Second Ave. to get biking upgrades

A cyclist crosses the 59th Street and Second Avenue intersection using the bus lane. The Department of Transportation plans to install a new bike lane at the dangerous crossing, near the entrance to the Queensboro Bridge. Photo: Michael Garofalo
DOT plan calls for new dedicated lane, pedestrian island at Queensboro Bridge intersection

For Manhattan cyclists, the busy section of Second Avenue approaching the Queensboro Bridge often makes for a white-knuckle ride.

“I have long since come to the conclusion that if I get killed on a bike, that is where it’s going to happen,” said Jeremy Posner, an Upper East Side resident who navigates the area frequently using Citi Bike.

High traffic volumes and lacking bike infrastructure have long made the 10-block stretch of Second Avenue south of 68th Street one of the most treacherous places to bike in Manhattan — particularly at the complicated intersection between 60th and 59th Streets where vehicles enter and exit the Queensboro Bridge, which one recent study found was the most dangerous crossing in the entire borough.

A new proposal from the city’s Department of Transportation, which officials will present to Community Board 8 this evening, calls for improved bike lanes on Second Avenue and an overhaul of the Queensboro Bridge intersection, improvements DOT officials say will make the area safer for bikers and pedestrians alike.

From 105th Street to 68th Street, Second Avenue currently features a southbound protected bike lane, which is separated from vehicle traffic by a lane of parked cars. (Ridership on the avenue has nearly doubled since the protected lane was finished in late 2016.) But below 68th Street, the protected lane ends; bikers must share a lane with vehicles in the often heavily congested approach to the Queensboro Bridge entrance.

Second Avenue would be reconfigured to include a new dedicated curbside bike lane under the DOT’s plan. During off-peak hours, bikers will be protected from traffic by a loading and parking lane. During peak hours, the parking lane will become a fifth travel lane and bikers will be distanced from moving vehicles by a 3-foot painted buffer.

In its current configuration, the Queensboro Bridge intersection is exceedingly perilous for cyclists, who must avoid vehicles turning left onto the bridge entrance ramp in order to continue south on Second Avenue. Rather than risk a collision with a left-turning car in the shared lane, bikers often opt instead to cross several lanes of traffic to ride in the bus lane along the opposite curb. Four cyclists and one pedestrian were injured at the intersection last year.

The DOT’s proposed makeover would install a safer crossing dedicated to cyclists at the intersection, including a new island that will shorten the crossing distance at 59th Street. The plan would also add pedestrian crosswalks on the east side of Second Avenue (currently, pedestrians can cross 60th and 59th Streets only on the avenue’s west side).

The bicyclist and pedestrian advocacy organization Transportation Alternatives has called for the city to improve safety along this portion of Second Avenue for years. Chelsea Yamada, the group’s Manhattan community organizer, said the changes are “much needed” and “will do a much better job than what’s currently on the street. But, she said, a full-time protected lane north of 60th Street would be preferable to the DOT’s proposal for the bike lane, which would be shielded by parked cars only during off-peak hours.

“The rush-hour design raises a lot of concerns, especially for our most vulnerable riders,” Yamada said. “There’s no time when protection isn’t valuable to a cyclist.”

Posner said that the lane should be parking-protected at all times. “I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve almost been hit in that bike lane during rush hour,” he said.

Posner said the proposal represents “a major step in the right direction,” but is concerned that the new bike lane and crosswalk at the Queensboro Bridge exit ramp will often be blocked by oversized trucks turning left onto Second Avenue. The obstruction of bike lanes by cars, often owing to congestion issues, is endemic across the Upper East Side, Posner said, adding that violations are rarely enforced. “A real comprehensive solution requires not just a redesign of the intersection but a rethinking of traffic enforcement in Manhattan in general,” he said.

The agency hopes to implement the changes by early 2019.

Michael Garofalo: