Campaign Seeks To Fix Manhattan’s Third Avenue Traffic Toilet

Third Avenue in Manhattan. Gale Brewer says "Fix it." Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Third Avenue in Manhattan. Gale Brewer says "Fix it." Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

They want to put safety first on Third.

Activists with Transportation Alternatives have a new petition demanding that the city transform super-wide Third Avenue from an urban highway of four car lanes, two parking lanes and one bus lane into a calmer boulevard with two lanes for cars, two bus lanes, a grade-separated bike path and a widened sidewalk for pedestrians and restaurants.

The campaign covers the portion of Third Avenue between 24th and 42nd streets.

The plan would transform the toilet from this…

third-avenue before

… to this:

This could be Third Avenue, if you want it.
For one of the activists behind the petition, the proposed change is a long-overdue people-first redesign of a road that right now only exists to serve cars.

“We’re a great city on the planet, and we’re just falling behind on giving people safe and pleasant infrastructure,” said Paul Krikler, a safe streets advocate who works with Transportation Alternatives.

Krikler mentioned his own personal experience of trying to bike north in Manhattan, and eventually realizing that if he was anywhere on the eastern portion of the island, he had to go all the over to First Avenue’s protected bike lane for a safer path. Rather than stop at just a bike lane though, Krikler said he thought it was time to completely reimagine what Third Avenue can be.

“Let’s go beyond a bike lane, let’s have something a bit more visionary. Something dramatically different and something nicer to live on, nicer to commuter on, nicer for bus riders, and much wider sidewalks which are better for people with mobility issues and better for restaurants,” he said.

The current petition is limited to an 18-block stretch of Third Avenue, but Krikler said that focusing on a stretch with more restaurant and street life was “more manageable.” He’d like to eventually see the entire avenue made more people-friendly.

One of Third Avenue’s representatives in the City Council said that it was long past time to take another look at the street.

“As someone who bikes this area often, it’s clear that there’s a need to strengthen safety along this stretch of Third Avenue,” said Council Member Keith Powers. “Currently, people are asked to navigate a dangerous situation that is made worse by construction and double parking.”

Even with Powers’s interest in fixing the block somehow, it seems unlikely that we’ll see a better Third Avenue tomorrow. Or even the day after tomorrow, or next week. A similar campaign to merely finish the work of connecting the Sixth Avenue bike lane from 33rd Street to Central Park took an astounding four years after the Sixth Avenue lane was extended from 14th Street to 33rd Street in 2016, and community board efforts to redesign Sixth Avenue dated back to 2013.

Some kind of update is needed to bring the street into the 21st century though. As Streetsblog recently pointed out, Manhattan avenues with even cursory safety improvements provide better safety than the avenues totally devoted to car travel. First Avenue between 34th and 42nd streets, which has a parking-protected bike lane and a single bus lane among its six lanes, had 78 reported crashes in 2019, injuring just six pedestrians and no cyclists. On the corresponding stretch of Third Avenue, however, there were 180 reported crashes in 2019, injuring five cyclists and five pedestrians (one pedestrian was killed).

A spokesperson for the Department of Transportation said agency is reviewing the petition. The agency’s Current Projects page shows that the city is committed to improving the two other hellish Third Avenues — one in The Bronx and one in Brooklyn — but no work is planned for the one in Manhattan. (That said, the project in Brooklyn has been stalled for the entirety of the de Blasio administration.)