DOT to Extend East Side Bike Lanes to 57th, But Mostly With Shared Lanes

Photo: DNAInfo
The protected bike lane on First Avenue will extend north to 49th Street, where it will become a shared lane for eight blocks. Cyclists hoping to reach the Second Avenue bike lane from the north will have to ride in heavy Midtown traffic to get there, with only a shared lane for protection. Photo: ##

The First and Second Avenue bike lanes on Manhattan’s East Side will only be extended from 34th Street to 57th Street this year, not up to 125th Street as advanced in a plan that won community board approvals in 2010.

While First Avenue will receive Manhattan’s first northbound parking-protected bike lane above 34th Street, the rest of the East Side extension this year will mostly consist of a new shared-lane treatment, not parking-protected lanes or even the buffered, painted lanes that were endorsed by Community Board 6 last year.

DOT presented its plans to the First and Second Avenue Community Advisory Council last night. According to CAC member A. Scott Falk, the protected bikeways and pedestrian refuges have been a big success where they’ve been installed below 34th Street. Injuries for all street users are down 8.3 percent, bike volumes are up, and traffic hasn’t been slowed at all.

But whether because the local print and TV media have declared war on bike lanes or because a new deputy mayor has reportedly given less leeway to bike projects than his predecessors did, DOT’s plans on the East Side seem to keep diminishing.

Overall, the next phase of the bike project along the two East Side avenues will be far less robust than the first phase. On First Avenue, reported Falk, the parking protected lane will be extended from 34th Street to 49th. After that, cyclists will ride in a specially-designed shared lane to 57th Street. The design of the shared lane is new to New York City, with the “sharrow” stencil placed directly in the middle and a solid white line setting it off from regular traffic lanes. On Second Avenue, the same shared lane treatment will extend the entire way from 34th to 57th. Streetsblog has a request in with DOT to confirm that this will be the full extent of East Side bike lane construction in 2011.

At last night’s meeting, said Falk, DOT claimed that it was only installing shared lanes because Community Board 6 hadn’t taken a strong stance in support of the bike lanes. But last year CB 6 had in fact voted to endorse buffered lanes on First Avenue from 49th to 57th, as proposed by DOT at the time, and then went further, requesting that buffered lanes be considered on Second, where DOT had never proposed them. So while the community board had asked to make more room for safe cycling, DOT came back this year with less.

East Side residents have already seen the ambitious plans for protected bikeways from Houston to 125th Street sliced into stages. At this rate, the East Harlem residents who have forcefully demanded safe cycling facilities won’t get them for at least a few more years. That the Midtown design was watered down against the community board’s wishes is an unexpected additional setback.

The fifteen blocks of protected lane on First are still very important. They mark the first northbound protected lane to make it past 34th Street in Manhattan, and will include 12 pedestrian islands to shorten crossing distances and calm traffic.

CB 6’s transportation committee will be meeting this Monday to discuss the revised plans for First and Second Avenue. Hopefully community board members will remind DOT of exactly what it was they asked for one year ago. It would surely be helpful if supporters of safer streets attend the meeting to restate just what is at stake.

Update: You can see DOT’s presentation, which includes plans for bus bulbs and transit signal priority to further speed up buses on First and Second Avenue as well as the bike plans, in this PDF.