Hundreds of Volunteers Made Fifth Ave Safe for Biking Last Night. DOT Can Do It Permanently.

The de Blasio administration has not yet released specific commitments to extend the protected bike lane network through the heart of Midtown.

Volunteers formed a "human-protected bike lane" last night on Fifth Avenue. Photo: Brooklyn Spoke
Volunteers formed a "human-protected bike lane" last night on Fifth Avenue. Photo: Brooklyn Spoke

More than 300 volunteers organized by Transportation Alternatives formed a six-block-long “human-protected bike lane” on Fifth Avenue last night, calling on the de Blasio administration to extend the protected bike lane network through Midtown’s busiest streets.

Fifth Avenue has no bike infrastructure above 26th Street, leaving a large void in the bicycle network where there’s huge travel demand. Protected bike lanes can’t come soon enough: Through the first eight months of this year drivers injured 15 people biking and 28 people walking on Fifth Avenue in Midtown, according to city data.

“Especially during high traffic hours, [Fifth Avenue] just feels a little scary because some of the drivers are driving aggressively,” said Jei Le, who started bike commuting to Midtown from the Upper West Side earlier this year.

Last month, DOT presented a plan to add a second bus lane on this part of Fifth Avenue, but a bikeway was not included. To date, the agency has hesitated to claim street space for biking and walking on these busy Midtown avenues. DOT has stated a vague intention to extend protected bike lanes through the busiest blocks of Fifth and Sixth Avenues but never backed that up with specific commitments, timetables, or designs.

The hundreds of people taking action yesterday were saying that’s not good enough and took matters into their own hands. The human-protected bike lane occupied two lanes, from 50th Street to 44th Street. Clarence Eckerson was there to document the action:

Fifth Avenue functioned perfectly well while the impromptu bike lane was in effect. People biking quickly gravitated to the new space set aside for them, while car and bus traffic continued apace in the remaining three lanes.

In a written response posted on DOT’s Twitter feed, Commissioner Polly Trottenberg framed the campaign for a bike lane as being in conflict with the second bus lane for Fifth Avenue. “We did not want to postpone what we see as a reasonably straightforward improvement for buses,” she wrote.

DOT is “working through the engineering questions required to design a safe and well-functioning bike lane on 5th Avenue,” she said, but gave only a vague timeline for when that work would wrap up.

But without public pressure on DOT to follow through, there’s no telling how long the public might have to wait for bikeways on the busiest Midtown avenues. It’s been four years since Community Board 5 called on the city to install protected bike lanes on Fifth and Sixth avenues. The city did respond to those requests — up to a point. The protected bike lanes on those streets extend only as far north as 24th Street and 34th Street, respectively.

In the past, DOT has redesigned streets for better transit and safer biking simultaneously. The overhaul of First Avenue and Second Avenue, for instance, included both bus lanes and protected bike lanes.

“There’s no excuse not to include safe infrastructure on all of our streets, especially big arterial streets that are already being redesigned,” TransAlt Executive Director Paul Steely White told the crowd last night.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, local Council Member Dan Garodnick, and City Council transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez are all on the record in favor of a Fifth Avenue protected bike lane, and Rodriguez came out last night to show his support.

Community Board 5 will vote on the Fifth Avenue bus lane plan on Thursday. Advocates plan to press the case to DOT and CB 5 that the redesign of Fifth Avenue should also include a protected bike lane. The meeting starts at 6 p.m. at Xavier High School, located at 30 West 16th Street.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    If they’re closing the door on Fifth, here’s the alternative:
    – Make the Central Park Drives car free at all hours
    – Extend the 6th and 7th Ave protected bike lanes to connect to them

  • Guest

    It’d be hard to provide a protected bike lane in this area because it would probably fill up with pedestrians unless DOT also widened the sidewalks. When all is said and done, you’d probably end up with only two motor vehicle travel lanes. This is where congestion pricing would be helpful. Put variable tolls on Fifth Avenue below 57th Street, maybe with an exception for deliveries, apply shared space concepts, and reallocate the street space. Show how good it can be.

  • Wilfried84

    There’s a 7th Ave. bike lane? If you mean through Times Square, it’s now taken over by bollards and police cars (and was otherwise a sidewalk extension). Otherwise, there’s nada. You have to go to 2nd or 9th to find a protected lane downtown.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    They’re adding the 7th Ave one right now in the 20s. It doesn’t go into Midtown.

  • Ishamgirl

    I take a Bronx express bus everyday to work, which goes down Fifth. Even w/a dedicated bus lane, the traffic is out of control.

    Every morning on Fifth and 104th Street there are anywhere from 3-8 school buses double parked. I have complained for years but nothing is done about it. The buses are empty and they just idle.

    In front of Marymount, there are always double parked cars. This morning they were receiving a food delivery which blocked the whole left lane.

    Last year I emailed Convent of the Sacred Heart and told the principal to not block the bus lane for his school’s yellow bus, which chauffeurs around the little snowflakes. heaven forbid they ride public transportation.

    Congestion pricing will not work. My bus goes over the Triboro and even though the toll is $5.76, it does nothing to fix traffic. With the inception of E-ZPass, no one blinks an eyelash to paying for something that automatically goes on a credit/debit card. The toll could be $20 each way and people would still pay for it.

    My commute each way is at least an hour – most days it’s 90 minutes. I live 11 miles away. I will not get on the subway for a plethora of reasons and biking to work would never be an option.

