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.

  • BBnet3000

    I rode Columbus and 9th Ave from 96th to Bleecker recently, a 4.4 mile trip. This distance is bikeable by ANY non-disabled adult. The only other people I saw riding were food delivery guys, and the number of times I was stuck in gridlock despite having a green light in a “protected” bike lane can’t be counted on two hands.

    When the DOT is being told by a Community Board that they aren’t doing enough for cycling, its a pretty strong sign that they have #ZeroAmbition for cycling in this city.

  • Lisa

    Wait, I think the DoT already studied this area, Lincoln Center. We need bike infrastructure that sincerely protects cyclists. Why is it ok to protect every other road user, but this one? Talk about civil rights. Just FYI, there are 15,000 seats at Lincoln Center. They have 700 parking spots for cars. That means the vast majority of people are arriving there by their own steam (or walking from the subway or bus). Did the DoT consider a roundabout? What would the city of Copenhagen do here?

  • Reader

    ”You couldn’t have left a few more parking spaces in?”

    “No,” DOT project manager Rich Carmona would never reply to motorists.

  • Robert Wright

    The 8th and 9th Avenue bike lanes are jokes for long sections in midtown – full of pedestrians, turning vehicles parked vehicles or just non-existent in some sections. Mind you, I rode the 1st avenue bike lane up the Upper East Side the other week and it was atrocious. There were sections where a delivery vehicle was parked blocking the bike lane and, when one left the lane to get round it, there was another delivery vehicle double-parked outside the legally-parked vehicles.

  • Transpophile

    The problem with having a five block gap in an otherwise tolerable protected bike path is that it limits the low-stress network accessibility, which is necessary for bringing more casual potential bicyclists out of the woodwork. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

    I commend the DOT for having a very thorough design with great improvements for pedestrians, but I am not convinced that a protected bike path is unfeasible. From what I understood, the primary reason why they are reluctant to put a protected path to the left of the southbound traffic on Columbus Ave (east side) is because of the vehicle left-turn conflict going from Columbus to 65th St. The standard treatment for this with a left-hand protected bike path is to split the signal phase between left-turning vehicles and straight-going cyclists. Given that they are already considering adding an eight second leading pedestrian interval (LPI) on the 30 second phase, I fail to see why this can’t be extended to a 15 second LPI and allow cyclists to use this phase as well. Perhaps they are worried about the left-turning vehicle storage not clearing during a single phase, but to me, this seems like a much more trivial concern than the safety of vulnerable road users and the promotion of cycling across the city.

  • van_vlissingen

    Why not just pedestrianize Broadway? I thought the eventual Bloomberg plan was to pedestrianize all the diagonal streets.

  • BBnet3000

    Meanwhile the DOT wants to focus on putting more low-quality infrastructure in Queens because Commissioner Trottenberg (who I challenge to actually ride any of these lanes a handful of times) says that the core is done.

    It looks like even during the Sadik-Khan era they were paying lip service to comprehensiveness and connectivity while leaving tremendous gaps in the worst places.

  • J

    “DOT staff were not receptive to extending the protected path through the intersection” Pretty much sums up the Trottenberg DOT. They give people on bikes the least protection in the places they need protection the most.

  • J

    Precisely! 20 disconnected sections of low-stress bikeway does not equal a low-stress bike network. It’s like 20 subway lines that don’t connect to each other. Sadly, DOT doesn’t seem to understand this point.

    Also, remember when DOT said that they absolutely needed to expand the number of lanes on Columbus in this location? Thankfully they’re now going back to the lower number of lanes. Why does it take 5 tries to get this right?

  • J

    Well, I can tell you that nowhere is Denmark or the Netherlands are you required to ride sandwiched between a lane of through traffic and a lane of turning traffic. Who thinks that setup is a good idea? Would any of the planners/engineers let their kids ride bicycles there?

  • J

    Seriously, for bicyclists, it’s like no one at the city is even trying any more. I’ve been to presentations folks from DOT pat themselves on the back and talk about how amazing mixing zones are. Trottenberg thinks the core is “built out”, the NYPD continues to not give a shit and DeBlasio could care less, all despite a supposed “Vision Zero” policy. What a joke.

  • Sick of this

    So fucking stupid. One presumes the city wants Citibike to fail when it expands to this area.

    Anyway, I guess it’s no surprise that a pol like De Blah would lead us right back to the business-as-usual of the Weinshall era.

  • R. Moses

    CARS ONLY.

  • Many here do not know this, so here is the truth: back in 1997 or 1998 while a volunteer for Transportation Alternatives I saw a NY Times article about how the city was looking to make Lincoln Square more ped friendly. It was well written and had quotes from all the right people. But the photo they used of people crossing the street was awful, didn’t make it look dangerous at all.

    That’s when a bell went off in my head: that I should start documenting some of the dangerous conditions in the city because the Times couldn’t be trusted to get it right. It sounds like now about 17 years later the same stuff is being said and there’s a decent plan. I just hope they do something of significance this time!!

  • Lee Haber

    This seems really small potatoes. They should make Columbus Avenue pedestrian and cycling only on the blocks next to Tucker Square and Dante Park.

  • com63

    Agreed. This area could use a times square/herald square type treatment. It would fix all the conflicts. If you look at the vehicle counts per hour making some of these turns and compare them to the number of pedestrians who cross on a single light cycle, you will see that pedestrians should rule this area.

  • I was there last night. It was dark and rainy and it was impossible to see a single crosswalk. How was the paint allowed to deteriorate so badly?

  • J

    I should mention, though, that this is a really good project for pedestrians. However, it is painfully obvious that people on bikes were an afterthought in the process, instead of an integrated priority. There is no reason why a great ped improvement can’t also be a great bike improvement as well.

  • Nathanael

    …yeah, actually!

    The minimum pedestrianization would be from 8th to 9th; steer Broadway traffic from the north into the 65th St. transverse under Central Park. Anyone actually connecting to the west side of Midtown or Downtown can use 9th and 10th (Columbus & Amsterdam).

    In addition to closing Broadway to cars from 8th to 9th, and simplifying the nightmare at Columbus Circle, this would eliminate the northbound lanes of Broadway from 65th St. to 66th St, allowing Richard Tucker Square to become a lot larger.

  • TJ White

    I bike through the bowtie every morning. The “shared” bike lane on Columbus between 66th & 67th is usually obstructed by Jim Hoffer’s Eyewitness News SUV.

  • Matthias

    I rode through a few intersections in Copenhagen with offset turning lanes. The bike lanes were raised and separated so that turning motor vehicles could only cross the bike lane at a single point, where they must yield to cyclists.

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