Expecting DOT Street Safety Projects to Deliver More Than the Minimum

Spring Street in Soho is getting striped bike lanes -- but street safety won't come at the expense of on-street parking. Image: DOT [PDF]
Spring Street in Soho is getting striped bike lanes and sharrows, which doesn’t prioritize safety above the preservation of on-street car parking. Image: DOT [PDF]
A DOT plan to add painted bike lanes and sharrows to Spring Street [PDF] doesn’t go far enough to prioritize walking and biking, says Community Board 2 transportation vice-chair Maury Schott.

Last Thursday, DOT presented the proposal to the CB 2 transportation committee. Two-thirds of the audience supported the plan, meeting attendees said, and neighborhood NIMBY ringleader Sean Sweeney was a no-show. In the end, the plan received a unanimous 10-0 vote.

The lack of opposition, however, may be a sign of DOT timidity more than anything else. “The proposal by DOT was, to say the least, minimally intrusive,” Schott told Streetsblog. “It was as much as you could hope to do without making the commitment to remove parking on at least one side of the street.”

Although DOT has been on a roll this year with proposals for road diets and protected bike lanes, the agency’s designs usually don’t subtract much parking. Avoiding the removal of car storage may head off small-scale political fights, but it also limits the impact of the city’s street safety projects.

Schott said he wants to see DOT prioritize safe walking and biking over on-street parking, rather than the other way around. In Lower Manhattan, where about 80 percent of households are car-free, the politics should be especially favorable for major changes. Many people at last week’s meeting, Schott said, were also frustrated by “half-measures” from the agency.

“So far, many people feel that Vision Zero is a lot more talk than it is action,” Schott said. “The whole rhetoric of Vision Zero is that New York is a pedestrian-friendly or a pedestrian-dominated city. If you want to say that, then the first thing you have to realistically do is say that supporting the private ownership of private automobiles should not be a priority in any way.”

Even if some people must own cars to, for example, reach jobs in the suburbs every day, Schott said, most Manhattanites can make do with car-share or car rental. And people who come to do business in Manhattan — if they drive at all — don’t usually expect parking right in front of their destination.

“I guarantee you there are tens of thousands of privately owned automobiles that do little more than sit on the street and get moved for street cleaning,” Schott said. “You can’t do both things. You can’t have a pedestrian-friendly city and subsidize the ownership of private automobiles for a substantial amount of the population.”

While Schott might feel more strongly about the issue than some of his fellow board members, he knows he isn’t alone. “There are a lot of people who feel the same way as I do on the board but aren’t willing to listen to the griping of people who have convinced themselves that they have to have a car,” he said. That’s how the gripers can set the agenda for the city’s street safety plans, even in an area like Community District 2 where the vast majority of residents don’t own cars.

“We’re dealing with a city that for 70 years has been built and managed for cars,” Schott said. “You can’t just make little changes around the edges and expect any substantial improvement in the problems that has created.”

The plan to paint bike lanes and sharrows on Spring Street will come up for a vote at the next CB 2 full board meeting, scheduled for April 23 at 6:30 pm in the auditorium of the Scholastic Building, 557 Broadway.

  • Lisa

    I felt this way when DoT presented their plan for the bowtie at 65th and Columbus/Amsterdam. Their original proposal was bland, to say the least. It wasn’t until advocates pushed that DoT would open up to the idea of protecting cyclists too (I know, what a bold idea). At first, I thought DoT’s measured, and slightly pathetic, plan was due to their well-founded fear that CB7 has been historically hostile. But, reading what happened in this article in another area of town, maybe DoT is just getting less bold. C’mon city agencies. Let’s bring on the pizazz and start saving some lives here!

  • J

    Great to see the perspective highlighted clearly:

    For Vision Zero to be effective, car storage and car movement cannot continue to trump safety.

  • BBnet3000

    We’re building the nation’s largest network of very low quality cycling infrastructure and consequently are not going to come close to the Mayor’s 6% cycling goal. As existing lanes wear away from cars driving on them, who can even say what the current bike lane mileage is?

  • Maybe don’t give in every time some old entrenched Community Board member whines about spending 30 extra seconds driving up to Vermont or bemoans 3 fewer parking spaces, and we’d have something resembling Vision Zero. It’s pathetic really.

  • Thanks for this report, Stephen. And thank you, Maury Schott, for articulating what so many people feel.

