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Eyes on the Street: Upper Manhattan’s First Protected Bike Lane in Progress

First markings for the new protected bike lane on Fort George Hill. Photo: Jonathan Rabinowitz

First markings for the new protected bike lane on Fort George Hill. Photo: Jonathan Rabinowitz

Reader Jonathan Rabinowitz sent this photo of Upper Manhattan’s first protected bike lane, now under construction on Fort George Hill, a one-way street that connects Dyckman Street in Inwood with Fairview Avenue to the south, along the western border of Harlem River Park.

This project will give cyclists a north-south route between Inwood and Washington Heights by allotting 11 feet of the 60-foot-wide street to a bi-directional bike lane and three-foot painted buffer between the lane and angled car parking. The plan was announced in the spring of 2014, and work was originally scheduled to be completed last summer.

With a protected bi-directional lane, southbound cyclists traveling uphill won’t have to worry about motorists passing them from behind, and the easy downhill is now a legal option for northbound biking.

Bike Upper Manhattan lobbied Community Board 12 to support the Fort George Hill lane, along with a number of less ambitious projects proposed by DOT for Washington Heights and Inwood last year.

After picking up an endorsement from CB 12, DOT is planning a series of protected bike lanes in Washington Heights that will ultimately make bike travel safer between the Hudson River Greenway and the car-free High Bridge linking Manhattan and the Bronx.

Image: NYC DOT

Image: NYC DOT

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Will Rodriguez and Brewer Reappoint CB 12 Crank Jim “Honey Child” Berlin?

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer can advance the goals of Vision Zero by retiring Jim Berlin from his CB 12 post.

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer can advance the goals of Vision Zero in Upper Manhattan by retiring Jim Berlin from his CB 12 post.

City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer can remove a barrier to safer streets in Upper Manhattan by relieving Jim Berlin of his spot on Community Board 12, which covers Washington Heights and Inwood.

As Stephen Miller reported Thursday, Berlin and fellow CB 12 member Anita Barberis voted against a DOT plan for protected bike lanes in Washington Heights that would connect the Hudson River Greenway and High Bridge Park. The DOT proposal comes ahead of the highly anticipated re-opening of the High Bridge, a car-free Harlem River span linking Manhattan and the Bronx that has been closed to the public for decades.

Washington Heights and Inwood have precious little bike infrastructure, and at present just one protected bike lane in the pipeline. Berlin can surely claim some credit for that. For years he has used his community board position to waylay projects, from bike and pedestrian infrastructure to a Greenmarket, that would improve safety and give locals the opportunity to see their streets used for something other than free vehicle storage.

Community board votes are supposed to be advisory, but DOT rarely implements a street safety project over a board’s objection. On Monday Berlin succeeded in goading the CB 12 transportation committee to pass a resolution calling for DOT to shorten the proposed protected bikeway on Edgecombe Avenue for the sake of a few free curbside parking spots.

“This is a working-class area,” Berlin said, according to DNAinfo. “People don’t have the luxury of riding their bike in the morning and leaving their Beamer at home.”

It’s possible Berlin is so out of touch that he doesn’t know 75 percent of households in the district don’t own a car, and that working-class households are even more likely to be car-free. But judging by his public antics, it’s more likely he doesn’t care. The majority of residents who attended Monday’s meeting came to show support for the DOT plan, and Berlin dismissed them — even addressing one plan proponent, a staffer for Council Member Mark Levine, as “honey child,” according to multiple sources.

Berlin was last appointed by Rodriguez, and his term expires next month. According to a press release from Brewer, the number of new applicants for Community Board 12 and neighboring Community Board 11 “more than doubled” compared to last year. For the sake of public safety and quality of life in Washington Heights and Inwood, Rodriguez and Brewer should make room for a fresh face by thanking Berlin for his service and sending him on his way.

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The New York City Parking Rule That Makes Intersections More Dangerous

Parking at the edge of a crosswalk hinders visibility but is condoned under city traffic rules. Photos: Brad Aaron

Parking at the edge of a crosswalk hinders visibility but is condoned under city traffic rules. Photos: Brad Aaron

We’ve reported before how certain New York City parking rules are designed to cram a little more free car storage onto the street at the expense of pedestrian safety. In 2009, DOT removed parking restrictions on unmarked crosswalks at T intersections, and the city allows drivers with disability permits to block curb ramps that were intended to help pedestrians with disabilities cross the street.

