Manhattan Panel Cheers City’s Third Ave. Redesign (Though Some Wish it Was Bolder)

Third Avenue as it is now (but not for long, if the city really builds the design in the inset image). Photo: Google (and DOT)
Third Avenue as it is now (but not for long, if the city really builds the design in the inset image). Photo: Google (and DOT)

They’re turning Third Avenue into number one.

In what was maybe the most resounding show of support for a street redesign to date, Upper East Siders overwhelmingly gave a thumbs up to the city’s plan to put a bike lane and bus lane on Third Avenue.

After months of advocacy from local pols and activists — and a shiny spread in New York Magazine showcasing what a reimagined current seven-lane Third Avenue could be — the Department of Transportation on Wednesday night unveiled its plans to a Manhattan Community Board 8 panel to take away two lanes of moving traffic in order to make room for a protected bike lane and designated bus lane on the corridor between E. 59th and E. 96th streets.

Members of the community were thrilled, saying the redesign will turn what’s currently an inhospitable and dangerous traffic sewer into a safe and convenient route for bikers, pedestrians and bus riders.

“I couldn’t be happier with this plan,” Barak Friedman, who’s been advocating for a new Third Avenue, said during the virtual meeting.

Many agreed, but also encouraged the city to go further by installing a two-way protected bike lane or another one-way path in the opposite direction, using more protective infrastructure instead of mere paint, and widening the sidewalks — solutions to safer streets that should be a no-brainer for a mayor who campaigned on being a regular bike rider and whose slogan is “Get Stuff Done.”

“Be more ambitious in the designs; I think having two one-way bike lanes on each side would really be a commitment to cycling infrastructure, something Mayor Adams has really presented,” said Eric Martz. “The current treatment is great, but really go the extra mile.”

Others also dared the city to be more bold, using Paris’s Rue de Rivoli as inspiration and “build for the volumes we want,” as Kate Fillin-Yeh of NACTO recently said.

“This to start with is fantastic, you really can’t get any worse than the way Third Avenue is right now. But I would like to see more imagination from DOT going forward,” added Liam Jeffries.

The plan, which also includes taking away parking spaces near intersections to allow for pedestrian islands and shorter crossing times, will not only help cyclists, but also pedestrians and the more than 50,000 bus riders daily, who currently suffer from exhaustingly slow commutes on the more than 150 buses that traverse the thoroughfare.

Support for the proposal passed the transportation committee 12-1 (plus one public member) with one abstention. It heads to the full board next week.

Some will likely argue for it to be even bolder when it comes to the full board. Urban planner Mike Lydon recently sketched out what Manhattan’s wide avenues can look like with a little imagination and political will:

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And it’s well documented that the existing protected bike lanes on First and Second avenues are already overcrowded and in need of widening. Yet the DOT design for Third, as Fillin-Yeh alluded in the recent Streetfilms video about Paris, is a design for the “volumes we have” rather than the city that “we want to see.”

The DOT expects to break ground on the redesign next year and that it is still considering plans for the rest of Third Avenue.

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