Delancey Street Bikeway: Two Steps Forward, a Half-Step Back

To paraphrase Jimmy McMillan, the opening is too damn narrow! Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
To paraphrase Jimmy McMillan, the opening is too damn narrow! Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

First, credit where due: The city Department of Transportation has largely solved the disastrous intersection of Delancey and Allen streets — where its own engineers had famously installed a safety island that made everything worse for everyone (except me because I got to make this cool video).

The island remains a critical part of the two-way Delancey Street protected bike lane — which is a linchpin of the department’s effort to mitigate congestion from the 15-month L-train shutdown that begins in April. The agency showed off the lane at a press event/ride Thursday morning and it works, mostly, as promised.

So those are two steps forward. Here’s the half-step back: at the Manhattan foot of the Williamsburg Bridge — where 15,000 to 22,000 cyclists are expected to pass every day once the L train is shuttered — riders encounter two problems: pedestrians and a narrow passageway that does not meet national standards.

Riders exiting the Williamsburg Bridge on the Manhattan side encounter a passageway that is less than four feet wide — far below national standards. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Riders exiting the Williamsburg Bridge on the Manhattan side encounter a passageway that is less than four feet wide — far below national standards. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

There are signs, but no traffic signal to show cyclists coming off the bridge when pedestrians have a green light as they cross Delancey. Cyclists must always yield to pedestrians, but are more likely to do so if there is a red light telling them to stop because pedestrians are still crossing.

After waiting for the pedestrians, cyclists must now maneuver through the narrow cut through the security wall at the foot of the bridge (photo above) that is not even four feet wide — far narrower than well-established national standards. Riders must slow considerably.

And eastbound riders heading towards Brooklyn must make a sharp, 90-degree turn from Delancey into that entrance area, another cause of concern to the cycling community.

The overly cozy confines are necessary because the “bathtub” (cyclists call it “the bunker”) at the Manhattan end of the bridge is actually an elaborate, reinforced security structure that extends well below the roadbed. DOT’s Manhattan Borough Commissioner Edward Pincar said that, despite appearances, workers can’t simply cut through it. He also promised that the area would be fixed as part of a larger renovation after L-train service is restored.

Shortcomings aside, on Thursday morning, DOT officials accentuated the positives of the larger Delancey bike network, which now features a protected two-way lane from the bridge to Allen Street (eastbound riders get an additional protected lane between Chrystie and Allen streets) and that repaired safety island at the Allen and Delancey intersection.

Our earlier coverage showed that the island, and the placement of traffic lights, had encouraged drivers to fill the intersection as they waited for a signal to change, but DOT has now changed the signal timing, and removed one signal itself — and the result is that drivers no longer “block the box” (or cyclists heading north on Allen).

See for yourself:

Drivers are once again stopping where they are supposed to stop: At the very western end of the Delancey and Allen intersection. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Drivers are once again stopping where they are supposed to stop: At the very western end of the Delancey and Allen intersection. The “before” photo is here.

But the island itself is still uninviting for cyclists, who tend to steer around it, into traffic, rather than going up its steep slope (see photo below). DOT says it is continuing to tweak the design and will be installing paint to make the travel lane clearer for everyone. Pincar also said DOT is still working with NYPD to ensure that cops properly enforce restrictions on cars with fewer than three passengers. Currently, the NYPD has said it would pull over cars that violate the HOV-3 ban in a one-block stretch of Delancey — which no one thinks will be sufficient.

cyclists still go around 1

“We are in constant contact with NYPD,” Pincar said. “We will make tweaks with them. There are street design changes we are contemplating, including changes on Clinton Street, to help enforcement.”

Overall, the work is critical because DOT officials expect the number of cyclists using the Williamsburg Bridge — already the city’s busiest — to double or triple from the current 7,300 riders daily when the L train is shuttered between Manhattan and Brooklyn in April.

“Increasing access for cyclists will help make the Williamsburg Bridge a showpiece for how we can and will keep New Yorkers moving during next year’s challenging shutdown,” DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said in a statement.

  • Jacob

    Why is NYCDOT so bad at bicycle design? Seriously, they want people to ride bicycles but then go out of their way to develop weird designs that punish people on bikes.

    It should be pretty simple, make it safe, make it direct, make it comfortable. If it’s not one of those, then start over.

  • r

    Typical NYC screw-up. The island was a mistake to begin with and now they’ve “fixed” it by putting a bunch of ugly blacktop around the edge to make a bit of a ramp. This combination of a Department that can’t get bike lane design right and also couldn’t care less about design aesthetics is depressing. This is the Greatest City in the World?

  • Alexis Leonardo Solórzano

    I’ve ridden over that island from the west side and it is very steep, I felt like my tire could almost pop, and I wasn’t even going that fast. I think cyclists are going around it due to that steep slope. They may need to redo that curb to make it gentler, not sure if adding more asphalt will fix it.

