DOT Won’t Protect the 2nd Ave Bike Lane, So Volunteers Formed a Human Chain to Keep Cars Out

Transportation Alternatives volunteers staged a direct action this morning after DOT failed to follow through on plans to install plastic barriers protecting the Second Avenue bike lane in Midtown.

Volunteers formed a "human-protected bike lane" on Second Avenue this morning. Photo: David Meyer
Volunteers formed a "human-protected bike lane" on Second Avenue this morning. Photo: David Meyer

Earlier this summer, DOT filled an 18-block gap in the Second Avenue bike lane in Midtown. But there’s a big problem with the project: On most of those blocks, the new bike lane isn’t protected at rush hour, when the number of cyclists is highest and car traffic is most intense.

So this morning, Transportation Alternatives volunteers took safety in their own hands, lining up between 45th Street and 44th Street to form a “human-protected bike lane” during the 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. rush.

In Midtown, Second Avenue was supposed to get “low-profile tuff curbs” — plastic barriers — to keep motorists out of the bike lane during rush hour. (The rest of the day, the space next to the bikeway is a parking lane, which provides protection.) But the agency changed its mind, nixing the treatment “due to safety and accessibility concerns raised during additional design review and product testing.”

“Without that protection, people aren’t going to be using the bike lane,” TransAlt Manhattan organizer Chelsea Yamada said. “We’ve got 20 to 25 folks here that are using themselves as a substitute for infrastructure. We can’t afford to do this every day, we can’t afford to do that, to put our bodies on the line, but that’s basically what we’re doing every day.”

Unlike the northbound bike lane on First Avenue, the southbound Second Avenue bike lane still has major gaps in protection. In addition to the rush hour gaps in Midtown, there’s no bike lane at all approaching the Queensboro Bridge between 68th Street and 59th Street, nor is there anything approaching the Queens Midtown Tunnel between 42nd Street and 34th Street. TransAlt has collected more than 1,200 petition signatures to close these gaps.

“This is a major thoroughfare, and if you expect bicyclists to use the bike lanes, you have to make our major southbound bike lane safe,” said Midtown East resident Joe Enoch. On the new bike lane section along Second Avenue, when parking protection is not in effect, the lane is almost always blocked by a parked cars, delivery trucks, or taxi pick-ups, Enoch said.

Until the lane is fully protected, that’s going to continue. That would require either moving ahead with the plastic barriers, or making the parking lane permanent and claiming street space from rush hour motor vehicle traffic, which DOT has been loath to do.

“[DOT] did make it safer, but I don’t think they went far enough,” said Enoch. “Given how much traffic is here, we need a parking-protected bike lane. They met us halfway with this [tuff curb] thing, and now that’s not even here.”

This morning’s demo showed that the bike lane can be kept car-free during rush hour if sufficient steps are taken. As long as the human chain was intact, no drivers pulled over into the bike lane. As soon as it went away, motorists took advantage.

  • brian43ny

    I thanked them when I rode pass today.

  • Joe R.

    Seems bollards would work while still allowing access for people making deliveries. It’s not necessary for either delivery vehicles or for hire vehicles to go right up to the curb.

  • William Farrell

    I agree that the bike lane should be protected and that bollards would accomplish that. The reason the DOT doesn’t install them on these types of lanes has to do with clearance for DOS’s street sweeping vehicles. Now, why DOS can’t purchase smaller vehicles such as the ones already owned by both DOT and DPR, that is is another story.

  • AMH

    DOT isn’t making the bike lane safer for safety reasons? WTF?

    I’m sure glad none of the human bollards ended up like an actual bollard.

  • JarekFA

    While we’re on the subject of poorly protected bike lanes, could someone confirm for me if this is the right way to get to the Christie St bike lane from Houston? Seems like a problem.

    I was trying to get to the Manhattan Bridge from Chelsea so I took 9th ave to Bleecker to Bowery to Houston to Christie. Was peaceful for the most part, except for getting on to the Christie St bike lane (and the peds that stand in the bike lane on Christie).

  • Max

    This intersection is still a disaster, even after it’s basically been completed. There’s a signal phase where southbound cyclists from 2nd Ave continuing onto Chrystie Street have a specific bike green light while intersecting pedestrian traffic has a walk signal at the same time. A major conflict to say the least. So there is no right answer as to what anyone should do here.

    Regarding your question, if I were you I would bike on the outside of those turning vehicles to continue straight on Houston over to the east side of Chrystie to head south on the protected path. I feel like that green bike box is technically for north bound cyclists from Chrystie to head west on Houston? But again, who knows!

  • 9th Ave to Bleecker, R on Mott, L on Stanton, R on Chrystie.

  • Another missing piece is enforcement. A pair of cops on bikes, riding up First Avenue and down Second Avenue during each rush hour, would solve the entire problem.

  • Seth Rosenblum

    Riding on Houston still sucks. The way I do what you’re doing is:
    9th ave > Bleecker > LEFT on Bowery > Right on 2nd street > Right on 2nd avenue > straight onto Chrystie.

    Souther end of 2nd ave might still be messy because of construction.

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk96

    I saw the film you uploaded. As @WilletsPoint_SheaStadium:disqus pointed out, from the direction you were coming from, try overtaking on the left-hand side (outside), as if you were going straight, then turn onto the Chrystie St lane to avoid the turning conflict.

    The bike box (green stop area) is for cyclists traveling north on Chrystie who want to turn left (west) onto Houston. The orientation of the bike symbols and arrows give a hint.

    The lanes on Chrystie St were recently realigned to the east side of the street so that it can line up with the 2nd Av bike lane more smoothly, avoiding a precarious transition.

