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Bicycle Infrastructure

NYPD Forced to Protect DOT’s Second Avenue ‘Protected Bike Lane’

An officer from the 19th Precinct checks on the so-called protected bike lane Friday afternoon. Photo: Julianne Cuba.

The Department of Transportation's so-called protected bike lane in the notoriously dangerous area called the “Second Avenue Gap” is such a failure of design that the NYPD is using sawhorses and police tape to keep cars out of it — and the DOT doesn't plan any immediate changes.

Police in the 19th Precinct — whose support of cyclists is inconsistent, thanks to intermittent crackdowns of delivery cyclists — are now being hailed for setting up physical barriers in the Upper East Side bike lane in order to protect bikers from speeding cars.

“Our officers are back out on 2nd Avenue today ensuring the new stretch of #UpperEastSide #BikeNYC lane is being used by cyclists only,” the 19th Precinct wrote on Twitter on June 20. “Looking good at this hour. We will continue to monitor to ensure cyclist’s (sic) safety.”

The problem is not only DOT's design but its strategy. Most of the day, cyclists are indeed protected by a row of parked cars. But between 3 pm and 8 pm every day except Sunday, the parking lane becomes a travel lane, apparently to serve rush-hour drivers destined for the Queensboro Bridge entrance at 59th Street — one of the most congested spots in the city. 

Drivers have responded by swerving into the bike lane to drop off passengers, make a left turn off the avenue, or park — forcing the NYPD to set up barriers. 

On Friday afternoon at 5 pm, an officer from the local station house was out fastening police tape to the sawhorse to ensure cars did not go into the newly painted bike lane — the design is a new concept for the neighborhood, so the precinct's Commanding Officer, Deputy Inspector Kathleen Walsh, has sent out her rank-and-file cops for the past two weeks to set up the physical barriers during some of the busiest sections of the new bike lane, according to the officer at the scene.

Police tape and a sawhorse block the bike lane from the travel lane. Photo: Julianne Cuba
Police tape and a sawhorse block the bike lane from the travel lane. Photo: Julianne Cuba
Police tape and a sawhorse block the bike lane from the travel lane. Photo: Julianne Cuba

Physical barriers are supposed to help drivers know that they can’t just cross into a bike lane, but because of the confusing nature of Second Avenue — changing from a parking lane to a moving lane halfway through the day — and without any physical protection, drivers either don’t know or just don't care about encroaching on cyclists' space. 

Bikers questioned why DOT, which came up with the design, can’t just install physical protections like jersey barriers or even flexible delineators as it does on other bike lanes, including Grand Street and 12th and 13th streets.

"If only the DOT had the technology to erect some sort of 'barrier' so the NYPD doesn't have to do this all day. They could call it a 'protected bike lane' or something like that," Bike Snob Eben Weiss joked on Twitter on June 20

DOT told Streetsblog it cannot install physical barriers because of the need to accommodate the width of street sweepers and snow plows — adding flexible delineators nine feet off the curb in the buffer would not allow for standard street sweepers or snow plows to reach the curb, while instead using parked cars allows for flexibility to reach the curb when the lane is cleared during rush hours and street sweeping. 

A spokeswoman for the Department of Sanitation did not respond to a request for comment, telling Streetsblog to reach out to DOT for details about the Second Avenue bike lane.
But the city must figure out a work around if it really wants to protect cyclists and plans to build out even more protected bike lanes, said Bike New York's Jon Orcutt.

“This is a problem we’re seeing more and more of — these protected bike lanes that don't actually have anything but various porous arrangements of these vertical sticks with nothing else to keep cars out of them," said Orcutt. “This is something city government needs to resolve — the more protected bike lanes we have the more there’s a need for smaller street sweeping equipment. It’d be nice if there was some sense that DOT was actually on it or City Hall, actually helping to coordinate.”

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