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Pedestrians Will Get More Space on Cramped Lexington Avenue … In 2024

Cramped: pedestrians will get more room as part of a sidewalk expansion on Lexington Avenue between 42nd and 51st Streets. Photo: Julianne Cuba

Pedestrians will get more space along a crowded Midtown corridor near Grand Central Terminal by taking a lane away from cars — but the full scheme to increase safety and reduce systemic discrimination against pedestrians won't happen for at least three more years, city officials said this week.

Community Board 5’s Transportation and Environment Committee voted unanimously on Monday in favor of the Department of Transportation project [PDF], which would expand the sidewalk on Lexington Avenue between 42nd and 51st streets, where currently, pedestrians get just one-third of the public space available, despite comprising 76 percent of the roadway's users.

“The existing sidewalks are very narrow,” DOT’s Casey Gorrell told the civic panel during the virtual meeting. "Pedestrians need some space, and it has to come from somewhere, and it’s coming from cars."

Currently, Lexington Avenue has three vehicular travel lanes, with commercial loading, hotel loading, and taxi stands on the east side, and a curbside bus lane and bus stops on the west side. Yet despite commandeering that much public space, cars make up just 17 percent of the corridor's usage, and buses make up about seven percent, according to data from autumn, 2019. At some hours of the day, walkers outnumber drivers more than four to one, according to DOT.

Last year, the city created a temporary reallocation of space between just 42nd and 48th streets by converting one travel lane into a walkway after a repaving. Now, starting this fall, DOT says it will further address the overcrowding on Fifth Avenue by continuing the sidewalk expansion through 51st Street on the west side of the street. That work will include painting a new 10-foot walkway by removing one lane of private vehicle traffic, and creating a new red-painted bus lane.

Chart: DOT
Chart: DOT
Chart: DOT

And as part of the city's East Midtown Rezoning, DOT will also create a more permanent solution to give pedestrians more space, which includes a capital project to build out the east side painted extensions between 41st Street and 48th Street in concrete. But that bulk of the project is not slated to start until 2024, according to DOT's presentation.

The reallocation of space will give the roughly 5,100 pedestrians who traverse the corridor each hour up to 45 percent of the streetscape, a 15 percentage point increase over the current 30 percent. The new design will mimic the configuration on Seventh Avenue between 34th and 42nd streets near Penn Station.

As part of the project, DOT will also consolidate bus stops, ban left turns at 41st Street, remove the taxi stand at 42nd Street, add curb extensions, and relocate the tour bus stop from where it currently sits at 50th Street to 51st Street.

The CB5 vote came on the same night that the transportation panel also supported a watered-down version of a long-delayed plan to speed up buses on Fifth Avenue.

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