DOT Lincoln Square Plan Leaves Cyclists Knotted in Dangerous Bowtie Traffic

A DOT safety plan for streets near the Lincoln Square bowtie focuses mostly on pedestrians while leaving cyclists to mix it up with cars and trucks for five blocks near the complex crossing. The proposal, which includes expanded sidewalks, additional crosswalks, new turn restrictions, and a few bike lane upgrades, could be on the ground as soon as next summer.

A DOT proposal would nibble around the edges of the Lincoln Square bowtie to make this wide-open expanse more pedestrian-friendly. Photo: DOT
A DOT proposal would nibble around the edges of the Lincoln Square bowtie to make this wide-open expanse more pedestrian-friendly. Photo: DOT [PDF]
The plan [PDF], developed after a community workshop in June, was presented last night to dozens of Upper West Side residents who crowded into the Manhattan Community Board 7 transportation committee meeting. While the proposals were generally well-received, many in attendance urged the city to do more, particularly for people on bikes. DOT staff were not receptive to extending the protected path through the intersection but said they will adjust the plan based on feedback, with hopes of securing a supportive vote from the board in January. Implementation would then be scheduled for sometime next year.

The intersection, where Columbus Avenue crosses Broadway and 65th Street, ranks as one of the borough’s most dangerous, according to crash data from 2008 to 2012. It is in the top five percent of Manhattan intersections for the number of people killed or seriously injured in traffic.

DOT’s proposal aims to reduce conflicts between drivers and pedestrians with turn restrictions and sidewalk extensions at key locations to create shorter, more direct crosswalks. The agency is also proposing to lengthen median tips and expand pedestrian islands in the bowtie. In places where it cannot use concrete due to drainage issues, DOT proposes adding pedestrian space with paint and plastic bollards.

One of the biggest changes: DOT is proposing a ban on drivers making a shallow left turn from southbound Columbus onto Broadway. The agency would add new crosswalks spanning Broadway on both sides of Columbus. With the turn ban, pedestrians and cyclists should not have to worry about drivers — except MTA buses, which are exempt from the restriction — cutting across their paths at dangerous angles.

Immediately south of the bowtie, DOT is proposing a ban on left turns from southbound Broadway onto eastbound 64th. This would allow the agency to fill the existing cut across the Broadway mall with a concrete pedestrian area. A smaller concrete curb extension would be installed on the west side of this intersection, at the northern tip of triangle-shaped Dante Park. A new crosswalk would also run across Broadway to the north side of 64th Street.

The third and final turn restriction would be for drivers going north on Broadway and turning east at the bowtie onto 65th Street, creating space for a painted curb extension on the southeast corner of the intersection. Pedestrians crossing 65th Street might also receive a leading pedestrian interval, pending sign-off from DOT’s signals division.

Once the neckdown tapers off on the east side of Broadway between 64th and 65th, the city is proposing a wide buffered area in the street — creating a prime location for double parking. An audience member noted that pedestrian volumes on this section of Broadway are very high and suggested wider sidewalks instead. DOT staff said last night they would take it into consideration but made no promises.

Today, pedestrians on Columbus must follow a circuitous route, in red. DOT's plan adds new crosswalks, in blue. Image: DOT
Today, pedestrians on Columbus Avenue must follow a circuitous route, in red. DOT’s plan adds new, more direct crosswalks, in blue. Image: DOT [PDF]
On the north side of the bowtie, DOT is proposing to replace the curbside parking lane on Broadway along Tucker Square with a 10-foot painted sidewalk extension to help accommodate crowds accessing the subway. Farmers market trucks that currently use this space twice a week would be relocated to the north and east sides of the square, which would then push bus stops to blocks immediately north and east along Columbus and 66th.

Lincoln Square BID President Monica Blum raised concerns about relocating the bus stops away from the seating and subway entrances at Tucker Square. Overall, the BID did not oppose the project as intensely as advocates had expected, though Blum said the BID would not partner with DOT on planter maintenance after an audience member suggested they be added to the project.

For years, the BID has opposed protected bike lane proposals. DOT’s plan includes some extensions to the lane, but audience members last night said because it leaves a five-block gap in the Columbus Avenue protected path, the plan doesn’t do enough to improve cycling in the bowtie itself.

Today, the protected bike lane on Columbus Avenue dumps cyclists out at 69th Street, where they must navigate a “shared” lane until reaching the bowtie at 65th Street. Bike markings disappear on Columbus Avenue south of the bowtie, in part due to a water main construction project that is now wrapping up, and reappear at 59th Street as the Ninth Avenue protected bike lane.

Under DOT’s proposal, the protected bike lane would extend to 67th Street, before becoming a shared lane for the next block, described by DOT’s Sean Quinn as “a one-block long mixing zone.” After 66th Street, drivers turning left to 65th Street would queue up in a block-long curbside turn lane while cyclists would use an offset painted bike lane. An audience member suggested adding flexible-post bollards along the turn lane to keep drivers from crossing the bike lane at the last minute, which the agency has installed elsewhere. DOT staff said they would investigate it.

The striped bike lane continues through the bowtie, where cyclists would benefit from drivers who obey a proposed left turn restriction but are otherwise stuck next to three lanes of car traffic. “We’ve gone from what was a deathtrap, or currently a deathtrap for cyclists, to something that is merely mildly dangerous,” said committee member Ken Coughlin. “You couldn’t have a protected lane that guides them?”

“No,” DOT project manager Rich Carmona replied.

South of the bowtie, DOT is proposing a buffered bike lane starting at 64th Street, before the protected path resumes two blocks later at 62nd Street. Carmona said after the meeting that DOT is still finalizing the design of these two blocks, which have heavy pick-up and drop-off volumes before and after events at Lincoln Center. A representative from Lincoln Center praised the plan generally but worried about heavy traffic near the facility’s front door. Committee co-chair Andrew Albert asked the Lincoln Center rep if he thought a buffered bike lane on the other side of the street would add to congestion. “That’s adding another degree of compression,” the Lincoln Center representative said. “We would urge a little bit more study.”

Transportation Alternatives organizer Tom DeVito praised the plan but noted that it is more modest than changes DOT has already implemented along many of Broadway’s other bowtie crossings. “I hope DOT will look at other major intersection redesigns across the city, like Madison Square Park or Herald Square,” he said, “and draw on best practices to improve the experience for all street users.”

Community Board 7 is likely to vote on the plan next month.

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