Winter 2004, p.2

Provocateur: Why Not the Best for the Big Apple?

Why does New York City not use the best street designs for pedestrians and bicyclists? Why does the City of New York say “no” to traffic engineering that has been shown to save life and limb for decades elsewhere in the country and in Europe? Is not New York City a world leader? Indeed, are we not “The Capital of the World,” as the last mayor put it? Are we not the only city in the United States in which more people walk and take transit to work than drive, in which the majority of households are car-free? How about it Big Apple? We should start saying yes to the full range of traffic engineering that national guidelines and engineering standards say work to encourage walking and cycling. Here are just some of those tools:


Prospect Park South, Brooklyn

Prospect Park South, Brooklyn

Raised crosswalks: An inexpensive device that is like a speed hump with a crosswalk on top of it. Raised crosswalks have been shown in numerous studies to reduce pedestrian injuries caused by turning motorists. They are perfect for slowing motorists turning off of big streets; London has used them extensively for this purpose. The United State’s own authoritative Institute for Transportation Engineers (ITE) says that they work and should be at least four inches high. New York City has installed raised crosswalks at busy crossings at 24th Street in Manhattan and Water Street in Brooklyn; they have reduced speeds there from an average of 33 mph to 22 mph. Status: The New York City Department of Transportation rejected four-inch raised crosswalks proposed by the consultant for the Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming project.

Raised intersections: Similar to a big speed hump in the middle of an intersection. Raised intersections help reduce speeds, increase compliance with stop signs and reduce crashes with turning motorists, and are also recommended by ITE. The City installed one at the four-way stop intersection of Slocum Place and Stratford Road in Prospect Park South, Brooklyn. As a result, the number of motorists stopping at the stop sign increased from 64% to 89%. Status: Rejected by the City DOT when proposed as part of the Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming project.

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Herald Square, Manhattan

Herald Square, Manhattan

On-street protected bike lanes: In most places painted bike lanes are enough, but in very high traffic areas with parking problems, curbs or bollards work to keep motorists out. The City installed a protected lane on the west side of the traffic island at Herald Square that works well. Status: The City DOT refuses to install one on the east side of the same island where motorists drive and park in the bike lane.

Two-way on-street bike lane: Cyclists have big problems getting through the heavy traffic near the East River bridges. The City’s current solution is to route cyclists blocks out of their way. A better approach would be to create two-direction bike lanes separated from traffic by curbs or barriers. The City installed a two-way lane from 155th Street to the Harlem River along Harlem River Drive as part of the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway. Status: It is unclear as to whether more are forthcoming. The City DOT had previously rejected all requests. 

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5th Avenue and 59th Street, Manhattan

5th Avenue and 59th Street, Manhattan

Crash resistant bollards on sidewalks at corners with high pedestrian and motor vehicle volumes and a history of curb jumping incidents: Motorists jumping the curb injure hundreds of New York City pedestrians each year. The City DOT, Fire Department, Con Edison, Verizon and others use heavy steel bollards to protect Muni-Meter boxes, fire hydrants, electric boxes and phone booths. Likewise the State DOT installed heavy duty bollards to protect the pedestrian median refuge on the West Side Highway. Status: The City DOT refuses to install bollards that could protect pedestrians because curb jumping motorists could be injured. (This is the reason that New York City light posts are designed to break away when motorists crash in to them.)

Bollards used to extend sidewalk and pedestrian space: An inexpensive alternative to widening sidewalks is to use bollards to create safe pedestrian space in the street. The City installed attractive concrete bollards at 59th Street and 5th Avenue that reclaim space for pedestrians. Status: Rejected by the City DOT for use in Herald or Times Square, where pedestrians are “protected” from motorists by painted neckdowns and flimsy light weight plastic bollards.

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