  • JudenChino

    What’s really pathetic is that they don’t even address how people get on Spring from it’s furthest West point, which happens to abut the Hudson River Greenway. I mean, that’s really pathetic, as you have ocean of cyclists going up and down the Greenway all day and there isn’t a simple clear way to cut into to Soho from the Greenway. I suppose the “official” way would be to turn on to Clarkson, which is 3 long blocks out of the way (if you’re like me and coming from the South), subject to extremely bumpy road conditions, and even though Clarkson has little ped traffic, you don’t want to ride on it’s extra wide sidewalks because Vision Zero: http://brooklynspoke.com/2013/06/24/anatomy-of-a-ticket-trap/ (errr, I mean they will ticket you ) and then take https://www.google.com/maps/dir/40.7251729,-74.0113627/40.7260637,-74.0099548/@40.7254466,-74.0113558,422m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m9!4m8!1m5!3m4!1m2!1d-74.0100935!2d40.7297833!3s0x89c259ed83659a19:0xd265df58fc98d277!1m0!3e1 Washington down. But realistically, I cross at Canal, then head north on West Street and then take Spring across. That’s probably not that safe but it’s not like having to negotiate those big ass UPS trucks on Washington/Greenwich are better who, to be clear, do not give a fuck about your bike or the bike lane, are any better. I mean shit, when I took Prince the other day, I had a UPS truck alongside me in the bike lane . . . It was quite obvious that they weren’t going to pass me and a distance or a slow speed for my benefit.

  • J

    Yep.

    DOT approach:
    How can we fit in the most new miles of bike infrastructure using the least money and making the fewest people mad?
    Result:
    Lots of miles of variable-quality bike facilities, with protected lanes turning into sharrows at critical points and many missed opportunities for connections at key locations. Poorly-used bike lanes feed the “empty bike lane” trope.

    Better Approach:
    How can we make the most useful addition to the existing bicycle network given the current funding and political realities?
    Result:
    Spend the political capital needed to build consistently high-quality facilities throughout a project, even though that means fewer total miles. Facilities are well-used, as they provide logical, continuous, and high-quality connections between places. Political support grows along with increased use.

  • Billy

    Note Schott’s quote: “There are a lot of people who feel the same way as I do on the board but
    aren’t willing to listen to the griping of people who have convinced
    themselves that they have to have a car.”

    In other words, removing hundreds of parking spots for a protected bike lane would not survive the community board process.

  • Emmily_Litella

    I’m estimating dozens, not hundreds of parking spaces, are in question. Of all the spots that would be removed and not added elsewhere, I’d bet
    we are really looking at a tiny net loss of spots now dedicated for all week storage of residents
    cars. These early discussions should include such data to quell people’s fears and shut down their arguments.

    With little friction from the bikeway side of the street and perhaps a slightly wider vehicle lane, car and truck traffic would move more steadily. That is a benefit to the motored and taxied gentry who don’t expect to park there anyway for their shopping. Its not all about the bikes, dear community ‘leaders’. A strong bike network is good for everyone!

  • Billy

    Check slide 4 in the linked presentation for all the street widths. An 11′ parking protected path would require removing all the parking on one side of the street between Greenwich and Broadway and all the parking on both sides of the street between Broadway and Bowery. A lot of the section in soho is commercial and has high loading demand. Definitely not just dozens of parking spaces.

  • Ian Dutton

    Maury for CB2 Board Chair… or hell, Maury for MAYOR!

    “We’re dealing with a city that for 70 years has been built and managed for cars,” Schott said. “You can’t just make little changes around the edges and expect any substantial improvement in the problems that has created.”

    Maury is absolutely right – Vision Zero is not about baby steps or timid messaging. And he’s absolutely right that the people who live, work and visit the city are overwhelmingly on his side. So happy to see him getting the rightful spotlight.

  • Ian Dutton

    Roughly 120 parking spaces were repurposed when the Prince St. lane replaced all the parking on the north side of the street (which was at the time the largest removal of parking for a livable-streets project – and didn’t even figure into the political fight to get the project through). I’d bet the count would be roughly the same for a similar treatment on Spring.

  • There are zero parking spaces on the north side of Prince Street from the Bowery to 6th Avenue. It’s hardly had an effect on commercial activity and loading. The curbside lane is blocked now and then, but it works rather well most of the time.

    The Spring St lane doesn’t need to be parking protected. It just needs to be safer than sharrows next to parked cars.

  • Ian Dutton

    CB2 and the Hudson Square community has been very vocal in trying to create a Spring St. connection to the Hudson River Park. There have been walkthroughs and activism, but it requires the cooperation of City DOT, State DOT and several layers of Parks, and while there is some level of will, there is zero level of funding.

  • BBnet3000

    and has high loading demand

    So turn the opposite side into a loading zone. There is tons of parking on commercial frontages all over this city that should be turned into loading zones so that the business of the city can be conducted more safely without double parking and bike lane blocking.

