The number of people killed by motorists while walking and biking in NYC is on the rise. While electeds scramble to reaffirm allegiance to the city’s Vision Zero traffic safety initiative, there is one street safety project officials don’t want to talk about: the protected bike lane on Dyckman Street in Inwood, which the DOT has yet to restore after erasing it nearly a year ago.
The Dyckman protected bike lane, which connected Manhattan’s east- and west-side greenways, was installed in late 2017. A major commercial corridor, Dyckman had for years been an obstacle course of double-parked cars and trucks. Once the bikeway was complete, cyclists had parking-protected paths next to Dyckman’s north and south curbs between Broadway and Nagle Avenue, the blocks where motor vehicle traffic is most intense. In addition, gravel and epoxy sidewalk extensions shortened crosswalks and forced drivers to make slower turns.
The project was the culmination of nearly a decade of advocacy by Upper Manhattan residents, but it was only a few months old when Rep. Adriano Espaillat and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer—responding to business owners upset that drivers couldn’t double-park in front of their shops as easily as they used to—began pressuring DOT to rip it out.
Traffic crashes on Dyckman injured more than 300 people during the nine years it took to see the project to fruition. The new safety measures were in place for about 10 months before DOT repaved the street and wiped them away, returning Dyckman to its prior configuration: two parking lanes; two double-parking lanes; and two lanes for honking, swerving around double-parked vehicles, and making illegal U-turns.
When it comes to street redesigns, the local city councilmember is second only to the mayor in terms of deciding what gets done and what doesn’t. Ydanis Rodriguez, who represents Inwood, also chairs the council transportation committee. Positioned between businesspeople howling over the perceived right to unfettered double parking and constituents who just want to get from A to B without the constant threat of death, Rodriguez has shown himself to be a situational proponent of safer streets.
In the spring of 2018, after Espaillat and Brewer had called on DOT to erase the Dyckman bikeway, Rodriguez suggested an alternate design: a bidirectional protected bike lane on the north side of the street. Or, more accurately, Rodriguez volunteered said alternative just in case Community Board 12, which like all community boards can only make street design recommendations, decided on its own to “do any changes” that were amenable to DOT.
Sure enough, though CB 12 had approved of the original bikeway, the board—whose members were appointed by Rodriguez and Brewer—soon endorsed replacing it with the transportation chair’s proposal.
In addition to its disregard for years of effort on the part of advocates and DOT staff, the problem with the Rodriguez plan is that the north side of Dyckman has more than twice as many intersections and curb cuts as the south side, creating a greater risk of motorist-cyclist collisions. The upside for anti-bike business owners is that Dyckman’s south side would revert to a free-for-all.
“There are more small businesses on the south side of Dyckman,” Rodriguez said at a meeting with business owners in April 2018. “Having only one bike lane on the north side could help these problems.”
Dual bike lanes on either side of Dyckman Street were put in place in 2017, then removed only months later. (NYC DOT)
"The design that was implemented back in 2017 was the result of years of community engagement, and was the best arrangement for a two-way street like Dyckman,” says Transportation Alternatives spokesperson Joe Cutrufo, who told Gothamist he bikes on Dyckman frequently. “That there are people who believe illegal double parking should be prioritized over safe passage for all is no reason to start over with an inferior plan."
Rather than defend the original bikeway, Rodriguez has tried to frame the Dyckman imbroglio as a choice between his watered-down design and no bike infrastructure at all. In this scenario, Rodriguez has cast himself as the voice of reason, negotiating a compromise when Espaillat, Brewer, and the community board would prefer to cede the street to motor vehicle traffic.
Community board votes are advisory, but Rodriguez and his staff have insisted that CB 12 was the prime mover behind the upheaval on Dyckman. Contacted for this story, Rodriguez spokesperson Tomas Garita told Gothamist that CB 12 had signed off on a design for Dyckman, and said the councilmember was waiting for DOT to install it. When pressed for specifics, Garita referred us to CB 12 staff, and entertained no further questions. CB 12—which, again, only has as much power over street designs as electeds allow—did not respond to our query.
As for the official who is ultimately in charge of how New York City streets operate, Mayor de Blasio’s answer to this year’s carnage uptick has so far been to direct NYPD to temporarily increase enforcement of traffic laws. Last year, de Blasio said he would step in to save the Dyckman protected bike lane from his own DOT. But by that time, it was gone.
“We will announce our plan for the future of Dyckman Street soon,” a de Blasio spokesperson told Gothamist.
We queried DOT multiple times for information on what, if anything, the agency has planned for the street, but received no response.
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