Safer Bikeways Slated for Columbus Circle and Amsterdam Avenue

The bike lane at Columbus Circle would loop around the inner public space, with cyclists using pedestrian signals to enter and exit. Image: DOT
The bike lane at Columbus Circle would loop around the inner public space, with cyclists using pedestrian signals to enter and exit. Image: DOT

The bike network connecting Midtown and the Upper West Side is in line for significant upgrades. Last night, DOT presented plans for an extension of the Amsterdam Avenue bike lane from 72nd Street to 52nd Street [PDF], and for bikeway upgrades to Columbus Circle and the blocks of Eighth Avenue approaching it [PDF].

The Manhattan Community Board 4 transportation committee endorsed the projects unanimously, with some members asking DOT for safer design treatments at intersections.

The Eighth Avenue/Columbus Circle project would improve the northbound bike connection between 56th Street, where the existing Eighth Avenue bike lane loses physical protection, and Central Park West at 59th Street — as well as southbound bike trips through the circle to Broadway.

The Amsterdam Avenue project, meanwhile, would nearly double the length of the northbound protected bikeway that currently runs between 72nd and 110th streets.

On Eighth Avenue, DOT plans to extend the existing protected lane up to 59th Street, with two concrete pedestrian islands each at the intersections with 57th Street and 58th Street. At 57th Street, the only left turn in the short stretch, the agency will install a split phase signal, which allows cyclists and pedestrians to cross while left-turning motorists have the red light.

Columbus Circle is a big traffic free-for-all -- and a critical point in the Manhattan bike network. Photo: Google Maps
Columbus Circle is currently a big traffic free-for-all — and a critical point in the Manhattan bike network. Photo: Google Maps

Approaching 59th Street, Eighth Avenue feeds into Columbus Circle, a treacherous five-lane mess where 54 people have been injured in crashes since 2009. DOT plan puts a green bike lane in the center of the circle, without physical barriers. Cyclists would follow pedestrian signals to cross into and out of the center ring.

On 10th Avenue/Amsterdam Avenue — the street name shifts at 59th Street — DOT plans to extend the protected bike lane design it installed between 72nd Street and 110th Street two years ago. A six-foot bike lane with a three-foot buffer will be protected by a parking lane, replacing one travel lane on the wide, one-way street. All pedestrian islands at intersections will be painted, however, and will lack the permanence of concrete.

Since 2012, two cyclists have been killed by drivers on this segment of 10th/Amsterdam, at 55th Street and 72nd Street. Motorists severely injured four pedestrians and eight cyclists in the project area in the same timeframe. The intersection with 72nd Street, the “bowtie” where Amsterdam and Broadway cross, is particularly dangerous: Since 2012, nine cyclists and two pedestrians have been injured, in addition to the cyclist fatality.

Passing through the bowtie, the bike lane will lose its parking protection. Between 70th Street and 71st Street, people on bikes will share a lane with turning motorists. North of 71st, the bike lane will run along the curb, adjacent to a bus-only turn lane, before connecting with the existing protected lane north of 72nd Street.

The approach to the bowtie at 72nd Street, linking up with the existing Amsterdam Avenue bike lane. Image: DOT
The approach to the bowtie at 72nd Street, linking up with the existing Amsterdam Avenue bike lane. Image: DOT

Overall, the new section of the 10th/Amsterdam bike lane crossing five left turn zones for motorists, only two of which will be get dedicated signal phases for cyclists. The rest will have mixing zones, where cyclists going straight have to jockey with left turning motorists. Additionally, none of the pedestrian islands will be raised, at least not initially, because DOT lacks the funds in its concrete budget. Instead, they’ll be fenced in by flexible delineators.

CB 4 members were not pleased with these shortcomings. CB 4 was one of the community boards that called on DOT to eliminate mixing zone intersections last year (DOT is expected set to release a study of other intersection designs for protected bike lanes later this summer). Board members also expressed concern that the painted pedestrian islands feel dangerous to stand in — and put people at risk of getting hit.

“For pedestrians it doesn’t feel safe to be on those pedestrian islands,” said committee co-chair Christine Berthet said.

Nevertheless, board members and other attendees lauded DOT for creating useful new links in the bike network, and the committee unanimously endorsed both projects.

