Eighth Avenue To Get a Road Diet to Give More Space to Walkers, Cyclists

Plans envision a 20-foot slim-down for fat, foul Theater District thoroughfare.

An overload of pedestrians on Eighth Avenue. Photo: DOT
An overload of pedestrians on Eighth Avenue. Photo: DOT

Fat, fatal Eighth Avenue is going on a diet that will give pedestrians and cyclists more protection by taking room away from drivers on the Theater District thoroughfare.

The Department of Transportation is proposing a sweeping transformation between 38th and 45th streets that will reduce car lanes by 20 feet, extend a northbound protected bike lane that currently ends at 39th Street, and widen, by 10 feet, the overcrowded sidewalk from 39th to 41st streets.

And it would ban left turns onto 42nd Street from Eighth Avenue, a source of many of the back-ups that make the roadway so unsafe.

The plan, which DOT presented Wednesday night to Community Board 4’s Transportation Committee [PDF], was so well-received that it sparked a round of applause; Committee Co-Chairwoman Christine Berthet even exclaimed, “Christmas is coming in summer!”

And no wonder. Even though Eighth Avenue runs along some of the world’s most well-loved tourist attractions — and connects the transit-rich area around Pennsylvania Station to the Port Authority Bus Terminal — it remains an ugly, over-wide, dangerous road.

Between 2013 and 2017, drivers killed one pedestrian on the 70-foot-wide avenue between just 38th and 45th streets, and severely injured 15 pedestrians and five cyclists. There were 220 total injuries in the five years — on just seven blocks! Cyclist Chaim Joseph was killed at 45th Street earlier this year.

The redesign represents welcome news for pedestrians, who’ve been forced to walk in the street or the bike lane because of overcrowding, and for cyclists, for whom any kind of bike lane disappears at 41st Street. Streetfilms has documented the crush repeatedly over the years.

Source: DOT
Source: DOT

DOT envisions a big boost in cycling traffic: Cyclists — who now represent 3 percent of road users in the peak evening hour — would be allocated 9 percent of the roadway in the new scheme, up from nothing. Pedestrians currently represent 85 percent of the peak-hour traffic — but only have 30 percent of the space currently. The extra 10 feet will help tilt the scales a bit more.

Safety measures for cyclists and pedestrians include split-phase, left-turn signals for west-bound traffic along the corridor, with dedicated bike and pedestrian phases.

The bike lane would be protected from vehicles with painted buffer zones. The CB4 committee — unlike other community boards that are satisfied with mere paint, or no bike lanes at all — questioned whether striped buffer zones would adequately protect cyclists. DOT offered that the plan could be tweaked.  

The committee pronounced one part of the plan weak: Between 41st and 42nd streets, the plan places a dispatcher-managed taxi-boarding island between a curbside bike lane and vehicle traffic. Cyclists will be alerted by rumble strips to the potential conflict of pedestrians crossing the bike lane — and they will be encouraged to dismount (see page 21 of the presentation). Because of the potential mayhem caused by putting cyclists and pedestrians in the same space, the committee suggested barricades along the length of the island to contain taxi passengers and direct them with specific walkways to the bus terminal.

Thi Photo: Streetsblog
This kind of thing happens all too often on Eighth Avenue. Photo: Streetsblog

Metered parking would be limited to five hours a day between 38th and 45th, but extended until midnight.

The committee suggested other improvements: removing the usually empty sidewalk taxi booth at 40th Street, updating the sidewalk subway grids with more walkable materials, moving the taxi stand to the 41st Street “tunnel” bisecting the Port Authority Bus Terminal, and resurfacing the bike lane below 38th Street.

DOT hopes to address these issues with the new design, with implementation beginning as soon as this summer.

— With Eve Kessler

New York City DOT 8th Ave Presentation June 2019 by Gersh Kuntzman on Scribd

  • Casey

    Two errors in the summary of the proposal. The bike lane will be protected by a vertical lane divider, similar to the block of 8th between 42nd and 43rd. Second, bicycles will only be required to yield to pedestrians at the taxi boarding island, not dismount. Dismounting was suggested by a committee member.

  • Keepin it Real Shaquille

    Thanks for the helpful clarification, Casey. Seems like streetsblog keeps getting the dynamics at play in public meetings a bit wrong…the city needs good people like you, please keep changing the city for the better. DON’T HATE CONGRATULATE.

