DOT Exploring Better Crosstown Bike Lanes for Midtown

The bike lane on 39th Street is no match for westbound traffic. Image: Google Street View

DOT is exploring options for better crosstown bike connections in the city’s busiest neighborhood, according to a letter from DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione to Community Board 4.

The letter says DOT is “currently exploring the potential for protected bike lanes in Midtown Manhattan” and that “large vehicle volumes, curbside access needs and network connectivity are challenges faced in designing this type of bicycle facility in this area of the city.”

Forgione’s message came in response to a letter sent more than a year ago by CB 4 Chair Christine Berthet and the co-chairs of the transportation committee, who requested that DOT study the potential for protected bike lanes on crosstown streets ranging from 23rd Street to 42nd Street.

In the Manhattan grid, the wide avenues are a more natural fit for protected bike lanes than the cross streets, with Sixth Avenue set to become the sixth north-south street with a protected bike lane above Houston Street.

Meanwhile, there’s not much quality bike infrastructure for crosstown travel, especially in Midtown, where painted lanes tend to get clogged by the intense motor vehicle traffic. Bike lanes on 29th, 30th, 39th, and 40th Streets give way to sharrows at various points. While crosstown traffic isn’t as intimidating as traffic on the avenues, the current bike lanes clearly don’t provide unobstructed routes.

In the letter to DOT, CB 4 also stressed the growing number of people who live on the West Side and the impact protected lanes would have on pedestrian safety: “It is also important that DOT understands the increased residential (and tourist) nature of the ‘midtown’ areas of CB4 and the pressing need to prioritize pedestrian and bicycle needs along with those of vehicular traffic.”

  • walks bikes drives

    It is important to have the routes protected in the CBD. I think painted lanes are adequate for the time being higher up. A crosstown street is ok-ish to go cross town when it is not wide enough for two columns of traffic.

  • thomas040

    All they need to do, is simply swap the curb side parking and the bike lanes; so the bike lanes are next to the curb, and the parking next to the lane. I still can’t fathom how this obvious design isn’t implemented everywhere. The impact to available parking would be literally zero.

    Obviously it would make sense to put the bike lanes on the side of the street that would make the parked cars park on the left of the lane (to minimize “dooring” from the driver’s getting out).

  • Reader

    This is not hard at all, provided City Hall gets behind it. If you eliminate parking on one side of the street, you can make a curb-protected bike lane.Then you can leave one lane for through car traffic and another lane for parking and loading zones. It’s not too much to ask people who drive delivery vehicles to park in designated areas and use hand trucks to roll packages across the street.

  • BBnet3000

    “All they have to do”

    This is how we got the horrible Grand Street protected lane. What you’re proposing is narrower still. Real protected lanes on crosstown streets are going to have to involve removing parking. There simply is not enough width.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    The strong and fearless (me) are estatic to have the big red bus lanes to use on 34th. However, the enthused and confident (my wife) will only ride in there if she must and hates it. The interested but concerned can’t even bear to watch.

    Citibikes on UES & UWS are bringing thousands of enthused and confidents into midtown every single day. UES Citibike was getting 3,500 trips per day in October; most were commuters Heading into midtown.

    We need to do everything possible to provide protected bike lanes for these New riders. We also need to welcome them when we see then at lights and cheer then up etc.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    removing ‘free’ parking 🙂

  • walks bikes drives

    I agree. I meant uptown. I use the bus lanes too, but stay to the left so I can slide into the travel lane if a bus is going to pass me. It is not fair for a single rider (me) to hold up dozens of bus passengers.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    I own the lane and peddle my little butt off to stay ahead of buses. I always let the buses pass if they are Gaining, common courtesy. But it rarely happens on 34th, the buses are so slow and spend so much time loading at stope….

    Fifth Avenue along the Park is another story – requires plenty of ‘yiielding’ at stop lights to stay ahead of buses.

  • qrt145

    “Class 2 bike lanes” are better described as buffer zones where you shouldn’t ride your bike unless you want to be doored.

    The issue is that if you just swap the parking with the class 2 bike lane, you only have enough space for the buffer, but not for the actual bike lane.

  • Jeff

    There’s very little free parking in this part of town–in fact I believe the vast majority of curbside space on these streets is (often metered) commercial loading zones.

  • walks bikes drives

    I use that section of Fifth daily. Buses overtake me, but not easily. If I have the lights, I will cruise down at 25+ MPH.

