Eyes on the Street: Pedestrian Islands Arrive on Amsterdam Ave

Pedestrian islands, like this one at 73rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue, shorten crossing distances while providing additional protection for cyclists. Image: Robert Baron
The new addition to Amsterdam Avenue at 73rd Street.

DOT has finished striping the protected bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue between 72nd Street and 110th Street, and now it’s moving on to the concrete. A reader sent in this photo of a brand new pedestrian island, more of which will be going in on the north side of intersections along the corridor.

The nine-foot-wide raised concrete islands shorten crossing distances and tighten the turns drivers make from side streets onto Amsterdam.

A rendering of a typical pedestrian refuge island on Amsterdam Avenue. Image: DOT
The typical design of a pedestrian island on Amsterdam Avenue. Image: DOT

Earlier this week, DOT said most pedestrian islands on Amsterdam will be installed this year. Between 107th Street and 110th Street a separate capital project will likely delay construction of ped islands until 2017.

The redesign began this spring, dramatically changing the feel of an avenue that used to function more like a highway than a neighborhood street. Some drivers still haven’t gotten the message that the bike lane isn’t for them, however. Our tipster also sent in this photo of illegal parking by 72nd Street.

Photo: Robert Baron


  • Bernard Finucane

    This is excellent, and when the tree goes in it will change the whole look of the street.

    But as the photo amply illustrates, there is a curb extension missing on the other side of the street that would allow the two ladies to see around the unloading truck without having to worry about the SUV cutting the corner and hitting them.

  • Bernard Finucane

    But keeping in mind that the cross street is one way with parking on both sides, this might be better.

  • Bernard Finucane

    But as the following street view shows, on the other side of the street the parking lane becomes a left turn lane, so the place where the woman in blue is standing has no well defined purpose.


    It isn’t for driving and it isn’t for walking. Pretty dumb not to clearly define land usage in a place as crowded as Manhattan. What were the planners thinking?

    This is what a safe street looks like by European standards. It does not hinder car traffic at all.

  • Jane

    The lane is awesome! Long live the Amsterdam lane! May it live long and become longer!
    To be more specific, it now needs go all the way along Amsterdam, not end at 110. (Well, to be even more specific, it still only goes to 107 –perhaps because of some roadwork on the other side of the street?)
    Does anyone know what the transition at 110 will be like? From bike lane on the left side of a one way street to NO bike lane on the right side of a suddenly quite dangerous two way street.

    The area right after that transition is REALLY dangerous–bike riders are thrown into a 2-3 block area next to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine that is frequented by tourist buses. Tourist bus drivers are not as well trained as Citibus drivers. In that area in the past few years I can recall two instances of tour buses killing pedestrians in that very spot.

    And now bicyclists following the Amsterdam bike lane are being emptied unceremoniously into the mix. No signs, no sparrows, no nothing indicating what bikes are supposed to do nor that cars and busses and trucks are supposed to be careful. the other day I saw two tourists dangerously trying to figure this out, after being forced from the left side of Am-dam, only realizing after about 2 blocks that it was not going to work for them to try to ride along the middle of the road, now that they’d been suddenly pushed over and the right side was overrun by buses.

  • HamTech87

    Great drawings. What app did you use to make these?

  • LG

    That design would be awesome. From what I recall, curb extensions can cause problems with drainage, which is sometimes why the city doesn’t put them in without a full rebuild of the street and sewer connections.

  • Bernard Finucane

    Microsoft Paint! I just copied and pasted rectangles out of the original picture back onto the picture.

  • Bernard Finucane

    True, but the raised area doesn’t have to actually cover the entire sidewalk area. Just surrounding these areas with curbs and bollards would be a cheap if inelegant solution.

  • Vooch

    The UWS PBLs should Be extended to Columbia and then to CCNY – huge latent Demand for cycling at Columbia & CCNY. Imagine adding 20,000 – 30,000 daily cyclist trips metely by extending 2 PBLs from 110th to 135th

  • Mike

    Agreed! This is the exact same comment I was going to make, only better written.

  • J

    Yes! Any space that is not needed for slow car turns should be reverted to pedestrian space. Also, we should look into where parking spaces could be converted to tree pits! How lovely would that be and would free up precious sidewalk space and increase the tree cover on our streets.

  • J

    A friend introduced me to biking in NYC via Amsterdam Ave. It was absolutely terrifying. The only thing that kept me from quitting immediately was his insistence that drivers didn’t want to hit me. As I took to biking more seriously and found less terrifying streets I gave up on Amsterdam Ave entirely. All the businesses there basically lost me as a customer, as I would avoid it at all costs. Now, I might frequent it again. And as a pedestrians it will be much much better. What a huge gain for the UWS!