Here’s another example of how the city prioritizes parking over life and limb. This photo shows Seaman Avenue in Inwood where it intersects with Isham Street at the entrance to Inwood Hill Park. For at least five days this SUV was parked right at the edge of this crosswalk, blocking sight lines for pedestrians as well as drivers turning right from Seaman onto Isham.

Parking right up against the crosswalk is dangerous enough that some states and cities, including New Jersey and Portland, forbid it. Drivers hurt and kill thousands of people in New York City crosswalks every year, and most victims are crossing with the signal. Poor visibility at intersections contributes to the problem, but NYC law makes it perfectly legal to obstruct sight lines with parked cars.

A parking rule fix would daylight intersections citywide, making motorists and pedestrians more visible to each other.

A parking rule fix would daylight intersections citywide, making motorists and pedestrians more visible to each other.

NACTO guidelines suggest 20 to 25 feet of clearance around crosswalks. New York City law, however, only prohibits parking within a crosswalk itself (unmarked crosswalks at T intersections excepted, of course). By allowing motorists to park where their vehicles reduce visibility at intersections, this city traffic rule is in direct conflict with the city’s Vision Zero goals.

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Eyes on the Street: New 215th Step-Street, With Bike Ramp, Taking Shape

Photos: Brad Aaron

Looking up the northern section of the 215th Step-Street from Broadway, with bike ramp on the left. Photos: Brad Aaron

It’s been a year since we checked up on the 215th Step-Street in Inwood, where the northern section of the long, steep stairway looks to be nearly finished — complete with bike ramp.

These stairs serve as a car-free street between Broadway and the 1 train and residential blocks that make up the northwest corner of the neighborhood. “The ancient passageway was built in an era when the automobile was still a relatively new contraption and getting up or down a hill required nothing more than a decent pair of shoes,” writes Cole Thompson at My Inwood. Check Thompson’s site for photos of the step-street dating from 100 years ago, when Broadway was paved with cobblestones and there’s not a car in sight.

As promised, the Department of Design and Construction is rehabbing the northern and southern sections one at a time, with one remaining open. Locals have waited for the city to fix the stairs since the late 90s, at least, and while it seems doubtful that DDC will meet its spring deadline (the project, which began last January, was supposed to take 17 months), Inwoodites may be using the new northern section before long.

How cool is it that, on a public stairway built before the city ceded the streets to motor vehicles, the reconstructed stairs will feature a bike ramp as a modern amenity.

The stairs in 2008.

The stairs in 2008.

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Motorist With Now-Expired NYC Disability Placard Still Blocking Curb Ramp

The DOT disability parking permit on the dashboard expired weeks ago, but this driver continues to park in a no parking zone, blocking the curb ramp. Photo: Brad Aaron

The DOT disability parking permit on the dashboard expired weeks ago, but this driver continues to park in a no parking zone, blocking the curb ramp. Photo: Brad Aaron

And now back to Seaman Avenue. A few weeks ago we noted that motorists who obtain disability permits from the city can basically park wherever they want, even in “no parking” zones with curb ramps for pedestrians with disabilities. An unmarked crosswalk at Seaman and W. 214th Street, in Inwood, is a favorite spot for placard bearers, whether their parking credentials are legitimate or not.

The disability permit in the vehicle I photographed for the earlier post was set to expire at the end of October. Above is a picture of that same car, taken this morning, in the same crosswalk. On the dashboard was the same permit, with the same October 31 expiration date.

Not that a motorist needs a valid placard to block a curb ramp, thanks to NYPD and DOT. A DOT rule change implemented in 2009 allows drivers with or without a city permit to block crosswalks that aren’t demarcated with pavement markings or signage. On one recent morning (again, after the disability permit expired) this car was wedged into the crosswalk tight enough that pedestrians approaching from the other side of Seaman were forced to walk in traffic, in the pre-dawn darkness, to find an opening to the sidewalk.

