Hot Topic at West Village L Train Shutdown Meeting: The 13th Street Protected Bike Lane

Based on past experience with major subway disruptions, DOT expects bicycling to double along the L corridor, translating to 2,000-5,000 daily bike trips on 13th Street.

The DOT plan calls for a two-way bike lane to replace a lane of parking on the south side of 13th Street. Image: MTA/DOT
The DOT plan calls for a two-way bike lane to replace a lane of parking on the south side of 13th Street. Image: MTA/DOT

There weren’t many fireworks about the proposed 14th Street busway at last night’s Manhattan Community Board 2 transportation committee meeting. Instead the discussion of DOT’s street redesign plans for the looming L train shutdown focused mainly on the two-way protected bike lane slated for 13th Street [PDF].

The 13th Street bike lane would be a much-needed improvement to the Manhattan bike network, which lacks crosstown protected routes. During the L outage, it would handle a surge in people bicycling.

Based on past experience with major subway disruptions, DOT expects bicycling to double along the L corridor, translating to 2,000-5,000 daily bike trips on 13th Street. DOT has suggested the 13th Street bikeway could remain in place after the shutdown as well.

DOT chose 13th Street for the two-way lane because it’s close to 14th Street, where travel demand is highest, but bike lanes can’t comfortably fit alongside the huge number of pedestrians and high volumes of bus traffic on 14th Street itself. Unlike other crosstown streets, 13th Street also provides a direct, uninterrupted river-to-river connection.

The DOT plan calls for a two-way bike lane to replace a lane of parking on the south side of 13th Street. Many of the 200-plus attendees last night were parents from City & Country School, located on the south side of 13th Street between Sixth Avenue and Seventh Avenue, who worried about cyclists riding through the school’s drop-off area.

Some objections didn’t stem from the specifics of the design so much as the free-floating anxiety that precedes implementation of any bike lane in New York.

“It’s just bonkers to think about diverting traffic and adding that bidirectional bike lane on that street,” said City & Country parent association co-president Tara Grabel, also a 13th Street resident. “We support a bike lane, it just can’t be on 13th Street.”

Not everyone was so rigid. Multiple speakers said they would prefer to split the bike lane into a westbound route on 13th and an eastbound route on 12th. Others wanted to remove the other parking lane on 13th Street to maintain wider clearance for motor vehicles. Both of those alterations would make it easier to drop off a kid with a car without blocking traffic, while also leading to more speeding and swerving by drivers on 13th Street.

This led to some unusual moments where people urged DOT to redesign the bike lane to repurpose more parking spaces. “We vigorously argue that the safety of schoolchildren should outweigh the loss of parking,” said one parent who wanted to split the bike lane in two.

Many people came out to support the 13th Street bike lane without equivocation. “Currently, to get across town there are no protected bike lanes in this area at all,” said Blair Bertaccini, who lives on 14th Street. “Adding one like this, I think, will be wonderful. We need to have a protected bike lane that goes across town and is near 14th Street.”

In executive session, the committee discussed a resolution that will call on DOT to put any bike lane on the north side of 13th street, away from the school, and prioritize deliveries and pick-ups and drop-offs over private parking on the south curb, according to committee chair Shirley Secunda.

The resolution also asks DOT to model the potential traffic impacts of a 24/7 busway, as opposed to a peak-hour busway.

CB 2 will vote on that resolution at its March 22 full board meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m. at Greenwich Village Elementary School.

  • redbike

    One of the strengths of the proposed 2-way bike lane on 13th Street is that it’s 2-way. Whether or not you like or don’t like 2-way bike traffic in bike lanes, de facto, that’s how bike lanes are used. Formalize, legitimize, and popularize that pattern.

    On many blocks, the north side of 13th Street is the freight entrance for 14th Street stores. If the proposed bike lane is on the north side of 13th Street, it’ll be a de facto unloading zone for trucks.

    Further distributing the effects of the “L” shutdown: the ambulance bay at the Lenox Health Greenwich Village medical facility is on West 12th Street. Ambulance traffic uses 14th Street, south on 7th Av, and contraflow west on one-way eastbound West 12th Street. West of Greenwich Av, West 12th Street is surfaced with cobble stones; east of Greenwich Av, it’s paved with asphalt. How about advocating for “NO PARKING” on both sides of West 12th Street east of Greenwich Av to ease and speed emergency ambulance access?

  • jaxbot

    There’s really not a good street besides 13th for a 2-way, I wish there were — but 12th is cobblestone, 14th is the busway, 15th is west-bound (if they did 1-way split pair) and blocked by Union Sq, as is 16th.

    13th is a great connection. The only problem seems to be the school loading — there are concerns about kids getting off the bus and crossing over the 2-way bike lane and getting hit. I don’t *think* that will be a problem, but I do see the concern.

  • jaxbot

    Something Ted from DOT said after the meeting in a small group that pulled him aside to just say “why, why not the north curb?” was that DOT will not put bikes going against traffic that close to the line. This would mean that the left side would go East, and the right side go West — a British bike lane.

    I don’t buy this completely, because we do have bike lanes against oncoming traffic, namely Chrystie. But they might be counting the buffer. Personally, I would rather bike against traffic so I could see the drivers, but they might be trying to follow some engineering rule that I don’t know about.

    But if removing parking is on the table, just nuke all the parking, have a wide travel lane and a wide buffer on the north side. Done. Everyone wins.

  • Seth Rosenblum

    It’s pretty easy to slow bike traffic in front of a school or other pedestrian crossing: put a few orange traffic cones on top of the striped yellow line on either side of the school entrance, it narrows the path and warns cyclists to stay in lane. The bollards by the Williamsburg bridge have this effect.

    A better solution would be to raise the bike lane up to sidewalk grade outside the school, which slows bikes and let’s cyclists know they’re on shared space, but there’s probably not enough time for a capital project like that.

  • I get that people have that concern, but bike lanes all over the world are compatible with school bus loading. I really wish these people would travel just about anywhere. Plus, there are solutions. When a school bus is unloading, have a school employee or the bus drier come out and stop bike traffic. It’s really not that hard!

  • Vooch

    car traffic is safe for children

    bike traffic is unsafe for children

    LOL

  • qrt145

    I think the main concern is cyclists going between the school bus and the curb, something which doesn’t happen with cars. But like Seth said, the solution is trivial.

  • redbike

    The problem anticipated on West 13th St in front of the City & Country School seems to be what currently occurs on West 15th St between 8th and 9th Avs in front of Corlears School. These are both private schools, not public. The motor traffic isn’t school busses; it’s SUV’s. On West 15th St, the SUV’s block the bike lane, which is merely two stripes of paint. What’s proposed (and I support) for West 13th St is a separated 2-way bike lane with no provision for idling private cars. I think this is better than what’s currently on West 15th St. Human crossing guards (as Doug G. suggests in this thread) looking out for the safety of young ‘uns crossing the bike lane (and teaching them to Look Both Ways)? Good suggestion! Special consideration for idling private cars on a public street? Nope.

  • qrt145

    Completely agreed! I didn’t realize that we were talking about SUVs (double parked and idling, or course) and not school buses. The SUVs (or rather their selfish drivers) are the real problem.

  • I take it the bike track network is still too… lacking… for kids to cycle to school themselves?

  • A narrower bike lane sounds to me like asking for trouble: then everyone has even less room to go around each other.
    Maybe a median would be better: then the pedestrians can cross the different streams of bike traffic one by one and it makes it obvious for all involved where it’s safe to stand and wait, and where it’s safe to cycle. Clarity is half the battle in such situations.

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