  • NYCyclist

    Nice! But the DOT has to do something where the lane is blocked (since before the lane was installed) at 85th St. The entire lane is blocked, and cars are allowed to park alongside it. They should prohibit parking along the blocked area until it is cleared!

  • HamTech87

    You should add in the first sentence, “…before the protected bike lane was installed.”

  • HamTech87

    Not to nitpick, but are the planting beds actual bioswales? They don’t seem to have the functionality of the ones I’ve seen described in the Streetfilm on the Indy Cultural Trail. Maybe they are too costly?

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    Having parking in bays like that rather than along the entire at-grade frontage would be nothing short of a miracle in NYC.

  • Daphna

    Are there going to be islands on the south side of each cross street along Amsterdam Avenue? Usually the DOT builds the islands out systematically, but in this case, only the islands on the north side of the cross streets are being built, and some cross streets have no islands, and none of the islands on the south side of the street are marked. Does anyone know if this stretch will have the normal number of islands? Are the islands are just being installed in an atypical order? Or will there will be fewer islands here than previous protected bike lanes?

  • J

    Thanks, I see how that was unclear. I’ve updated the post accordingly.

  • Bernard Finucane

    I honestly question the sanity of whoever approved of designs like this:


    What were they thinking? And there are thousands of examples in NYC alone.

  • Jonathan R

    Can you clarify what the issue is with the corner of Degraw and Court, to which your link refers?

  • Bernard Finucane

    I think the curbs at Degraw and Court should run about like this:

    I think the trees should be planted in the parking lane, not on the sidewalk.

    I think the traffic lights should be smaller, lower, and pushed back from the intersection.

    I think there should be no turn on red.

    I would not allow street furniture and signs to block the crosswalks.




    The curbs should be protested by metal bollards to prevent cars from bumping up onto the sidewalk.

    In my version of the intersection these three people would be behaving legally, and the two cars would be parked illegally.


    I picked this intersection at random. similar criticism applies to just about every intersection in the city.

  • Bernard Finucane

    And why do I say insane? This picture shows roughly the area that nobody in NYC traffic planning seems to have spent much time thinking about.


    And it isn’t just here — this repeats itself thousands of times all over the city.

  • ahwr

    Why was the intersection side of the concrete island placed in the crosswalk, creating a tripping hazard and reducing the navigable width for wheelchair users, leading them to at times move in a manner conflicting with other pedestrians, rather than outside of the crosswalk as in the drawing where it could force turning cars to slow down?

  • Bernard Finucane

    This is where I think traffic lights should be located. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/2890d9002dcebd492686e17abdb57ae230d8bd8d7fd925ebaf3f48791db81319.png

    The grey car would be parked farther away from the corner to accommodate the light. For left turns you need an additional light on the other side of the street in some cases.

  • Joe R.

    That’s actually where a lot of traffic lights were located years ago, except they were to the right on the sidewalk. It makes sense because it forces you to look where there are pedestrians when you’re looking at the light. With lights above streets in the center, a driver’s attention is focused away from everything important happening in the intersection.

  • Jeff

    A lot of cities are still like this. I much prefer it even if just for aesthetics. It makes the street feel more human-scale.

  • HamTech87

    I added Columbus Ave to my destinations after the protected bike lane was installed. I mostly walked there, but the new lane made the avenue so much calmer, more pleasant, and more inviting.

  • HamTech87

    Sorry for the late post, but here is what an engineering firm (I think it was McLaren Engineering’s Steve Grog) did to accommodate both drainage and a curb extension in Westchester County, NY. Notice the channel for water, and the drain in its original pre- curb extension location. https://goo.gl/maps/NsTVx8Ry7iK2

  • NYCyclist

    Generally, the crosswalk width at the concrete islands is narrower than the crosswalk itself. That doesn’t make any sense, except perhaps to prevent cars from driving through it. If that is the worry, a bollard in the center of the crosswalk (between the islands) would be more effective.

  • LG

    Thanks for the reply! That’s a neat solution. The open channel will present a trip hazard unless it’s covered, but that’s solvable with an iron grate.

  • Menachem Goldstein

    They should put up cones and make it a detour. No parking until construction is complete.

  • Menachem Goldstein

    Would also prevent drivers from parking IN the crosswalks which they often do for “only a minute”.

  • Bernard Finucane

    Or concrete lids, for that matter. That sort of the default in Japan


    Those concrete edges are storm drains. In the villages they are often missing, which makes driving more interesting, because the roads are narrow and the drains are deep.


    Anyway the idea could be to lower the curbs and rest the concrete slabs on them flush to the sidewalk level. They could have gaps or slits to let water through as well.