DOT Tests Out New Intersection Design for Protected Bike Lanes

At Columbus Avenue and 70th Street, the agency has replaced a "mixing zone" with a new design that should reduce conflicts between passing cyclists and turning drivers.

DOT recently redesigned of the intersection of Columbus Avenue and 70th Street to make cyclists more visible to drivers turning across the bike lane.
DOT recently redesigned of the intersection of Columbus Avenue and 70th Street to make cyclists more visible to drivers turning across the bike lane.

DOT is starting to test out bikeway intersection designs that could replace the “mixing zone” treatment the agency has favored for the past several years.

In a mixing zone, drivers turning across the bike lane approach from an angle where they have to look at mirrors or over the shoulder for passing cyclists. In the new design, drivers crossing the bike lane turn at a tighter angle that slows their approach and positions them to see passing cyclists through the front windshield.

A tipster sent in the above photo showing the new design at Columbus Avenue and 70th Street. The mixing zone has been replaced with a painted pedestrian island that redirects the path of turning motorists.

Intersections with mixing zones have a higher rate of cyclist injuries than intersections where cyclists and turning drivers each have a separate signal phase.

After a turning box truck driver killed Kelly Hurley as she biked through the mixing zone on First Avenue at 9th Street, DOT said it would test out different intersection designs along protected bicycle lanes.

The First Avenue mixing zone where a turning driver struck and killed Kelly Hurley. Google Maps
The First Avenue mixing zone where a turning driver struck and killed Kelly Hurley. Google Maps

Since the spring, volunteers with Transportation Alternatives have been pitching Manhattan community boards on an intersection design concept from architect Reed Rubey that calls for plastic bollards to create more separation for cyclists and slow approaching drivers in the turn lane. Six Manhattan community boards have called on DOT to adopt the concept.

The design that DOT is testing on Columbus Avenue goes a bit further and eliminates the turn lane altogether, adding the pedestrian island for separation instead. There’s also an area painted green where cyclists can stop on the far side of the crosswalk during a red light to establish themselves in turning drivers’ field of vision.

In addition to Columbus and 70th, sources have spotted this new intersection design at Amsterdam Avenue and 85th Street, Ninth Avenue and 38th Street, and Fourth Avenue and 13th Street.

If you see one, snap a photo and send it to tips@streetsblog.org.

  • Joe R.

    The open question though is are there actually times bicycle traffic is so heavy that crossing pedestrians are forced to wait for a long time by cyclists who fail to yield? You obviously should yield as that’s what the rules currently say you must do. However, I’m thinking suppose we changed the rules to peds must yield to bikes. Would it ever potentially cause the situation I mentioned?

  • Crazytrainmatt

    I know this intersection well and it is surprisingly unsafe. There are a lot of last-minute lane changes or excursions. I take the left lane here but I see less skilled cyclists follow the bike lane and then get passed on both sides by fast-moving cars. I’ve even seen a few cars from 41st cut across the tunnel entrance (so about 7 lanes including a slight wrong-way component) to access the left turn lane in your photo. The expanse of pavement here means that these hits can be at high speed, eg to make the light.

    Related to your point about the merge, it actually feels much safer right now with scaffolding covering the bike lane (until the middle the view in your photo). It prevents the cars from merging across your path until there are two full lanes.

  • walks bikes drives

    I cross the Greenway often on foot, and can usually do it with just waiting under a minute. But I think that is besides the point. I think crosswalks/intersections should have a hierarchy the same way a 4 way stop has when all vehicles arrive at the same time. Vehicles going straight have right of way. Right turning vehicles second. Left third. In this case, pedestrians first, cyclists second, automobile drivers third. I don’t think the Greenway should have special rules. I go fast on the Greenway, and can often cruise at 20-25mph on it. But I still slow down or stop so people can cross. I chased down an asshole in front of the Intrepid who blasted through a red light and crowded crosswalk yelling the excuse “I am clipped in!” Now of your goal is exercise when out on the Greenway as mine usually is, you should relish the start and stop of yielding to pedestrians because it makes you a stronger cyclist, and you are never pausing for more than a handful of seconds or about a minute if it is a traffic light.

    But it just matches elitist claims when you argue cars need to yield to cyclists and pedestrians need to yield to cyclists. It should always be simple. Most vulnerable road user and/or lowest speed vehicle gets the right of way.

  • Joe R.

    I was only thinking special rules given that in most of the city cyclists have to yield to pedestrians. It would be nice to have a few places where cyclists truly have priority. In the absence of that, I think we should seriously consider having the greenway go under the busiest 5 or so crossings. You only need go down about 7 or 8 feet and build approaches for that. The grades can be steep since you’ll be using the momentum you build up going down to carry you back up (that’s the advantage of underpasses instead of overpasses). Pedestrians still have a nice, level crossing, only now they don’t need to worry about bikes. Better yet, cyclists won’t get hit by vehicles turning, as has happened a number of times. And the underpasses are totally unobtrusive compared to an overpass.

