Seaman Ave. Has a Bike Lane and Sharrows, But It’s Still a Speedway

… and looking north, where the northbound bike lane turns to sharrows. Driver 1 is backing down the street for parking. Driver 2 is about to make a U turn. Photos: Brad Aaron
Seaman Avenue and W. 215th St., looking north, where the northbound bike lane turns to sharrows. Driver 1 is backing down the street for parking. Driver 2 is about to make a U turn.

The thermoplast is down on the new northbound Seaman Avenue bike lane — but it’s really a bike lane and sharrows. Unless DOT makes a bolder move and puts a protected bike lane next to Inwood Hill Park, not much is going to change on this important Upper Manhattan bike route

I’ve written about this project, which took almost two years to complete, many times now, so here’s the Cliff’s Notes version: DOT replaced two narrow bike lanes on Seaman, Inwood’s only north-south through-street west of Broadway, with a northbound bike lane and southbound sharrows. DOT’s rationale for one bike lane was the street isn’t wide enough for two standard-width lanes — though the new design retained two lanes for parked vehicles. The reason for putting the lane on the northbound side of the street, DOT said, was to provide more room for slower cyclists going uphill from Dyckman Street, at Seaman’s southern end.

But as it turns out, the northbound lane converts to sharrows at W. 215th Street, one block before Seaman terminates at W. 218th, probably because the street narrows there. I looked back through my correspondence with DOT and there was no mention of the northbound bike lane ending before the street does.

As noted in prior posts, the current design does not address the major obstacles to biking on Seaman. As shown in these photos, taken yesterday, drivers are already double-parking on the barely-dry thermoplast. Cyclists will be forced to weave around them, just as before. As far as speed is concerned, motorists aren’t taking cues from the fresh markings. On her walk to the train just after dawn today, my wife texted to let me know that “Seaman [was] a speedway this morning.”

Seaman Avenue at W. 215th Street, looking south at the northbound bike lane, southbound sharrows, and double-parked vehicles …
Looking south from the same spot at the northbound bike lane, southbound sharrows, and double-parked vehicles in the background. Photos: Brad Aaron
  • BBnet3000

    There’s more to it than the binary “is it protected or not?”. It’s also important to look at the design choices that were made within the framework they went with. They had a 4 foot bike lane on both sides for a total of 8′, and they replaced it with a single 5′ lane. What happened to those extra 3′?

    They could have made the bike lane 6′ wide for extra comfort, and painted it green while they were at it, but instead they put the extra feet into lane width, which encourages speeding, in the mistaken belief that cars should be sharing a lane side-by-side with people riding bicycles, who are encouraged to ride in the door zone by the irresponsible placement of sharrows all the way at the edge of the lane.

    Try riding outside the doorzone and get honked at and dangerously tailgated and scolded by drivers, who point at the sharrows and tell you to ride all the way at the edge of the lane (See The Invisible Visible Man post from Today’s Headlines). This is irresponsible and bad design, and encourages a culture of dangerous driving and inept cycling.

  • Bobberooni

    This is a lot of hot air over a street that was already pretty good without bike lanes. Where are the stats showing heavy traffic, reckless speeds or high accident rates on Seaman Ave?

    I bike there all the time and observe little or no speeding, thanks to the frequent speed humps. My biggest complaint is too many cars in front of me slowing down for the speed humps, and I can’t pass them.

    Moving the yellow line over has a real effect; all other street markings are a waste of paint because they will be routinely ignored. I suppose that more space to pass going uphill is a decent idea.

    The north end of Seaman Ave has even less traffic than the southern
    end. I never noticed that the bike lane ended in the last block.

    Even better would be contra-flow bike lane for the bottom block of Payson Ave, allowing bikers coming from the Hudson River to (legally) avoid the bottom block of Seaman Ave — a safety hazard well worth avoiding. I’ve never been stopped by a cop for using the DIY contra-flow lane on Payson Ave.

    OK, time to move on to more important projects — like finishing the Putnam Trail through Van Cortland Park, and then building protected bike lanes on Bailey Ave to connect the Putnam Trail to Seam Ave. This would provide a continuous high-quality bike route from the Hudson River to the Putnam Trail and then on through Westchester County.

  • iSkyscraper

    An absolute embarrassment, and it does matter because it is symbolic of how Inwood gets either ignored or abused by city agencies while other areas get the gold star treatment. There should have been a protected lane here, end of story. Now I’ll just continue to never take my kids down to the Greenway because there is no way I’m going to risk their life on Seaman.

  • Bobberooni
  • Yeah, this is a good point here. A more reasonable example would be a wide 8 foot bike lane (probably including some buffer), and a narrow lane on the other side, resulting in a center sharrow. Then you’d have some hope of actually slowing traffic.

  • Bobberooni

    Double parking slows traffic too.

  • iSkyscraper

    For younger kids, sure. Not legal for older ones. (12+)

  • iSkyscraper

    I agree with you that double parking slows traffic. I have nothing against double parking per se because of its traffic calming effect; but the issue here is the constant blocking of the bike lane.

  • AMH

    True, but it also causes dangerous weaving.

