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

Image: NYC DOT
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.

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.

  • Nick Ober

    I’m curious if anyone who was at the meeting can elaborate on the rationale for the painted pedestrian islands vs. the more standard concrete islands.

    Was it a cost issue? Or is it related to the combined 6 subway and PATH tracks below that create clearance issues. Even if it was a clearance issue, I’d imagine that would only affect whether or not DOT can plant trees. Seems like it shouldn’t negatively affect installing raised concrete islands with no tree planting.

  • J

    Good start, but when is DOT going to start implementing best practice infrastructure? They need to:

    1) Connect protected bike lanes to other protected bike lanes.
    2) Implement protected intersections as standard practice (I’m ambivalent about split phase signals in NYC).

    It’s all well and good to get a bunch of protected bike lanes built, but when almost none of the protected bike lanes them connect to other protected bike lanes, you can’t use them to get very far.

  • J

    I think it’s a Right of Way issue. NYC refuses to buy street sweepers and snow plows small enough for smaller protected bike lanes, so unless they can get 10 or 11′ of clear space, they don’t build concrete refuge islands, cause they can’t fit the normal-sized plows and sweepers in there.

  • Nick Ober

    Got it — that totally makes sense. I didn’t notice that the buffer for the bike lane is only 3 feet vs. 5 on First Avenue. Wish they were willing to either buy dedicated smaller street sweepers or just be bold enough to increase the buffer and dump a traffic lane.

  • r

    A 6′ bike lane is woefully inadequate for the bike traffic on 6th, too. That will certainly be the case should this lane be extended up to Central Park. If it’s just paint, that’s fine. It can be changed later, but DOT needs to start thinking about building bike lanes for 2030, not 2010.

  • Jeff

    Has anyone noticed the new setup at 1st Ave and E 61st St? It’s kind of like a combination between a split-phase signal and an LPI. The first phase is a green light for motor vehicles going straight, green light for cyclists, walk signal for pedestrians, but red light for motor vehicles turning left. This phase lasts maybe ten seconds, and the next phase is green light for vehicles going straight, green light for cyclists, walk signal for pedestrians, and a flashing yellow arrow for motor vehicles turning left. This is all with a classic “mixing zone”. Kind of seems like a nice compromise between split phase and just a simple LPI, and I think it could be beneficial for this to be standard practice in all mixing zone intersections.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    great start and good on TA/Janet for keeping this Alive.

    Advocates need to push Hard for Electeds to Have DOT create more than 5 Miles of protected bikes lanes a year.

    these itty bitty chunks of protected bike lanes are the result of the DOT goal of a mere 5 Miles.

    The Manhattan Community boards are Finally clamoring for protected bike lanes; Amsterdam, Sixth, and Fifth could rasulu be complete streets in 2016 if the DOT had higher goals set by electeds.

  • c2check

    Should really take a lane and widen the sidewalks while we’re at it.
    It would improve the very crowded ped environment and perhaps even ease traffic flow by reducing friction due to lane shifts.

  • BrandonWC

    DOT rep specifically said last night that they can’t do that with a mixing zone (because cars stopped at red arrow will block bikes with green light) and that it can only be implemented where there is a dedicated turn lane (which is what there seems to be on 61st based on the Sept. 2015 streetview). Also they imaginatively call it a LBI

  • BrandonWC

    That’s exactly right. DOT rep last night said DSNY needs 11′ clearance for streets sweeping. Trees did come up. Apparently you need 7′ for trees (6′ for the tree pit and 6″ on both sides for concrete). The committee asked why they couldn’t just narrow concrete islands by 2′ (to get up to the 11′ clearance from the curb). So far as I remember, the answer was that you also need 1′ clearance from the car lane so you would be left with a 5′ island and apparently DOT thinks such narrow islands make pedestrians nervous.

  • BBnet3000

    I am often critical of the narrow 6′ protected lanes, but in this case its with a 3′ buffer rather than a 5′ one. There’s really no extra space to reallocate to the lane itself.

