At Hudson Guild, DOT Answers Inquiries About Incoming Crosstown Bike Lanes

Derek Magee commutes to work on 26th St. “Once drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians all have their own dedicated space on the streets, there are less conflicts between different modes of transportation,” he said. | Photo by Sam Bleiberg

BY SAM BLEIBERG | Fresh paint on 26th and 29th Sts. will mark a clear cycling path across Chelsea for the first time with the installation of much-anticipated crosstown bike lanes.

Ahead of the lanes’ implementation, the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) hosted an informational session on the project for Elliott-Chelsea Houses and other nearby residents at the Hudson Guild. Residents and commuters, cyclists, and pedestrians alike look forward to the overdue improvements for street safety and efficiency. The forum also opened an important dialogue on how to accommodatesafe, accessible methods of transportation for all community members.

Chelsea Now previously reported on the 26th and 29th Sts. bike lane project as a landmark for Manhattan bike infrastructure, representing the first crosstown lanes in Midtown. In the June 15 meeting, the DOT presented on the benefits of the project for the westernmost blocks of Manhattan, which include safer streets for cyclists and pedestrians, better traffic flow for motorists, and more efficient paths for those who rely on bicycles for transportation and recreation.

City officials and community leaders representing Chelsea celebrated the lanes as life-saving improvements for some of the most dangerous streets in Manhattan.

City Speaker Corey Johnson, whose District 3 area of coverage includes Chelsea, invoked the tragedies that spurred action on the project. “Last summer we tragically lost the lives of two cyclists, Dan Hanegby and Michael Mamoukakis, in the West 20s near Seventh Avenue,” Johnson said in a statement to Chelsea Now. “These new crosstown bike lanes on West 26th and West 29th Streets will help save lives and ensure that our streets are safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists alike.”

Johnson also thanked the DOT for hosting the community outreach session to keep Chelsea residents informed and involved in the transportation planning process. “I am pleased that Community Board 4 [CB4] voted in support of these crosstown bike lanes and thank the NYC Department of Transportation for meeting with residents over the last several months to talk about the importance of these new bike lanes,” he said.

Ken Jockers, Executive Director of Hudson Guild, echoed this sentiment and highlighted community engagement as critical for the project’s success.

“First and foremost, our concern as always is to have residents of this block and our neighborhood be aware of what the changes are and why are they made,” he said. “The longer notice you give people and the more opportunities you give people to get the information and give feedback, the better buy-in and support you’re going to get.”

The DOT has proposed a comprehensive plan to provide safe crosstown bike corridors. This excerpt from their June 15 presentation at Hudson Guild shows the status of projects spanning Union Square to 55th St.

In their presentation, the DOT cited the positive effects from previous protected bike lane implementations as justification for the project. On streets with protected bike lanes, total injuries, including pedestrians and cyclists, have dropped by 20 percent. The protected bike lane on Ninth Ave., for example, resulted in decreased bicycle crash injuries by 48 percent even as cyclist volume increased by 65 percent.

“While cyclist fatalities remain low despite dramatic growth in cycling citywide, the majority of cyclist fatalities have occurred on streets without bike lanes, and Community Boards 4, 5, and 6 have the highest number of cyclists killed or seriously injured in Manhattan,” a DOT spokesperson told Chelsea Now. “Protected bike lanes in Manhattan improve safety for all users.”

For cyclists in Chelsea, the lanes will provide peace of mind and make previously unsafe routes accessible. Chelsea Now caught up with Iris, an Elliott-Chelsea resident, as she wheeled her bike off of W. 26th St.

“I run errands on my bike. I go to the piers to have fun, ride Uptown and Downtown. We have no lane around here,” she said. “I feel unsafe. That’s why I mainly ride in the piers for now. When I have to ride in the street, I try to be extra careful.”

Donna David, an avid biker who commutes from Midtown East to work at the Fashion Institute of Technology (W. 27th St. & Seventh Ave.), believes the protected lanes will open the door for cyclists who currently feel unsafe.

“I do not feel safe riding into midtown from the 20s, so I just don’t do it,” she said. “I go out of my way to find a safe route. With a safe bike infrastructure and more protected lanes, more people will ride.”

