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Do New York City’s streets live up to the hype? (Yes)

Posted by on October 25th, 2012 at 10:41 am

Queens plaza north-7-1

Ample space and pavement markings for walkers and bikers at Queens Plaza North.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Coverage from New York City
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Like some of you, I’ve been hearing and reading about the “streets renaissance” going on in New York City for several years (thanks in large part to the coverage on Streetsblog and Streetfilms). Yesterday I got my first chance to see it for myself.

My impression? It’s even better than I thought.

Thanks to an impromptu tour led by Streetfilms’ Clarence Eckerson (a man whose films I’ve relied on as a window into New York City’s progress for the past six years), I got to see several of the NYC Department of Transportation’s streetscape projects.

Delancey Street-3

My guide: Clarence Eckerson.

As we walked around Manhattan, I saw roadway space being allocated to include bicycle access everywhere I looked: buffered bike lanes; green, curbside bike lanes; physically separated bike lanes; multi-use paths, and more. (And for walking, there were plazas, abundant striped crosswalks, median islands, curb extensions, and more.) And there was a wide mix of people of using the bikeways; from workers on delivery bikes to families to fixed gear daredevils, fashion-conscious women, and more.

When a woman like this feels comfortable biking on one of New York City’s busy intersections with a skateboard in a basket and an iPhone in her hand, you know they’re doing something right…

Clinton St at Delancey-3

On 1st and 2nd Avenues (a major north/south couplet), NYCDOT transformed wide, auto-centric streetscapes into streets with “select bus service” where buses have a dedicated, priority lane; and protected bike lanes.

At one point as we crossed a street, Clarence noticed a new, bright-green colored bike lane. “Oh, hey, where’d that come from?!” he exclaimed. It seems they are implementing new bikeways faster than even local activists can keep up.

green lane in manhattan

On nearby Allen Street, NYCDOT has transformed what was once a neglected and narrow center median — between two-way, high-volume, high-speed roads full of cars — into an oasis with protected bike lanes running adjacent to it on both sides.

Allen St at Delancey-3

This isn’t a great photo of it, but if you look beyond the rider in the background you can see the bike lanes I mention above.

Allen Street was interesting because it shows how NYCDOT is already improving on their improvements. For several blocks the center median has parallel, green-colored bike lanes separated by plastic bollards. Then further north, Clarence showed me the latest evolution of Allen Street. Instead of just the colored bike lanes, NYCDOT has widened the center median and created what reminds me of the Park Blocks in Portland. There’s a walking path in the middle lined with new benches and artwork, and a biking-only path on the outer edge. Public art and lots of newly planted trees and gardens abound.

Allen St at Delancey-1

Allen St at Delancey-4

Allen St at Delancey-2

Heading east, we walked along Delancey Street, a major feeder route onto the Williamsburg Bridge. In one of their very recent intersection makeovers, NYCDOT has created large public spaces smack dab in what used to be travel lanes. Where cars once ruled in the margins of this large arterial, now a group of teens sits on a large boulder, and a woman with two young kids pushes a stroller.

Delancey Street-2

At Clinton Street (near the bridge entrance), newly green-colored, separated bike lanes feed into Delancey up onto the bridge’s biking and walking path (which runs in the center of the bridge).

Clinton St at Delancey-4

As a steady stream of people on bikes streamed by us, we just sat there, taking it all in. The intersection was humane, crossing distances were shortened with bulb-outs and generously zebra-striped crosswalks, feeder bikeways from all directions led intuitively up onto the bridge path. It’s not perfect (DOT Commissioner Sadik-Khan is known to “tweak” designs as needed); but it’s a fantastic transformation that should excite anyone who cares about traffic justice and safety.

Clinton St at Delancey-6

Clinton St at Delancey-7

Continuing over to Queens Plaza North, Clarence pointed out where NYCDOT expanded a narrow, relatively unused sidewalk under the Queensboro Bridge into a two-way. grade-separated cycle-track and walking path.

Queens Plaza North-1

Queens Plaza North-4

The path connects directly up onto the bridge, and there are small bike chevrons to let folks know where to ride.

Queens Plaza North-5

Queens Plaza North-6

Queens Plaza North-7

At Crescent Street, the bikeway turns into a dedicated path that runs through what feels like a park. When you stop and think that people are riding and walking in what used to be a huge parking lot, it really is breathtaking.