  • BBnet3000

    We need a network of streets where it is comfortable to bike home from work on a rainy night. They need to connect to each other.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    Peak Bike traffic is already ~500/hour. A protected bike lane will capture latebt demand which might quickly increase peak demand to 1,000/hour.

    there is 10′ width in the fourth travel lane. Bikes are more efiicient movers than motors, so obvious is to remove the fourth motor lane and reallocate the roadway to maximize movement of people. I suggest allocating the extra 10′ as follows:

    5′ to wided sidewalk ( desperately needed )
    2′ to parking buffer ( making it 5′)
    2′ to bus/parking lane (making it 11′)
    1′ to bike lane ( making it 7′, barely enough to pass )

    there should be zero parking allowed on sixth – what are labled as parking lanes should purely be for either comercial deliveries or pick-up drop off.

  • BBnet3000

    Increase the bike lane width before the buffer. The buffer only needs to be as wide as a car door sticks out.

  • jlg

    I hope the Sixth Avenue bike lane won’t be as useless as the Eighth Avenue lane is. Maybe they should install a fence between the sidewalk and bike lane to keep out pedestrians?

  • It’s not pedestrians’ fault that Polly Trottenberg hates New York. The reason we have people spilling into the bike lane on Eighth (and, soon, Sixth) is that the sidewalks are too narrow to accommodate the volume of foot traffic, and Polly Trottenberg’s DOT refuses to take an inch from motorists to accommodate the majority of New Yorkers who aren’t driving or parking their murder machines along these crowded corridors.

  • Greg

    The Eighth Ave bike lane works just fine south of Midtown, and I’m thankful for its existence (the avenue is way, way better than it was before that lane existed).

    Agreed midtown is a terrible mess, though.

  • J

    Seems like they could easily narrow both parking lanes to 7.5 feet and grab an extra 2 feet that way. It’s dumb that they boxed themselves in that way, though. The result is substandard facilities.

  • mrtuffguy

    You’re ridiculous.

  • What’s ridiculous is that the sidewalk on Eighth Avenue in midtown is narrower than the sidewalk on my low-traffic residential street. The river of blood that courses down Eighth Avenue’s bike lane begins on the steps of City Hall in the office of the mayor.

  • Matthias

    “The agency thinks split phases could be problematic…since they lower the share of crossing time for pedestrians…”

    They also decrease green time for bicyclists. Right now, scary as the street is, you can actually cover some ground in a light cycle. I like separated lanes but they make it difficult to go more than 2-3 blocks at a time. The DOT needs to figure out how to make cycling pleasant and safe while also making it possible to get somewhere quickly without running red lights.

  • Greg

    I completely agree with your sidewalk point. But falsely framing the picture as if we have a DOT commissioner that actively hates our city and is trying to harm it doesn’t do your argument the justice it deserves.

    There’s plenty of valid criticism we can levy – let’s not paint imaginary pictures about the people involved.

  • It’s abundantly clear that neither Trottenberg nor de Blasio cares about the lives of New York’s most vulnerable street users. Trottenberg’s DOT keeps advancing proposals so spiteful towards pedestrians and cyclists, so predictably ineffective at curbing the slaughter on our streets, that even the most notoriously motorist-packed CB’s have been begging for better designs.

  • Joe R.

    Yeah, it’s called grade separation. It works great for cars. Unfortunately, either nobody seriously considered it, or NYC just can’t afford it. The geometry of most of the major arteries in NYC doesn’t lend itself to any other solution if the goal is for cyclists to get somewhere quickly.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    Trottenberg has a $1.4 billion budget – how much I of that does she allocate to creating truly safe streets ? Her DOT proposals for Queens Blvd actually makes it more dangerous for people.

  • Alex

    Top top comment Matthias. Last week I seriously questioned the Amsterdam design’s need for automatic mixing zones every other block. Midtown, however, has higher levels of users on all modes and it’s the right time and place to question the tired standard template design.
    What if we extended the sidewalk 10′ split down the middle by cones on a slightly raised barrier and gave bikers a raised lane that way. In the current diagram it would have no effect on moving lanes and they’d have to do away with the tyranny of the mixing zone with a safer and more creative solution.
    Sidewalk extensions can get hairy due to catch basins but there must be a way of doing so without relocating utilities. Permeable pavement maybe?