“I bike with my toddler to Central Park. It’s my absolute favorite thing to do and I can get there protected the entire way, except for [Columbus Circle],” Charlie Todd told the DOT reps. “The circle, it’s a mess. I think this is a great start.”

The Columbus Circle and Amsterdam Avenue redesigns both overlap with Community Board 7, which requested protected bike lanes at the circle last year. DOT reps said last night they hope to implement these projects by the end of the year, but no specific timetable has been set.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    Where has a design like this proposed for Columbus Circle ever been done? A normal design was done at Park Circle in Brooklyn all the way back in 2010!

    It’s nice to see the upper part of 8th finally get a protected bike lane, but what about the other gaps on 8th Ave in CB4?

  • JarekFA

    I’d rather the bike lane part be on the outside of the circle, not the inside. You have to cross 4 lanes of traffic and then cross 4 lanes again to leave? I’d just stay on the outside and never enter the “protected” portion.

  • Simon Phearson

    It’s designs like these that drive me nuts. Apparently the lunkheads at the DOT think that cyclists would prefer to stop, wait, cross, ride unprotected, stop, wait, then cross again in order to get through the Circle. That’s going to take, what, five minutes? And be far from low-stress. What a crap design.

  • Simon Phearson

    I’d really like to be convinced that this design for CC follows at least some state-of-the-art approaches on design. Please, someone tell me this is a Dutch design. Please don’t tell me it’s just some intern at the DOT who was given free rein to do something that “feels right.”

  • Joe R.

    I sometimes think DOT intentionally designs things to cause cyclists the maximum amount of delay possible so as to discourage cycling. A good design would have the bike lane on the outer edge, and cyclists would only be required to yield before entering the circle.

    It won’t surprise me when cyclists just ignore the markings and take the quickest path through the circle.

  • Joe R.

    A “Dutch” design for Columbus Circle might very look look like this:

    The people at DOT likely still think of bikes as toys, and hence give zero priority to travel time. They figure anyone on a bike is out for a joyride, so what does it matter if they take 5 minutes to get through an intersection (or hit every other light in a “protected” bike lane)?

  • van_vlissingen

    Probably should have put a 2-way protected bike lane on the entire outer perimeter of the park and and then used had a 1-way protected bike lane around the outermost edge of the circle.

  • Ian Turner

    Entering from 8th avenue this design makes sense, because cyclists are already on the left side, and the traffic signal protects them from cross traffic while entering the circle. If the bike lane were on the outside then they’d have to cross the traffic of 8th avenue, which is a downside of the current design.

  • Joe R.

    If you had a 2-way bike lane on the outer part, that wouldn’t be an issue. Also, even if the bike lane was one way, so you had to cross 8th Avenue, you’re only incurring one possible delay there (and then only if 8th Avenue has a green when you’re arriving at the circle). With the present design you incur two delays all the time waiting for traffic in the circle to get red (one when entering, another when exiting). Apparently the time of cyclists isn’t important to DOT, only that of motorists.

  • Nick Ober

    I wish the DOT would up their concrete budget. Too many projects these days are going forward without true pedestrian islands.

  • qrt145

    I don’t always agree with your criticism of the DOT’s designs, but I’m 100% with you on this one! I frequently cycle through Columbus Circle, FWIW.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    Exiting where? The path to get to the right side of Central Park West to continue north is bewildering. You cross back to the outside almost immediately (and the queue space to turn vs through space looks bar-clippingly narrow, with auto traffic turning past you while you wait), and then follow two 90-degree turns. Then it’s shared blocks again on CPW.

    If you want to go south on Broadway through the circle it seems like its the same as today. This new lane is on that segment but you can’t really use it.

  • Jeff

    Yeah, this will let them tick the box that they have a fully-protected route, but I’d imagine many will just continue navigating the circle however they have been.

  • BruceWillisThrowsACar@You

    Looks cute and all but if I were to use the inner circle I’d rather slowly roll / walk my bike through the plaza itself since I’d have to wait for the ped lights either way…

  • Simon Phearson

    There’s a handful of these right by my apartment. They don’t even have bollards. They’re used as reserved parking for the placard-holders.

