First Avenue Bike Lane Fix on Hold Until Pope and UN Leave Town

Image: DOT
Wait until next month for safety improvements on First Avenue. Image: DOT [PDF]
DOT was supposed to start filling the gap in the First Avenue protected bike lane in Midtown this summer, but the agency says it’s waiting until the Pope leaves town and the UN General Assembly adjourns before moving forward.

When the First Avenue bike lane was installed in 2011, DOT left a gap of 10 blocks south of 59th Street, instead going with sharrows to maximize the number of car lanes approaching the toll-free Queensboro Bridge. Then this May DOT came back and got Community Board 6’s backing to fill the gap.

The plan was to install a protected bike lane and pedestrian islands from 49th to 55th streets over the summer, before coming back to CB 6 in September or October with a design for the final few blocks. That segment, from 55th to 58th streets, is clogged with multiple lanes of drivers turning left across the paths of cyclists.

DOT Bicycle Program Director Hayes Lord explained the process at a meeting of the New York Cycle Club last night. “We couldn’t even model the portion from 55th to 59th,” he said of the traffic challenges. “[CB 5 members] were very pleased that we were taking this approach, that we weren’t just ramming it through. We want to do it right. So we will take our time.”

But it will take a little more time than expected. Construction was supposed to start in early August, according to flyers DOT sent out to the community board and local businesses [PDF]. But before DOT crews got to the site, global diplomats and the pontiff intervened.

The United Nations General Assembly opened yesterday and runs until October 6. Pope Francis will also be visiting New York between September 23 and 26. Road closures and extra traffic related to all the international dignitaries have put a temporary hold on roadwork.

Lord said construction will begin in early October, and crews will try to wrap work before cold weather puts an end to the construction season. The first phase includes a large pedestrian island at 49th Street to shorten crossing distances and realign traffic exiting the tunnel near the UN.

Although DOT was initially hoping to complete the entire project this fall, installation of the final segment between 55th and 59th streets is unlikely to happen until next year, after DOT again meets with CB 6.

Ultimately, filling the gap on First Avenue will yield a nearly continuous protected bike lane running from Pike Street on the Lower East Side to the Bronx side of the Willis Avenue Bridge.

Southbound cyclists on Second Avenue, meanwhile, are relegated to sharrows through Midtown. DOT has not put forward any plans to extend that avenue’s protected bike lanes north of 34th Street.

  • Daniel

    I remember riding on 1st Ave 15+ years ago when it was a designated bike route with absolutely no bicycle infrastructure. Even in those Mad Max days this section was the scariest and should have gotten the bike lanes first. But even so I can wait a few months. I’ve seen the DOT rollback improvements because of community outrage over poor construction timing.

  • Vanderlyn

    The disparity between the 1st Ave and 2nd Ave bike lanes is ridiculous – and in my opinion, the most pressing Manhattan bike infrastructure need to be corrected. While filling the 1st Ave gap would be useful, far more useful would be having a dedicated bike lane running at the very least from 59th Street to the existing lane that begins on 34th Street. I am shocked that more cycles don’t die trying to traverse the Midtown Tunnel entrance.

  • Jonathan R

    The General Assembly meets every year. Did DOT not forecast this?

  • BBnet3000

    RIP New York’s highest quality protected lanes. The current narrow gutter-running lane on 1st is simply not as good as it could be.

    As for this delay: the CB endorsed a protected lane in 2009. We have waited 6 years, what’s another month?

  • This strikes me as something the pope would not approve of.

  • cjstephens

    If a few more weeks of waiting means years of living with a better design, I can wait. I rode part of this today, and where the bike lane is merely “sharrows”, it serves as a second parking lane. And the blocks leading up to 57th Street? Forget about it.

  • Wilfried84

    The worst part of this stretch is at 58th St. leading up to the bridge. Just as the road narrows due to construction, the pavement turns into a moonscape, so just when you’re dealing with merging with car traffic, you also have to pay close attention to the pavement. They could do a lot to improve safety simply by repaving (as is true in many places). When is this construction due to be completed, and how long will it take them to fix the road after that?

  • Matt

    I wish I had charged my gopro the other day so I could actually show this: I was riding up that section and it was absolutely too insane to describe in words, but I’ll try. That final block before going under the bridge where there’s construction that butts halfway into the road, there were about 20 bike riders all the way to the left, and the pavement is, as you said, a moonscape. So we’re all swerving around trying to stay upright and there are about 6 cars nudging us all practically right up against the construction wall because they just HAVE to make that left, whether or not bikers currently occupy that space or not. All I could think to myself was ‘NYC #1 biking city!, thanks bicycling magazine!’. How anyone could think that scenario, which most likely happens every single rush hour (I try to avoid it if possible), is acceptable is beyond me.

  • Matt

    Lol. No.

  • Martin

    They started work on this yesterday. Progress looking good so far.

  • Nick Ober

    So excited!

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