearby restaurants, which may be able to get some business from the outdoor seating which encourages lingering in the neighborhood.

  • There’s a short contra-flow separated lane on the East Side greenway connector in the upper 20s, as I recall, through the loading dock for that housing project.

  • LN

    I was at a meeting about this, representing the community garden. We wanted input in the plantings, not just being told we needed to maintain them without a way to do it. A way to discuss this with Parks was not presented.

    But the plan as presented will not have any benches ‘this is not a place for lingering’ I was told — and it didn’t appear to be on the CB 12 parks committee meeting the next night. So, the community wants to have input on these ‘green spaces’ but we don’t know how.

  • Even though I can be a tough critic of NYCDoT bicycle amenity designs, I really must commend them on putting the information out there for people to review in a way that is clear and comprehensive. It has been incredibly educational!

    I like this design for the most part. Nice to see them use “back-in angle parking” but I do have two concerns.

    The first is relatively minor. I’m not sure how I feel about NYCDoT “pedestrianizing” bicyclists in the “Green Streets” area. I wholeheartedly agree that Green Streets are a fantastic idea for pedestrians but routing bicyclists through these areas can cause conflicts between peds and bikers. I know bike lanes are often routed in pedestrianized areas of the street in places like Amsterdam (the city in the Netherlands, not the avenue talked about here) but there people have a much greater awareness of bicyclists and the bicycle speeds tend to be slower. Here in the US awareness is much lower and speeds are higher since most people who ride in NYC are really still the “early adopters” who tend to ride for the speed as much as they do for convenience.

    My greater concern is the bike-box at Amsterdam and 160th. I don’t understand how this will function without a protected left turn signal. Bike-boxes function okay when used on one-way streets since there is no oncoming traffic but here that is not the case. What I think would be better would be to provide a queuing area to the right to allow bicyclists to wait and make a Copenhagen Left across Amsterdam when the light turns green for traffic on 160th. You could call it a “bicycle jug-handle” (hey, I AM from Jersey!). I just don’t know if there would be enough room at that corner to designate such a space. Those bicyclists with the fortitude or opportunity to make a vehicular left could still do so if they please.

    Oh yeah! Another thing. Use my suggestion of a “bicycle jug-handle” but put it on the far (south) side of 160th. There should be plenty of room there. Then put the bike lane on the right side of 160th. This way there is no need for a second bike-box at 160th and St Nick Ave. This is one less crossing conflict for cyclists to be in. It also doesn’t leave bicyclists butts hanging out in the breeze on busy Amsterdam or searching for a safe place to wait at Amsterdam and 160th while they wait to make a Copenhagen Left.

    (BTW – The bike lane on 160th changes sides depending on what slide in the PowerPoint you look at. I’m assuming it is planned to be on the left.)

    Overall, the more I look and study bike-boxes in the US, the more flaws I find and the more I dislike them. When used in Europe there are differences in the way the traffic signals operate that make bike-boxes much more effective and safe. First, bicyclist have an advance bicycle signal that allows them to get out into the intersection before cars do. Maybe more importantly (something I forgot until now), European traffic signals have about one second of RED-YELLOW phase before the light turns green. This not only makes drivers aware that the light is about to turn green but also notifies bicyclist too. Being aware of this, cyclists know NOT to attempt to enter the bike-box right as the light turns green and to hang back of the first car to avoid a possible right-hook by an unsuspecting driver. Without RED-YELLOW phase before the light turns green bicyclists remain susceptible to this unintentional right-hook hazard.

    I like that NYCDoT is willing to try new things but I’m far from convinced that bike-boxes, in particular they way they are applied in the US, are the safest way to accommodate turning bicyclists when other design options exist.


  • Holy Moly! That comment is way too big!

  • LN

    Oh yeah the most innovative thing that no one noticed — look in front of the supermarket on st. Nich btwn 161-162nd west side of street. No parking LOADING ZONE!

  • vnm

    I don’t fully understand the dotted blue line in the diagram indicating northbound cyclist travel. Does this mean that cyclists would ride over the greenstreet island?

  • St. Nick

    The politics on St. Nicholas between 110th and 155th may not be ideal for protected bike lanes, even if the width and traffic volumes are. Between 110th and 123rd St. Nicholas is in Manhattan CB 10. Between 123rd and 155th it’s the border between CB 9 and CB 10. If memory serves there are a lot of churches and Sunday bike lane double parking going on. It seemed to be a big political chore to get the original lanes installed. Maybe somebody from the neighborhood can comment.

  • I forgot to mention that is a great relief to hear NYC DOT finally talking about installing and improving bicycle amenities in northern Manhattan.

  • I used to live at St. Nick and 140th… as far as I remember, the east side of St. Nick is fully double-parked every Sunday, as are many of the side streets. On the other hand, the sidewalk on the west side of the street is wide and intersection-free from 128th to 141st and again from 141st to 145th. If I biked I’d probably bike on that sidewalk.

  • CH

    Contra-flow or odd dogleg scenarios for a bike lane through this intersection are a bad idea. Of all intersections to target, 161-163/Amsterdam/St Nick does not seem a top priority. It’s not bad for cyclists (relatively speaking) although it is definitely dangerous for pedestrians trying to cross near the diagonals.

  • Moser

    DOT wanted to do bike lanes on Adam Clayton Powell last year and got shouted down in central Harlem.

  • Right, and in Chelsea, JSK got called anti-gay over the bike lane furor. Let’s get beyond the idea that ghetto dwellers just don’t know what’s good for them, and therefore are to be neglected until they change and act more like yuppies.

  • JSK’s bike lane proposal was labeled anti-gay as a red herring tactic by a specific group of business owners in Chelsea who were concerned about losing parking spaces. It certainly wasn’t a general outcry in the community. I suspect something similar happened in Harlem–that is, a small and unrepresentative but vocal group worried about losing free parking showed up.

  • Yep. Harlem has, what, 1 car for every 8 people? Sunday double-parking aside, it’s totally dominated by transit riders and pedestrians. I’m not sure about bicyclists, though – I don’t remember having seen a lot of bicyclists when I lived on St. Nick.

  • J

    Harlem is ripe for these types of improvements. Yes, CB10 didn’t vote for the buffered bike lanes, but given the double parking that goes on there already, buffered lanes would not be very useful. I’d bet that a protected bike lane, like the one you see in Chelsea would really garner some community support, since parents would feel comfortable letting their children ride in them.

    Offer us some serious improvements, like the ones downtown, and we’ll vote for them.

  • Pedestrian and cyclist improvements at St. Nicholas and Amsterdam Avenues almost fully installed!


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