For what it’s worth, I filed a “blocked sidewalk” complaint with 311 today. As far as I can tell there is no “blocked crosswalk” category on the 311 website, nor is there a mechanism to report disability permit abuse.

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DOT: Seaman Avenue Bike Lanes Won’t Return This Year

Seaman Avenue cyclists will have to make do with sporadic preliminary bike lane markings until sometime in 2015. Photo: Brad Aaron

Cyclists on Seaman Avenue will have to make do with sporadic preliminary bike lane markings until sometime in 2015. Photo: Brad Aaron

The asphalt is fresh, the yellow lines and crosswalks installed, but DOT won’t be returning bike lanes to Seaman Avenue until next year, according to the office of local City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez.

Seaman Avenue is the only designated north-south bike route between the Hudson River Greenway and the Bronx, and it’s the trunk line for Inwoodites who live west of Broadway and commute downtown by bike. DOT resurfaced Seaman over the summer, and save for the bike lanes, other markings went down weeks ago.

When our queries to DOT yielded no answers, Streetsblog reached out to Rodriguez to ask if bike lanes would be restored before the year is out. We also wanted to know why DOT didn’t repave the southernmost blocks of Seaman, near Riverside Drive and Dyckman Street, where the road surface remains in poor shape. Though DOT didn’t address our questions, the agency did respond to Rodriguez’s office.

“It seems that they will not be reinstalling the bike lanes until at least the spring,” said Rodriguez spokesperson Lucas Acosta, via email. “It’s too cold for the thermoplastic markings and they also need to draw up some new street design plans.” If thermoplast is not applied in the right conditions, the markings don’t last and have to be restriped.

“Regarding the street resurfacing,” wrote Acosta, “that section of Seaman Avenue was never part of their resurfacing plans.”

Streetsblog asked DOT in October if protected bike lanes were considered for Seaman. DOT said no, because the street isn’t wide enough for separated bike lanes and two lanes of parking. If there are new “design plans” for Seaman Avenue, DOT didn’t mention them.

As for resurfacing plans, a line item in a 2013 DOT proposal for Upper Manhattan bike projects (on page three of this PDF) seems to indicate Seaman would be rehabbed from end to end. It reads: “Seaman Ave between Riverside Ave [sic] and 218th St (refurbishment).” This doesn’t match the work DOT did this year, or the claim that the agency always intended to leave a segment of Seaman as is — patched and pockmarked with little in the way of discernible bike lane markings. For that matter, why would DOT have chosen to leave that part of the street in such degraded condition?

Last week Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced a departmental initiative to improve safety for cyclists on Harlem River bridges. It’s important to have improvements in the pipeline, but DOT has to pay attention to the basics too, or else the new upgrades will connect to an existing network that’s in poor shape.

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Eyes on the Street: When Will Inwood Get Its Scarce Bike Lanes Back?

Seaman Avenue at Isham Street, looking north. New asphalt and markings, but no bike lanes. Photo: Brad Aaron

Seaman Avenue at Isham Street, looking north. New asphalt and markings, but no bike lanes. Photo: Brad Aaron

As Streetsblog readers know, Inwood is the Manhattan neighborhood where DOT periodically and without warning takes away bike infrastructure. So locals were pleased when in 2013 DOT announced a handful of modest bike projects for Inwood and Washington Heights, including Upper Manhattan’s first protected bike lane, and the rehabbing of bike lanes on Seaman Avenue, which parallels Broadway from Riverside Drive to W. 218th Street and leads to and from the Hudson River Greenway.

DOT resurfaced most of Seaman over the summer, but several weeks after center lines and crosswalks were striped and speed humps marked, the street’s bike lanes have not returned. Also, though DOT said Seaman would be repaired end to end, the southernmost blocks, where the road surface was probably in the worst shape and, therefore, the most hazardous for bike riding, were not repaved with the rest of the street.

Last month Streetsblog asked if DOT had considered protected bike lanes for Seaman. That wouldn’t work, DOT said, because the street isn’t wide enough for separated bike lanes and two lanes of parking. We also asked when the remainder of Seaman would be resurfaced, but did not get a response.