  • Seth Rosenblum

    this one is R on Mott, L on Spring, L on Bowery, R on Stanton

  • Seth Rosenblum

    Who needs the bollards? If taxis and trucks need to make deliveries on this block, then that lane should be a loading zone, they’r obviously blocking the lane anyway. Problem solved!

  • JarekFA

    I would def do that in the future. It was all a big clusterf–k as we turned and i was tempted to go south on Chrystie like a normal car, but then I saw the opening and a driver let me pass. But right, the light was changing and NB Chrystie traffic could’ve hit me perhaps?

  • JarekFA

    Ahh, that’s right. The Bleecker bike lane tries directing you towards the 2nd ave bike lane.

  • Ethan Kent

    Inspiring to see! Thanks also to Transportation Alternative I got to experience being a “Human Bollard” back in 1999, to help defend against similar DOT recidivism, in what was our first pilot pedestrian improvement NYC:

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk96

    Judging by the video, I’d say no. When you crossed to the other side, NB Chrystie was still red so I’m guessing 2nd Av has priority. Haven’t been there in a while, but I know 2nd Av and Chrystie aren’t green at the same time. There were still a couple of cars trying to turn left from Houston (west) onto Chrystie, which is what I would watch out for. If you’re boxed in on the inside again, I’d say follow through with the turn and switch sides further down.

    Plus, i’ll bet cash money that silver Jeep was impatient, it looks like he cut everyone off and jumped the line.

  • Scott

    This is fantastic—and makes me so glad I don’t have to bike in NYC. Ugh. Keep up the good fight!

  • BruceWillisThrowsACar@You

    To some degree yes; but really the problem is with COs / Supervisors telling their pawns what and how to act or enforce. If you have cops on bicycles / legal or legalized e-bikes, they will most likely be low hanging fruit or officers being punished and placed on ‘demotion’ duty. No one will listen to them in the department about their qualms during their cycling duty unless they’re killed by a motorist.

    As much as I no longer respect this city’s police organization, it shouldn’t take the fucking death of a bike cop (or anyone for that matter) by a motorist for the common sense fucking changes that not only we as cyclists need, but changes that all road users need in the name of safety. Expedite this stuff please I’m sick of it.

  • MatthewEH

    Coming from the west, I would actually turn _left_ on Bowery from Bleecker. Then right on 2nd Street, right on 2nd Avenue.

    If I had to make the turn from Houston, I would set up to the left of right-turning autos so as to be clear of conflicts with their turns. Then I’d make a sharp right-turn-maneuver on the far side of the intersection. Signaling clearly and with my head on a swivel.

  • MatthewEH

    Hah. I actually happened to go down 2nd Avenue for my commute yesterday — from 112th through to 22nd Street — but missed the human chain by about 15-20 minutes.

    When I came through there was a construction-contractor looking truck parked in the very block that was human-protected, and I saw another construction-contractor-looking car park right behind it not 10 seconds ahead of me. smh.

  • I get your point that this won’t be the most prestigious duty, and that these officers’ experiences probably won’t cause much difference in the attitude of the police department as a whole towards bicyclists.

    But the effect on the ground would be that bike cops could order people who are double-parked in a bike lane to move their cars, and could ticket those who have parked in a bike lane.

  • That’s a great question. The same can be asked concerning snow-fighting vehicles – why not have a vehicle narrow enough for bike lanes but sturdy enough for cleaning and/or snow-clearing, as needed?

  • macartney

    Police on foot are already ticketing illegaly parked trucks every single day on Second Avenue. The trucks just don’t care. Unless enforcement ramps up to towing and impounding of vehicles, it just won’t solve the problem. Design is the only answer.

  • You make a good point that, for companies, tickets are just part of the price of doing business. However, for individuals, tickets are a lot more damaging.

    But you are right when you say that enforcement must be stepped up to provide for towing of vehicles that block bicycle lanes. I don’t disagree that infrastructure is important; but let’s realise that getting infrastructure installed is a very long process, whereas, the implementation of police bicycle patrols could be done as of tomorrow morning.

  • jaxbot

    We’ve had bollards on 9th ave around 30th St for a year now — is DOS not sweeping that section or is this evidence that the concerns are overblown?

  • William Farrell

    The nice thing about these older designs like 8th and 9th Avenues is that they’re actually quite a bit wider than the newer designs when accounting for the painted buffer. The only permanent physical barrier is that concrete island at the crosswalk, which I think is about 11′, or the clearance for DOS sweepers. The rest of the lane is protected only by parked cars, not bollards, as far as I’m aware.

  • jaxbot

    There’s this, though, which was just installed on 8th/42nd. How is DOS cleaning this?

  • ppsf

    This types of post from streetsblog is the reason why this is nothing more than a blog. These posts are always one-side – simply lacks perspective.

    I am not sure what types of things DOT was worried about when decided to not install the tuff curb, but I am glad it did. As a cyclist I am often in a position where I have to avoid other cyclists. I would not want to try to ramp plastic tuff curb on a rainy day at 18 miles per hour. Also, since this is parking some of the time, would probably not meet ADA standards.

    Tuff curb wont help cyclists here. I often bike on Vernon and even with cement barriers, drivers find their way into the bike path. The plastic sticks don’t do much either, and dont survive NYC drivers long. No, tuff curb, something that is easily mountable by cars, but not by bikes will not protect cyclists.

    You know what will? Significant change in culture – when drivers respect cyclists, pedestrians, and other drivers. Sound Infrastructure is important, but will only go so far. Streetsblog and its divisive narrative is doing absolutely nothing to help change what will actually help.

  • William Farrell

    That’s a good point, I wasn’t aware of this one in particular. My best guess is that they have a maintenance partnership with the local BID.