  • sbauman

    The intersection island treatment resembles that of a street scheduled for re-paving.

  • Simon Phearson

    The “bunker” right now is insane, almost impossible to navigate safely without dismounting if you’re eastbound. You can call it a “90 degree turn” if you like, but the lane is too close to the bunker to really do a 90 degree turn on your bike, so you end up trying to weave up a pedestrian ramp, in between several steel posts, at a kind of oblique angle. It’s actually worse than the sharp right when you’re west and northbound. I’m tempted to just go up the hump like I used to, the “wrong way” sign notwithstanding.

  • com63

    Do any tactical urbanists out there own a huge concrete saw? Just cut a 4ft wide hole to thr right of the existing one and add some asphalt to the ramps to be more gentle. Could be done in a day.

  • AnoNYC

    When does HOV-3 go into effect? And how will enforcement be effective without slowing everything down. Every driver that’s pulled over will jam up the road, and drivers will violate the rules if it’s only a few patrol cars writing tickets.

    Also, is the bus lane full painted? Is the bike lane fully painted?

    If the city made the bridge bus only, they could use the existing plate readers to fine any violators. Would be much more effective.

  • Joe R.

    Exactly. So much of the stuff that NYC does regarding infrastructure is third-world. This is a great example.

  • Joseph R.

    I admittedly don’t ride through here often, but I feel like 90%+ of the pedestrian islands I’ve seen DOT install have been at street level, with the islands on either side. Wouldn’t doing that here have been faster, cheaper, and easier to implement, while creating a better passage for cyclists, and still preventing cars? Why did this one have to be one of the few islands DOT installs that had to be raised AND not include an actual ramp?

  • AnoNYC

    Agreed. I wish DOT would use paint and trial for a bit before using concrete. There are plenty of painted islands now that should become raised curbs around the city. They should have had priority.

  • com63

    They did this during transit strike in 2005. NYPD was stopping every car to check. Caused gridlock in the streets behind, although you could get a free ride into the city by going towards the front of the line and carpooling with someone who only had 2 occupants.

  • AMH

    That thing really caught me off guard a couple weeks ago. I hit it at a moderate riding pace (maybe 10mph) and my front wheel actually lifted about 6 inches off the ground–dangerous and terrifying! Whoever came up with that design should be fired.

  • AMH

    Seriously, what is so “elaborate” about this that workers can’t just cut through it? A diamond blade will cut through anything. And why would you wait until AFTER L train service returns to fix something that will likely see its heaviest traffic DURING the shutdown? Honestly, the planning in this city is so back asswards I can’t stand it sometimes.

  • Joe R.

    What’s particularly rage-inducing about this is the fact they put this and a fence in the path of traffic coming off the bridge, instead of the other way around. You *don’t* put obstructions in places where bike traffic is likely to be going high speeds. There should be a clear run off of a block or two after the bridge for cyclists to coast down without crosswalks or any other obstructions. Really, does anyone in this city who designs bike infrastructure actually use it? I get the impression they don’t.

    That concrete is reinforced with adamantium. No saw known to man can cut through it. That’s why it’s there to stay (at least until the Wolverine can use his claws to cut through it). Seriously, some of the stuff the city comes out with as excuses is worthy of a comic book.

  • MWaring

    I would bet the rebar cage on this is pretty substantial in order to take a potential truck impact at high speed. And the mid-portion may be structurally impacted by the lack of rebar continuity after cutting the opening. It’s hard to say what the cost of that would be to patch properly…. unless anyone in construction estimating reads steetsblog lol.

    Side note though. While its good to prevent cars/trucks from entering this part of the bridge… This is not giving you much vs bollards considering any Joe Schmo terrorist can drive a box truck across the bridge any day of the week.

  • Peter Chowla

    Yes absolutely awful design, and clearly not a single bike rider among the DOT “engineers! That blacktop will of course wear down in the course of months if not weeks and we’ll be back to basically a full curb blocking what had once been a viable bike route.

    I don’t think Gersh should credit this as “largely solved”. There were 2 problems, 1 seems to have been solved, but the other not. This is “half solved” at best, but realistically it is 0% solved because either of the two problems independently pushes bikes to veer into a fast moving car traffic lane. 100% still a problem!

  • AnoNYC

    Buying a gravel grinder/adv bike was one the best investments ever. So much more stable on NYC’s crap roads and bike paths. They are just tough enough for the terrain but faster than MTBs on pavement.

    I only wish my bike supported wider tires. I’m running 32mm (decent but max on my bike) and I would love to fit 38-40mm.

  • com63

    Just put a buttress behind the new center section to make up for the new hole.

  • Dan B.

    No, not another traffic signal, coming off the bridge, where there
    are no cars! That would be another way for cops to ticket bicyclists
    (regardless of whether there are any pedestrians).