CB4’s TPC Gets On the Bus for Crosstown Bike Lanes

The Department of Transportation plan includes additional protected crosstown bike routes in Midtown. | Image Via DOT

BY RANIA RICHARDSON | Citing an urgent need for more robust measures to protect cyclists and pedestrians, the Transportation Planning Committee (TPC) of Community Board 4 (CB4) voted unanimously to support a plan from the Department of Transportation (DOT) to install crosstown protected bike lanes on 26th and 29th Sts.

In a packed room at Cameo Studios (307 W. 43rd St.) on the night of Jan. 17, the majority of local residents, block association members included, expressed enthusiasm for the new plan. Many experienced cyclists brought up very specific issues regarding individual blocks and intersections — input they hoped would further inform the plan presented by DOT Director of Greenways, Ted Wright.

“Our goal is to make it more and more safe for more people to take bicycles,” Wright said.

With a four percent growth in ridership yearly and no signs of slowing down, it is imperative to protect the safety of cyclists — especially as the city is still mourning the deaths of Dan Hanegby and Michael Mamoukakis, who were killed within days of each other last June by charter buses on W. 26th St. (btw. Seventh & Eighth Aves.) and on Seventh Ave. at W. 29th St., respectively. The fear is that without swift implementation of protective measures, there could be more injuries when spring brings out more riders.

According to TPC co-chair Christine Berthet, the biggest concern for safety is the “mixing zones at intersections where cyclists and pedestrians are not protected from turning vehicles.” CB4’s endorsement of the plan contains stipulations including, but not limited to, implementing solutions to minimize conflicts for vehicles and cyclists turning at intersections, two-way lanes between Eighth and Ninth Aves., and additional lighting under the United States Postal Service facility on 11th Ave. and W. 24th St.

The bigger plan includes additional protected crosstown routes in Midtown — the largest central business district in the world — with its dense concentration of retailers, transportation hubs, and tourist attractions that make city cycling even more of a challenge. Unsurprisingly, the area has the highest cyclist fatalities and severe injuries (referred to as “cyclist KSI”) in Manhattan. In its broadest definition, Midtown runs from 14th to 59th St., the areas serviced by Community Boards 4, 5, and 6, which generally cover the area on the west, center, and east, respectively.

Street width and uninterrupted connectivity from the Hudson River Greenway to First Ave. make 26th and 29th Sts. ideal for the protected bike lanes. | Image via DOT

CB4 was the first to vote on the initial plan and it will be presented to CB5 and CB6 in the coming weeks. This will be followed by design adjustments based on community feedback and another round of presentations. Berthet confirmed that this process is a significant improvement over the early days of the Bloomberg era, when the city added bike lanes without due diligence with the public, which the then-mayor later admitted was a misstep.

Street width and uninterrupted connectivity from the Hudson River Greenway to First Ave. make 26th and 29th Sts. ideal for the protected bike lanes, in which cyclists are separated from traffic by a lane of parked cars.   This measure prevents vehicles from drifting into bike lanes and other dangerous moves.

“Thirty-four is the magic number,” said Wright, referring to the ideal width needed. The two proposed corridors have more 34’ wide blocks than adjacent streets. In the new plan, a typical block will get a 5’ bike lane, a 2’ buffer zone and an 11’ travel lane flanked by 8’ parking lanes on either side. From Park Ave. to Seventh Ave. (the commercial “Midtown Core” blocks) the far “parking” lane will be used only for short-term curbside access, for drop offs and emergency vehicles.

Safety on the roads is an issue with a gender divide, as 10 percent more women use protected bike lanes than unprotected. The ongoing safety initiatives should close the gap and increase their ridership.

Wendy Brawer, a New York City bike commuter since 1995 said in an email, “As an everyday cyclist I see these improvements as critically important in a city where the many pleasures of riding are too often overshadowed by the dangers that await you at every turn.” Brawer is the founder of the Green Map, a resource that offers connections to ecological living services around the world.

Benefits abound for the city as it continues to accommodate the growth of bicycle ridership — reduced congestion, cleaner air, and healthier commuters. If approved, work on protected bike lanes on 26th and 29th St. could begin as early as April.

At CB4’s Transportation Planning Committee meeting, community members asked questions and gave feedback. Standing: the DOT’s Ted Wright and Christine Berthet, co-chair of the Committee. | Photo by Rania Richardson

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