  • J

    This is basically what Buenos Aires did with similar sized streets, along with better curbside parking regulations and bus improvements, and a massive downtown pedestrianization effort. It has caused their mode share to soar, and kept car growth at bay.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    overnight its mostly free but correct in the day its loading or paid or impossible to decipher the signs

  • JudenChino

    What about Madison in Midtown. They have two bus lanes there.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    1st Avenue – protected bike lane and go back on a sidestreet

  • Alexander Vucelic

    I swear I yield at every light and have no idea why those 5th ave. buses are so amazingly fast

  • walks bikes drives

    For me, at 745AM, they are all express buses that are usually doing 30mph. They have a stop at 96 but rarely stop, and a stop at 84 where they usually stop, and other than that, no stops. So they can keep up the speed with a clear bus lane, which is what it was designed to do. And the good news, those cops who park in front of the Met, in the bus lane, have been gone lately.

  • AnoNYC

    I always felt that crosstown side streets should just be calmed to the point you don’t need bike lanes. 15 MPH speed limit outside arteries.

  • qrt145

    I agree, but my main complaint as a crosstown cyclist in midtown during the workday are streets that are so calm that nothing moves, but are also so packed that you can’t even filter through. There are two types of (one-way) streets in midtown: those with two traffic lanes, and those with one; both with two parking lanes. Both types are exactly the same width, I think. The result is that it’s impossible to filter through stopped vehicles in the two-lane streets and it is faster to walk on the sidewalk (I wouldn’t bike on it!).

  • Miles Bader

    It seems pretty clear that these streets should not have parking….

  • BBnet3000

    Not good enough if they’re still jammed with traffic. Lanesplitting is not a good solution. Limiting the streets to local access only for motor vehicles is a very good solution but little interest has been shown here.

  • Sean Kelliher

    I live on the West Side of Manhattan and have the misfortune of working on the far East Side. I cross midtown each weekday by bicycle. The crosstown lanes are currently close to useless. I think this is no surprise to people who read this blog.

    However, let me tell you a little about on street parking around my office where there is a parking garage about every half block. FDNY employees get a reserved block to park their personal cars; so do postal workers. Daily News and WPIX employees get a few blocks. City and state police employees get another block although they tend to stick more to commercial space. There’s parking for every embassy or consulate (about half a block each). Then there are the commercial and no standing zones. Those are usually half filled with placard holders from various places (Legal Counsel, Police Surgeons, NYPD, Executive Branch, doormen, press, etc.).

    I raise this point to counteract the usual response from DOT: “there just isn’t space” for decent bicycle infrastructure. There is space. The agency just does a very poor job of allocating it.

  • The way to ride on Fifth Avenue next to the park is to use the left side. No conflict with buses at all. (You do have to keep an eye out for taxis. But nothing is perfect in life.)

    You know, when the first left-side bike lane on a north-south Avenue appeared on Lafayette St., it felt so awkward to me. Now, after years of constant use of left-side lanes, riding on that side of an Avenue is comfortable. And I think that drivers have been trained by the bike lanes on several Avenues to expect cyclists on the left side of all Avenues.

    So, even on those Avenues that lack bike lanes, the left is the side to be on. Madison is the best example. There are many buses on the right side of that Avenue; and there are few cars turning left to go towards Fifth. So going uptown on Madison, using the left side, is as comfortable as the First Avenue bike lane, sometimes even more comfortable.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    i try to ride on left side precisely because of ‘training’ drivers, but Fifth is an exception ;)!

  • c2check

    I’ve started leaving notes on their (private) cars in big letters that passers-by can read, especially with particular groups of placard holders who are most likely abusing them. Something not particularly threatening or personal like STOP NYPD PARKING PLACARD ABUSE.

    At least they should get the drivers to consider whether what they’re doing is right, and passers-by to think about how stupid the current situation is for the rest of us.

  • Critical critic

    “Personal” street parking for city employees is the biggest scam going. Or is it city employees getting city-owned cars that are used mostly for commuting?

  • AnoNYC

    Good point, heavy gridlock greatly slowed me down in Midtown yesterday. Having to navigate between unpredictably packed automobiles is very time consuming.

  • AnoNYC

    Did they ever finish expanding the bus only lanes uptown on 5th Ave? I rarely use that route.

  • walks bikes drives

    I enter from 96 street, but as far as I can see uptown from there is a bus lane. And it now runs all the way down. But there are constant and consistent instructions, including people still parking in the lane (although they are typically ticketed, they should be towed) and school buses park in it constantly around 89th, NYPD parks in it in front of the Met, as well as the food cart people.


What Protected Bike Lanes on Midtown Cross Streets Might Look Like

We reported yesterday that DOT is exploring the potential for crosstown protected bike lanes in Midtown. Currently, the painted crosstown bike lanes on Midtown cross streets tend to get blocked by cars. Here’s how one reader put it: My main complaint as a crosstown cyclist in midtown during the workday are streets that are so calm that nothing […]