    Personally if my goal was exercise on the greenway I’d be riding at 2 or 3 AM when there aren’t likely to be any pedestrians. I don’t get the people trying to best their Strava times when the greenway is full of people. Stopping and starting just gives me leg strain, and eventually leg cramps which stop me dead. That’s why I have to avoid it. I’d say at best I’m good for about ten stops. Anything over that, I risk being stranded.

  • nocklebeast

    this design directs thru traffic (the cyclists) to the wrong side of turning traffic (the left-turning motorists). that is still a design flaw. there are designs that do not have that flaw. do that instead.

  • Elizabeth F

    I was rather vocal below expressing concerns about this new design, from a bicycle point of view. Well, today I went to 70th and Columbus, tried it out myself a few times, and observed others (cars, trucks, bikes) using the intersection. I also spent some time at 68th and Columbus (a mixing zone), doing the same observations.

    After experiencing and observing — especially how drivers navigated it and where they looked — I can say that this intersection design is 500% better than mixing zones. My concerns and fears did not pan out.

    I can report on more details, but the bottom line is… this design is a HUGE improvement over mixing zones.

  • Elizabeth F

    Roads are designed for 45mph or more in Houston, and some people even drive 60; yet nobody says it’s unsafe. So explain to me why drivers should be limited to just 25mph in NYC.

  • Elizabeth F

    I just hit the tunnel at 20mph on my e-bike. Saves a lot of scary situations in the bike lane there.

  • Joe R.

    My problem here isn’t with the 25 mph speed limit, which makes sense given all the pedestrians and cyclists in NYC. Rather, it’s with chandru’s silly idea that bikes shouldn’t go over 15 mph.

  • I am pleased to read that you rode your e-bike in the regular traffic lanes where it belongs, and not in the bike lane.

  • Elizabeth F

    Your logic was ridiculous; as shows when it is repeated from a windshield perspective.

    Yes, chandru’s point is silly too. Traffic is most safe when everyone is going the same speed. So… ideally, bikes would go 25mph.

  • Elizabeth F

    I am not pleased to see that you opened your big mouth, to try to force your opinions on others.

  • Joe R.

    I still think you missed my point entirely. I picked an extreme outlier (i.e. a velomobile going 40+ mph) just to illustrate that what is “unsafe” depends more on the design of the infrastructure than on absolute speeds. Obviously a velomobile at 40 mph on urban bike infrastructure, even the Netherlands, would be unsafe as it would be going much faster than everyone else. However, on the relatively empty rural bike superhighways you occasionally see such things, and they have enough room to safely coexist with slower cyclists.

    So… ideally, bikes would go 25mph.

    Or infrastructure should be designed so cyclists going the speed limit can safely pass those going slower. That’s often NOT the case with a lot of NYC’s bicycle infrastructure.

    If chandru made the case that maybe any speed higher than 15 mph on the protected paths was unsafe, I might agree based on their design. However, the blanket idea that bikes should never go over 15 mph on any street in NYC because it’s “unsafe” is patently ridiculous. As you said, it’s safer when everyone goes the same speed. If bikes take the traffic lane, they should go the prevailing speed of traffic, whatever that is, or move to the right if they can’t.

  • If you look carefully, you’ll notice that this is what is known as a “comments section”, which is a place specifically intended for opening one’s big mouth to try to force one’s opinions on others.

  • Bruce

    That’s a common design in the Netherlands, for instance. Drivers are forced to take a wider turn, putting cyclists in front of rather than next to them, increasing visibility.

  • Adrian Horczak

    We definitely need separate infrastructure for bikes which weigh two orders of magnitude less than cars. Viaducts for cyclists would be great! I think this isn’t being done because of costs. If we can save lives, it’s worth making a few streets a little “uglier.”

  • Joe R.

    Exactly. Look at all the ugliness we have in the name of motordom. Not only do we have hideous expressways which cut neighborhoods in two, but every block looks like a used car lot with curbside parking. Anything we might do for bikes would pale by comparison. Done right, it might even improve the appearance of some streets. If we build over the curbside lane, you’ll hide all those ugly parked cars in shadow (and block them from anyone viewing them from above). Heck, we could even put bike share stations near the entrances and exits.

    I know this idea is met with lukewarm reception here, but I suspect if we actually built a few of these to test the concept, most cyclists would love it. And it would save lots of lives. Not just cyclist’s lives. By shifting a lot of trips from car to bike, it would reduce the numbers killed by air pollution.

  • Martijn

    first 40 km/h is not 40mph, the max speed for mopeds on a bike path within the city limit in the Netherlands is 30 km/h out of the city limit 45km/h.

    In Dutch city’s not many bikes go faster than about 10mph so yes on your question “That’s supposed to get people riding bikes???”.