  • Simon Phearson

    It’s not like the advocates don’t encourage them. The design for Skillman’s protected bike lane, for instance, would have cut cyclists out of the green wave they have there. I’ve had advocates tell me that, while “20 is plenty” for drivers, I don’t personally have any need to go faster than 15 or so.

  • Simon Phearson

    I certainly would welcome a bike-friendly design for CC – for reasons I won’t detail here, I’ve chosen to walk rather than Citibike several times because of this very intersection – but this doesn’t change my mind about it. Not one iota. Now they just want to set up ticket traps for cyclists.

  • Joe R.

    Never mind 15. A few here have told me I shouldn’t go over 10 mph. I guess they have nothing to do and all day to do it. Besides that, if I’m not riding to get somewhere (which means travel time matters) then I’m riding for exercise. Not much of a workout even at 15 mph, never mind at 10 mph. And that’s at 55 years old. Back when I was in my prime I needed to go 25+ mph just to get anything resembling a decent workout. So suggesting I go 10 or 15 mph, other than in the rare circumstances where I need to ride that slow for safety, is ridiculous. 10 mph is so slow I would have to regularly ride the brake (except uphill) to keep my speed in check. I usually get past 15 mph with just the weight of my feet pressing on the pedals.

    I just never understood this double standard on speed when it comes to bikes. The legal speed limit is 25 mph. Any bike infrastructure should be usable and safe at least up to that speed.

  • 12 blocks from a station

    1) the mixing zones in 70th and 71st look like hell. They re worst than the ones we already hate. Throw in a couple of peds who want to stick out to cross in the same space. Not sure if this is any better than nothing. If and when they finish the construction on 69th which takes up 2 LANES. !?!?

    2) CC upgrade is better than nothing, expect that little piece on 58th to be TW “parking”. Most of the time I stay left on 8th and enter circle if I have the light. I don’t like the outside bc of traffic exiting with speed on Bway and 59th and almost always are accelerating rather than slowing. If I go inner circle and traffic is heavy and aggressive, i ‘ll go all the way in and act like a pedestrian.. things calm down quite a bit on the north side as I only have to worry about traffic entering from 59th when I exit either way.

    Outside path would be tough because of busstops and increased congestion for vehicles exiting south and east. “Circle” eliminates the need for 2 way path. Elevated would be great, it’s nice to dream. The new half mile section of greenway south of 70th is such a tease. It shows us what travel by bicycle could be like. SPACE, the final frontier.
    Meanwhile GWB is a zoo (literally with cage) on weekends for the next decade or two with everyone fighting for the same 6/7 feet.

  • walks bikes drives

    Its isn’t two as you are saying, but one, possibly two. When you enter from 8th Ave, you are entering the circle on the pedestrian signal which might give a bit more time than the 8th Ave green light if there is an LPI. But you are entering with the go when 8th Ave has the go, which is the only currently legal way to do it. So there is no wait there. You might get caught at an internal light, say, at 59th, on your way around, or you might not. And then you have the light to exit. So one, maybe two.

  • Simon Phearson

    Slower is safer. That’s all it is. Slower is safer. Slower is safer.

    So yeah, split signals are fine, lanes that zig and zag and require two or more light cycles to safely navigate are fine, slowing down the Freds is fine, because it’s not about the Freds, it’s about pedestrians and novice cyclists. And they’re safer when everyone’s moving at slower speeds. Modes are separated instead of sharing cycles. There’s a clear logic there.

    I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen, though, a real balancing of that line of reasoning against the fact that, when you slow down average cycling speed, you limit the useful commuting radius of cycling. Particularly as it compares against alternative modes. As things stand for me now, for instance, I can bike to work about as fast as I can take the subway. Add another ten minutes to the cycling trip and maybe I’m taking the subway instead. Maybe I’ll ride to the next neighborhood over, but not the other side of Queens. Uber for that. And so on.

    There’s just this strange bias against fast cyclists, cyclists who VC, cyclists with Lycra (gasp!). But it’s nuts ’cause I ride probably ten times as many miles as some of these guys, if not more, on the real streets, in the real traffic. I see how the designs work and don’t work. I race up Vernon, avoiding its dysfunctional protected bike lane, before I link up and ride the slow train over the QB bridge in a kind of complete-streets kumbayah. I do it, and I love it, all. But there’s really no love back. I’m a menace to be eliminated.

