Bicycle Rush Hour on Chrystie Street

Chrystie and Grand, 6 p.m. Photo: Ben Fried
Chrystie and Grand, 6 p.m. Photo: Ben Fried

A few days ago I was biking home from Manhattan and felt an unusual sensation. I was riding in a river of bike traffic, like you sometimes do on a park loop or the Hudson River Greenway. But I was nowhere near the greenway. I was biking on Chrystie Street.

I don’t ride on Chrystie Street during rush hour all that regularly, and people who do are probably used to this feeling. For me, it was new and exhilarating. I’m used to pulling up at a red light with five or six other people on bikes. This was different — a platoon of 20 or so people stacking up at intersections, then rolling down Chrystie Street in a steady stream of bikes extending several hundred feet.

The phrase “safety in numbers” no longer felt like an abstraction. I almost expected a “we are traffic” chant to spontaneously break out.

The Chrystie Street protected bike lane debuted at the end of 2016, preceded by the Jay Street protected bike lane on the other side of the Manhattan Bridge a few months earlier. These bike lanes, on top of the bike network development that came before them, plus the availability of Citi Bike, are clearly moving the needle. I went back to get some pictures yesterday, and it was common for bike traffic to outnumber car traffic during some light cycles:

What’s amazing is that so many people are biking despite a zillion frustrating imperfections.

Chrystie Street lacks the ample width and pristine pavement of, say, Blackfriars Bridge in London. The bikeway is too narrow to comfortably accommodate all the cyclists using it.

Where Second Avenue crosses Houston and transitions to Chrystie Street, southbound cyclists and car drivers turning left seem incapable of proceeding in the proper sequence, although everything generally works out. There are no sidewalks next to Sara Delano Roosevelt Park, so people are frequently walking in the bike lane. Most of the bike lane is separated from cars by plastic posts that don’t provide substantial protection.

Don’t get me wrong, Chrystie Street has improved a ton, and these scenes validate the work of DOT’s bike program. But we’re nowhere near the peak of what bicycling and bike infrastructure can do in New York. There’s still a long climb ahead.

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