  • Joe R.

    They also remove traffic signals from most bike paths, so there’s no need to maintain higher speeds to make lights as in NYC. People can ride whatever speed they like and not be concerned that light timing will add punitive amounts of time to their journey.

    A second factor here is Dutch cities are tiny compared to New York. My understanding is you’re passing cow pastures 3 miles from the center of Amsterdam. Slower speeds for the mile or two you’re inside a city only add a few minutes to your trip. NYC is 20 miles by 20 miles. 10 mph versus 15 or 20 can add lots of time to longer trips.

    Also, those are limits for mopeds on bike paths. No limits for anything without a motor as far as I know. Some pros actually train on the bike paths, albeit not in the city.

    Here’s a very interesting video:

    The rider sometimes chooses to go on the road, other times on the bike path. He goes as fast as 54 km/h on the bike path and it doesn’t seem to cause any problems.

  • Corvus Corax

    Saying that 15mph is close to walking speed is quite an overreach: average walking speed is 3.1mph, not even close to 15mph.

    Slower cyclists will be heavily encouraged to get e-bikes so they can keep up with the rest of the bike traffic.

    What do you mean by ‘encouraged’? Hand slapping? Body shaming? ‘Move it, fatso’ ‘get moving, granny’? ‘Please, won’t you get an e-bike so I don’t have to pass you’? Free e-bikes for seniors? What?

    And who are you appointing to be in charge of the Department of Heavy Encouragement? Wait, wait, don’t tell me.

    I agree with many (if not most) of your comments, Joe R, but you are way off base here.

  • Joe R.

    Saying that 15mph is close to walking speed is quite an overreach: average walking speed is 3.1mph, not even close to 15mph.

    Do you know the difference between average speed and cruising speed? On a lot of NYC streets if you ride legally (i.e. stop for the full cycle of every red light), you might hit reds every other block. The slower you cruise the more often you hit reds. This can reduce your average speed of travel to walking speeds. Walking speeds comprise a range of anywhere from well under 1 mph to perhaps 5 or 6 mph. Heck, I’ve averaged under 5 mph on a few streets when I humored people who said I shouldn’t pass red lights. This was despite accelerating like mad up to 20+ mph the second the light when green. I probably would have averaged 3 mph on those streets if I sedately accelerated and never exceeded 15 mph.

    Of course, if you have nice bicycle infrastructure where you never need to stop 15 mph isn’t horribly slow. I still don’t think it should be considered as some kind of absolute maximum, but at least in such a situation 15 mph (which would also be your average speed given that you’re not stopping) would give you reasonable door-to-door speeds.

    What do you mean by ‘encouraged’?

    Maybe they’ll want to keep up with bike traffic instead of being passed? Maybe they’ll want to get where they’re going faster? All sorts of reasons people might get an e-bike once they’re legal. I’ll probably get one myself just for kicks, although I’ll still do most of my riding on my regular bike. Given the advantages of e-bikes touted by people who use them regularly like Elizabeth, they’ll already have plenty of people “encouraging” them to get one for various reasons without me saying a word.

    I agree with many (if not most) of your comments, Joe R, but you are way off base here.

    Well, that’s good to know. As the late Mayor Koch said, “If you agree with me on 9 out of 12 issues, vote for me. If you agree with me on 12 out of 12 issues, see a psychiatrist.” In other words, you’re occasionally going to disagree with someone even if you often agree with them.

  • Joe R.

    Yes it is, and you’re certainly entitled to your opinion on e-bikes, even if most of the rest of the world disagrees with you and allows them on bicycle paths. The Dutch even allow mopeds on bicycle paths, although they have a speed limit for them of 30 km/h (18.6 mph) in cities and 45 km/h (28.0 mph) elsewhere. We could have a similar scheme for e-bikes. Let them on bike paths but give them a speed limit of 20 mph, which incidentally is the highest speed legal e-bikes can reach anyway. This makes them no faster, often slower, than a lot of faster cyclists.

    If on the other hand you insist they should ride with traffic, then the e-bike regulations need to be revised to allow a top speed of at least 30 mph, better yet 35 to 40 mph, to allow them to keep up with typical NYC traffic speeds.

  • The 50cc gas-powered scooters that can go only 20 miles per hour are forbidden on bike lanes and are meant to be ridden in the regulsr traffic lanes. Therefore, e-bikes can use the traffic lanes as well.

    Riding a 50cc scooter requires a motorcycle licence in New York, though not in most other states. But, even in places where no licence is required for a scooter (such as in Washington, DC, where I saw plenty of them and talked to a few owners), they cannot be used in bike lanes. E-bikes should be treated the same.

    But I agree that it would be better if both types of vehicles were able to go a bit faster than 20 miles per hour. A top speed of 30 would probably be good.

  • Michelle Pasternack

    By the way , the Netherlands is a country to those who keep comparing it to New York City!

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