Manhattan Community Board 5 Endorses DOT’s Fifth Ave Redesign Without a Bike Lane

Dozens of people urged board members to make their support for DOT's project conditional on a specific commitment from the agency to add a protected bike lane on Fifth.

Supporters of protected bike lane on Fifth Avenue packed the room last night. Photo: David Meyer
Supporters of protected bike lane on Fifth Avenue packed the room last night. Photo: David Meyer

Manhattan Community Board 5 voted 33 to 7 last night in favor of DOT’s proposal to add a second bus lane to Fifth Avenue. Dozens of people attended to call for a protected bike lane in the redesign of the avenue, but ultimately board members opted not to use their leverage to press that case with DOT.

DOT has yet to commit to a protected bike lane on Fifth despite a long-running advocacy campaign to highlight the need for safe bikeways in the heart of Midtown. In 2013, CB 5 called on DOT to install protected bike lanes on Fifth Avenue. The agency followed through on that request south of 25th Street, but hasn’t touched the busiest blocks in the Midtown core.

“We’re asking you to leverage this moment,” Greenwich Village resident Janet Liff told board members last night. “This is really the opportunity to get what you want.” Liff urged the board to withhold an endorsement unless DOT commits to a specific timetable for implementing a protected bike lane.

Dozens of other people turned out to support a bikeway on Fifth, and 10 were given the opportunity to testify on the record. They spoke to the benefits of safer streets and said Fifth Avenue needs to prioritize both transit and biking.

“We’re absolutely not, of course, against transit,” Luc Nadal said. “We need complete streets that accommodate the needs of everybody.”

“I have the title of the most dangerous job in New York City,” said bike messenger Ali Muhammad. “It is crucial to have a bike lane, not only on Fifth Avenue, but everywhere in Manhattan.”

DOT Deputy Borough Commissioner Ed Pincar said the agency doesn’t want to hold up bus improvements while it investigates the “engineering questions” of a protected bike lane on Fifth Avenue, echoing Commissioner Polly Trottenberg’s statement from earlier this week.

“We consider this project to be one of the most important and impactful bus enhancement projects we are advancing this year,” Pincar said. “We do not want to postpone what we see as a reasonably straightforward improvement for buses.”

Representatives from MTA New York City Transit were on hand but said little. NYCT Vice President for Transportation, Safety and Training Stephen Vidal argued that a second bus lane will make Fifth Avenue safer because it would reduce the number of cars on the street. Whatever safety is gained from the bus lane, however, won’t address the void in the bike network on Fifth Avenue.

Board members did not ask DOT or MTA staff any questions, and Pincar’s argument was apparently enough to convince them.

“I do not believe the choice is between bus lanes and bike lanes. Improvements always continue to happen,” second vice chair Clayton Smith said. “What’s before us is a vote for a double-bus lane. It’s an investment in mass transit, they want to do it immediately, I think it’s a no-brainer.”

Smith and his colleagues said they’d continue to advocate for a protected bike lane on the corridor, but last night was their opportunity to do just that — and they took a pass.

  • If there’s a big fault in the process here, it’s the instinct for many involved in politics – even at the small-beans CB level – to maintain decorum/manners in the face of sub-optimal policy. Passing the resolution that the committee supported likely seemed like the polite thing to do.

    It didn’t help that DOT didn’t give the board a second option for a researched, substantial design featuring a bicycle lane. That would have made a difference here. I’m sure if DOT presents such a design, CB5 will very strongly consider it. (They have already passed a supportive reso asking DOT to study and present a complete street plan for 5th/6th based on TA’s prior activism)

  • Larry Littlefield

    “DOT has yet to commit to a protected bike lane on Fifth despite a long-running advocacy campaign to highlight the need for safe bikeways in the heart of Midtown.”

    Speaking as one who travels through the area, the best solution would probably be a “bicycle boulevard” on Park, with periodic barriers turning it into a local street for motor vehicles and a through street for bicycles.

    With signals timed at 12 mph and bicycles, not motor vehicles, going up around Grand Central.

    And no left turns — motor vehicles could circle the block like UPS drivers.

    And “summer streets” every Sunday.

    I understand that messengers need to travel every avenue, but for rest of us, if Broadway and Park were designed to favor bicycle travel in both directions, it would be better to concentrate there and then go across to a destination.

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