Has DOT Decided Against Designing a Safer Delancey Street? [Updated]

Plans for a new set of fences at the base of the Williamsburg Bridge will slow down cyclists exiting the bridge and push them towards taking Clinton Street rather than Delancey. Image: ##http://gothamist.com/2011/09/02/behold_the_future_williamsburg_brid.php##NYC DOT via Gothamist##

Three concrete walls will soon surround the Manhattan entrance to the Williamsburg Bridge, as reported in Gothamist and the Villager. The construction, already underway and due to be completed at the beginning of next year, is part of a Department of Transportation effort to force cyclists coming down the ramp from the bridge to slow down and choose to ride on quieter side roads rather than dangerous Delancey Street, which will remain unchanged.

The redesign of the bridge approach, set in place with concrete barriers and metal fencing, is built to last. Does the project signal that DOT isn’t planning to take action to calm down the deadly traffic on Delancey?

Under the new design, three-foot concrete walls will surround the median at the foot of the Williamsburg bike and pedestrian path. Small gaps in the wall will provide access to crosswalks and bike lanes, but the narrow openings will compel cyclists coming off the bridge to slow down considerably, if not stop completely.

DOT wants cyclists heading east-west to take Stanton, Rivington, or Grand Street rather than Delancey, which is one of the most dangerous streets in the city and does not have a bike lane. Image: NYC DOT

In addition, a curved fence will guide cyclists headed into Manhattan north onto Clinton Street. From there, cyclists can connect to bike lanes on Rivington and Stanton Streets, one and two blocks north of Delancey. Less traffic, slower vehicle speeds, and painted bike lanes make those streets safer to ride on.

In contrast, Delancey is one of the most dangerous streets in the city. A pedestrian and a cyclist have been killed on Delancey already this year, according to Transportation Alternatives, and 134 pedestrians and cyclists were hit by cars on the street between 2008 and 2010.

Helping cyclists find the safest route off the bridge, even nudging them towards that route, is all well and good, but it’s likely that many cyclists will still end up on Delancey. “People want to take the most direct route to where they’re going,” said Caroline Samponaro, the director of bicycle advocacy for Transportation Alternatives. “Even though there are currently markings sending people to use Clinton Street, people continue to use Delancey Street.”

And even if every cyclist detoured onto Clinton, the wide expanse of Delancey would remain a mortal threat to pedestrians. A safety fix for Delancey itself remains necessary, with or without the latest construction at the bridge. The area’s entire political delegation — Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, State Senator Daniel Squadron, Borough President Scott Stringer and City Council Member Margaret Chin — have requested that Delancey be made safe for Lower East Siders.

Said a DOT spokesperson over e-mail:

“This railing is being installed to guide bikers to the lanes on Clinton Street – where they can connect to east-west routes – before they reach the crosswalk. A similar design has been in place on the Manhattan side of the Manhattan Bridge for several years and has proven very effective at separating bikes coming off the bridge from pedestrians on the local sidewalk. The concrete barriers are being installed to prevent unauthorized vehicle access to the pedestrian and bike path, and similar steps have been taken on the other side of the bridge and at other East River bridges. Countdown signals were recently installed along Delancey to help pedestrians cross the street safely, while a network of bike lanes has been installed on Suffolk and Clinton streets (north-south), Rivington and Stanton streets (east-west), and on Grand Street (east-west), providing convenient, direct and safer access to and from the bridge for bike riders.”

A redesign of the actual street, not just the approach to the bridge path, would have to grapple with the fact that Delancey Street is overrun with Williamsburg Bridge traffic. Four motor vehicle lanes in each direction lead to and from the untolled bridge, which also sees more bike traffic than any other bridge in the country. “It’s not a unique problem. Every bridge point is a vital, high-demand corridor,” said Samponaro, who pointed to Canal Street and Queens Boulevard as other wide, dangerous roads leading into bridges. Hoping that all pedestrians and cyclists will simply leave Delancey to motor vehicles, however, isn’t a solution. Said Samponaro, “You can’t will people away from a street.”

  • Dov

    Maybe we can get Marcia Kramer to do a favor for cyclists and get this design scrapped.  It worked in Borough Park.