  • JamesR

    Come on, it’s not “pretty good”. I won’t even ride that stretch anymore except at off-peak hours. It’s the wild west. IMO it’s a bigger issue than just design – there’s an ugly culture of speeding and recklessness in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx.

    Fix the bridge toll structure to stop the toll beaters and you could solve half the problem right there.

  • Bobberooni

    Toll beaters, come on! There’s this persistent belief that toll beaters all flood through the local streets of Inwood, rather than taking the Henry Hudson Bridge. But I doubt it because that’s a terrible way to beat the HH toll. Much better is to take the Deegan to the Cross Bronx to the Henry Hudson — which has zero impact on local roads.

    > there’s an ugly culture of speeding and recklessness

    Is there or is there not a speeding problem on Seaman Ave. If there is, how fast are the speeding cars going? I bike that stretch all the time, and I can’t find speeding cars. As I said before, the speed bumps are quite effective.

  • Bobberooni

    Drive around the double-parked car, like everybody else. It’s not a serious safety problem on Seaman Ave.

  • reasonableexplanation

    I honestly feel that double parking is one of the most important (and most often ignored) issues that, if solved/enforced, would improve the street experience for everyone.

    I drive and bike quite a bit around the 5 boros, as biker the danger of double parkers in bike lanes (or otherwise) is obvious. As driver, they force me to cross the double yellow into oncoming traffic to pass them, or they effectively turn 2 lane roads into one lane roads, making traffic where there’s no reason for it to be (see for example, Coney Island ave in Brooklyn)

    The worst part is that there are basically always plenty of loading zones/driveways/hydrants on each block that you can stand at and not cause the hazardous condition. Meter maids should be empowered and encouraged to ticket or at least shoo away double parkers, especially on busy commercial strips on bike lanes.

  • Joe R.

    I agree here but I’ll add that adequate loading zones are not always a given. It seems to me a lot of commercial drivers are either lazy or pressed for time. As such, if they need to do anything more difficult than pull into and out of a loading zone they’ll opt to double park instead. That’s why we need long loading zones on every block. 15 feet on either side of a fire hydrant isn’t a loading zone. Yes, I know the end result of what I suggest will mean a drastic reduction in available curbside parking but really who cares? For too long we’ve let private car storage hold us hostage when it comes to reconfiguring streets. It’s time to do what makes sense, even if that means people have to pay for parking, or get rid of their vehicles altogether. Nevertheless, we do need to take major steps to eliminate double parking. It contributes to a general feeling of lawlessness and confusion on the streets. It shouldn’t be tolerated in any way, shape, or form. Double parked vehicles need to be immediately booted, ticketed, and then towed away. The inconvenience which results from this will provide a strong disincentive to no longer double park. Repeat offenders should have their vehicle towed to the crusher.

  • Joe R.

    Even if it does, it contributes to a general sense of lawlessness on the streets. It also interrupts the smooth flow of traffic. The goal should be to have slower but steady travel speeds, not complete stops or near stops to get around double-parked vehicles. Probably nowhere else in the world tolerates double parking to the extent NYC does. It’s one reason traffic here moves so slowly and unpredictably. Curbside parking in general is another reason due to people randomly stopping dead, then backing into spots. We should eliminate most curbside parking in favor of loading zones. That will also solve the double-parking problem.

  • reasonableexplanation

    adequate loading zones are not always a given.

    Right, but they usually are. The places where there really aren’t enough loading zones already have regulations to that effect; like in midtown, where only commercial parking is allowed 7am-7pm. In the vast majority of the outer boros though: here’s an example:
    https://goo.gl/maps/fgHtpARmcGz
    Driveways/hydrants galore, and yet; during most daylight hours, you’ll have cars double parked, sometimes literally next to an open spot, lowering the avenue to one lane. In fact even in the street view I linked there’s a white car double parked, despite having miles of open spots on both sides.

    You can’t boot/tow these cars since they usually have someone sitting in them (tow trucks can’t tow an occupied car), but a simple ticket or stern word from a meter maid (they’re all over the streets during the day), would be more than enough. Have them do that consistently for a month or so and the problem will go away.

  • iSkyscraper

    In Inwood the only no-parking zones are hydrants, which are not enough to serve long blocks with uniform medium-density. (Practically all of Seaman Ave is around FAR of 4).

    The Slow Zone was installed in 2012 as an attempt to calm traffic on Seaman, and the speed bumps do help. But Inwood is a no-enforcement zone when it comes to traffic laws and drivers do speed and double park. It’s not uncommon to see a driver cross the double-line and pass traffic going 25 mph. (Speed limit in the slow zone is 20).

    The mistake DOT made was not installing a protected bike lane. Let the cars fight themselves over double-parking — in some ways the double parking is the only thing that slows traffic — but give the cyclists a fighting chance by separating them from traffic. The bike lanes on Sherman are the same — permanently blocked by double parking. Inwood needs separated lanes.

    One other note — until the city/state gets serious about toll dodging (i.e. put an EZ Pass reader on the Broadway Bridge and charge a Henry Hudson Bridge toll to anyone who just existing the HHP) the flow of speeding cars up Seaman going for a free trip to the Bronx will not cease.

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