Community members and staff from Hudson Guild worry about danger from large tourist buses, such as this one seen here on W. 26th St. (btw. Ninth & 10th Aves.) squeezing past a double-parked ride share driver. | Photo by Sam Bleiberg

The DOT raised the issue of street design for gender equity in their presentation. Data shows 10 percent more women bike in protected bike lanes, suggesting that safer bike infrastructure is a step toward lowering the citywide gender imbalance in cycling.

Additional figures illustrated that cycling represents a more affordable and efficient transportation option for Manhattanites. Citi Bike rides in Midtown are on average 2 miles per hour faster and $6 cheaper than taxi rides. NYCHA residents 16 and older qualify for a discounted annual Citi Bike membership of $5 per month.

Community reactions to the bike lanes opened a wider discussion on street safety and traffic enforcement.

Jockers welcomes the efforts to encourage alternate modes of transportation.

“Safe biking and traffic alternatives are good for the neighborhood, particularly where there is a community center and school on the same block, he said. “Having designated, safe, bike traffic lanes is a good thing. Making sure that there is traffic calming [designs that facilitate motorist, pedestrian, and bicyclist safety] and making sure that nuisances like tourist buses are not clogging the block, are concerns of ours.”

Advocates for residents expressed concerns over enforcement for motorists and cyclists, including specific concerns about double-decker tourist buses and aggressive driving from yellow taxis. “My first concern is safety,” said Darlene Waters of the Elliott-Chelsea Tenants Association. “We have all these big sightseeing buses going through our block. Cyclists are not getting tickets. They don’t follow the rules.”

A brief observation of the block on W. 26th St. between Ninth and 10th Aves. revealed gridlock from cars blocking the intersection on 10th Ave., double parked ride-share drivers obstructing traffic on W. 26th, multiple double-decker tour buses squeezing past double-parked cars, cyclists biking against traffic, and pedestrians crossing against the light and in the middle of the block.

Safe streets advocates make the point that safe, designated space for bicycles reduces the need for cyclists and pedestrians to veer from their delineated paths. Derek Magee is an organizer for Transportation Alternatives, a nonprofit advocating for better bicycling, walking, and public transit infrastructure. He commutes on a bicycle every day to his work on W. 26th St. between 10th and 11th Aves. Magee argued the bike lanes will positively impact pedestrian safety.

“Once drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians all have their own dedicated space on the streets, there are less conflicts between different modes of transportation,” he said. “One of the best features of protected bike lanes are the narrowing of travel lanes and crossing distances, which slow cars and make it far safer for pedestrians.”

Even protected bike lanes can pose dangerous situations for bikers. Seen here on W. 26th St. and Ninth Ave. is a mixing zone where failure to yield by cars can put cyclists at risk. | Photo by Sam Bleiberg

The track record of existing protected lanes in Chelsea and across New York supports this model. The DOT reports that pedestrian injuries on street segments with protected bike lanes decreased by 22 percent, based on three years of data across all Manhattan projects. Magee also suggests that what many perceive as dangerous behavior from cyclists arises from existing street design flaws.

“I think the addition of dedicated, protected lanes will actually encourage bike riders to be more courteous and law-abiding,” he said. “Cyclists often have to resort to aggressive riding tactics to navigate infrastructure that is designed solely for cars, and are able to be more relaxed and predictable in a dedicated lane. I think outreach and education to all road users is important any time the city rolls out new infrastructure, but simply increasing enforcement against cyclists is inappropriate.”

The DOT expects to complete the project later in the summer, with more exciting developments for safe streets advocates on the horizon. The DOT will present proposals for crosstown lanes on 55th and 52nd Sts. in the coming months, with implementation slated for 2019. Until then, 26th and 29th Sts. will be the gold standard for bike-friendly transit across Manhattan.

ALSO OF INTEREST, see these articles from our archives:

10th Ave. Bike Lane Proposal Peddled, to Positive Results | April 3, 2018

CB4’s TPC Gets On the Bus for Crosstown Bike Lanes | Jan. 23, 2018

Cyclist Fatalities Addressed: Route Adherence Stressed, Crosstown Bike Lanes Suggested | Oct. 10, 2017

Two Deaths in Under a Week — and Calls for Charter Bus Changes in Chelsea | June 21, 2017

Wheels in Motion for Seventh Ave. Bike Lane | May 17, 2017

Time to Stop Spinning Our Wheels on Bike Safety | Oct. 19, 2016

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