A Look at the Safer, Smoother First Ave in East Harlem and Upper East Side

Photo: Stephen Miller

We mentioned this briefly in a post about the bike access improvements on the Manhattan side of the Queensboro Bridge, but the redesign of First Avenue in East Harlem and the Upper East Side is completed and worth a closer look.

On October 15, DOT announced that work had wrapped up on the First Avenue project, which included the protected bike lane and pedestrian refuges that neighborhood advocates and Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito had worked so hard for. As you can see in these photos, the pedestrian crossings with islands are now a good 25 to 30 percent shorter. That’s going to make a big difference, especially for older people walking across the street.

The project also repaved the rutted, 30-year-old concrete surface of First Avenue from 72nd Street to 125th Street with fresh asphalt. The resurfacing was done using a new technique that didn’t require a costly reconstruction of the entire road, instead “applying a one-inch layer of highly modified asphalt” on top of the concrete, according to DOT. Riding on the old surface was guaranteed to send jolts up your spine. Here’s a look at the before and after:

First Avenue at 79th Street, before. Photo: NYC DOT
First Avenue at 79th Street, today. Photo: NYC DOT

Among other benefits, the completion of this project means there’s now a protected bikeway linking East Harlem to the Willis Avenue Bridge, leading to a striped bike lane on Willis Avenue in Mott Haven. If you haven’t tried out this new connection in the bike network yet, it should be an excellent route for anyone heading to the Tour de Bronx this Sunday from the other boroughs.

  • Pizza Lover

    Patsy’s Pizza, here I come! Let bygones be bygones.

  • Anonymous


  • Bluewndrpwrmlk96

    Thank you, DOT for the asphalt! No more of that cracked concrete.

  • Anonymous

    I have noticed a couple of things about this lane:

    * It’s not as especially dense with encroaching pedestrians. But the ones who choose to encroach act really, really entitled about it.

    * With the matching lane on 2nd Avenue on hold for subway construction, this lane is an incredible magnet for bike salmon.

    Even with those caveats, it’s a colossal improvement. Love it!

  • Anonymous

    I’m so glad it’s done. I remember the shock of riding up that way, when they had installed the pedestrian islands, but hadn’t repainted the lines, and the bike lane went *through* the islands. It was a real WTF moment. And since they hadn’t repainted the parking spaces, cars were parked along the curb, so you couldn’t ride inside the island where the bike lane was supposed to be, so the only alternative was in the traffic lane.

  • Anonymous

    Anyone who can look at the top photo and think “Ah! The good ole days!” and look at the bottom one and think “But what about ‘the community’? Were they adequately consulted?” is a . . . politician, I guess. Or deeply conservative, in a kind of metabolic sense.

    There are still way too many people in motor vehicles hunkered behind that light, waiting to go as fast as they possibly can and risk the lives of anyone they consider to be in their way. But at least the new structures shown in the second photo suggest that motor vehicles have to be operated within some bounds.


  • Two-Way Bike Lanes

    “magnet for bike salmon”
    When I look at the width of those protected bike lanes, I wish DOT would make them a bit wider and two-way. Like this one in Montreal.

    I know we have to worry about the door zone. Montreal didn’t seem to have a buffer on their parking-protected two-way lanes (can’t find a pic of this).

  • Can this please keep on creeping north 🙂

  • Bronxite

    A parking protected lane on Third and Willis Avenues would be nice.

  • Anonymous

    Can we get a lot of bike racks installed in front of Patsy’s so we can park safely while we gorge?

  • Bronxite

    Did anyone else notice how the women in the first picture is resting her baby carriage inside the bicycle lane on a green light? Not only is it common, but some pedestrians choose to idle inside the center of various types of bicycle like those that wait off the curb in moving lanes (pitting themselves at risk to being hit by turning vehicles.

    The city needs to launch an educational campaign regarding road safety similar to the cost of teen pregnancy posters. Male them straight forward and memorable.

  • Joe R.

    In all fairness we don’t know if that woman is moving or stopped. She might be doing the same thing I would when crossing-look both ways in the bike lane, if clear then cross the bike lane and go to the pedestrian island. Once there, I would look for motor traffic, and continue crossing if it was clear. Note that in all cases I couldn’t care less what color the light is but I will make sure not to interfere with any bike or motor traffic. Anyway, that’s one interpretation. I’m figuring the cyclist won’t get to where she is for at least 3 seconds. In 3 seconds she could easily be clear of the bike lane.

    That said, I agree that we need an education campaign to keep pedestrians from idling in bike lanes. Too many view them as sidewalk extensions. We need to frame it as a give and take thing-namely that pedestrians are appreciative when bikes don’t use the sidewalk, so they return the favor by not taking up space in bike lanes

  • Joe R.

    Oh, but we totally destroyed the wonderful, historic thoroughfare that was 1st Avenue! After all, motor vehicles played a large historical role there, even as far back as the Civil War. We need to preserve that for posterity. Begrimed, I say! Begrimed!

  • Dorian

    I was in manhattan over the weekend (visiting from Boston first time in 3 years) – I had forgotten how fast people drive in NYC – and they won’t stop for you even if you have the right of way. in Boston, motorists will stop for you (even if you’re jay-walking or jay-biking) – of course they’ll be pissed off about it, but they’ll usually stop. in NYC you’re risking your life. It’s good that more segregated infrastructure is happening, but this city needs a fundamental shift in road culture.

  • Anonymous

    And if we can change that culture, we can much more readily change the infrastructure without having nonsense debates about whether saving lives and bringing the city into some kind of equilibrium is really worth such things as, you know, the possible loss of small amounts of free parking and the *sense* that motor vehicles will move more slowly, even when they really don’t.

  • Dorian

    There’s also a huge difference in how the media portrays cyclist and pedestrian deaths between the two cities. In Boston the immediate response is “how can we prevent this from happening again” (although there’s always a handful of people casting blame, but generally the response is that it’s a problem that needs to be fixed) and in NYC it’s usually “well, that’s just the cost of living in the greatest city on earth” and a bunch of finger pointing on both sides.

    This is a fundamental difference between the two cities, and I think this change needs to happen at the leadership level.

  • tyler

    And also in all fairness, lots of mothers seem to “rest” their baby carriages sticking in the motor vehicle lanes with cars passing at 45+ mphs…. It’s related to this weird NYC disease of being unable to actually stand on the sidewalk — unfortunately, a baby carriage just makes this worse.


This Week: Turn Out for Complete Streets on the East Side

The bike lanes and pedestrian safety improvements on First and Second Avenues could finally be completed up to 125th Street as promised next year, and this week the project will face two critical community board votes. The transportation committees of the East Harlem and Upper East Side community boards will be discussing whether to extend […]