  • crazytrainmatt

    I guess we will get a usable route from Houston to 125th to split the gap between the deteriorating greenway and 1st Ave, but it’s still awfully incremental.

    The same week the state put e-whatevers into the bike lanes, DOT keeps proposing narrow lanes. For comparison, the older avenue lanes have 4-5′ buffers vs. <3' here (illustrated with flexposts in the center).

    The best comparison is the raised Times Square lane one block over on 7th Ave. Despite being a key downtown link, the experience is at best mediocre early mornings, but becomes potentially lethal when one has to thread the needle between pedestrians occupying the safe space by the wall and a 4" curb into heavy traffic. This proposal has a bit more room and no fall. Maybe the permeable shrubbery will let pedestrians filter back rather then trapping them against the wall.

    But who would feel comfortable cycling here with their kids or wife?

  • BronxEE2000

    More road diet BS.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    Why do you want to encourage more driving in the busiest part of the city instead of more walking and cycling?

  • CJ

    We’re sick and tired of seeing our friends and neighbors maimed and killed by drivers and we will not give up this fight. Road diets are statistically proven to make streets safer. If you don’t like them, move somewhere that doesn’t have them.

  • AMH

    Amazing and long overdue! This is what needs to happen to all of Midtown.

  • AMH

    Well that’s good. Dismounting is not biking.

  • Jacob

    About damn time.

  • Jacob

    Now for the critiques:

    -DOT is STILL using mixing zones **head explodes**, in spite of their own studies.
    -3 lanes of traffic is still excessive. Giving 50% of the right of way to 12% of people is enormously inequitable.
    -Narrow bike lanes for such a busy area.
    -No effort for a 2-way bike lane.
    -Total disregard for people on buses. Not even counted in the stats or given any dedicated street space.

  • Simon Phearson

    And it looks like three consecutive split phases, too. “Cyclists must dismount,” basically.

  • AMH

    I see mixing zones being replaced with split-phase signals and an “offset” crossing.

    Agree that bike lane should be wider and possibly two-way. Curious about existing (and potential, with priority) bus ridership as well.

  • BronxEE2000

    Born and raised here. I’m not going anywhere,

  • CJ

    Then deal with it. We live in a crowded city where people get around in more than just cars. Get over yourself and stop whining about a few seconds of delays that save lives.

  • redbike

    Before everyone starts dancing in the streets, realize: there won’t be much room to dance in the streets.

    This newly proposed plan appears to not-quite-double space allocated to people on foot — on only one side (west) of 8th Av, but actually narrows space allocated to people riding bikes to a mere 6 feet. Further — as other note — it fails to extend south and north to allow users to — you know — actually use it usefully.

  • aioctal

    “DOT hopes to address these issues with the new design, with implementation beginning as soon as this summer.”

    Summer started today.

  • Seth

    Having commuted between 49th and 9th and 36th and 8th for 20 years, I’m excited for this! I’ve been using Citi Bike less and less because the bike lane on 8th is in poor shape and overrun with pedestrians.

    I wonder: Could they consider putting an east- and northbound taxi rank on 40th and a west- and southbound taxi rank on 41st, between 8th and 9th — or perhaps just one of the two — and eliminate the one on 8th? Also, the sidewalk on the east side of 8th is horribly crowded from 42nd to 50th, but the proposal does not seem to address a wider sidwalk on the east side above 42nd. Could it?

    I do not think a two-way bike lane is necessary; it’s too complicated and the one on 9th is sufficient, but the intersection at 40th needs better management as buses coming out of the tunnel often block the lane, and they should improve efforts to facilitate biking down 7th. I agree that perhaps the right lane should be for buses only.

  • John M. Baxter

    I hope I am reading this correctly–that 20 feet total will be taken out of the existing number of car lanes, rather than reducing the number of lanes. That may make a lot of sense. On streets saturated with traffic, eliminating lanes often spells disaster. The fact that a left turn causes backups and has been eliminated may also be productive. However, the rhetoric leaves much to be desired. We are told “motorists killed and injured” X number of pedestrians. Fact is, even from a New York study, it’s not that simple. Many car-pedestrian crashes are the result of pedestrian errors and/or greatly made more likely by poor intersection design and poorly conceived traffic light sequences. DOT found pedestrians are actually just slightly more likely to be the guilty party than the car driver, a fact never mentioned by typical Vison Zero overly zealous advocates. Bike and pedestrian safety advocates really need to dial back the anti-car, anti-motorist rhetoric and serious lack of respect. Most motorists drive safety. I tried to cross 5th Avenue a few years ago, and had to race back for the curb when the light turned green for through traffic. All the drivers stayed put and waited politely, and none even blew their horn. Political correctness is not what we need, but genuine compassion for others, including for the drivers who respect others, drive sensibly, and just want access to theaters and other buildings along the street. We are the United States of America, and not the Kingdom of Sweden, and Vision Zero is a Euro-solution, not an American one. Many of its elements make a lot of sense, but it still needs to be adapted to this country. Many Americans drive and we all need to start cooperating and at least trying to see the other party’s point-of-view and consider their needs.