  • walks bikes drives

    This would only work if the 8th Ave light was red.

    When I go through the circle, I enter from the left side of 8th Ave where the bike lane drops you, take the lane on the inside of the circle as I go around, but work my way over across traffic to exit at CPW. This is not for the faint of heart. The issue with putting the bike lane on the outside is that you would have to cross 8th Ave traffic to get into the lane, or wait for a full light cycle. Then, around Time Warner, you have the taxi pickup/drop off and multiple bus stops which will have motor vehicles crossing your path. Or if they are moved outside the bike lane, pedestrians constantly crossing your path. This design. Actually does make the most sense because it is the safest option. As cyclists, we have no more a right to argue for speed over safety than drivers do. We cant be hypocritical. Now if we were arguing for light timing…

  • walks bikes drives

    You are a menace. And next time I see you, I’m going to swing my parking placard at you and use it to arrest your little two wheeled self, because my parking placard has magical arrest powers. Especially if you are in a bike lane when I want to drive in it.

  • walks bikes drives

    I’m guessing that those who say 10mph is the right speed dont have an idea of what 10mph really is. I know I was surprised as all hell when I got my first bike computer and saw I was doing 12mph when I felt like I was at a walking pace.

  • crazytrainmatt

    One thing that’s completely missing from the plan is a connection from the park drive to Broadway. This is in my estimation the lowest-stress route heading downtown right now, especially if the greenway is out of your way.

    The issue is the Parks Conservancy’s silly rule on walking your bike between the park drive and Columbus circle. Half the cyclists ignore it already without problems (and seem to do so remarkably politely), but why give NYPD another excuse to hassle folks? Either removing the ban, or (heaven forbid) widening the access path and even carving out a separate bike access section would make this route much more civilized.

  • Simon Phearson

    Catch me if you can, slowpoke!

  • Joe R.

    That’s exactly the kind of logic which is used, even though it’s lost on these people that novice slow cyclists eventually become stronger, faster cyclists.

    The point about average speed is one I’ve often made. I’ve read from many sources basically two things. One, most people choose to cycle over alternative modes because it’s as fast or faster. Two, when people are traveling under their own steam, the number willing to make a trip falls off precipitously after about 30 minutes. So in the end it’s all about increasing the distance they can go in 30 minutes. If you have a “complete-streets kumbayah” where cyclists can’t ride fast and get caught at a bunch of lights, maybe you can cover 3 miles in those 30 minutes. Ironically, that 3 miles always seems to come up when complete streets people talk about who we should design for. We design for trips of 3 miles or less on the assumption nobody makes longer trips by bike. That becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy if the design of bike infrastructure means you can’t cover more than 3 miles in those first crucial 30 minutes.

    This is why to me increasing mode share is synonymous with increasing average speeds. If we eliminate most stopping, even a rider in average shape can cover about 6 miles in 30 minutes. Now you’ve just increased the area which can be reached by bike by a factor of four. Lots of people with a little cycling under their belt can cover 7 or 8 miles in 30 minutes. Strong riders might be able to cover 10 miles or more. Even more important, cycling without frequently stopping or slowing is more pleasant and less energy intensive, so you might get a lot more people willing to do 30 to 45 minute trips by bike. At an average speed of 15 mph, not a strenuous pace by any standards if you’re on non-stop infrastructure, your travel radius is now 10 to 11 miles. Or put in other terms, the area you can reach by bike has increased by a factor of well over 10 compared to the standard currently used by many advocates.

    My guess is the 3 mile “rule of thumb” may have come from looking at average trip lengths in places like Amsterdam or Copenhagen. Lost on the advocates was the fact these cities are so compact the vast majority of possible trips are less than 3 miles. Not so in NYC, or for that matter lots of other American cities. We want to get mode share up then we need to get average speeds up. It turns out the type of infrastructure needed for that, which is completely separate paths which rarely intersect motor traffic roads, also happens to be the safest. So we increase speed and safety at the same time. The downside? Such paths cost a lot more than paint on the street but the old adage you get what you pay for rings true.

    But it’s nuts ’cause I ride probably ten times as many miles as some of these guys, if not more, on the real streets, in the real traffic.

