Eyes On The Street: The 38th And 39th Street Bike Lanes Are Not Ready For Prime Time
It would be misleading to say Manhattan’s newest crosstown bike lanes are unsafe, because that statement would imply that the lanes exist in any recognizable form.
Two weeks ago, the de Blasio administration announced it would roll out nine miles of temporary protected bike lanes across the city, including a pair of crosstown lanes on 38th and 39th streets from First to 11th avenues. The resulting bike lanes fail on multiple levels. For starters, at some point between the announcement and installation, the city lopped off four crosstown blocks going east and west. There’s no inkling of a protected bike lane between First and Fourth avenues, leaving cyclists to fend for themselves.
According to signage the city put up announcing the new parking layout, the lane now only runs from Fifth to 11th avenues on each street.
In and of itself, that would be a significant disappointment, but the six blocks where the bike lane is supposed to exist might as well have nothing either. Block after block starts with a barrel placed near the crosswalk directing bikes to the left and cars to the right. And block after block opens with a car parked exactly where cyclists are directed. (Perhaps there aren’t enough barrels in the world to keep Midtown car owners from claiming every inch of public space for themselves.)
There appears to be no rhyme or reason for where the barrels are placed, or even an effort to maintain a standard number of barrels per block. They aren’t connected with police tape or really stand out in any way to suggest that they are there to signal a parking lane. The barrels are given plenty of room to social distance from each other, which would be very helpful if they were living breathing beings at risk of spreading coronavirus to each other. But alas, the barrels are not alive, so this helpful safety measure is wasted on them and just leads to more confusion.
Cyclists still used 38th Street and 39th Street to go east and west, particularly working cyclists on e-bikes. Despite the “signage” directing cyclists to the left side of the street, it didn’t appear that anyone biking the blocks understood that a bike lane was supposed to be open to them.
Drivers also seem to treat the parking arrangement as a polite suggestion or a nuisance. As Streetsblog scoped out the scene on 38th Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues, a truck driver pulled in near the curb, got out of the cab to look at a printed sign laying out the bike lane, and then moved a barrel.
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“This is the parking lane,” he said when asked if he was aware the barrel marking a protected bike lane. And who could blame him, since the rest of the block was full of parked cars directly on the curb?
The bike lane appeared to exist for the length of six cars on 38th Street, but was otherwise completely in shambles.
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson tweeted that he’s found the city’s effort lacking so far, especially compared to other cities.
We need to build the alternative transit infrastructure that cities like Paris and London are building to do this successfully, including more and improved bike lanes. So far, the pop-up bike lanes we’ve seen have not been up to par. We need to do better—and fast. 4/4
— NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson (@NYCSpeakerCoJo) May 28, 2020
The DOT is working with limited resources, as is the rest of the city right now. But these bike lane do not provide safe passage crosstown for essential workers and future cycle commuters. For now, it exists so the city to say it installed 1.8 miles of bike lanes (which were supposed to be 3.9 miles).