Manhattan community boards demand safer bike lanes at intersections

As protected bike lanes roll out across Manhattan, five neighborhood community boards have requested safer intersections from the Department of Transportation to reduce confusion and injuries at crossing points.

“Unsafe intersections defeat the entire purpose of having a bike lane in the first place,” said Ian Lister, who works in finance and commutes to and from work on a bicycle. “There’s a huge deficiency in the way that cars can make turns that cut across lanes.”

Currently, many protected bicycle lanes in New York City are designed to phase out at intersections, forcing bikers and cars to jockey for the right of way. These so-called “mixing zones” are the default setup for intersections across Manhattan.

“It’s not okay to have an unsafe crossing experience for bikers at every block. We need something better,” said Lister.

According to Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group fighting for bike-friendly traffic laws and protected bike lanes, 13 of 18 cyclist deaths last year in New York City took place in mixing zones. In a highly publicized case this year, a 31 year-old cyclist,Kelly Hurley, was killed by a truck making a left turn at a mixing zone on 9th Street and 1st Avenue in April.

“That’s when I knew we had to do something,” said Reed Rubey, an activist at Transportation Alternatives.

On Thursday, Manhattan’s District 2 Community Board became the latest after Districts 7, 5, 4 and 3 to ask the Department of Transportation for safer alternatives. These neighborhoods, which cover a wide stretch of West Manhattan from Harlem to SoHo, want green bike lanes and protective curbs to extend all the way to crosswalks rather than cutting off early into mixing zones.

At the meeting, the board decided that extending green lanes across entire intersections would ease confusion and help coerce drivers into making sharp, slow turns rather than sweeping widely through mixing zones.

However, many bike and pedestrian advocates believe that adding some green paint to unprotected lanes is not enough to avoid collisions. Christine Berthet, co-chairperson of District 4’s Transportation Committee and founder of pedestrian safety coalition ChekPeds, believes that bike lanes should be fully enclosed by raised curbs or parking buffers all the way to the edge of crosswalks.

“We’ve seen a 50 to 60 percent increase in safety when you completely separate bikers and vehicles,” Berthet said. According to figures released by the Department of Transportation, protected bike corridors along 9th and 2nd Avenues have decreased injury risk by 64.9 percent and 51.4 percent respectively.

But not everyone agrees with the proposals. Some drivers say bike lanes can slow car traffic. Elderly community members at the meeting expressed concern over the safety of pedestrians, especially those who use walkers, if bikers are granted speedy thoroughfares.

While community boards have the power to formally vote on and recommend action, it ultimately falls to the City’s Department of Transportation to implement the renovations requested.

An example of a fully protected intersection with extended green paint. Image courtesy Bicycle Dutch.