Safer crosstown bike lanes en route

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City plans to add protected lanes on 26th and 29th Streets


  • City officials unveiled plans last week to implement protected bike lanes on 26th and 29th Streets, the first protected crosstown lanes in Manhattan that would span nearly river-to-river. 26th Street (pictured), currently does not have a bike lane, while 29th Street now features a painted bike lane. Photo: Michael Garofalo

Manhattan cyclists looking for a safer route across town will soon have a few new options.

Plans are underway to reconfigure 26th and 29th Streets to include protected bike lanes that would span almost uninterrupted from the Hudson River to the East River, the city’s Department of Transportation announced last week.

As bike use has exploded in Manhattan over the last decade, protected north-south bicycle thoroughfares on the borough’s wide avenues have proliferated — First, Second, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth and Ninth Avenues, as well as Broadway, now feature substantial stretches of protected lanes — but similar protections for bikers on east-west streets have been slower to materialize.

Stretching from the Hudson River Greenway to First Avenue, the 26th and 29th Street bike lanes would be the first protected crosstown routes to span nearly the entire width of the island.

The city’s move to provide more protections for cyclists travelling on east-west streets was spurred, in part, by a series of recent collisions involving bikers on Manhattan streets without dedicated bike lanes, including the June death of a Citi Bike rider on West 26th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. There were 23 cyclist fatalities in New York City in 2017, the highest total since 2007 and the second consecutive year that the number of deaths went up.

Key to the DOT’s cyclist safety efforts is the expansion of the city’s network of protected bike lanes, which shield cyclists from passing vehicle traffic with a buffer of parallel street parking, pedestrian crossing islands and other physical barriers. As of last summer, 425 of the city’s 1,133 miles of bike lanes were protected, and the DOT has set a goal of adding 10 new miles of protected lanes each year. According to the DOT, none of the nine cyclist fatalities that occurred in Manhattan in 2017 took place in a protected lane, and injuries on corridors with protected lanes have decreased 20 percent.

Both 26th and 29th Streets are currently one-way streets with a single lane of vehicle traffic and curbside parking on both sides of the street. There is no bike lane on 26th Street, while 29th Street features a painted bike lane that is not separated from vehicle traffic.

The planned reconfiguration would create a new protected bike route along the south curb on each street — eastbound on 26th Street, westbound on 29th Street — separated from vehicle traffic by a parking lane. The change would result in a loss of between two and nine parking spaces on a typical block.

According to the DOT, the anticipated budget for installing each new lane is “less than $500,000.” Department officials hope to begin phased implementation by this summer and presented plans to Community Board 4 last week.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer has long championed the implementation of protected crosstown lanes, calling them “a no-brainer and long overdue” in an op-ed in these pages last September. “Last summer’s tragic crashes threw a spotlight on the glaring need for safe, protected crosstown bike routes in mid-Manhattan,” Brewer said in a statement on the announcement of the new lanes. “I’m glad the Department of Transportation has responded and put together a plan, and look forward to hearing the input of the areas’ community boards.”

Despite the fact that annual cyclist fatalities have stayed relatively flat over the last decade, fluctuating on a yearly basis from a low of 12 to a high of 24, officials say that bike safety has actually improved considerably when the city’s unprecedented growth in bike ridership is taken into account. Citywide cycling volume increased 150 percent from 2006 to 2015, while the number of bike commuters in Manhattan nearly doubled from 2010 to 2015. On a per-trip basis, which accounts for the ridership increase, the cyclist fatality rate dropped 71 percent from 2000 to 2015.

Along with the changes to 26th and 29th Streets, the city plans to add two more crosstown protected bike lanes further north in Midtown. The DOT has explored 55th Street as the possible site of a westbound lane and 52nd Street for a possible eastbound lane, but the area is still being studied.

Last month, the DOT announced that in anticipation of the looming 18-month shutdown of the L train for tunnel repairs in 2019, 13th Street would be reconfigured to include a two-way protected bike lane, the borough’s first, running from Avenue C to Ninth Avenue.

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