TransAlt to DOT: Street Redesigns Aren’t a Zero-Sum Game

Fifth Avenue in Midtown should have both a second bus lane and a protected bike lane, writes TransAlt director Paul Steely White.

Fifth Avenue at 48th Street: Lots of space for cars, cramped conditions on the margins for people walking and biking. Photo: Google Maps
Fifth Avenue at 48th Street: Lots of space for cars, cramped conditions on the margins for people walking and biking. Photo: Google Maps

The redesign of Fifth Avenue isn’t “a zero sum game” where better transit has to take priority over safe bicycling, or vice versa, Transportation Alternatives says in a letter sent to DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg today. The street should have both the additional bus lane DOT has proposed and the safe cycling infrastructure that advocates have called for, argues TransAlt director Paul Steely White.

“We agree that additional bus lanes need to be added quickly, we also believe — and demand — that safety features for cyclists and pedestrians be implemented in the same expeditious manner,” White wrote.

Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue in the Midtown core have no bike infrastructure despite the extremely high demand for travel and access to the biggest employment cluster in the city. Campaigns for “complete streets” on both avenues, with transit lanes, protected bike lanes, and pedestrian improvements, have garnered support from community boards, local elected officials, and thousands of petition-signers over the past several years.

So when DOT showed a plan for a second bus lane on Fifth Avenue in Midtown last month, advocates were alarmed by the lack of bike infrastructure in the project. They urged Community Board 5’s transportation committee to make its vote conditional on a specific commitment from the agency to add a protected bike lane.

In the context of a community board meeting, where DOT takes its cues from the board’s advisory vote, that’s the only kind of leverage advocates have.

The Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Riders Alliance, and NYPIRG’s Straphangers Campaign have signed on to the effort to bring a bikeway and pedestrian safety upgrades to Fifth Avenue [PDF].

DOT has responded defensively while offering vague assurances that a bike lane will be added at some unspecified future date. In a letter posted to Twitter during Tuesday’s “human-protected bike lane” demonstration on Fifth Avenue, Trottenberg accused the advocacy organizations of opposing “efforts to improve bus service for some of the most underserved New Yorkers”:


In today’s letter, White objects to DOT framing the issue in “zero sum terms as a competition between transit riders on the one hand, and the safety of vulnerable street users on the other.” What advocates are seeking is a “clearly articulated and immediate commitment” to implementing a protected bike lane on this part of Fifth Avenue, he writes:

Since 2013, the Department of Transportation has fielded requests from three community boards, six elected officials, and nearly twenty thousand New Yorkers asking for a complete street on Fifth Avenue. The demand and support for more safety and better transit on Fifth Avenue is there. We still have not heard a compelling reason for your current divide and conquer approach, and given how long the issue has been studied already we believe there is real reason to be alarmed by any implementation timeline that isn’t clearly articulated or immediate.

Tonight at 6 p.m. Community Board 5 will take up DOT’s bus lane plan for Fifth Avenue at Xavier High School, 30 West 16th Street. Before the board votes, there will be a public session where you can weigh in on Fifth Avenue and why a protected bike lane is a must.

  • Vooch

    We need to protect our glorious President from the dangers of terrorist car bombs. Trump Tower is a magnet for bad guys.

    I am sure that New Yorkers are willing to suffer in order to keep Trump Tower safe.

    Let’s make Fifth Avenue from 59th to 34th a safe zone. Reallocate 30’ to exclusive buses, 10’ for cyclists, and 30’ for pedestrians.

    It will be tough for us New Yorkers not to be able to drive on Fifth but it’s worth it to protect our President from TERRORISTICAL CAR BOMBS ???????????

  • JarekFA

    If you design your roads as wide highways for cars then that’s what you’re going to get.

  • J

    FOUR YEARS! DOT has been asked by the Community Board for protected bike lane FOUR years ago, and they are surprised that when they present a plan that omits those lanes that people are upset. Seriously?

    If DOT is serious about getting TA off its back they need to do the following:
    1) Develop a serious, connected, protected infrastructure plan that connects north-south and east-west across midtown.
    2) Develop an implementation plan for that infrastrucutre
    3) Fund the implementation plan

    Until then, the “trust us” line from DOT is getting old and increasingly patronizing.

  • AnoNYC

    Is anyone out there advocating for a sidewalk expansion on 5th Ave through Midtown?

    It’s needed!