    And that’s another great point. In many ways it makes a lot of sense to design mostly for the people who put in the most miles. By doing so you’re not necessarily making things less safe for other cyclists. In fact, bike infrastructure with a higher design speed is safer at any speed.

  • Joe R.

    I first started riding seriously when I began college, although in high school I rode in the summers, and occasionally after school. It was also in college that I first got a bike speedometer (1980 so bike computers didn’t exist). I was in OK shape but by no means all that athletic. Anyway, I noticed exactly what you did. I could easily do 12 mph and it felt like a walking pace. And it wasn’t hard to go much faster. In fact, right after my brother installed the speedometer, I took a ride up and then down a slight hill near my dorm. I saw 30 mph on the downhill without all that much trouble.

    In the coming months it didn’t take long before it was easy for me to maintain 20 mph. Even that didn’t feel all that fast, especially in rural Princeton where you had few points of reference. The downhills were lots of fun though. Soon I was pinning the speedometer on a few of the longer ones (max indicated speed was 50 mph). That felt decently fast. And “normal” speeds of 15 to 20 mph didn’t feel much faster than a brisk walk.

    But anyway, yes, those who say everyone should go 10 mph have no idea what a crawl that really is, even for someone who has a few miles of cycling under their belt.

  • Joe R.

    I think the problem here is too many things converging in one area. Expense aside, the more I think about it the more I think something like the Hovenring would represent an ideal solution. It would be safer. It would eliminate any conflicts. It would also get cyclists out of the way of everyone else. Columbus Circle seems enough of a clusterf*ck just trying to design for two modes. Add a third and you have at best a horrible compromise design for everyone.

    Also, you can have both speed and safety if you’re willing to spend the money. NYC isn’t.

  • Speaking as someone who rides for commuting and for pleasure and who has averaged 6000 miles a year for the past several years, I can say that I know quite well what 10 miles per hour is, because I average 10 miles per hour on most of my rides.

    Of course I can go a lot faster when conditions permit. Recently I hit 35 miles per hour on a stretch of Palisade Avenue in Englewood, New Jersey starting from this point.

    (By the way: what a remarcable sight! You can see like 30 miles to the west.)

    But that kind of speed is a rarity. On a long flat run I can go 15 or 17 miles per hour. To hit all the green lights on Skillman Avenue I go at 15, if possible.

    However, in a typical city setting, 10 miles per hour is just fine. That rate is good for commuting and for all other practical purposes. My commute is about 11 miles each way; and it winds up taking me about an hour and a quarter, which is only a little longer than the time it takes on the train.

    It’s so depressing to be riding at a nice, civilised 10 miles per hour in the bike lane on First Avenue or Second Avenue, only to see some irresponsible hotshot bombing up the street outside the bike lane at double that speed, zig-zagging through the intersections and taking no heed of the stop lights, making us all look bad.

    Those people need to understand that urban riding isn’t the same thing as racing. If you want to ride for pure speed, you need to get yourself out to 9W.

  • qrt145

    If your average speed is 10 mph your cruising speed must be significantly faster, especially considering that you stop at all red lights. Depends a lot on the route of course, but for example my typical cruising speed is close to 15 mph but the average speed for my commute is barely over 10 mph. And when I venture further downtown for certain trips where the route isn’t as favorable, my average is more like 8 mph.

  • MtotheI

    The design seems to work okay for connections for northbound cyclists from 8th Av to Central Park W and Broadway. But, the bike lane on the west side of the circle between Broadway and 8th Av seems to serve noone since the only entrance to the lane is from 8th Av. Bicyclists heading south on broadway get sharrows around the outer edge of the circle to 8th Av. Am I missing something?

    Why not have an entrance to the lane for cyclists from southbound Broadway? Knowing that lots of cyclists connect to the park path from Columbus Circle, legal or not, why not make a safe connection from the park to Broadway for cyclists heading south? What about cyclists heading west on Central Park S, how do they get into the lane?

    This doesn’t make all the connections that are needed and, as far as I can tell, the lane on the west side of the circle is wasted space. Noone can use it unless they are doing loops around the circle.

  • J

    YES!! It looks like DOT is planning for a connection between the Park and Broadway, but that short little “walk your bike” section is a disaster. Surely there is a design solution here.