Queens Plaza North-8

Queens plaza north-5-1

Queens plaza north-3-1

In just a relatively short walk, I was able to easily see the reality behind all the talk and hype I’ve heard about for the past five years. It surpassed my expectations, and I can’t wait to get out there and see more of it. Stay tuned.

— This post is part of my ongoing New York City coverage. I’m here for a week to cover the NACTO Designing Cities conference and the city’s bike culture in general. This special reporting trip was made possible by Planet Bike, Lancaster Engineering, and by readers like you. Thank you! You can find all my coverage from this trip here.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Elliot
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Elliot

*drool*

Todd Hudson
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Wow, this is impressive.

Having lived in the Northeast, my only lament is that year-round cycling can get difficult there. There are 3-4 months of the year where snow, ice, and extreme temperatures make bike commuting quite difficult.

Andyc of Linnton
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Andyc of Linnton

Wow. The photos are great looking and I’m super jealous. Way to go NYC.

Travis Fulton
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Travis Fulton

Holy crap, I had no idea! Wow!

Andyc of Linnton
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Andyc of Linnton

Also like the “select-bus service” dedication to mass transit and bike lanes. 5th and 6th avenue, your time is coming. I hope.

Gary Charles
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Gary Charles

It’s depressing to see how far behind Portland really is. As Jonathan has said before, all the praise Portland gets is actually holding the city back from making the kind of significant bike improvements our city really needs. I can think of one tiny strip along the south waterfront that comes close but Portland needs to quit listening to its own hype and actually invest in making a difference in the quality of cycling infrastructure.

RH
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RH

Wow…this puts Portland to shame!

David
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David

Let’s make this happen!

Todd Boulanger
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Todd Boulanger

I agree…it has been an amazing progress to see how NYC bikeways have evolved in the last 10 years (as I revisit same neighborhoods every 3 years) and in light of my memories of the City in the 70s/ 80s too.

I rode on Allen St, etc. and agree with Jonathan – interesting to see the transition from low cost near term facilities to long term (multigenerational) facilities.

Though i am hearing from local staff: that commercial retail/ entertainment gentrification (car parking from bridge and tunbel types) may be threatening some efforts.

mike
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mike

I was amazed during our visit to NYC last Spring. The transformation of streets into parks at major crisscrossing intersections was everywhere. Many, many tables and chairs, planters, dividers. The renovation of Grant park was also amazing. This whole initiative is awesome, and Paris like. Then again, NYC is so expensive they may have many, many more resources they can bring to bare. How can this help PDX identify better projects? My mind thinks the central core is key, and the Park Blocks may be the best next street closures turned to multi-use pedestrian/bikes.

mike
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mike

Sorry, Bryant park. http://www.bryantpark.org/

Andrew K
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Andrew K

wow. Very impressive. I absolutely love those dedicated bikeways and I want to see more of them here.

I think one near term strategy we should all participate in here is the bike community needs to “pounce” the moment our new mayor is sworn in. We need to set a precedent immediately to whomever that ends up being that the biking and walking community will not just sit idle and wait for our mayor to “get around to” improvements. Our safety is not something we will accept being placed on the back burner.

Naturally we don’t want to be rude, nor do we want to come across as militant, but we can and we should be stern.

I encourage everyone out there to send a letter to our new mayor (both in e-mail and physical form) within 30 days of said person taking office.

Joe
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Joe

I wanta ride there someday.. west coast dude here aka left coaster ;-P
awesome reporting BTW

Paul in the 'couve
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Paul in the 'couve

Biking in NYC is great and getting better – rather biking in Manhattan and inner Brooklyn is great. Queens has some OK spots and the Queens plaza is great addition, and there is a lot of potential in Queens. I’d missed Allen street so far, I’ll have to check it out next trip.

The part that is easy to miss is that Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx are all pretty big places. Only a small fraction of each has this kind of cycling infrastructure. The outer neighborhoods are complaining (mostly without much attention) that they are being neglected in this renewal and they are right. I have riden east/west across both Brooklyn and Queens several times and there are far more places where cycling is difficult than where there is new great infrastructure.

It isn’t that there aren’t connections are some really nice areas, streets, and even bike lanes. Actually in that respect Queens and Brooklyn are ahead of outer areas in Portland that with the density and the old street grid and narrow streets almost all of the little neighborhoods are reasonably bike-able.

