The Department of Transportation has laid out plans to add a bike lane to Third Avenue on the Upper East Side, which cycling advocates and neighbors both hailed as being long overdue— and slammed for not being good enough.
The plan, unveiled as at Community Board 8’s Transportation Committee Wednesday night, maintains two parking lanes along both sides of Third Avenue between East 59th and 96th Streets, but would shift left parking lane over to create an eight foot wide northbound bike lane and a three foot buffer— because the DOT somehow believes air and paint protect cyclists from vehicles.
“Paint and plastic tubes is not going to cut it,” said Noah Morris, speaking during the public comment period, “That’s not going to protect us from a three ton vehicle.”
According to the DOT’s plan, along the right side of Third Avenue, a traffic lane will be removed and replaced with an extra-wide bus lane— though its not clear why the agency chose to dedicate the additional two feet of space to buses instead of expanding the bike lane, which many neighbors requested be a two-way bike lane for north to south travel.
“You should have it be two-way to get enough space,” Mr. Morris said.
“There’s plenty of car space we can take away. We don’t need— I don’t even think we need to have three car lanes. We can have two,” he added.
“We must have— not ‘can we do’— two way bike lanes,” said Cindy, another member of public, adding “those bike lanes should be wide enough that should we have bicycles or even adult tricycles that push children, that pull children behind them— that should be the vision.“
Other improvements include removing parking for painted pedestrian islands and the installation of turn lanes to make the roadway safer.
However, DOT had no plans to share for how to keep those areas from turning into illegal truck parking, which anyone who has walked or driven on the Upper East Side or Midtown knows are primarily used for companies like Fresh Direct and Amazon to sort deliveries, rather than in a warehouse like other delivery services.
The Department of Transportation also had no plans to tackle the rampant double and triple-parking that bottlenecks traffic on Third Avenue from five northbound traffic lanes to two lanes or even one— other than to say the issue was being looked into by the DOT’s parking unit.
“As it stands, we have like Fresh Direct setting up in the second and third lane of traffic,” said Andrew Fine, Vice President of the East 86th Street Association.
“There’s room for bikes, no doubt. However, if we take a bike lane, a bus lane, two lanes for parking, we’re left with three lanes— and three lanes with two lanes have double parking is a nightmare,” Fine added.
“If we enforce traffic laws there’s room for everyone. If you don’t enforce traffic laws, there’s room for nobody.
The new traffic patterns, bus lane and bike lane will have numerous added benefits, according to the DOT, though they could not provide data to back up their claims that it would calm traffic.
Nick Carey from the DOT’s bicycle unit did say that he thought the plan would reduce speeding by actually creating more congestion along Third Avenue.
“That should make it harder to speed,” said Mr. Carey.
“When a road like Third Avenue was so wide and people are driving down it and it’s wide open, I feel like they have the license to speed,” he added, sharing his feelings, not actual facts, “So taking out excess lanes of traffic and narrowing the roadway down can really help decrease speeds.”
The new measures to protect cyclists were predictably not good enough for cycling advocates who spoke during Wednesday night’s meeting.
One of which asked that Third Avenue go car-free with giant sidewalks where no other traffic except buses and bikes are allowed, apparently unaware that businesses and residential buildings require deliveries, trash collection and services— like plumbing or elevator repairs.
Others opined about their bike lane fantasies where they could ride on Third Avenue with their young children, oblivious to the fact that existing bike lanes at First and Second Avenue are extremely busy traffic lanes— not recreation paths like in Central Park— packed with commuters and delivery workers on electric bikes, scooters and mopeds (some gas-powered) traveling at 25 mph or more.
“I have grand daughters and I’d like to cycle with them,” said 50-year Upper East Side resident Hindy Schacter, “Third Avenue is no place to cycle with granddaughters.”
Strangely, the DOT representative could not provide accurate answers on what types of vehicles are allowed in the bike lane— citing “some complicated law that was passed.”
“There’s like a wrinkle in it about– there’s just a couple different kinds of electric bikes and scooters and it’s hard to define them correctly. But the general e-bikes are allowed to use the bike lanes,” said Mr. Carey.
It’s actually not that complicated. Since he couldn’t provide the answer, we turned to the NYPD, which says the only motorized vehicles allowed in bike lanes are electric bikes with pedals and scooters under 100 pounds. Human-powered bicycles and kick scooters are also welcome.
Larger mopeds that need to be registered with the DMV are not allowed in bike lanes— however, anyone who as seen the First and Second Avenue bike lanes knows that enforcement remains an issue.
According to the Department of Transportation, Third Avenue between East 59th and 96th Streets has the highest number of fatalities along the corridor— with six pedestrians and one cyclist killed since 2016.
That includes two men killed last Christmas Eve by the driver of an out-of-control Baldor Foods box truck that jumped the curb at East 61st Street and Third Avenue, mowing down a delivery worker in the bike lane and a construction worker on the sidewalk.
Weeks later on January 24th, a 51-year-old Lenox Hill woman was struck and killed by the driver of an Audi making a left turn at the corner of East 76th Street and Third Avenue, police say.
Community Board 8’s Transportation Committee ultimately ended up signing off on the DOT plan, which the agency hopes to implement next year.