Citing FDNY Concerns, DOT Removes Two-Block Protected Bike Connection

The W. 170th Street bikeway before …
The W. 170th Street bikeway before …

DOT has erased a short contraflow protected bikeway that linked the Highbridge neighborhood to the car-free High Bridge in response to FDNY concerns about the movement of emergency vehicles. The project was part of a package of biking and walking improvements in the Bronx and Upper Manhattan implemented last year, timed to coincide with the re-opening of the High Bridge to the public [PDF].

To meet FDNY’s demands, DOT will shift the parking on the south side of the street over to the curb. Instead of an eastbound contraflow protected lane and sharrows on the westbound side, DOT says this stretch of 170th Street will get a westbound buffered bike lane. The street will retain two lanes for parked vehicles.

… and after. Photo: Jonathan Rabinowitz
… and after. Photo: Jonathan Rabinowitz

So, when confronted with a street determined to be “too narrow” for bikes and cars, the DOT response was to weaken the bike infrastructure while leaving parking untouched. From what I’ve seen this is a matter of DOT priorities, and not a lack of asphalt.

The other issue is the absurdity of designing streets and cities to accommodate emergency vehicles, rather than the other way around.

  • J

    WOW! DOT has zero spine. Surely, there was some other solutions possible, such as the removal of parking.

    Also, are buildings on other narrow, congested streets burning down more often? Chinatown is chock-full of such streets, and yet FDNY isn’t clamoring to remove parking there. Surely response time in those places suck, and the buildings are older. So, is this a real problem, or is FDNY just picking on this because it changed the status quo and/or they don’t like bikes?

  • Simon Phearson

    If anything counts as “arbitrary and capricious,” surely this rollback, without any apparent community consultation beyond the FDNY’s say-so, ought to qualify. I guess they just want salmoning cyclists to run smack into the fire trucks.

  • Community member

    What happened to the community board process? Or does that only apply when DOT wants to take space from drivers?

  • BBnet3000

    There are innumerable corners in this city that firetrucks can’t take because of cars parked too close to them. What are we doing about that? Jack shit, that’s what.

  • multimodal

    Seriously… all this highlights is how badly daylighting is needed all over the city, which will happen exactly never, because parking.

  • BrandonWC

    This would seem to be a blatant violation of Local Law 2011/061 which requires community board notification before “a proposed bicycle lane is to be constructed or removed, in whole or in part.” NYC Admin. Code § 19-187.

  • BBnet3000

    Not the first time. 7th Ave in Sunset Park comes to mind. I don’t follow the CB closely but I certainly never saw it on Streetsblog.

  • Joe R.

    All it would take is for the City Council to pass a law prohibiting parking within x feet of an intersection. No need to go through community boards getting approval for daylighting on a case by case basis. It’s a shame we prioritize private vehicle storage over safety in this city. We need to push for daylighting legislation, and it needs to be passed over the objections of car owners. If anyone questions it, the proper response would be we’re making something illegal which never should have been allowed in the first place.

  • William Farrell

    This is infuriating. Get smaller trucks. Get rid of excess parking. Let’s actually commit to Vision Zero and its companion goal of increasing cycling mode share rather than wavering at the first sign of resistance.

  • FDNY was concerned that the improvement to biking infrastructure would make it safer for people and they’d be called to fewer emergencies. /cheeky.

  • multimodal

    I’ll admit to being a little glibly pessimistic for effect. A city council bill would be great, but that would still be a heavy lift I think, once someone figures out how many total parking spots citywide would be lost and uses that number as a cudgel against the bill. The pro campaign would have to be very well-organized.

  • Joe R.

    It’s true a huge number of spots would disappear citiwide. Nevertheless, that’s not a valid opposition to the bill. I would frame it in these terms. Suppose in the past we had passed a bill legalizing murder. Now we realized that law never should have been passed in the first place. Sure, people who murder won’t like the proposal to repeal it but overall the effect of repealing it will be positive. This is a clear case of disallowing something which any sane society wouldn’t have allowed in the first place. I see the negative effects of this every single day. When vehicles block my line of sight, how can I safely cross a street if I can’t see what’s coming? We partially justified this by using the BS excuse that I don’t need to see because we have traffic lights with pedestrian signals. That essentially means I’m supposed to put blind faith in drivers always stopping for a red light. The number of red light violations at the small number of red light cameras in this city tells me they don’t in fact always stop on red. Therefore, I need to see in order to cross any street, signalized or not. For that to happen, parking within at least 25 or 30 feet of the crosswalk, better yet 50 feet, needs to be prohibited. This is exactly how I would frame the argument. There really is no good response the other side can come up with to refute it. Nearly every other city prohibits parking near crosswalks.

