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Will the Sixth Avenue Protected Bike Lane Get Done in 2016?

Image: NYC DOT
Image: NYC DOT
A rendering from DOT's November proposal for a protected bike lane on Sixth Avenue. The plan now includes raised pedestrian medians. Image: NYC DOT

DOT presented a plan for a protected bike lane on 19 blocks of Sixth Avenue to the Manhattan Community Board 4 transportation committee last night. From 14th Street to 33rd Street, the design calls for carving out a six-foot bike lane and three-foot buffer protected from moving motor vehicles by a lane of parked cars [PDF].

Sixth Avenue is both very dangerous, with a high injury rate, and one of the most heavily biked streets in New York, where people bicycling already account for a significant share of traffic. So far more than 16,000 people and 160 local businesses have signed on to Transportation Alternatives' campaign for better walking and biking infrastructure on Sixth Avenue and Fifth Avenue.

Community Board 4 has generally supported complete streets redesigns but the committee did not vote for this one, reports Janet Liff, whose volunteer work with TA has built major momentum for a safer Sixth Avenue. The major sticking points were the absence of split-phase signals at most intersections and DOT's proposed use of painted pedestrian islands instead of raised concrete islands, she said.

Split phase signals give pedestrians and cyclists a dedicated phase with no conflicts with turning drivers. DOT's design puts them at 14th Street and 23th Street, the intersections with the highest crash rates. The agency thinks split phases could be problematic if installed at every intersection with left-turning traffic, Liff said, since they lower the share of crossing time for pedestrians, and on a crowded street like Sixth Avenue that could create pressure for people to disregard walk signals.

6th_ave_crash_history
Image: DOT

Advocates are concerned that a delay at CB 4 could jeopardize timely installation of the project, which is all the more urgent given the high rate of injuries on the avenue. "Our vision of success is we put things in the ground and make them better over time," said Transportation Alternatives' Caroline Samponaro. "The community board is asking for more, not less, but the result is still slowing down progress on saving lives."

Community Board 5 also covers the project area and will review DOT's presentation next Monday. Both CB 4 and CB 5 have asked DOT to study complete street redesigns of Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue.

DOT is expected to come back to CB 4 in January. A thumbs up from the board then would clear the way for installation in 2016. DOT's timetable calls for adding a protected lane from Canal to 14th in 2017. The agency is still studying the area from 33rd Street to Central Park, and the addition of a southbound protected bike lane complement on either Fifth Avenue or Seventh Avenue.

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