CB 5 Closes in on Requesting Complete Streets Study for 5th and 6th Avenues

Fifth Avenue at 48th Street: Lots of space for cars; bike riders and walkers on the margins. Photo: Google Maps
Fifth Avenue at 48th Street: Lots of space for cars, with people walking and biking on the margins. Photo: Google Maps

The campaign for a more bike- and pedestrian-friendly design on crowded Fifth and Sixth Avenues has crossed its first major milestone, with Community Board 5’s transportation committee advancing a resolution asking DOT for a complete streets study.

The resolution, which passed the committee last Monday in a unanimous vote, is set to be taken up by the full board on December 12. “It’s just acknowledging that there’s a problem and that they need to be studied,” said Transportation Alternatives volunteer Janet Liff. “The proposal is really to take a look at the concept of a complete street, which includes pedestrian space, bulb outs, bike lanes, and express bus service.”

TA’s campaign for to make Fifth and Sixth Avenues safer is “emphasizing that pedestrians do come first,” Liff said. Committee chair Raju Mann also told Streetsblog that discussion of the resolution last month focused primarily on pedestrians.

Even with scarce accommodations for bicycling, Fifth and Sixth Avenues continue to rank among the busiest Manhattan avenues for cyclists. Over an 18-hour period in September 2012, DOT counted more than 5,000 people biking on the pair of avenues, exceeding every other northbound/southbound pair in Manhattan, though Eighth and Ninth Avenues, which have protected bike lanes, sometimes do see more bicycle traffic [PDF].

When activist group Right of Way painted guerrilla bike lanes on Sixth Avenue in September, DOT spokesperson Seth Solomonow said the agency would consider street design requests from the local community board. Monday’s vote puts CB 5 closer to making that request happen.

Short stretches of Fifth and Sixth Avenue are also part of Community Boards 2 and 4. Caroline Samponaro, TA’s senior director of campaigns and organizing, said approaching those boards would be a “next step” after securing support from CB 5. In addition to a coalition letter signed by block associations, commercial landlords, and small businesses, TA’s online petition for the complete streets study has garnered more than 10,000 signatures. “People are aware that on just two avenues in each direction there are these improvements,” she said. “They’re asking: ‘What about us?'”

CB 5’s committee also advanced a resolution on Monday asking local police precincts “to more vigorously enforce automobile and bicycle laws.” CB 5 includes the 18th (Midtown North), 14th (Midtown South), 13th, and 10th precincts. Liff said there was some resignation among committee members about the limited impact a resolution is likely to have on the precincts’ priorities, but the resolution passed unanimously.

The area has seen several sidewalk-jumping crashes causing serious injuries and deaths, including the crash that maimed British tourist Sian Green in August. In 2012, the district’s four precincts issued a total of 80 speeding tickets — that’s less than one every four days. Midtown North issued one summons for speeding last year, while Midtown South didn’t write any speeding tickets in 2012. Speeding enforcement has more than doubled this year, but that’s still not very significant: One driver every two days is getting caught speeding by these four precincts.

Meanwhile, this year’s small uptick in speeding enforcement is dwarfed by the number of tickets that precincts have been issuing to Citi Bike riders. In August, Midtown South launched a ticketing blitz against cyclists using the protected bike lane on Broadway, including one woman who says she was ticketed for making a turn with a green light.

Samponaro said with the resolution, the board was putting the precincts “on notice” that they must also respond to dangerous conditions of Fifth and Sixth Avenues. “The streets just don’t function well,” she said. “The design problems with the street encourage chaotic behavior.”

Update: Council Member Dan Garodnick, focusing his remarks on pedestrians, expressed support for requesting a DOT study of Fifth and Sixth Avenues. “We need the Department of Transportation to study pedestrian safety in Midtown Manhattan,” Garodnick said in a statement. “Fifth and Sixth Avenues are two of our busiest thoroughfares, and are even more crowded as we enter this holiday season. Let’s take a fresh look at this area, and consider ways to protect New Yorkers — and tourists — from danger in our streets.”


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