Last night Manhattan's Community Board 4 unanimously approved a DOT plan [PDF] to install a northbound protected bike lane on Sixth Avenue running from 8th Street to 33rd Street.
The plan fills a void for Manhattan cyclists, activists have argued, providing a protected northbound option up the center of the island. There are currently parallel north-south protected lanes to the east, on First and Second Avenues, and to the west, on Eighth and Ninth.
According to the DOT, Sixth Avenue from 14th to 33rd has nine intersections in the top 10% for crashes and injuries in Manhattan. Between 2009 and 2013, 27 pedestrians, 10 cyclists and 15 drivers were severely injured in crashes along the corridor.
Initially planned for 14th Street to 33rd Street, the DOT's plan was extended south last month with a unanimous vote in favor from Community Board 2. Community Board 5, which covers the blocks from 26th Street to 33rd, approved the plan in November.
Sixth Avenue currently has a painted lane running north, which some cyclists argue is inadequate. "I think the current configuration sends a mixed message for new riders," said Transportation Alternatives Deputy Direct Caroline Samponaro. "There's this incredibly narrow white-painted lane, and no buffer between the cars. It implies that you are safe, but drivers are using the lane to cut around other drivers and doors are opening into it."
The approved plan calls for a protected bike lane on the west side of the avenue, separated from car traffic by a three-foot buffer and an eight-foot designated parking lane. The avenue will maintain four lanes of northbound traffic—albeit narrowed—with a second parking lane on the east side. Dedicated turn signals for cyclists will also separate cars and bikes at the busy 14th Street and 23rd Street intersections.
For pedestrians, painted curb extensions will shorten crossing distances by 17 feet. According to the DOT, similar treatments reduced the number of crashes on neighboring avenues. For example, comparing crash data for the three years before and after the installation of a protected lane on 8th Avenue, crashes decreased 20%.
A second phase of the Sixth Avenue plan, extending the bike lane south to Canal Street, is slotted for 2017. According to the DOT, any additional expansion north to 59th Street would require "further evaluation."
"One step at a time,” DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg told Streetsblog in September, soon after the proposal was announced. “The goal is, we'll continue to work our way north, as we have on a lot of these projects."
A few years back, a group of pro-cycling advocates took the hairy northern stretch of Sixth Avenue into their own hands, painting unofficial right-of-way markers.
"There's a painted bike lane to 42nd Street and then nothing," said Livable Streets advocate Janet Liff. "We want to finish the lanes so that cyclists can actually reach Central Park."
The lane is slotted for completion in 2016. Transportation Alternatives is also pushing for the extension of the southbound protected bike lane on Fifth Avenue, north of 23rd Street. Last fall, the organization released a report documenting that bicycles make up 10% of all traffic across the two avenues.
A protected bike lane was also approved for Amsterdam Avenue this week, following a heated Community Board 7 meeting.