  • It is incremental , more like emergency room surgery. DOT indicated that fixing the rest of the corridor will require removing concrete ped islands, trees etc.. we asked for at minimum resurfacing and repainting of the bike lane …
    agreed that the size of both walk lanes and bike lanes need to be updated for current reality .
    Think twice about who you want to vote at the next Mayor election.

  • Come and drive or walk with us on this stretch. Road diet is not the point here. The pint is that pedestrians walk in the street, cyclists bike in the streets and cars and drivers cannot move. This will help everyone , by putting each in their proportional lane. By the way there no loss of traffic lane.

  • See answer further down .

  • No mixing zones . At 45 th street there is an offset turn with a miraculous bike lane markings extended through the intersection. Other intersections are fully Pete Ted split phases .
    There was a companion bus presentation for 42nd Street.
    Two way lanes could be iffy in a location with so many commuters and travelers.

  • They did eliminate one of the taxi stand and layover. We suggested taxis on 41. But this had been ruled out by Port Authority. We will work on this for the new terminal. It should really be underground. Good point on 40 th.. will suggest..

  • No reduction in lanes.
    On this stretch, it takes 30 minutes to drive up 5 blocks . The chaos of all modes mixed up with no separation or prioritization hurts everyone.

    If changing the street design can save a few thousand Injuries ( 87 motorists injuries on that stretch in 5 years) and improve everyone’s trip so that you can arrive at the theater on -time, i think this is a good change.

    See further answers below.

  • John M. Baxter

    Certainly, I go along with separating the modes, as you say. Good stuff! But, try to do this without restricting traffic flow unnecessarily.

  • removing the left turn is major improvement to flow . we agree that we’ d rather have the car flow .. much healthier for everyone

  • Jacob

    Thanks. It’s great that they’re not doing mixing zones! Was that a change that occurred as a result of the meeting, or was this an out of date presentation?

    I think a further lane reduction should be eyed alongside congestion pricing.

  • Jacob

    Might be good to include bus riders as well. They don’t really benefit from this change.

  • John M. Baxter

    Remember that cars need more width than bikes. You can’t directly equate % of users with % or space. Design in a balanced manner to try and serve all users equally and fairly.

  • In the presentation, the intersections that have a turn lane also have split phase signals, which you cannot see. So no mixing zones.

  • thomas040

    I think giving 85% of the traffic flow on that section more breathing room (pedestrians), is the obvious focus. 12% of the traffic is left for cars, that have 70% of the space available. Naturally you want to balance that equation just a tad /s 🙂

  • This would certainly be better than nothing, but my block, between 37 and 38th Streets and the streets down to 33rd suffer even worse congestion, The progran needs to cover 33-38.

  • Yes .

  • Andrew

    Remember that cars need more width than bikes. You can’t directly equate % of users with % or space. Design in a balanced manner to try and serve all users equally and fairly.

    Pedestrians currently constitute 85% of roadway users but only get 30% of roadway space. If my calculations are correct, this plan increases that to 40% of roadway space (at which point pedestrian volumes will increase, increasing the pedestrian mode share well above 85%).

    Motorists currently constitute 12% of roadway users but get a whopping 70% of roadway space. If my calculations are correct, this plan reduces that to 54% of roadway space.

    There is a major imbalance here, which this plan only begins to rectify. Your concerns about equity are oh so cute.

  • Andrew

    And ends in three months.

    (“I’m going to the doctor on Thursday” doesn’t mean that you’re going to the doctor at 12:01 AM, or even the moment the doctor’s office opens, on Thursday. It merely means that you’re going to the doctor at some point on Thursday.)