  • Emmily_Litella

    Thank you both (Doug and Billy). Now I see why frames from that PDF were not repeated in the article, too many different segments, too confusing, not consistent, green lane not distinguished schematically for lower class segments, incomplete explanation of already restricted curb use. Only the far western most blocks look like they may have some resident storage spots, the rest of it is already pretty clear. One No Parking 8 – 6 Wkdays sign is visible, shorthand for Park Here if you have any Bogus placard. Getting people on bikes within the CBD should be priority one for implementing cheap resiliency initiatives. A weak plan is before us here.

  • J

    Seriously. It’s frightfully easy to find photos of bike lanes with paint completely worn away, lanes constantly full of double parked cars, and other non-functional bike lanes. Don’t even get me started about sharrows or “wide parking lanes” all of which DOT counts toward it’s “bike network” mileage.

  • Clarke

    Can the DOT make sure the lane switches sides randomly throughout its course so that it matches other poorly-implemented crosstown routes? And maybe have the sharrows be right in the line of car wheels so that they get rubbed off quickly and efficiently, only to never be repainted?

  • BBnet3000

    I don’t think the DOT evaluates how these facilities perform in the real world, or considers their relative importance in the network. If Jay Street and Chrystie St are acceptable to them (and all available evidence points to yes), the bike program needs a reboot.

  • BBnet3000

    One correction: the most miles of “bike routes”, not infrastructure. I’d only count sharrows as infrastructure if they’re on reduced traffic bicycle boulevards, which New York has yet to employ.

  • AnoNYC
  • Joe R.

    So perhaps the Mayor and City Council can help by passing laws which no longer support the ownership of private autos in parts of the city where a majority don’t own a car. A great start would be banning curbside parking of private autos in the entire borough of Manhattan and the more congested parts of the outer boroughs. If the parking spaces go by legislative fiat, then perhaps DOT can finally do what a majority in this city seem to want them to do.

  • Joe R.

    It’s pretty obvious they don’t. Besides the dangerous conditions shown in your picture, many so-called bike routes have lousy travel times because apparently DOT either never even considered that, or didn’t bother to actually check the route. If a DOT employee actually rode a bike route, and it took them 7, 8, 10 minutes to ride 20 blocks, maybe a bell would go off and they would think of ways to fix it. A bike route is unsatisfactory if it’s not safe. It’s also unsatisfactory if it doesn’t offer average travel speeds of at least 75% of a cyclist’s cruising speed. It’s important to remember people in this city have alternatives to cycling. Cycling has to be time competitive with those alternatives, including the subways in some cases. It can be but we have to make sure there is seldom a need to slow or stop on bike routes for any reason — especially parked police cruisers.

  • Daniel

    Obviously every one of those sharrows is nuts and they should be building parking protected paths where there is currently parking on both sides of Spring St. No one drives there to shop, the parking there is really for loading and unloading and the occasional idiot who gets in the way of loading and unloading by parking there.

    But I’m concerned about the connection to the network on the East end. Why not have sharrows down the not so busy Mott St to the Grand St path? There should at least be a wayfinding sign at Mott St.

    Note: I would benefit immensely from this path even as designed. I currently take my 6 year old from Charlton St and Hudson St to to Brooklyn once a week. My current path takes me down seven blocks of Varrick St to the Grand St bike lane. We could cut our exposure on Varrick St down to three blocks with the Spring St lane. And if there were a contra lane on Greenwich St. We wouldn’t need to ride on the awful Varrick St (aka Holland Tunnel approach) at all!

  • J

    This is a good and often neglected point. Safe AND convenient routes will get many more people to use bicycles. A cycling network that prioritizes moving cyclists efficiently will also create a safe bicycling culture. When the lights are times for cars going 30mph, people on bikes will hit a red light every few blocks, creating an incentive to run red lights. Retime the lights for speeds closer to cycling speeds, and you largely remove the incentive to break the law, and you make the streets much much safer for everyone.

  • Joe R.

    Do that and also remove as many traffic signals as possible by bollarding off minor side streets on the side with the bike lane so there’s never any cross motor traffic, and hence no need for traffic signals (i.e. red for cars would be a flashing yellow yield to peds in the bike lane). I’ve thought if we did this on Manhattan Avenues then you’re basically only left with about 2 or 3 traffic signals per mile at the busiest cross streets. At that point it might be feasible to just have overpasses at those busy intersections, negating the need for cyclists to stop altogether, other than occasionally for crossing pedestrians.

  • J

    “Sharrows are literally pictures of people on bikes, repeatedly being run over by automobiles.”

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