  • Strongly agree. It also seems like the northbound pieces of bikeway on the outer edge will get a lot of illicit southbound bike traffic.

  • walks bikes drives

    My average cruising speed, as a VC during my commute, is about 16 -22mph depending on the change in elevation. When I am in a protected bike lane, that is significantly slower, closer to 13-17mph depending on the change in elevation, because I am concerned with inattentive pedestrians and mixing zones. But my average speed… because of all the lights I encounter, is probably around 10 or so, if that.

  • Daphna

    Hooray to CB4 for endorsing this and for asking for the plan to be made more robust. If only more community boards offered such support to street improvements….

  • I would say that I tend to move at around 12 to 15 miles per hour between lights on flat ground.

  • Where were you guys when we needed you? why did n’t you attend the committee and give your input?

  • Joe R.

    I’m taking care of my mother who had dementia and needs someone around all the time. It’s impossible for me to get out anymore either socially or to attend meetings. In fact, I’ve hardly ridden my bike in the last two years on account of my responsiblities.

  • Ha Ha, that is what drivers always say !
    At the CB 4 trans meeting , One cyclist raised the issue of green wave for cyclists that should be based on 16 miles per hour.
    Right now the problem is that the green wave is geared at cars, and during the day it exceeds the legal limit of 25mph .

    congestion brought down average speed to 7.2 mph, I really do not see why a 16mph greenwave for everyone cannot be achieved.

    What would be really interesting is how to synchronize a green wave for pedestrians ( 2.8 mph ) and green wave for bicyclists (16 mph)

  • I am so sorry to hear of your situation . My comment was not a criticism.
    I really meant we could have used your expertise. Every one said columbus circe is great, and if it is not , I ‘d rather know it and not vote for a mediocre solution

  • Startign to push more aggressively on this , with the Port Authority ..

  • Joe R.

    I agree that a green wave of something like 16 mph on the Manhattan Avenues would make more sense. Cars can rarely average faster than that for much of the day, and it would be a perfect speed for lots of cyclists.

    As for a green wave which works for both pedestrians and cyclists, I think something like that is mathematically possible, at least in one direction. I remember playing around with light timings using Excel spreadsheets. Some timings which had a primary speed of 15 to 25 mph also had secondary speeds which worked for pedestrians. The general concept is that the pedestrian might see one full cycle on each block but they still get all greens if they walk a certain speed.

  • I’d be super interested in finding out a primary / secondary that kind of work.. if you still have your excel..
    I think this is a line of advocacy we need to pursue aggressively (our time is as valuable as their ( cars) time) , and they can wait longer since drivers are protected from the elements and we (ped + bicyclists ) are not.
    It may be more powerful from the ped side, since there are so many . From Dot this could reduce the crowding and resolve a number of problematic intersection at lower cost .

  • Joe R.

    I found it. Disqus doesn’t have attachments, so I would need to email it to you, along with a brief explanation of how to use it. The bottom line is all green waves have an infinite number of other speeds which also result in a green wave. Most of these speeds are useless from a practical standpoint (i.e. they might be 0.5 mph, 0.7 mph, etc.) but sometimes you have another green wave which is useful at average pedestrian speeds.

  • Awesome ..

  • qrt145

    A few years ago, I was visited by older relatives who, let’s say, are not fast walkers (understandably, given their age). We were all walking along 6th Ave in Midtown and I was surprised to notice that their speed was effectively a pedestrian green wave speed! I guess it was somewhere between 1.5 and 2 mph.

  • Joe R.

    Mathematically, if you have a green wave the next light will be staggered by the time it takes to travel one block at the green wave design speed. Let’s say that’s 6 seconds (assuming 20 blocks to the mile and a 30 mph green wave. However, if you take 6 seconds + n light cycles (where n is an integer) to travel a block then you also have a green wave. Let’s say the light cycle is 60 seconds. So you get a green wave if you take 66 seconds, 126 seconds, 186 seconds, and so forth to travel a block. The corresponding speeds would be 2.73 mph, 1.43 mph, and 0.97 mph.

  • AMH

    Good Lord, how many signal phases does it take to get through all this?

  • AMH

    It becomes a lot easier if you don’t have a light every ten feet.


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