  • chekpeds

    This would be a great option, for peds and bikes, but does not resolve the conflict with cars at intersection. We really need to reallocate time and not only space to ped/bikes

  • chekpeds

    You mean a covered bike lane ? That would increase biking a ton !

  • chekpeds

    Agreed, CB5 suggested exactly that. Same is needed on 8 th and 9 th avenues where sidewalks are insanely congested.

  • chekpeds

    The split phase signal should be changed so that the bikes get a green during the red turn phase. So it would be a mixing phase for bikes and pedis , but a separated phase for cars and peds… A win win

  • chekpeds

    What about making travel lanes 9 ft, this could give the bike lane space needed for. Bikes and refuges

  • chekpeds

    Good point. However the exclusive time is a bit too short and it does not resolve the problem of turning cars boxing in bicyclists who are going straight…

  • chekpeds

    But. Cars are already doing so in the current mixing zones.

  • Joe R.

    By grade separation I mean overpasses or underpasses, not raising the bikeway by a few inches. That’s really the only effective way to deal with conflicts when you have huge numbers of motor vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians. Time sharing via signals is an inferior solution in that it delays everyone. It also only works if everyone obeys signals all the time. In NYC obviously they don’t. You also end up with lots of complex phases. In general simpler is better. When different types of traffic never need to share the same space you have an ideal solution.

  • Walter Crunch

    4 lane one way…and they are preserving that? Insane.

  • Walter Crunch

    Cars get 14 feet…and bikes get 6? That makes total sense.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    cars get 60′ bikes get 8′

  • Walter Crunch

    I was thinking per lane. So..the average car is 6 feet wide. That means 2.25 the width of a a car. So…bikes should get at least 7 feet. But let’s not forget ..they intend this bike lane for passing bikes to. So in reality, thats 14 feet of bees. Point is…a two way track should be 14 feet wide.

  • Joe R.

    My proposal (left to right):

    6.5′ sidewalk extension
    12′ bus only lane
    12′ loading zone
    12′ truck only lane
    14′ bidirectional bike lane protected by 3′ buffer with jersey barriers inside the buffer area
    6.5′ sidewalk extension

    Note what’s missing here—no travel or parking lanes for either private autos or taxis, although I would allow taxis and paratransit vehicles serving the disabled to use the truck lane for travel and the loading zone for pickups/dropoffs.

  • JPChance

    Does anyone have a comprehensive NYC transportation plan that replaces most street parking with safe & separate bikeways?

  • Alexander Vucelic

    Yeah it’s called NYC before 1952 when City Council changed the law Which excluded Overnight Car storage on public property 🙂 🙂

  • Alexander Vucelic


    great proposal, but I’m going to suggest a transition Phase One:

    14” bus Lane by Day, FREE loading zone by night

    30′ (3) Motor lanes

    9′ paid loading Zone ($10 for 10 mins, $30 for 20 mins, $90 for 30 mins, $270 for 40 mins )

    5′ Door Buffer

    8′ Protected Bike Lane

    Phase 2 would be ypur version

  • JPChance

    If overnight street parking was illegal before 1952, shouldn’t the law be changed so that protected bikeways are prioritized over street parking on all city streets?

    How many lives would be saved every year?

    How many more people would choose cycling over other modes of transit?

    How much traffic congestion would be prevented?

    How much money and other resources would be saved?


DOT Extends Sixth Avenue Protected Bike Lane Plan to 8th Street

DOT is extending its plan for a protected bike lane on Sixth Avenue six blocks and will include some concrete pedestrian islands in the project. Previously, the plan called for a protected bike lane between 14th Street and 33rd Street with painted pedestrian islands at intersections. The revised plan extends south to 8th Street and will […]

This Week: Big Votes on Bike Lanes for Amsterdam and Sixth Ave

Community boards are expected to vote on two major Manhattan street safety projects this week: protected bike lanes for Sixth Avenue and Amsterdam Avenue. There’s a lot more community board action in Brooklyn — so much that we couldn’t cram it all into this post. See the complete Streetsblog calendar for more events. Tuesday: DOT will present a plan for […]