NEW YORK — It definitely takes a person of great fortitude to become a New York City cyclist. A daily trip may involve encounters with wayward taxis, delivery trucks, massive potholes, and police blitzes that questionably target cyclists. That being said, the city has taken notice of the increasingly gridlocked traffic with its obvious environmental effects and has decided to invest in the cycling network. In September 2006, Mayor Bloomberg committed to the construction of 322 kilometers of on street bike lanes, termed Class II, at a cost of $19,000 USD per kilometer which is to be added to the already existing 467 kilometers of Class II lanes.
New York City, including the boroughs, has a total of 790 kilometers of bike lanes and 10,000 kilometers of roads, but according to Chris Gilbride, a Department of Transportation spokesperson, â€œThe bike network is growing by the minute so the number is approximate.â€ These lanes are divided into three Classes. Class I is a bike lane physically separated from traffic. This represents about 2 kilometers of the network, and can be seen in the new installation on 9th Avenue, which I will describe later on. Class II is a bike lane designated by a solid line running parallel to the curb with an average width of 4-6′ and Class III bike lanes have to share the road with regular vehicular traffic with no differentiation aside from a sign designating it as a bike route.
It appears as though 9th Avenue has becomes New York’s new pedestrian experiment. I’ve documented the continuing development of the city’s first woonerfs in several irregular intersections on this Avenue, and now the city has taken to installing a new type of bike lane. 9th Avenue has the fortune, like most of the north-south avenues, of being quite broad, 4 lanes of driving and 2 lanes of parking. The city has used this girth to its advantage. By pushing the parking out 10′ away from the curb, an ample bike lane is created which is buffered from the fast moving traffic by the parked cars. To further provide safety for the cyclists the parked vehicles are buffered by an 8′ wide strip of asphalt or concrete median so as to prevent opening doors from becoming an issue. Unfortunately the city has decided not to take this opportunity to create a beautiful allee of trees along this 8′ median, instead leaving it as a barren strip of concrete and asphalt. This median could have become a dramatic visual statement in the landscape while providing much needed clean air and shade for both the cyclists and parked cars.
At least for now this is good start and a positive direction for the city’s cyclists. There are plans in the works to construct more Class III bike lanes on some of the broader east west streets in order to connect disparate portions of the network. Due to the lack of sufficiently wide streets only portions of the city will get these segregated lanes. I assume these lanes will act as the bicycle highways while the narrow streets will function as the feeder routs from the inner neighbourhoods. The network is developing rapidly with a strong focus on connectivity and so far the 9th avenue bike lane appears to be working well. Just imagine the day when there are bicycle traffic jams.
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Joe Clement, a long-time Spacing magazine contributor, left his hometown of Toronto in August and is now living in New York. He will be our Big Apple correspondent covering public space issues.