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CB 7 Committee to DOT: Make Columbus Circle Safe for Biking

Columbus Circle is a big traffic free-for-all — and a critical point in the Manhattan bike network. Photo: Google Maps

Last night, Manhattan Community Board 7's transportation committee passed a resolution calling on DOT to make Columbus Circle safe for biking and walking.

The traffic circle at the southwest corner of Central Park is a critical point for people biking between the Upper West Side and Midtown, but it's a major void in the bike network. There are protected bike lanes on Broadway and Eighth Avenue south of the circle, and an unprotected painted northbound lane on Central Park West. But only a small segment of the circle has bike lanes -- the southeastern edge between Broadway and the entrance to the park.

Since 2011, 13 cyclists and five pedestrians were injured at the Columbus Circle, according to NYC Crashmapper.

The resolution calls for "safe passage" for northbound and southbound bike traffic through Columbus Circle, separated from motor vehicle traffic, according to Willow Stelzer, a volunteer with Transportation Alternatives' "Open Broadway" campaign to make Broadway north of Columbus Circle safer for biking and walking.

Most of the lane markings at Columbus Circle have faded, which makes the intersection extra confusing for everyone.

"There’s so much changing of lanes so quickly, I think that’s where the danger is," said Stelzer. "Cyclists are kind of in the mix of all this movement of cars between different lanes -- coming into the circle and going off the circle."

"It’s like the wild wild west when you’re [biking there] because the cars are crossing over what should be lines in the road, but there aren’t any lines there," said Claire Brennan, an Upper West Side volunteer with TransAlt who commutes by bike on Broadway from West 83rd Street to Union Square. "It’s not really their fault that they’re making these sweeping motions, because there’s no signage on the road. it’s just a free-for-all."

Columbus Circle's "bike lane" in action. Photo: Claire Brennan
The Columbus Circle "bike lane" in action. Photo: Claire Brennan
Columbus Circle's "bike lane" in action. Photo: Claire Brennan

Stelzer said she hopes DOT's project will address the streets approaching Columbus Circle as well. The left-aligned Eight Avenue bike lane ends abruptly at 57th Street, two blocks to the south, but the Columbus Circle bike lane is right-aligned, so cyclists have to scurry over to the other side of the street in order to access it.

The text of the resolution won't be available until it's approved by the full board. CB 7's next meeting is Tuesday, June 6, at Fordham University's Manhattan campus (113 West 60th Street). Parts of Columbus Circle are also in community boards 4 and 5, which Stelzer said will also take up the issue, most likely in June.

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