Electeds to City Hall: Protect Cyclists on Fifth Avenue

Fifth Avenue and 27th Street, where the city would create a dangerous gap. Photo: Google
Fifth Avenue and 27th Street, where the city would create a dangerous gap. Photo: Google

Fifth should be first.

The city must protect cyclists on Fifth Avenue — which boasts the highest ridership on a Manhattan corridor despite not having a bike lane — as part of its plan to install a busway along a portion of the avenue, a coalition of Manhattan pols said in a letter to the Department of Transportation on Wednesday.

Mayor de Blasio announced in June that he would make Fifth Avenue between 57th and 34th Streets car-free as one of five new busways in the city to help move essential workers during and post the Covid-19 pandemic. Restricting the busy corridor to buses and emergency vehicles only will make room for a protected bike lane along those same 20 blocks, DOT says — but that would still leave two major gaps where cyclists would be just inches from speeding cars, the six pols wrote, demanding the city continue building out the protected bike lane between two popular green spaces, Central Park and Washington Square Park.

“The issue is that DOT’s plan does not go far enough in supporting cyclists. We just celebrated filling the Second Avenue gap and now DOT wants to create two more. We can fill these now and give cyclists a contiguous and safe route from Central Park to Washington Square Park. It really shouldn’t be more complicated,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, calling herself, “Busway Brewer.”

Fifth Avenue currently has a bike lane between 25th and Eighth streets, but if the city installs one only between 57th and 34th streets, still about a dozen blocks would be without any protection for bikers. Brewer’s office told Streetsblog that DOT claims a protected bike lane is not feasible on Fifth Avenue between the two parks because the agency “doesn’t have enough time to do it now,” and the “busway is the only place where the bike lane fits due to reduced traffic.” In addition to the busway, the city also has plans to install a protected bike lane on Fifth Avenue between 120th and 110th streets in Harlem.

DOT did not respond to a request for comment on Brewer’s characterization of the agency’s position.

Whatever the excuse, it’s not good enough, said Brewer, who signed onto the letter with State Senators Liz Krueger and Brad Hoylman, Council Members Carlina Rivera and Keith Powers, and Assembly Member Richard Gottfried.

DOT's plan for Fifth Avenue between 57th and 34th Streets. Source: DOT
DOT’s plan for Fifth Avenue between 57th and 34th Streets. Source: DOT

On Fifth Avenue from Central Park to Washington Square Park, there have been 1,399 total crashes, injuring 66 cyclists and 66 pedestrians since June 2018, according to Crashmapper. And about 1,800 cyclists use Fifth Avenue daily, a number that can exceed 2,500 riders on nice days, according to the Department of Transportation — stats that highlight the need for a safer route for cyclists, according to safe-street advocates.

“Fifth Avenue has the highest bike ridership of any street in Manhattan without a bike lane, and now more than ever, New Yorkers need a safe, dedicated right-of-way to travel by bike along this corridor,” said Marian Jones, field coordinator at Transportation Alternatives.

And in June, an MTA bus driver struck and killed a cyclist on Fifth Avenue near 59th Street. A witness, who told Streetsblog that the biker was hit after going off the curb from the sidewalk, said that the avenue is dangerous because it lacks bike infrastructure despite running along Central Park.

The city should not do work on Fifth Avenue in a vacuum — leaving out the rest of the corridor will only create more gaps, which like Second Avenue, could take years to close, the pols wrote.

“Now is the time to include connections to Central Park and 25th Street and support cyclists and residents with a contiguous protected lane from Central Park to Washington Square Park,” the letter said.

The Aug. 5 letter follows similar pushes to protect cyclists on crosstown routes to Central Park, and once bikers get to the green space, after a doctor was killed by the driver of a school bus while riding his Citi Bike on the 96th Street transverse last year.

“We couldn’t agree more that the DOT should connect bikers to Central Park. It’s baffling that they wouldn’t automatically do this,” said Streetopia UWS’s Lisa Orman. “Once in the park, though, bikers need safe, legal, direct ways to cross the park. Central Park Advocates have many suggestions for how to do this, and we look forward to working with DOT, Parks, and the Central Park Conservancy on the many ways that they could serve bikers, and all park users, better.”

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Last month DOT announced its intent to add a protected bike lane along 19 blocks of Sixth Avenue. A coalition of advocates, business groups, community board representatives, and elected officials think the city can do better. At a press conference next to the Flatiron Building this morning, they called on DOT to redesign the entire length of Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. In a […]