Skip to Content
Streetsblog New York City home
Streetsblog New York City home
Log In

First Avenue Bike Lane Designs Prove, Again, There’s No War On Cars

4:48 PM EDT on September 8, 2011

Here's a question for the tabloids: if Janette Sadik-Khan is really a "psycho bike lady," why isn't there a protected bike lane on First Avenue in midtown Manhattan? To ask the question is to answer it. Under Sadik-Khan, the Department of Transportation has been implementing more innovative and progressive policy than under previous administrations, but anything that would increase congestion remains off-limits. That's true even on First and Second Avenues, home to what is perhaps New York's most ambitious complete streets redesign.

Ryan Russo, the assistant commissioner for traffic management at DOT, said as much at last night's Community Board 8 meeting. When cyclist Paul Gusmorino asked whether it would be safe to install protected lanes on First Avenue on either end of Midtown but leave cyclists vulnerable in a shared lane between 49th and 59th Streets, Russo explained the decision to install shared lanes "reflects the reality that we're dealing with in having to tailor the design to traffic." The entire project, he said, is designed "so that we're not going to cause a traffic nightmare." Later, when a bike lane opponent argued that the narrowing of the street might slow down traffic speeds, Russo referred back to the midtown gap in the protected bike lane to show DOT wouldn't let that happen.

Bus improvements are similarly constrained by DOT's unwillingness to risk greater congestion. Russo explained last night that where the First and Second Avenue Select Bus Service runs in the curbside lane, as opposed to the more effective offset configuration, the intent was to keep travel lanes available for existing traffic volumes.

Last May, DOT bike and pedestrian director Josh Benson also said that the Midtown protected bike lane gap was created in deference to drivers. "We need all five lanes for cars," he said. On the Queensboro Bridge, as well, bus improvements were held back by the mandate to not slow private vehicles.

From a budgetary perspective, too, the projects on First and Second Avenues devote more resources to private vehicle travel than to bike or bus improvements. As part of the work, the streets will be repaved, which Russo said costs 15 to 30 times as much as the construction of the bike lane and pedestrian islands. "The cost is a fraction of just filling the potholes," he explained.

That's consistent with regular operations for DOT. As Matt Chaban reported in the New York Observer, under Sadik-Khan, DOT's capital spending has increased by 50 percent, but only 1 percent of it goes to bike lanes and pedestrian plazas.

When finished, First Avenue will boast six miles of camera-enforced bus lanes and six miles of parking protected bike lanes. It's as progressive a redistribution of street space as has been implemented anywhere in the city, yet even there, DOT won't tamper with traffic capacity. Janette Sadik-Khan isn't a radical with a war on cars; she’s an innovative department head, unafraid to try new things, who's found an enormous amount of low-hanging fruit.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog New York City

Legislation Introduced in Georgia to Fight Temporary License Plate Fraud

The bill is the most significant effort yet to stop the flow of fraudulent paper tags from Georgia car dealerships to New York City streets.

February 23, 2024

Community Board Backs DOT Road Diet for Brooklyn’s Deadly Third Av.

“This is just a beginning of what we could do to fix our community,” said one board member. “This is not done, this is not where we finish off.”

February 23, 2024

Friday’s Headlines: More Lunch Consumption Edition

Streetfilms goes to Paris. Plus more news.

February 23, 2024

Advocates Slam Albany Pols for Using Transit Fund to Encourage Driving

Gov. Hochul and state legislators in Albany are spending a congestion pricing-adjacent fund on toll rebates for drivers and showing zero interest in bus or rail, transit advocates charged.

February 23, 2024

Serious Crash in Greenpoint Again Reveals Flaws in City Design, Enforcement Against Reckless Drivers

A woman was seriously injured — and is clinging to life — because a driver with a long record of recklessness slammed into her on a Greenpoint Street as she came home with milk.

February 22, 2024
See all posts