  • Andrew

    It’s true a huge number of spots would disappear citiwide. Nevertheless, that’s not a valid opposition to the bill.

    I agree that it’s a stupid reason, but it isn’t up to you or me to validate a lawmaker’s vote based on our opinion of his or her reason. Given the howls of opposition when a proposed safety enhancement takes out a half dozen parking spaces, I think it’s pretty clear that this isn’t going anywhere as a citywide proposal.

  • Joe R.

    This is a clear case where those on the Council would need to act as leaders, not politicians. Same thing with any of their opponents during an election year. This has to be framed as the public health issue it really is. Leaders at times have to pass very unpopular legislation for the public good. They’ll need to tell their constituents stuff like “Fine, you can vote me out for passing this bill but the next guy you vote in isn’t repealing it. No matter who you vote for on either party, this legislation is here to stay because safety has to trump convenience.”

    After it’s passed, DOT needs to fast track putting bulb outs in the former parking areas to make the changes very costly for any future administration to reverse.

    The city also made a colossal mistake allowing overnight car storage in the first place after the 1950s. That needs to be repealed, perhaps one area at a time.

  • ahwr

    Removing daytime curb access to make room for bike and bus lanes is probably going to be a tougher sell than removing overnight parking, at least in some parts of the city.

  • Anon resident

    Too bad the nasty folks at NY Presbytarian/Development & Special Events Dept who own & work out of the 2 brown stones complained.

  • Mike Waring

    They should just remove parking from one side of the street and solve the problem.

    Re: Smaller Trucks- part of the problem is the amount of equipment each type of apparatus is required to carry by NFPA regulations. In addition, many FDNY Trucks carry extra equipment for high-rise fires and other specialty emergencies that would otherwise need special apparatus ($$) and potentially additional staffing ($$). And Although I’d like to see smaller trucks in general, it’s a more difficult solution than just buying smaller.

  • Kevin Love

    And yet everywhere from Europe to Japan seems to be magically able to use smaller trucks without their cities burning to a cinder. Or maybe it isn’t magic after all, but just common sensed.

  • Joe R.

    It doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition. You can use the space for loading zones in places where that’s more useful than a bus or bike lane.

  • Andrew

    Many elected officials in this city truly believe that parking is their constituents’ top concern. Even if they are incorrect (and they often are), they believe that they are leading by opposing anything that might possibly make it harder to find parking. That’s the unfortunate reality, and your wishing it away won’t change anything.

  • Joe R.

    This is exactly why we need to propose such a law, whether or not it actually goes anywhere. It’ll get us to discuss things publicly. People like me will matter of factly tell those opposed to the bill that they’re valuing storing their personal property over people’s lives. When they start coming out with all sorts of half-assed reasons for continuing the status quo, public opinion might be swayed on the issue. Legislators WILL vote for it if they’re sure a clear majority of their constituents support. The problem right now is these lawmakers seem to have the mistaken belief more of their constituents value car storage over safety.

  • Andrew

    A two-block section of the eastbound parking protected bike lane at this location was removed due to concerns expressed by the FDNY about the narrow roadway caused by the bike lane and its effect on responding to emergencies in the area.

    I’m confused. The issue was the narrow roadway or the one-way conversion? Given the street layout in the area, I can understand how a one-way conversion might have increased FDNY response times.

    Did DOT consult with FDNY before implementing the bike lane? (Even if the answer is yes, it’s fair that they might have changed their mind based on experience.)

  • Andrew

    For that to happen, parking within at least 25 or 30 feet of the crosswalk, better yet 50 feet, needs to be prohibited.

    Congratulations, you just proposed eliminating about half of the curbside parking on Manhattan avenues (and everywhere else that blocks are about 200 feet long). This has no chance of going anywhere. If you want to be taken seriously, drop it.

  • Joe R.

    So what’s you’re answer then on how to safely cross streets because in many cases it’s just not possible now? You need to see what’s coming, period. The present configurations make that impossible. I’ve nearly gotten killed multiple times because I had to be practically in a traffic lane to see the road. The worst is when you’re inching out trying to look and some driver comes along making a fast turn. You can’t see them, they can’t see you. It’s a recipe for disaster.

