First Avenue Bike Lane Fix on Hold Until Pope and UN Leave Town

Image: DOT
Wait until next month for safety improvements on First Avenue. Image: DOT [PDF]

DOT was supposed to start filling the gap in the First Avenue protected bike lane in Midtown this summer, but the agency says it’s waiting until the Pope leaves town and the UN General Assembly adjourns before moving forward.

When the First Avenue bike lane was installed in 2011, DOT left a gap of 10 blocks south of 59th Street, instead going with sharrows to maximize the number of car lanes approaching the toll-free Queensboro Bridge. Then this May DOT came back and got Community Board 6’s backing to fill the gap.

The plan was to install a protected bike lane and pedestrian islands from 49th to 55th streets over the summer, before coming back to CB 6 in September or October with a design for the final few blocks. That segment, from 55th to 58th streets, is clogged with multiple lanes of drivers turning left across the paths of cyclists.

DOT Bicycle Program Director Hayes Lord explained the process at a meeting of the New York Cycle Club last night. “We couldn’t even model the portion from 55th to 59th,” he said of the traffic challenges. “[CB 5 members] were very pleased that we were taking this approach, that we weren’t just ramming it through. We want to do it right. So we will take our time.”

But it will take a little more time than expected. Construction was supposed to start in early August, according to flyers DOT sent out to the community board and local businesses [PDF]. But before DOT crews got to the site, global diplomats and the pontiff intervened.

The United Nations General Assembly opened yesterday and runs until October 6. Pope Francis will also be visiting New York between September 23 and 26. Road closures and extra traffic related to all the international dignitaries have put a temporary hold on roadwork.

Lord said construction will begin in early October, and crews will try to wrap work before cold weather puts an end to the construction season. The first phase includes a large pedestrian island at 49th Street to shorten crossing distances and realign traffic exiting the tunnel near the UN.

Although DOT was initially hoping to complete the entire project this fall, installation of the final segment between 55th and 59th streets is unlikely to happen until next year, after DOT again meets with CB 6.

Ultimately, filling the gap on First Avenue will yield a nearly continuous protected bike lane running from Pike Street on the Lower East Side to the Bronx side of the Willis Avenue Bridge.

Southbound cyclists on Second Avenue, meanwhile, are relegated to sharrows through Midtown. DOT has not put forward any plans to extend that avenue’s protected bike lanes north of 34th Street.