Second Avenue bike lanes debut
The thoroughfare’s protected paths now extend nearly uninterrupted from 68th Street to 125th
A bicyclist on the new Second Avenue protected bike lane near 76th Street. Photo: Michael Garofalo
A cyclist crosses the 59th Street and Second Avenue intersection using the bus lane. There is no bike lane on Second Avenue at the dangerous crossing, near the entrance to the Queensboro bridge. Photo: Michael Garofalo
BY MICHAEL GAROFALO
The long-awaited completion of the Second Avenue subway dominated the Upper East Side news cycle in the first week of 2017, but with the opening of the Q train came another significant, if less-heralded, project at street level: the implementation of parking-protected bike lanes along Second Avenue above 68th Street.
The Department of Transportation recently finished the construction of a designated bike lane along the east side of Second Avenue from 105th Street to 68th Street. Parallel street parking and pedestrian crossing islands form a buffer protecting cyclists in the bike lane, which is painted green, from southbound motor traffic. The protected bike lane now runs uninterrupted from 125th Street to 68th Street, with the exception of the block between 70th Street and 69th Street, where parked vehicles do not separate the bike lane from motor traffic. The Second Avenue lane joins a similar northbound lane on First Avenue in providing protected north-south thoroughfares for cyclists on the Upper East Side.
Joe Enoch, an avid biker who is familiar with the area, said that the new lanes are “very visible” and offer “just about all you could ask for as a cyclist when it comes to convenience and safety.”
The bike lanes remain a contentious topic for some residents, however, who say that bikers contribute to dangerous conditions for pedestrians. Cyclists, they say, too often make illegal turns, disobey traffic signals and ride in the wrong direction in the one-way bike lanes.
“The city hasn’t done enough to really impress upon bicyclists that they must obey the laws,” Upper East Side resident Bette Dewing said, also noting her belief that cyclists in the bike lanes pose a hazard to people exiting their vehicles.
Miriam Silverberg, who lives near 57th Street and First Avenue, said that the bike lanes themselves are a good idea, but that police need to ensure that cyclists use them properly. “They act like pedestrians when they feel like it and like autos when they feel like it,” Silverberg said.
“If you’re not watching they will slam right into you,” she continued.
A pedestrian was critically injured after being struck by a cyclist in a hit-and-run incident near East 70th Street and First Avenue in November.
DOT also plans to install a protected bike lane from 59th Street to 43rd Street on Second Avenue. What that phase of the project is completed, the only remaining stretches of Second Avenue without protected bike lanes will be from 68th Street to 59th Street, along the approach to the Queensboro Bridge, and from 42nd Street to 34th Street, near the entrance to the Queens-Midtown Tunnel.
“DOT will continue to work closely with the MTA to build out the 2nd Avenue bike lanes and bus lanes,” a DOT spokesperson said in an email.
Second Avenue’s 59th Street and 34th Street intersections are both among the most dangerous in Manhattan. The 59th Street and Second Avenue intersection is the single most dangerous in the borough, and is the site of 150 collisions per year, on average.
The bike and pedestrian advocacy group Transportation Alternatives recently issued a report calling on DOT to extend the Second Avenue protected bike lane from 68th Street to 59th Street. Currently, the parking-protected lane shifts to an unprotected lane, running adjacent to motor traffic, at 68th Street. The bike lane then ends altogether below 63rd Street, in the blocks leading to the complex 59th Street intersection, where drivers turn left to access the Queensboro Bridge or continue south on Second Avenue. Bikers in this area must enter the traffic flow and avoid left-turning vehicles in order to continue south on Second Avenue, though there are currently no street markings indicating shared bike lanes.
The 59th Street intersection “has always been the most dangerous part of Second Avenue for a bicyclist,” Enoch said. “There’s no bike lane there. The drivers are very tense and angry there because they’re trying to get on the bridge or around traffic.”
Transportation Alternatives recently published a report calling on DOT to extend the protected bike lanes from 68th Street to 59th Street.
“It’s irresponsible to have a lane that funnels cyclists to one of the most dangerous areas of the city without any protection,” said Paul Steely White, the nonprofit’s director said. “That was the impetus for our report: the lane is failing cyclists when they need it the most,” he said.
Councilman Ben Kallos, who represents the Upper East Side, praised DOT for the recent improvements to the neighborhood’s bike infrastructure, but acknowledged that the 59th Street intersection remains a problem area. “The location is complicated because it impacts inter-borough commutes,” he said. Kallos said that he has been in communication with DOT about potential changes to the intersection. “We have to balance commerce and safety, making sure people get where they need to safely,” he said.
White, of Transportation Alternatives, says that his organization’s proposal for the intersection, which calls for a protected bike lane, wouldn’t impact traffic flow and could even have a positive impact by making it clear where bikers and motorists belong in the street. White said that Transportation Alternatives will issue a report with proposals on protected bike lanes for the area of Second Avenue near the Queens-Midtown Tunnel later this year.
“Traffic flowing to and from the Queensboro Bridge and Queens-Midtown Tunnel is important, but it’s not more important than people’s lives,” he said.
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