Manhattan Board Rejects DOT Rotunda Plan

DOT's redesign of the 79th Street rotunda omits protection for people attempting to access the country's most popular bike path. Image: DOT
DOT's redesign of the 79th Street rotunda omits protection for people attempting to access the country's most popular bike path. Image: DOT

The Department of Transportation must go back to the drawing board with its controversial $200-million redesign of the 79th Street rotunda because the current proposal remains unsafe for cyclists, a Manhattan community board voted on Tuesday night.

Community Board 7 resolved Tuesday night to “disapprove” of DOT’s plan for the Robert Moses-built, 70-year-old structure that is being rehabilitated for the first time — but the disapproval could be reversed if DOT satisfies a number of conditions.

There must be “a physical protected separation between motorists and cyclists” added to the plan, as well as “signage” and “tactile warning treatments such as rumble strips,” to alert motorists, the board said.

In May, the board, which represents the Upper West Side from Central Park West to Riverside Drive, from Columbus Circle to Morningside Heights, had voted to “approve” of the project “with conditions” — most prominently, that DOT find a safe solution for bicyclists who use the traffic circle atop the Rotunda to get to the Hudson River Greenway.

Community board resolutions are only advisory, but activists nonetheless hailed the changed wording as an important victory for the bicycling cause.

“The semantic shift is exactly what was needed and gives the board so much more leverage down the road to stay on top of DOT Bridges and to push for a plan that provides safe passage for bicyclists,” said Streetopia UWS Director Lisa Orman, who donned a black T-shirt with skull and bones in order to dramatize the traffic circle’s dangers.

UWS activists wore T-shirts with skulls and bones to protest DOT lack of attention to biking safety.
UWS activists wore T-shirts with skulls and bones to protest DOT lack of attention to biking safety.

“DOT’s current plan merely adds paint to the roadway and does nothing to improve safety conditions for bicyclists. Given the scale and scope of this project, DOT needs to do better,” Orman said.

The Greenway is busiest bike route in the country and, for years, cyclists seeking access to it have had to mix with the cars coming off the Henry Hudson Parkway at the 79th Street exit.

Community members, especially cycling activists, had developed several proposals for alternate bike paths, but DOT rejected each one while promoting its own idea for a painted bike lane.

DOT did not comment on the board’s resolution.

In other developments, the community board shelved a vote on a controversial proposal that would have ended free car storage on local streets. Its Transportation Committee had approved the proposal, but the board sent it back for further “study.”

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Manhattan Community Board 8 passed a resolution Wednesday night asking DOT for crosstown bike lanes on the Upper East Side. Currently the only east-west pair in the neighborhood is on 90th Street and 91st Street. With biking in the neighborhood on the rise and the recent arrival of Citi Bike, it’s increasingly obvious that’s not enough. […]