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Protected Bike Lanes

Opinion: Connect the Dots of Manhattan’s Missing Bike Lanes

Only a few miles of missing protected lanes stand in the way of a robust bike network.

Photo: Josh Katz

New York City has come a long way in being a safer place for cyclists. We have 644 miles of protected bike lanes, a bike-share system with over 33,000 bikes and far fewer bicyclist deaths per trip taken compared to the past.

On the other hand, just about 3 percent of city streets have a protected bike lane — while 94 percent of riders killed by vehicles were outside of one at the time. Many people I meet express an interest in cycling, but are deterred by the lack of safe options in the city.

Sean Scott

The city Department of Transportation is required to build 50 miles of protected lanes per year (though by its own admission it has fallen short in both of the past two required years). 

However, I’ve always believed quality matters over quantity. That means 50 miles of disconnected lanes would be worse than 25 well-integrated ones. With that in mind, I mapped out exactly how many miles of lanes we need to complete the network in Manhattan below 60th Street, where congestion pricing is set to launch later this year. I decided to focus my efforts on Manhattan in part due to my familiarity with the area, but also because of its high density of people, buildings, and traffic.

DOT publishes its bike map once a year, and its 2024 version should be out soon. Therefore, as a base layer, I used the 2023 map, but I did not mark missing lanes where I knew one had already been constructed. Take a look:

Lower Manhattan

With the completion of the Centre Street uptown protected lane, there is now a safe way to get from City Hall to Union Square, though it’s not yet reflected on this map. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the downtown direction, with most of Broadway unprotected. Further, both Sixth and Seventh Avenues as well as Varick Streets have painful holes in what are otherwise great protected bike lanes.

There are also some major missing east-west links. The new Brooklyn Bridge lane only safely leads uptown to the Centre Street lane — even the 0.1 mile ride to the new Broadway lane is missing a bike lane south of City Hall. Further north, the west side greenway is missing connections to Sixth and Seventh avenues, as well as the Houston Street protected lane that runs east of Second Avenue.

Here’s a list of the missing links — just 8.5 miles of protected bike lanes for a safer lower Manhattan:

Midtown

Midtown generally features nice north/south lanes, with some east/west connectors as well. However, it’s really lacking between Second Avenue and Sixth Avenue.The gap forces cyclists to choose between dodging cars and heading to either of those two sides. The avid cyclist in me really wanted to draw some big red circles around 5th Avenue and Park Avenue, but for the sake of this post’s goal of connecting an existing bike network, I left them out.

Broadway has seen some improvements, and is undergoing another transformation at the time of writing this article! As a result, I’ve left it off of here, under the assumption and hope that it will be a safe uptown and downtown bike route very soon.

I also included sections like Seventh Avenue  from 44th Street to 42nd Street in the numbers, as those raised curbs technically count as protected by the legal definition, but, as previously documented by Streetsblog, are very easy to obstruct.

By this math, we only need 3.2 miles for safer biking in midtown:

Conclusion

For a one-time investment of 11.7 miles of protected bike lanes, we could connect a safe CBD network. Let’s hope the DOT shares our concern of building quality bike infrastructure.

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