  • c2check

    I think they still need a PBL on 5th (or at least on Lex).
    It’s nearly a mile between 7th and 2nd, the other southbound PBL option.
    And of course, crosstown options are horrendous, making the bike trip to farther-away PBLs even less safe and less comfortable.

  • Vooch

    if you had PBLs the entire way, you could cycle in less time than taking the bus -45 minutes door to door

  • Vooch

    We New Yorkers are willing to suffer to protect our President from the threat of car bombs in front of Trump Tower. Fifth from 59th to 33rd should be 2 lanes of city buses only, the remaining space devoted to a bike lane and wider sidewalks.

    Our crack CounterTerrorism units of the NYPD would be able to patrol Fifth with much more latitude if this plan were put into place. It’s for our safety

    It’s tough to do, but I know NYers are willing to sacrifice driving on Fifth to
    protect our Heroic President.

  • Joe R.

    Only if they didn’t have traffic signals. Average speeds on typical NYC streets stopping for traffic signals tends to be in the range of 6 to 10 mph. That puts her commute at 1:06 to 1:50 each way.

    I occasionally cover 11 miles in 40 minutes sometimes riding at 3 AM and doing Idaho yields. Short of non-stop bike infrastructure, there’s no way to legally ride that fast during peak times.

  • Vooch

    Bronx River Parkway and FDR reallocate 1 motor land to cyclists solves that one PDQ

    plus increases through out of those highways

  • AnoNYC

    Congestion pricing does work and has lowered automotive volumes wherever implemented. The Triboro Bridge may have a toll, but there are eight other free Harlem River crossings (most traffic crossing the Harlem River does not use the Triboro Bridge). A 60th St cordon would reduce traffic volumes coming from the north. East River bridge tolls would reduce traffic volumes coming from greater Long Island.

  • AnoNYC

    Or just let bikes officially use the bus only lanes like in many other cities.

  • JarekFA

    The bikes are not your enemy. The single occupancy vehicles, including car services, are. They should pay up. the Buses should have signal prioritization. The double-parkers should be fined and towed.

    In civilized countries, the bus riders are treated better than this. When I go to NL, the buses are faster than driving. When I go to the main train station to go out of town, I’m taking the bus, not a car. When I’m at a light — I may have to wait several light cycles before my direction gets a green, but the buses stream on because they get their own light. Like hell this city would ever force a black car to sit for several light cycles while Express Buses stream on..

    We should have dedicated busways — i.e. no SOV or non-HOV at all.

    You’re suffering because of political choices made by our electeds. Virtually all of the uptown pols (Ydanis being an exception) care more about cars.

    Reality is, if we had protected bike lanes, and say, you’re worried about tiring out, you got an e-bike, you could commute in 45 minutes each way. That would be the optimal public policy. But our city is run by car loving idiots, our Mayor and his daily motorcade. I’ve got a 5 mile commute each way over the east river — every day it takes me 25 mins door to door. Quicker than a car, bus or train.

    But oh shit, you take the Triboro? I think the MTA bans bikes from actually riding on a portion of it because again, we’re ruled by punitive idiots.

  • AnoNYC

    Why not just officially authorize bicycles in bus lanes in NYC? I believe that’s the case in London.

    I like the double bus lane idea but I think a bigger priority than a protected bus lane would be sidewalk expansion in Midtown along 5th Ave. The bikes could use the 24 hour bus lane for now.

    In the future I would like to see two-way BRT along 5th with expanded sidewalks and a protected bike lane.

    I think there should be efforts like this to bring protected lanes to places where they are desperately needed because there is no bus lane or any kind of safe place to ride in. e.g. Willis Ave in the Bronx, Bruckner Blvd in the Bronx south of Longwood Ave or Queens Blvd west of 50th St.

  • AstoriaBlowin

    According to the DOT there’s 130 buses per hour traveling on 5th Avenue, I don’t have the details on how that is measured, if that’s how passed one measurement point or if that is supposed to be on the whole stretch in midtown, but riding around and with a lot of buses I think would be very intimidating for a lot of riders and would not be the best way to increase bike mode share on 5th.

  • Vooch

    because it’s insanely scary – I ride in bus lanes all the time. But it’s only
    for 1/2% of people. the other 99.5% will be terrified ( as they should be )

  • Ian Turner

    Bicycles are already allowed in bus lanes. The rule for bus lanes excludes vehicles powered by ‘muscular power’.

  • MatthewEH

    Not true. You can absolutely be ticketed for it. Rcny 4-12 (m) sets out the rules for bus lanes, and makes no mention of exceptions for bikes and similar.

  • And MoveNY would *lower* the tolls on the Triboro, which could incentivize its use (and hence divert some traffic away from local streets).

  • #deckthehighways
    The FDR should be boulevardized, and imagine if we reallocated some highway lanes as bus lanes (not merely HOV lanes, which are hardly enforced and still traversed by some SOVs) – it’d be a HUGE improvement for the express bus network!

  • Vooch

    actually the long term plan should be to remove the blight of all urban highways and restore the pre existing street grid.

  • JoAnn

    I got a bike ticket for riding in a bus lane last year.

  • Willow

    This is hilarious. I love all the videos by Wars on Cars. Collectively, they answer all of the arguments against car-free zones. Is this you narrating?

  • Vooch

    Willow,

    You are my heroine because you get your step by step goals accomplished. Millions of New Yorkers have had their lives immeasurably improved by your efforts.

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