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.

  • Hugh Shepard

    Real people don’t need ample width or pristine pavement to bike.

  • r

    The 2nd Ave/Houston bit really needs a fix. Someone is going to get hit. At the very least, DOT needs to mark the pavement through the intersection with bright colors, Copenhagen style.

  • Bike_commuter

    Since the end of May 2018 I have been cycling up the 1st Ave protected bike lane from the East Village to 42nd St, and back on the 2nd ave lane. These lanes are also so heavily used that you often can’t find Citibikes available at nearby stands. There is a real rush hour. It is great to see. The most challenging segment of the route is the 2nd Ave lane along the blocks near the Queens Midtown Tunnel entrance. It is harrowing and only a matter of time until a cyclist is killed.

  • Bernard Finucane

    Plastic posts are proof that preventing fender benders is more important than protecting lives. So much for Vision Zero.

  • kevd

    The manhattan bridge is also nearing capacity evenings and mornings.

  • Jason

    The fact that that counts as a protected bike lane is such a succinct way of conveying the pathetic state of most of our country’s non-car transportation infrastructure even in the rare somewhat-less-shitty pockets like Manhattan.

  • AMH

    It’s really awful that cyclists get dumped into traffic in the absolute worst spots where protection is needed most. 8 Av in front of the PABT is another.

  • RC

    2nd Ave about 20 blocks above that by the Queensboro Bridge is much worse, super scary to navigate.

  • I usually cross over to the west side and usurp the select-bus lane then use the crosswalk at 35th to get back. Sucks to break stride but this feels a lot safer and less chaotic. Biking down 2nd Ave begins to suck at around 43rd st. Crossing 42nd sucks, and the whole stretch from there always feels unsafe, with cars speeding down the hill on a very wide avenue. Creates a lot of stress as it is. Trying to negotiate with cars merging/turning left into the QMT is an adrenaline rush I am not looking for. Even crossing 34th st is a little bit hairy.


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