  • Mike

    It’s pretty clear that the overall goal of this project is not, as you say, forcing cyclists onto Clinton, but rather an extension of the Army Corps of Engineers bike/ped path oversecuritization that has already been done at the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges.

  • m to the i

    Sorry, I have to comment on this again…

    Sad!  Cyclists are funneled through narrow cracks in a concrete wall, pedestrian/cyclist conflicts are exacerbated, no changes are made to change driver behavior, and an actual solution to the problem will be harder to realize in the future.

    But really, why is this plan not up on the DOT website?  When was this plan presented to the community and community boards for input?  How come only projects that affect car lanes require community notification and support?

  • Danny G

    Any reason why this doesn’t extend to Suffolk Street?

  • m to the i

    Danny,
    I assume this is why.

  • m to the i

    Danny,
    I assume this is why.

  • Bolwerk

    Know what else Delancey Street is missing? Surface rail. For now, it’s a doormat for the suburbs.

  • Bolwerk

    Know what else Delancey Street is missing? Surface rail. For now, it’s a doormat for the suburbs.

  • The Truth

    At least this will keep the NYPD from using the bridge path as their personal parking lot!

  • Peter Meitzler

    I’m no design expert, but the user flow presented in this mockup will cause backups for peds and cyclists up and down the bridge, and across Delancey as they line up to pass in single – file mode to fit through these concrete shoulders.  In other words, it will take longer for groups of peds to clear the crosswalk because they have to squeeze through the pinch points.  Same for cyclists through their pinch points.  This could leave vulnerable road users waiting in lanes of traffic while pinch points clear.  A variation of this is occurring right now if you look at the Manhattan side, where construction barriers ruin lines of sight and create pinch points.  The extension to Suffolk Street (noted above) (and even farther) is a good idea because it provides for overflow.

    Q: why not use landscaping to direct traffic rather than concrete?

  • just 6 short blocks from the base of the bridge to the redesigned allen street mall with protected lanes….sigh…. If only we had east river tolls, perhaps vehicle traffic on the bridges would be trimmed enough to allow DOT to reclaim a full lane and continue the bike/ped path all the way down Delancey.

  • Anonymous

    @f3df9e0d933274e9f20d1550cc2005b0:disqus 
    I’m not a design expert either but I can confirm that with the “temporary barriers” in place that indeed there have been backs ups.

    I frequently cross Delancey (not to get on the bridge, only to cross the street) at Clinton Street and ever since they put in those small temporary gates, I’ve frequently had to wait on Delancey for peds/bikers to funnel through/get out of the way. 

    So yah, this will guarantee that I’ll have to take two lights each time to cross (Maybe I’ll cut over to Allen sometimes, but, I don’t like crossing Essex on Stanton either). 

    Oh, and the “vaunted” approach on Suffolk ALWAYS has a cop car or police traffic van parked in the way.  And the narrow northbound egresses, always have cars blocking them when they have the red light. 

    This has got to be one of the absolute worst designs.  WTF are they thinking.  This is really going to impact me in a negative fashion.  The Bridge simply has too much traffic to funnel everyone into such a tight space.  

  • In light of all the fatalities I’ve pretty much given up riding on Delancey Street. Instead I take that sorry mess that used to be the Grand Street Bike Lane over to Clinton and go one block north to the bridge. By the time I reach Delancey and Clinton there’s usually a half dozen or more bikes and several pedestrians either trying to get to the bridge, or maybe just trying to cross Delancey. Then on the bridge side there’s usually an equal number waiting to exit. This anti-terrorist box won’t only create a bottleneck for cyclists and pedestrians trying to enter the Willy B, but for anyone who simply wants to cross Delancey without going a block to the east, or to the west.
    But what if something actually happens on the bridge and police, ambulances, or even something as mundane as a snow plow needs to gain access? Are those presumably retractable bollards going to come down in time? Will they be able to maneuver around the curved fence? This looks more like an old school pin ball machine than the approach for major East River crossing.

  • Anonymous

    As someone who rides a lot, but only occasionally into Manhattan, and always to different destinations, I have to say the bike lanes downtown are pretty confusing.  They’re completely worn away half the time, or are obscured by parked vehicles, and seem to just end suddenly in certain places.  People who haven’t memorized the maze, current state of detours, potholes, construction, parking regulations, etc. are going to have a hard time following any plan unless it is either simple and obvious, or bike lanes are striped on nearly every street.  Just saying.