  • John M. Baxter

    My “cute” reply starts to look a lot less cute when you consider the air pollution and other implications of crowding too many cars into too few lanes. The question really is how well pedestrians will be able to move, and the same for cars. Somebody may have a formula for space needed, but I bet you do not. You can’t just eyeball the percentages. Pedestrians are a lot more maneuverable than cars and take up a lot less space. Who says 40% won’t be enough space? Cars stuck in a traffic jam only emit more pollutants. Pollution and climate change implications should be considered here. All I am concerned with is doing as well as can be done for all modes. And, if I sound reactionary, it’s only because so often it seems the focus is on pedestrians and bike riders, with almost a desire to punish those who drive. The goal should be to serve all three modes in an even-handed manner and as well as possible.

  • Andrew

    On streets saturated with traffic, eliminating lanes often spells disaster.

    DISASTER!

    A friendly reminder that it’s the sidewalks here that are super-saturated with pedestrian traffic, carrying 7 times the volume of vehicular traffic in 42% of the space.

    However, the rhetoric leaves much to be desired. We are told “motorists killed and injured” X number of pedestrians.

    That’s not rhetoric.

    Fact is, even from a New York study, it’s not that simple.

    Nobody ever claimed it was, pedestrian KSI statistics are nonetheless quite relevant.

    Many car-pedestrian crashes are the result of pedestrian errors

    Quite few, in fact. But even when the pedestrian is in error, I don’t want the pedestrian to be killed.

    and/or greatly made more likely by poor intersection design and poorly conceived traffic light sequences.

    DOT is looking to improve intersection design here, so I’m not sure what you’re complaining about.

    DOT found pedestrians are actually just slightly more likely to be the guilty party than the car driver, a fact never mentioned by typical Vison Zero overly zealous advocates.

    Absolutely false.

    Here is DOT’s study: http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/nyc_ped_safety_study_action_plan_technical_supplement.pdf

    Table 1-4 gives the top apparent contributing factors leading to pedestrian KSI crashes. One of the factors, pedestrian’s error/confusion, applies in 21.5% of pedestrian KSI crashes. In the remaining 78.5% of pedestrian KSI crashes, the motorist is primarily at fault.

    Bike and pedestrian safety advocates really need to dial back the anti-car, anti-motorist rhetoric and serious lack of respect.

    I don’t see any anti-car or anti-motorist rhetoric in this piece, nor do I see a “lack of respect.” Am I missing something?

    Most motorists drive safety.

    To a typical pedestrian, who interacts with hundreds of motorists each day, it isn’t enough for most motorists to drive safely. It isn’t even enough for 99% of motorists to drive safely.

    I tried to cross 5th Avenue a few years ago, and had to race back for the curb when the light turned green for through traffic.

    And you don’t see the serious problem with that?

    When a motorist finds himself in the middle of the intersection, do you expect him to scurry back to where he started like a rat, for fear of being killed?

    By the way, a lot of us cross 5th Avenue every day.

    All the drivers stayed put and waited politely, and none even blew their horn.

    Congratulations! A handful of motorists failed to kill you! That’s wonderful!

    Political correctness is not what we need, but genuine compassion for others, including for the drivers who respect others, drive sensibly, and just want access to theaters and other buildings along the street.

    Geometry is discompassionate. There is not enough space for more than a small fraction of people in the Manhattan Central Business District to get around by car. Sorry about that.

    (It’s cute that you think that “access to theaters” is why most people are here.)

    We are the United States of America, and not the Kingdom of Sweden, and Vision Zero is a Euro-solution, not an American one.

    Shocking as it may seem, geometry works exactly the same in the United States as in Sweden.

    Many of its elements make a lot of sense, but it still needs to be adapted to this country. Many Americans drive and we all need to start cooperating and at least trying to see the other party’s point-of-view and consider their needs.

    This is the Manhattan Central Business District, not suburban Atlanta. Most of us here in New York don’t even own cars, and car modal share into the Manhattan CBD is tiny.