    Frankly, we should eliminate curbside parking everywhere. It’s an urban blight of epidemic proportions which generates traffic, makes streets more dangerous, uglifies neighborhoods. If you want to store your vehicle, find an place off the street for it.

    Here’s an alternate solution to the problem, albeit one which will only work at signalized intersections. Have a barrier which physically prevents cars from running the red light, perhaps retractable bollards which come up right as the light goes red. I’ll hazard a guess this idea will be even less popular than daylighting intersections.

    If you want to be taken seriously, drop it.

    Streetsblog itself already proposed this idea:

    I don’t see how anyone who claims to be for livable streets can NOT be for something like this.

  • Alicia

    Having lived in the Midwest for almost all of my life, I always get confused why people in large cities treat “daylighting” as a novelty. I didn’t even know there was a term for it. Signs marked “No parking here to corner” are so standard that I never even thought about them, and it took me by surprise that there are places where this practice is controversial.

  • Joe R.

    I’ve lived in NYC all my life and I don’t get the controversy over it either. I see it as a safety measure, just like not keeping open containers of flammable liquids in buildings, or making sure live wires aren’t exposed. There shouldn’t even be any debate over it. Parking which blocks lines of sight is dangerous. There’s no scenario where it should ever be allowed. I don’t know whether or not NYC ever forbid this practice in the past but it was brain-dead to ever allow it in the first place.

  • Andrew

    Start by enforcing driving laws in a serious fashion, now. Replace Bill Bratton with someone who is willing to take traffic safety seriously. Run the existing enforcement cameras 24/7 to gather data, and install additional cameras to gather more data, to make the case in Albany for 24/7 automated enforcement across the city.

    Install bulb-outs at crosswalks that have had safety problems, especially on wide streets.

    And by all means work toward banning parking for a short distance beyond each crosswalk – but not anywhere near the 50 feet that you suggested! Nowhere has Streetsblog proposed 50 feet.

  • Joe R.

    You need 50 feet if large vehicles are parked. I suppose you could have half that and forbid SUVs or other large vehicles from using the first spot but good luck enforcing that.

    Start by enforcing driving laws in a serious fashion, now. Replace Bill Bratton with someone who is willing to take traffic safety seriously.

    And you’re saying my idea will be unpopular? Good luck with this. I fully support it, but just wait until you have all the drivers who get tickets moaning to their representatives. Besides that, without clear lines of sight I still can’t cross the street safely. In the end infrastructure solutions are always better than enforcement. You can’t argue with steel or concrete.

  • Mike Waring

    I’m simply pointing out that it’s not as simple as it would seem on the surface. 1) the national regulations are vastly different. I’m not saying they’re right, but they are extremely hard to change. 2)the proportion of buildings built with or containing wood structural elements to those of a fire resistant nature is much higher in the US.

  • BBnet3000

    To put it simply, the are violating Local Law 61 (2011) often when removing lanes, but never when installing them.

  • Frank Kotter

    I sat next to the former president of the FDNY’s union on a flight. Nice guy but if you think these guys are just happy go lucky lads who sit around and wait for the alarm to sound, you are mistaken. They are VERY much involved in the patronage (corrupt) systems for which public service sectors in NYC are famous.

    This matters because if we have a situation where the FDNY holds an absolute carte blanche veto over infrastructure in the city as it appears they do if we take this article at face value., then can rich UES residents now give money to charities of the FDNY and make their bike lane troubles vanish in a cloud of FDNY ‘concerns’?

    I hate to give them any ideas but why work through the neighborhood councils or the legal system when all can be taken care of with the added positive shine of the FDNY?

  • Jonathan R

    Apparently the regularly occurring jams on Merriam Ave between West 170th and West 169th, at the end of the block and to the right from where I took this picture, do not qualify for concern on the part of the Fire Department. Merriam is choked to one narrow lane by motor vehicle parking on both sides, so if one person decides to double-park, the street is impassable.

    Also, note that the DOT statement does not state that the Fire Department asked for the lane to be removed. I would be interested to FOIA the memo that expresses these concerns to see who signed it. Probably Spot, the local firehouse Dalmatian and FDNY member.

    Thank you, Brad, for finding out what actually happened here.

  • BrandonWC

    Well the 4 month deadline to file an article 78 proceeding is running. I’d love it if someone one would take that argument to court.

