MIDTOWN — Fifth Avenue is getting another 24-hour bus lane, but cyclists and safe streets advocates say the new street design should have come with a protected bike lane above 23rd Street.
The Department of Transportation presented their redesign of Fifth Avenue between 34th and 61st Streets to Community Board 5’s Transportation Committee on Monday night. Their new layout includes repurposing one of the car lanes into a bus lane, giving the avenue two full-time bus lanes to improve service. According to the DOT, more than 39 different bus routes pass through Fifth Avenue, topping out at 130 buses per hour and 75,000 daily passengers.
A double bus lane setup that was implemented onto Madison Avenue in 1983 suggests a similar design could work for Fifth Avenue, according to DOT's project manager Jeremy Safran.
Cyclists and advocated packed the meeting to urge the community board and the DOT to reconsider their plan to include a protected bike lane. Currently 5th Avenue's regular, unprotected bike lane begins at 23rd Street and continues down to Washington Square Park.
“For Fifth Ave, we need a complete street, we need a street that accommodates all users,” Luc Nadal, a weekly cyclist of Fifth Avenue, said. “Through Midtown, there’s no accommodation for cyclists going southbound between Broadway and Second Ave.”
Nadal and other members of safe streets advocacy group Transportation Alternatives said they are calling for a protected bike lane in that Fifth Avenue corridor between the 30s and 60s, as they currently have to dodge parked vehicles, taxis switching lanes rapidly, and right-turning cars. Two cyclists were killed in Midtown and Chelsea in June, in what has been a dangerous season for Manhattan cyclists.
A majority of CB5 Transportation Committee members voted to approve their plan, detailing their specific concerns about the need for bike lanes, the threat to pedestrian safety with right-turning buses, and the request for more data from the avenue’s neighboring successful double-lane roadway Madison Avenue.
“All we’re looking to do is upgrade a markings plan to give greater access and increase reliability and bus speeds for the MTA buses,” Ed Pincar, DOT’s Manhattan deputy borough commissioner, said at the meeting. “There can certainly be additional proposals in the future…we still think this is going to make Fifth Avenue operate better, after we implement it, than it’s operating today.”
When asked by a board member and the public which lane cyclists should use on Fifth Avenue, Safran, the DOT's project manager, responded that Fifth Avenue could be altered again to accommodate a bike lane.
“Maybe in some potential future, the east side of the street could be a really nice place to do that,” Safran said. “In the sense that there’s 75,000 bus commuters that would benefit from this facility immediately, holding them a bit hostage to renegotiate have both phases of this happen at once, might do a disservice to them.”
The DOT is hoping to implement the double bus lanes this fall. Once implemented, the department said they will collect a year’s worth of data and revisit the Fifth Avenue corridor as needed.