On Tuesday Streetsblog emailed DOT to ask if bike lanes on Seaman would be striped before the end of the year. We asked again Wednesday and to this point DOT hasn’t told us. We’ve forwarded our unanswered questions to Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez in the hope that his office can get a reply from DOT.

Rough street surface and barely visible bike lanes on the southern end of Seaman, which DOT has not repaved. Image: Google Maps

Rough street surface and barely visible bike lanes on Seaman at Dyckman Street, where DOT has not yet repaved. Image: Google Maps

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Motorist With NYC Disability Placard Blocks Curb Ramp With Car — Legally

NYC drivers with disability permits can park just about anywhere, even in the way of others with disabilities. Photos: Brad Aaron

NYC drivers with disability permits can park just about anywhere, even if they create obstructions for others with disabilities. Photos: Brad Aaron

I’ve taken up the early morning walk habit, and my route takes me through the intersection of Seaman Avenue and W. 214th Street, in Inwood. It’s a T intersection with an unmarked crosswalk and curb cuts.

I wrote a few months back about how DOT basically did away with a lot of unmarked crosswalks by allowing motorists to park in them. This isn’t one of those. But despite clear signage prohibiting drivers from parking there, for the past three mornings the curb cut on the east side of Seaman has been partially or completely blocked by vehicles.

On Tuesday and Wednesday it was an Acura with a bogus-looking attempt at an NYPD placard and, for good measure, a reflective vest with “NYPD” printed on it, left on the dashboard.

Today it was a different car. Behind the windshield was a laminated card with the “NYC” logo and a wheelchair symbol — an apparently legitimate city parking permit for people with disabilities. Ironically, this driver had completely obstructed the sidewalk ramp, prohibiting anyone using a wheelchair, stroller, or grocery cart from crossing or accessing the sidewalk from the street, and impeding visibility for all pedestrians and motorists.

Read more…

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Eyes on the Street: Time for Automated Turn Ban Enforcement in Inwood?

Drivers make illegal left turns from Broadway onto Dyckman Street and Riverside Drive. The truck is a Parks Department vehicle. Photo: Brad Aaron

Drivers make illegal left turns from northbound Broadway onto Dyckman Street and Riverside Drive in Inwood. The truck is a Parks Department vehicle. Photo: Brad Aaron

Motorists are ignoring new turn restrictions intended to keep pedestrians safe at a revamped Broadway intersection in Inwood.

Over the summer, DOT added pedestrian space and implemented turn prohibitions where Broadway meets Dyckman Street and Riverside Drive, a five-spoked intersection that sees a lot of crashes. The four left turn bans are meant to keep motorists from approaching crosswalks from different directions at once, but months after the signs went up, compliance is still uneven.

I saw a half-dozen or so drivers violate turn restrictions during a 20-minute span Monday afternoon. With one motorist making a prohibited turn every three to four minutes, continuing to put pedestrians at risk, it seems an engineering or enforcement solution is in order.

We’ve asked DOT about potential remedies. On the enforcement side, as of July the 34th Precinct had issued 320 summonses for improper turns in 2014. Standing on the corner of Broadway and Dyckman in the afternoon heat, with motorists flouting the law left and right, the only NYPD presence I observed was a pair of officers from the precinct who cruised through the intersection in a radio car with the windows up.

Update: From DOT: “DOT will work with NYPD on enforcement at the intersection.”

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Eyes on the Street: New Bike Channel on Inwood Hill Park Rail Bridge

Reader Kimberly Kinchen tweeted this photo of a new bike channel on the stairs of the bridge over train tracks that separate Dyckman Fields, on the Hudson River, from the rest of Inwood Hill Park, to the east.

“It’s only on the second flight so far,” wrote Kinchen. “I assume they’ll install them on the first flight, too — still an improvement for sure.”

We’ve asked the Parks Department if this retrofit will be applied to other stairways, or if there was a request for bike channels on this particular bridge. We’ll update here if we hear back. In the meantime, let us know in the comments if you’ve seen other stairways with newly-installed ramps.