  • Pete

    Do we have any sense of how wide those gaps in the concrete are?  The perspective makes them look like they’re about wide enough for one bicycle, no more.  That’s going to be a huge mess.  BAD IDEA.

  • Rob Green

    Are there design standards for bicycle and pedestrian engineering? They must call for a certain amount of space for heavily used shared paths. The newspapers says Janette Sadik-Khan is a hero to bicyclists and pedestrians. So why would she approve an inhumane design that crams them together like cattle?

  • Rob Green

    Are there design standards for bicycle and pedestrian engineering? They must call for a certain amount of space for heavily used shared paths. The newspapers says Janette Sadik-Khan is a hero to bicyclists and pedestrians. So why would she approve an inhumane design that crams them together like cattle?

  • This design leaves no room for error. If you get caught at the end of a light cycle and a car decides to run or jump the light, you have to squeeze through a narrow opening that looks barely wide enough for one bike to fit through at a time. If it’s blocked, you have a choice: ditch your bike and jump over the concrete, or get killed.  It’s not the cyclists backed up inside the barrier that I’d be worried about, it’s the cyclists trapped outside of it.  DOT needs to widen the openings.

  • Joe R.

    The people who designed this had to be high on crack.  The most sensible design would be either a median bike lane straight down Delancy, or better yet a flyover junction all the way to the 1st Avenue bike lane.  Either one of those options would let cyclists safely carry through the speed they build up on the down ramps, instead of slamming on the brakes, possibly blowing out a tire due to heat build up.  This horrible design is just an accident waiting to happen, as well as a major bottleneck.

  • Joe R.

    Oops-last post should have read “a flyover junction all the way to the Allen Street bike lane”.  I forgot 1st Avenue doesn’t extend that far downtown.

  • Joe R.

    Oops-last post should have read “a flyover junction all the way to the Allen Street bike lane”.  I forgot 1st Avenue doesn’t extend that far downtown.

  • daphna

    Is there any way to stop or alter this dangerous redesign?  Would a petition and thousands of letters help?  (if that could be organized)  At a minimum, even if this design goes forward, each of those openings for bicycles need to be at least three times as wide as they are depicted; this is for safety and to alleviate congestion.

    Why can the DOT make changes to worsen cycling conditions without any community input?  This contrasts with when it comes to making the streets safer for cyclists: then the DOT waits to be asked by a community board to do a study, then they go multiple times to the transportation committee of the community board and wait for an up or down vote, and then go to the full communitte board and wait for an up or down vote.  Meanwhile, the DOT waters down their plans to please the misguided community board members who do not understand road engineering.  The DOT does all of that voluntarily! By law, all they have to do is give a presentation about a planned change to the community and receive feedback.  They do not have to incorporate that feedback nor do they have to wait for a vote.  I am so frustrated that the DOT voluntarily lets community boards slow down, water down or cancel bike safety road features (such as protected lanes).

    I do not understand how the DOT can use a different standard (meaning do it on their own judgment and not use community input) when it comes to changes that make it worse for cyclists.  The DOT should use the same procedure (either use community input or don’t) for both putting in or erasing a bike lane. The DOT took the bike lane on Bedford Ave. in Brooklyn & on Father Capodanno Blvd in Staten Island without giving the community any warning.  This double standard is very unfair.

  • Andrew

    This is awful.  There are eight wide lanes for cars, but pedestrians and bicycles have to line up to pass through narrow openings in a barricade.

    This is a dangerous are because there are too many motor vehicles (because we effectively pay people to drive this way instead of avoiding the dense Lower East Side) and because it’s considered acceptable for drivers to ignore traffic laws.

    The best way to solve the first problem is to impose congestion pricing or bridge tolls; if that’s not feasible, simply knock out one lane in each direction.  Traffic will be hellish for a few months, but it will eventually settle down.  Normally I’d be worried about buses getting stuck in traffic, but the B39 was discontinued last year.  (I guess Essex and Allen would need bus lanes approaching Delancey.)  Also, adjust the traffic signal timing to give pedestrians more time to cross – even six lanes is pretty wide.

