Why Does 8th Avenue Have 6 Lanes for Cars While People Are Crammed in the Margins?

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Clarence Eckerson and Mark Gorton are back in Midtown, where sidewalks are too narrow to accommodate pedestrian traffic.

In this short Streetfilm, you can see how people are forced off the sidewalk and into the Eighth Avenue bikeway at 43rd Street outside the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

The sidewalk is so skinny and so packed with humanity that cyclists in the bike lane have to thread between the curb and a parallel, impromptu walkway in the painted buffer zone next to parked cars. Meanwhile, the city gives motor vehicles six lanes of asphalt.

It’s chaotic. And as Mark points out, “It’s a choice. We consistently prioritize the cars over the people.”

  • Joseph Cutrufo

    If you haven’t done 8th Avenue during the evening rush, DON’T. It’s terrible. Just watch this video instead. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_TraACNBRK0

  • Vooch

    70’ roadway

    currently 63’ Cars
    8’ cycles

    I propose:

    11’ Exclusive Bus Lane
    31’ Cars
    9’ protected bike lane
    19’ expanded sidewalk ( 8’ each side )

    seems reasonable allocation

  • JarekFA

    Curb extends out to the parking protected lane and then a bike lane is filled in the space that’s created. Still need room for deliveries. Maybe assign a lot more space for that on every side street? This looks horrifying. Such a broken system. We need congestion pricing 10 years ago and all our fucking out to lunch mayor can say is a Millionaire’s tax!?!?!?! All the people in the street! And soooooo much space for cars.

  • vnm

    Great video! This area definitely needs an overhaul as it’s totally dysfunctional for the majority of street users, and this captures the problem nicely. The options as of now are, ride in the car lanes, which subjects you to a ticket since it is not legal to ride in car lanes where a bike lane is available, or try to fight against a million pedestrians who are walking in the bike lane. I’d love a gadget that automatically rings my bell for me every, seven seconds, let’s say, when trying to ride in this stretch of the bike lane.

  • Ken Dodd

    I get that it’s crowded for pedestrians, but I contest the idea that there’s no room for these people on the sidewalk. I have biked up 8th ave at rush hour on many occasions and whenever I’m picking my way through that sea of people in the bike lane, I look over to the sidewalk and think “I would be absolutely fine walking on that sidewalk right now, there’s plenty of room.” Let’s not lose sight of the fact that pedestrians can be inconsiderate jerks as well, and that many of these people have no reason to be in the bike lane other than the fact that they simply felt like spreading out and giving themselves some more space. I can see the same thing in that video – I don’t see pedestrians forced into the road because they have no choice.

  • Jeff

    they simply felt like spreading out and giving themselves some more space

    This is absolutely a legitimate reason for people to seek additional space. And that’s beside the point–you design streets for how pedestrians and cyclists naturally use them. You don’t just yell at them until they accept their place in a cars-first traffic sewer.

  • redbike

    My understanding is we’re not required to use a bike lane if it’s obstructed.

    But.

    That’s merely my understanding.

    And even if I’m correct, the cop who’s gonna ticket you surely doesn’t know the law.

  • vnm

    Do pedestrians count as obstructions?

  • JarekFA

    Correct. Pretty much anything in the bike lane provides justification to leave it. I even interpret that to mean slower moving bikes.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e7a99f6b9c6a3588d4508e47b3b97aa689d90348982d3f7b3bdc9e438427baa4.png

  • redbike

    When they’re in a bike lane you betchum!

  • vnm

    The practical question a cyclist has to consider is: What’s worse? This, or the Avenue of the Americas, which doesn’t have as much pedestrian crowding but does have a wild-west atmosphere of motorists aggressively jockeying for position, and where it always feels like cars could fly in any direction at any moment! Eighth actually seems safer, albeit probably more annoying.

  • JarekFA

    But we should expect that behavior to happen as a matter of human nature and accounting for the sheer volume of pedestrians. And I say this as someone who bike commutes across the Brooklyn Bridge every day. People don’t like feeling squeezed in. They travel based on “intuition” which may not always be correct. It’s annoying from the bike perspective but it happens. I just don’t like how peds default to hating on bikes instead of realizing it’s the cars and trucks that are the enemy of everyone else. Like this lady who called me an asshole. https://twitter.com/JarekFA/status/996137997652447234

  • redbike

    You propose an interesting contrast / compare.

    Since its inauguration, I’ve found the 8th Av bike lane between 33rd St and the mid-50’s to be utterly unusable as a bike lane. Except at 5am on a Sunday morning.

    On 6th Av, there’s a hint of a vestige of a painted bike lane between 34th St and 42nd St. I biked this route mid-day within the past week, continuing north to 58th St. Consistently, though 6th Av north of 42nd St lacks any provision for bicycles, I find what’s between the avenue’s two curbs is more predictable and certainly more usable than 8th Av.

    Could both be better? Much better? I think so, but that won’t happen dipping into the same limited tool box. Face it: part of the problem — perhaps the most significant part of the problem — is NYC culture. (nod to Polly Trottenberg)

  • Hugh Shepard

    Why not just walk on the street? That’s just common sense to avoid the crowds on the sidewalk. And when 1 person starts doing it, more people will do it, and it will become safer.

  • Frank Kotter

    This is already what happens and is the equivalent of ‘shit runs down hill so why do we need to build sewers?’

  • qrt145

    That’s what already happens on 7th Ave, where there is no bike lane. But obviously people prefer the bike lane over the car lane for walking, because the bike lane is closer to the sidewalk and is safer.

  • Urbanely

    That quote also applies to people packed in on the subway, but we still expect everyone to squeeze in tighter and tighter. The person who dares to make space for themselves is subject to side eye and public shaming. Why is it different than the sidewalk? Shouldn’t we also beg to have subways designed so that people don’t have to endure lap dances from strangers on the way to and from their destinations?

  • Jeff

    Yes, of course we should demand transit service that feels comfortable to passengers!

  • newshuman

    This x1000. The worst section occurs at the Shake Shack at 44th and 8th. Who the fuck gave them permission to use up the sidewalk to put out a roped off queue for their patrons?

    Regardless we shouldn’t even have to argue over a 5 foot wide queue when there’s a 100 foot wide highway being used by a small minority right next to it.

  • Jason

    “you design streets for how pedestrians and cyclists naturally use them”

    In a lot of the US speed limits are raised over time based on how fast drivers are actually driving on a street, but how DARE pedestrians not walk the way they’re supposed to!

  • AMH

    I go back and forth–I get frustrated on 8 Av, so I’ll take 6 Av the next time, have a near-death experience, and switch back again. These shouldn’t be the choices!

  • vnm

    Totally. Well said!

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