One of the year's most exciting street safety projects is on track to get better. Thanks to a recent set of recommendations from Community Board 4, the extension of the protected bike lanes on Eighth and Ninth Avenues will include additional sidewalk expansions and on-street bike parking. Though DOT didn't adopt all of the board's ideas -- most notably, the agency is leaving a gap in the physical protection for cyclists in front of the Port Authority Bus Terminal -- on the West Side, the community board's requests are helping to build a better bike lane.
The Eighth and Ninth Avenue project, which will extended protected bike lanes from the low 30s to 42nd Street this spring and then up to 59th Street in the fall, was first approved by CB 4 last October. The chaotic Midtown streets badly need the redesign: Between 2005 and 2011, 14 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes on these blocks. In addition to the new bike and pedestrian infrastructure, the project is expected to improve safety by narrowing each travel lane by two feet.
While the community board wholeheartedly endorsed the project, it had a number of recommendations to make Eighth and Ninth Avenues even better places for walking and biking. Some of those have been incorporated into the project and are now set to become a reality.
In three locations, pedestrians packed into cramped Midtown sidewalks are going to get a little bit of breathing room. Sidewalk extensions will be added to the west side of Eighth Avenue between 42nd and 43rd Streets, the northeast corner of Ninth and 41st, and the southwest corner of Eighth and 57th, according to a draft of letter from the board to DOT, which the board shared with Streetsblog.
Even more sidewalk space could be cleared up by adding on-street bike racks in former parking spaces, or bike corrals. Believing that bicycles locked to poles and scaffolding were taking away too much pedestrian space, the board requested the corrals last fall. DOT said that the bike parking could be installed in 2013 (though the board wants them now), and would most likely be placed next to bike-share stations. The city's first bike corral was just installed last summer.
The design for the bike lane in front of Port Authority, however, will remain inadequate. Under DOT's proposal, the protected bike lane on Eighth Avenue will transition to a painted lane between 39th and 41st Streets. On the next block, cyclists will share a lane with motor vehicles turning left onto 42nd Street.
The board stated in its draft letter that it remained concerned about the safety of the shared zone. DOT has argued that as long as it keeps two left turn lanes onto 42nd Street, the shared lane is necessary to allow cyclists to continue straight.
DOT also rejected CB 4 requests to remove the pedestrian fence on Eighth Avenue and to replace mixing zones at most left turns with signals that separate bicycle, pedestrian and motor vehicle phases. DOT believes that except at large intersections, where signals will be used, mixing zones are as safe as signals and give each user more time to cross the intersection.
Though not every one of its demands was met, CB 4 is standing strong behind the plan for the two avenues. It supports the protected lanes, it wrote in its letter, not only as part of an effort to make New York City bike-friendly, but also because of their proven record of protecting pedestrians.