    The only way to solve the second problem is through enforcement.  Red light cameras are easy and effective but not sufficient.  There also need to be police officers present around the clock, arresting (yes, arresting) drivers who threaten, let alone injure or kill, pedestrians and cyclists.

    Incidentally, could DOT work with NYCT to reopen the old subway exit on the south side of Delancey?

  • Jargonizer

    Channelization run amok.

  • Anonymous

    Totally agree with Joe R. I posted this to the Villager (http://thevillager.com/villager_436/abridgeplan.html) earlier today:

    Wouldn’t it make sense to continue the two-way bike path down a middle
    protected median in Delancey, all the way to Bowery? The “meet up area”
    at the foot of the bridge is guaranteed to create a congested mess AND
    it just dumps cyclists onto adjacent streets that are not well set up
    for cycling and are not the destination of many of the cyclists.
    Instead, create a traffic-light controlled median along the length of
    Delancey, from which cyclists can turn onto whichever north-south street
    they need to get to. Plus it would create a better pedestrian refuge
    area in the median.

  • moocow

    I think we should use this as the impetus to get loud and in front of the DoT. NYCDoT has made huge strides in terms of ped bike safety, but it’s not unique, it’s not new, this is nothing compared to how Europe treats non-drivers. I think this confused “improvement” should be the rallying call, no more prostrating ourselves, we all need to go after DOT. How many bike lanes have faded? How many lanes just stop, right when they are needed most? ( by port Authority or the Jay St, Manhattan bridge approach in Bklyn). Cars aren’t going to “respect us if we respect them”. They have to be channeled and fined to learn acceptable behavior. Since we all know the NYPD will not do its assigned job, and not for the foreseeable future, we need the infrastructure to protect us. DoT got scared with the PPW bike lane stunt pulled by Schumer’s wife, that’s over, we need them to take charge again, with useful, well thought out design. Is the bike community the only group of people that believe safe passage for cyclists is more important than leaving in a row of parked cars? Certainly seems like it.

    Come on JSK, show us what you got, again.

  • Urbanis

    Why on earth does Delancey Street have 8 lanes of automobile traffic? Talk about an obesity epidemic. Put that road on a diet–now!

  • carma

    you cant shrink the 8 lanes of auto traffic on delancey b/c the willy b brings in 8 lanes of auto traffic.  you will have created a bottleneck by reducing any manhattan bound lanes which will extend all the way to the bqe.  Brooklyn bound delancey traffic “may” have a lane removed and it probably wont have any affect b/c the bqe will already be backed up headed westbound.

    the best design would be to extend the bike traffic down the center median of delancey as folks have mentioned, but that would involve ripping up a LOT of trees,  and cause construction chaos.  also, dont forget a LOT more money.

  • Bolwerk

    Hell, they should make the Williamsburg Bridge one-way. Let another bridge go the other way.

  • Andrew

    @d8d46f16f380afef59ca318522397233:disqus Sure you can – just knock out a lane in each direction on the bridge.  Much of the traffic on this bridge is only passing through Manhattan because it’s the cheapest way from Long Island to New Jersey – correct the toll structure and that traffic will go elsewhere.

  • Kevin

    Really all they need to do is put a slim bike path along either side of the median. That would be a good start.

  • Anonymous

    1) Creating almost no room for traffic flow (pedestrians and bicycles) is going to cause accidents on it’s own.
    2) Having such a small area/opening for ALL the bicycle traffic being funneled up Clinton St is going to be a clusterf*ck during rush hour.
    3) Have you ever ridden on Clinton St? I’d almost rather take my chances on Delancey, at least there’s more than one lane to cushion you when some livery cab or gigantic SUV runs you off the road because of double-parked cars.
    4) They have all that space in between the lanes of traffic with only a tiny portion used for east-bound bicycle traffic. Why not at least create the same for bicycle traffic heading in the other direction?
    5) Are they at least going to double the amount of time people have to cross Delancey then? It’s already a borderline sprint-for-your-life situation now.
    6) Why in the world did the DOT design a steep-exit bike path off a major river crossing right into the MIDDLE of one of the largest and busiest streets in NYC in the first place? If they want to site how successful the other bike path exits are, they need to note that they also have nothing in common with the west side of the Williamsburg Bridge.

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