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Bike Lanes Are Here to Stay, Live with It: DOT

DOT's Josh Benson (standing, right) and Colleen Chattergoon (holding map). Seated are CB3 committee members.
Yori Yanover

According to Colleen Chattergoon of the Dept. of Transportation, appearing before the Transportation Committee of Community Board 3, the construction of a 6" wide, concrete divider has begun at the intersection of Grand Street and the FDR Drive. Indeed, said divider, replete with a pedestrian refuge, is already in place at said intersection, and, as I was told off-the-record by a member of the East River Housing Transportation Committee, “We’re now waiting for the first car to hit it.”

The reason cars are bound to hit the concrete protrusion – unless it’s painted in phosphorous colors and offers ample, visible warning – has to do with the protruding concrete divider between the FDR Drive and the FDR service road, which forces cars turning into Grand to navigate a wide arc smack into the median. Bring out your folding chairs and sandwiches and watch the show…

CB3 Transportation Chairman David Crane betrayed his own bitterness at DOT’s penchant for unilateral action when he introduced the department’s presentation of the new Grand Street bike lanes, stretching from the FDR to Sixth Avenue. “In May of last year the board came out with a resolution which did not support installing bike lanes on Grand Street,” said Crane, who added that they did endorse installing them on Montgomery and Madison Streets.

“In June we received a letter saying the DOT was going to install the entire bike lane plan” which had been rejected (after an earlier adoption) by CB3. Crane gave voice to his sense of helplessness, saying, the committee was unanimous in its resolve not to discuss the matter back in June, because “we were not being asked for our advise.”

Josh Benson, presenting for DOT, was well informed and exceptionally articulate, which may have added to the resentment several members of his audience were expressing at DOT’s “smarter than thou” attitude.

In September Commissioner Iris Weinshall announced plans to install bicycle lanes on the streets of NY City. Over the next three years we will install over 200 miles of bicycle lanes. “The lanes on Grand Street are part of that package,” said Benson. “The reason why we’re embarking on this is partially to improve safety on the streets of NYC.”

The NYC DOT Fatality Database, as cited in the newly released study, “Bicyclist Fatalities and Serious Injuries in New York City, 1996-2005,” shows that between 1996 and 2005 there were 225 bicyclist deaths in the city. An average of 23 bicyclists died each year, or 2.8 annual deaths per one million New Yorkers. The year 1999 was the most lethal to cyclists, with 40 deaths.

The report is a bit on the fast and furious side when it comes to a comparative analysis of the role of bike lanes in saving lives.

Only one fatal crash with a motor vehicle occurred in a marked bicycle lane, in Prospect Park, when a motor vehicle collided with a bicyclist. A total of 10 other fatal crashes occurred in or near a marked bicycle lane. Six fatal bicycle crashes with motor vehicles occurred in close proximity to, but not inside, a marked bicycle lane. One fatality occurred on a city street near a bicycle lane, but did not involve a motor vehicle. The last three fatalities occurred inside a marked bicycle lane located within a park, but did not involve a motor vehicle.

Mind you, those fatalities occurred before the new proliferation of bike lanes, which makes a comparison of the bike-lane figures and “the field” dubious as a means of proving the effectiveness of the lanes.

Indeed, one glaring aspect of the new report betrays the DOT’s unwillingness to include real human behavior in its consideration. A total of 7 fatal crashes, according to the study, occurred as the result of a bicyclist hitting a motor vehicle door or trying to avoid one. Would the fact that future cyclists will be expected to always ride near parked cars which present the potential door collision serve to increase accidents?

I asked Benson what would be done with double-parked cars which, so far, have been oblivious to the presence of bike lanes. His response was that the DOT plans for situations in which traffic laws are being obeyed and does not deal with situations in which their best laid plans are disregarded by delinquent motorists. He acknowledged my assertion that there is increased danger when a cyclist going up Allen Street runs into a double-parked car and is forced to merge with the speeding traffic. But once again, the DOT is not prepared to tackle enforcement issues even when they jeopardize the functioning of their facility.

A member of the audience complained that cops are reluctant to ticket vehicles double-parked on bike lanes. At least two local residents reported asking police to ticket cars and meeting with refusal.

Essentially, the bike lanes on Grand Street, according to Benson, are intended to limit traffic to a single lane in either direction. His claim is that DOT studies are showing no significant delays in the flow of traffic as a result of the new program. Members of the audience begged to differ, citing long delays at many intersections along Grand.

Jessica Loeser, representing Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, questioned the wisdom of eliminating the left-turn lanes from Grand onto Clinton, Columbia and Lewis Streets, and right-turn lanes from Clinton and other streets, primarily from cars going to the Williamsburg bridge. These days, a car waiting to turn against oncoming traffic on Grand and Columbia keeps back a line of waiting cars that sometimes stretches all the way to Montgomery Street. Loeser stressed the need for interdepartmental collaboration to straighten the many kinks in the new program.

Finally, more than a few cyclists in the audience were at least partially supportive of the new lanes, which are intended, primarily, to provide city bike riders with safe access to the Williamsburg Bridge, the most heavily traveled biker bridge (better than 2000 riders a day). The DOT relies on those more positive voices to represent that the community is satisfied with the new lanes, which is less than accurate. However, it doesn’t seem that DOT will be changing its mind any time soon. Moreover, there may be some good born by the new lanes: Motorists who would become progressively more frustrated with the slow traffic on Grand Street may look for alternative routes, which would benefit all of us down here.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

If motorist did get more frustrated and found other routes to the bridge that would be great, (have they found the new spice route to america yet?) But now we have increased honking on fdr exit which is affecting the quality of life at East River. This may have more to do with the poor design of the mentioned curb/meridian at the end of the FDR exit which makes cars slow way down to try to run the guantlet. Turn lanes would be a good addition to several side streets on Grand and The bike lane in chinatown is idiot and should be removed.

12/10/2006 11:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe the community board can get rid of some crosswalks instead. I'm sure those slow down motorists too.

12/12/2006 11:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, they should totally take away that lane. In fact, they should remove a sidewalk or two to widen the street. That extra space would surely cut down on the honking. We need to make more room for these cars!

12/29/2006 5:08 PM  
Anonymous John Hunka said...

I use the new bike lane on Grand Street five days a week to commute from my apartment in the Lower
East Side to my job as a court attorney in Civil Court at 111 Centre Street. It makes my commute much safer, and I wish to thank the Department of Transporation for creating the bike lane. Congratulations to the DOT for a job well done!

12/30/2006 9:35 AM  

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