  • BrandonWC

    Here’s what i don’t get: The plan originally shown to Bx CB4 was for a non-protected contra-flow lane (like at the Union Street Bridge). When DOT implement the plan, it installed the protected contra-flow lane, which seemed like an improvement at the time. If the protected lane doesn’t work, why not go back to the original plan? Without the contra-flow segment, I don’t see how bikers coming off the bridge head east without a big detour.

    (Also wasn’t there a quote from DOT in the article yesterday? What happened to that?)

  • BBnet3000

    Probably the FDNY approved this plan as well, not what was built.

    Thank you for again reaching down the Streetsblog memory hole and pulling this out.

  • Andrew Balmer

    A few weeks ago, I saw two personal vehicles parked in that very bike lane. Whaddya know: both had FDNY “Official Business” parking placards in the windshield. I called 311, to no avail of course.

    I hate to be cynical, but my bet is that a couple of anti-bike higher-ups at FDNY simply didn’t like the bike lane, so they called up DOT and claimed it was a hazard.

    DOT should have required empirical proof of significantly diminished response times before removing the lane.

  • AMH

    “We’re talking about people’s lives. Please remember that when talking about your cars.” Best CB response ever.

    It is sad that parking gets valued over human life. Every time there is a proposal to improve safety and protect lives, it has to be explained how that is worth more than a few parking spaces.

  • walks bikes drives

    But can’t a fire truck or ambulance use the bike lane if needed?

  • neroden

    According to the official rules, you should actually have called 911, since you were reporting on a crime in progress.

    Yeah, I know, the corrupt NYPD wouldn’t have done anything. But that’s what they tell you to do when you witness a crime in progress.

  • neroden

    Might be time to talk to a lawyer.

    You just might have a legal case to sue the city and force the reinstitution of the bike lanes until the Community Board process is carried out.

  • neroden

    It’s trivial to do it, because it has been done before.

    One of the problems is that fire departments are now buying combined hook-and-ladder and hose trucks. If you look back in time, they traditionally had separate hose-and-tank trucks and hook-and-ladder trucks. Each truck was half the size of the combo trucks.

    Twice as many truck drivers! Big jobs program! The union would love it, right?

  • neroden

    I am shocked by the lack of daylighting too. “No parking here to corner” is standard in *upstate NY* as well.

    But then NYC is the city which tacitly allows double-parking, which is *illegal everywhere including NYC*. There is something extra-demented going on in NYC when it comes to parking.

  • neroden

    Ban all curbside parking in Manhattan except for short-term (<2 hr) parking. Why not?

    It used to be illegal to park overnight curbside, you know! Look up the history of this!

  • neroden

    Replace the parking (away from the corners and away from the hydrants, obviously) with loading/unloading zones for trucks, pickup/dropoff zones for taxis and Uber, bus stops, and heck, even short-term (15-minute) parking.

    You don’t have enough loading zones in NYC and as a result trucks double-park. I think the truckers and the businesses which get deliveries would benefit from replacement of parking with loading zones.

  • neroden

    Lawsuit time?

    I believe the failure to follow administrative procedure makes the bicycle lane removal *ultra vires* — it was done without legal authorization, and therefore is outside the powers of the NYCDOT, and therefore the action is *void*. They can be forced to reverse it.

  • neroden

    Talk to Steve Vaccaro? Maybe you can get a lawsuit together.

  • Jeff Utz, M.D.

    Your last sentence doesn’t make sense. It is not like the city is going to redesign city, move buildings, utilities, etc. The city is doing its best to take advantage of the design that is already here. And, the reality is that cars are here to stay for at least a while.

  • Jeff Utz, M.D.

    Fire departments? It is not like there are different fire departments fighting fires in this part of the city. They are all FDNY fire fighters (in some parts of the city, there are also volunteers who often arrive first along with the FDNY). The FDNY is not buying quints (as they are called because they combine five major components, like hoses, pump, tank, ground ladders and ariel platform), so it doesn’t matter what happens outside the city.

    NYC operates only engines and ladders, not quints.

  • Guy Ross

    I saw this as well but didn’t want to bring it up as I thought I had missed something in the decision making process. Can anyone shed light on how this approved plan was changed in its execution?

  • Jim McDonald

    The problem is that the FDNY must extend outriggers before they raise their ladders to rescue people. If they didn’t the truck would tip over when firefighters climb the ladders. W 170 st is too narrow to have a bike lane next to curb and cars parked in the middle of the street