Eyes On The Street: The 38th And 39th Street Bike Lanes Are Not Ready For Prime Time

Behold, New York's newest protected bike infrastructure. Photo: Dave Colon
Behold, New York's newest protected bike infrastructure. Photo: Dave Colon

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.

A driver stops in the unprotected bike lane on 39th Street between First Avenue and Second Avenue. Photo: Dave Colon
A driver stops in the unprotected bike lane on 39th Street between First Avenue and Second Avenue. Photo: Dave Colon

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.

A sign announcing the bike lane starts at Fifth Avenue. Photo: Dave Colon
A sign announcing the bike lane starts at Fifth Avenue. Photo: Dave Colon

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.)

39th Street and 8th Avenue. Photo: Dave Colon
39th Street and Eighth Avenue. Photo: Dave Colon
39th Street and 5th Avenue. Photo: Dave Colon
39th Street and Fifth Avenue. Photo: Dave Colon

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.

Barrels placed unevenly on 39th Street between 9th Avenue and 10th Avenue. Photo: Dave Colon
Barrels placed unevenly on 39th Street between Ninth and 10th avenues. Photo: Dave Colon
A long stretch on 39th Street between 7th Avenue and 8th Avenue with no barrels. Photo: Dave Colon
A long stretch on 39th Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues had no barrels. Photo: Dave Colon
38th Street between 6th Avenue and 7th Avenue. The police car on the side of the east end of the block was parked next to the barrel on the sidewalk. Photo: Dave Colon
38th Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues. The police car on the side of the east end of the block was parked next to the barrel on the sidewalk. Photo: Dave Colon

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.

38th and 8th (4)
Cyclists on 38th Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues. Photo: Dave Colon
A cyclist outside the bike lane on 39th Street between Sixth Avenue and Seventh Avenue. Photo: Dave Colon
A cyclist outside the bike lane on 39th Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues. Photo: Dave Colon
Cyclists on 38th Street between Sixth Avenue and Seventh Avenue. Photo: Dave Colon
Cyclists on 38th Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues. Photo: Dave Colon

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.

RELATED: OUR REVIEW OF THE CRESCENT STREET LANE

“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 area on 38th Street between Seventh Avenue and Eighth Avenue where a truck driver parked after moving a barrel. Photo: Dave Colon
The area on 38th Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues where a truck driver parked after moving a barrel. Photo: Dave Colon
Good luck understanding what this spray paint and barrel setup on 38th Street and Eighth Avenue means. Photo: Dave Colon
Good luck understanding what this spray paint and barrel setup on 38th Street and Eighth Avenue means. Photo: Dave Colon
A barrel at the intersection of 38th Street and Tenth Avenue placed directly in the entrance to the street. Photo: Dave Colon
A misplaced barrel at the intersection of 38th Street and 10th Avenue. You can see the bike lane beckoning beyond. Photo: Dave Colon

The bike lane appeared to exist for the length of six cars on 38th Street, but was otherwise completely in shambles.

The bike lane design actually working for a short stretch on 38th Street between Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue. Photo: Dave Colon
The bike lane design actually working for a short stretch on 38th Street between Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue. Photo: Dave Colon

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson tweeted that he’s found the city’s effort lacking so far, especially compared to other cities.

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).

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