  • John M. Baxter

    I’ve seen a major New York study, not the one you refer to, but I was similar. Obviously biased, it concluded that motorist inattention was the largest single cause of pedestrian serious injuries, without even examining pedestrian errors. Other studies and much testimony I have heard reveal many, many concerns about pedestrian inattention. I suspect bias in the New York study you quote ,as a US DOT study of car-pedestrian crashes is the one I was quoting.
    So, I guess you are saying I should have strolled in a leisurely manner back to the curb while crossing 5th Avenue, having screwed up?
    What I am getting at is the belief that speed is so much of the problem when the entire issue is far more complex. And, from what you write, the onus is on the car driver, not both parties. Sure seems to me that if both parties focus on safety and are held responsible, we are much better off. And, as far as intersection design goes–the New Your City study I saw revealed clearly that road diets to control speed would be less effective than re-configuring intersections. I share your concern, and I agree, in principle that motorists, driving something capable of killing, have a deep moral responsibility. But, from a practical perspective–both parties need to focus on safety. As far as Sweden versus the US goes, Sweden is a very socialistic country and the goal is to take safety out of the hands of individuals and make it the responsibility of the state, which is at the heart of Vision Zero. There is some legitimacy to that, but I just happen to believe that, in the US, we should put more of that responsibility in the hands of the individual. Considering also that far fewer people have cars in Sweden compared to those who walk and drive, sure seems to me the approach has to be shifted.

  • Andrew

    If you were really concerned about air pollution, you’d be looking to minimize the amount of motor traffic on city streets while maximizing the number of people getting around by foot, bicycle, and transit.

    In the absence of pricing (which hasn’t yet been implemented), congestion is what limits the number of people who choose to drive on New York City streets. The greater the congestion, the fewer people choose to drive and the more choose to get around by other means. Slightly reducing the amount of space available for drivers while massively increasing the amount of space available for pedestrians and cyclists will reduce air pollution.

    But you don’t actually care about air pollution.

  • John M. Baxter

    And, yes, that is a great idea–to minimize the number of cars on streets where there is not now room for all. But, how are you going to do it? Just eliminating lanes rather than coming up with a plan for handling those who, at this point, still need to drive into the city makes little sense. Public transportation–monorails. Or, perhaps, some wide, through streets set aside for cars, available parking, and easier walking from those centrally-located lots to the final destinations. From what you are saying about the volume of pedestrians versus cars, your argument may be quite sound. What bothers me is when lanes are eliminated to slow traffic when more benign solutions would serve all more fairly and still could make roads safer. All I am really asking for is positive, even-handed solutions rather than purely anti-car solutions that often punish even the responsible driver.

  • John M. Baxter

    That’s an unfair criticism–I do care a lot about air pollution. Just tell me this–if the congestion gets too bad, how do I get into the city? Are there really alternate means? What I am driving at is a positive approach, instead of a negative one. Build more and better public transit. Or build access roads or wide streets (where other modes are not squeezed) that allow cars to enter the city and park, and then provide either some other form of transit or have ready parking close enough to popular destinations. All I am saying is that the plan should be positive and genuinely benefit everyone, and use positive incentives instead of negative ones. It makes little sense to just squeeze cars out unless people at present are just making the wrong choices, or you provide some kind of alternative.

  • HamTech87

    Thanks for this response. The sidewalk crush is really bad in the lower 50s too.

  • one way to really speed up car traffic on this stretch is to remove long distance buses and jitneys stops on the east side of the avenue.
    the buses cross all lanes of traffic to turn west at 42nd or 43rd , an utter non sense. We have asked DOT many times to remove these stops and they refuse to do so.
    the long distance buses also obstruct the MTA bus lane and force MTA buses to merge in the next lane. reducing the #of moving lanes form 3 to 2 .

  • Azr43l

    Typical entitled, old white guy response. Dinosaurs like you that think the 1950’s American transportation model is sustainable will be gone soon and those of us that are gonna be around many decades more need to plan for a safe future – and one where we don’t accept preventable traffic deaths and pollution as unpreventable collateral damage.

  • John M. Baxter

    Thanks for the compliment, categorizing me in a completely irrelevant manner. Sticks and stones. . .The 1950s transportation model could easily be adapted to the present if the revolution you millennials wanted to bring to cities was based on a positive attitude, an objectivity, a respect for others, and actual knowledge about transportation and the realities of motorist behavior, along with a positive, democratic, and conciliatory attitude. Instead of the kind of revolution the Americans fought against the British, which ended up with us adopting English Common Law, accepting all debts owed to the British, open trade (the result of Hamilton’s concepts of democracy) and the chance to eventually become great allies, you want a French or even Russian Revolution, based on anger and hatred, and a steadfast refusal to find the good in what exists. Orderly change beats the hell out of bloody revolutions any day of the year. I’d have a lot more respect for the changes you want to see, which have at their heart, great motives, if you showed more respect for the accomplishments of the past and saw the benefits it brought to our civilization.

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