The problems come when cyclists want to make longer trips. There are very few routes that go through reasonably straight. Nearly all of those routes are heavily traveled high speed streets with no infrastructure for cyclists. It is more doable than one would think. I find other cyclists that are surprised I’ve made the trip.

Of course, there is always the subway… but there are limitations there too.

Anyway, cycling in Manhattan, and Williamsburg and Red Hook is great, and even better than PDX. I was surprised this past summer when I made my first journey to Long Island City Queens in several years. It has been almost completely transformed from light industrial and body shop into essentially a Super Sized PDX Pearl neighborhood.

Have Fun Jonathan.

Ben Guernsey
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Ben Guernsey

How many parked cars in bike lanes have you counted so far?

Lenny Anderson
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Lenny Anderson

Image where we might be if Sam had put someone with vision in charge at PBOT when he became Trans Commisioner in 2004. A lost opportunity if there ever was one. And don’t forget the mode split in NYC, especially Manhattan…way more peds, way more transit riders. Motorist don’t rule there like they still do here.
Just rode NE Multnomah…trying to figure out what PBOT is doing there. Put that up against the new stuff in NYC; will we still look bush league? I hope not.

Barbara
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Barbara

Don’t forget that NYC just got started a few years ago. Copenhagen has worked on their system for 30 years and is still improving and expanding!

Ivan
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Ivan

Fantastic tour with great pictures! I live and bike in New York but I only know a fraction of the facilities you show. The DOT should have something like this in the part of their website about cycling. It really brings to life what they’ve done in a way that a bike lane map can’t.

Lazy Spinner
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Lazy Spinner

This, ladies and gentlemen, is how it is done and done correctly. Key word:DONE Not “visioned”, “planned”, “studied”, etc…

Jim Lee
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Jim Lee

Great job, JM, but did you see any fashion-conscious women who ALSO are fixed-gear daredevils?

ScottB
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ScottB

Powell Blvd west of 205, and the vision for Powell east of 205, seem like good opportunities to transform, or create, a median with a two-way bikeway. Portland’s first bike highway.

BURR
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BURR

I note the almost complete absence of parked car ‘buffers’, and, in fact, the almost complete absence of parked cars on most of these ‘transformed’ arterials.

o/o
Guest
o/o

wow that is bikantastic!

dwainedibbly
Guest
dwainedibbly

We should demand no less here.

John Landolfe
Guest
John Landolfe

I have a grandparent from the Bronx, another from Brooklyn, one from Manhattan and and the other from Queens. Last summer I biked from my mom’s old neighborhood in Queens and the change, even since I lived on the East Coast just six years ago, is amazing. I also drove, took transit and rode in cabs. New York’s greatest victory is that bikes are often the cheapest, fastest, least stressful way across town.

I’d argue a Portland bike trip is, on average, far less hairy from your front door to your final destination but this is more an accident of topography and neighborhood design. We should consider New York a tough competitor.

Also, don’t get demoralized if drivers scream at you. They scream at everyone in New York. And NY bike politics is a bonfire but all politics in New York are a bonfire. We’re just more laid back here (or passive aggressive, if you’re a cynic).

resopmok
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resopmok

Someone call Bikesnob! NYC is the new PDX! The irony runs too thick.

Ben
Guest
Ben

The next time someone comes on some bicycle forum, asking, “what tire should I buy? The roads in new york are terrible”
I will just ignore them!

Rob
Guest
Rob

Janette Sadik-Khan, NYC’s fantastic DOT commissioner, will probably be out of a job when Mayor Bloomberg’s term is over. So any city that wants to see real change should make her an offer. And in case you’re worried about drivers not liking her, here’s a piece from a supporter who writes for a right-wing local paper:

http://observer.com/2011/09/road-warrior-janette-sadik-khan-is-the-best-mechanic-the-city-streets-have-had-in-a-generation-so-why-do-motorists-dislike-her-so-much/

al m
Guest

Even I’m impressed, and I don’t even own a bicycle

Mike
Guest
Mike

Just to give credit where it’s due, while NYCDOT implemented the “short-term” bike lanes and wider median on Allen (and Pike) Street, the Parks Department is the one actually building them out permanently. Also, the Queens Plaza improvements were built by the NYC Economic Development Corporation, not DOT.