City proposes complete redesign of Third Ave on Upper East Side

Third Ave Redesign
DOT is proposing removing two lanes of car traffic to install a bus lane and a protected bike lane on Third Avenue.
NYC Dept of Transportation

City transportation officials on Wednesday night unveiled a proposal to overhaul Third Avenue between 59th and 96th streets on the Upper East Side, converting some of the five northbound motor vehicle lanes with bus, bike and pedestrian-oriented infrastructure.

The Department of Transportation, in redesigning the corridor, intends to replace two existing travel lanes currently used for motor vehicles, with one becoming a dedicated bus lane and the other becoming a parking-protected bike lane, while also installing pedestrian islands and signal priority at intersections throughout.

Third Avenue was identified by DOT as a “Vision Zero priority corridor” due to its car-centric design and history of fatalities and injuries among pedestrians and cyclists, bolstering the department’s rationale for redesigning it. Six pedestrians and one cyclist have died in the Upper East Side section of the avenue since 2016. The road is 70 feet wide, which is bulkier than most Manhattan avenues, and features five lanes for car traffic.

“Third Ave sticks out,” said Nick Carey, of DOT’s Bicycle Unit, in a Wednesday evening presentation of the plan to Manhattan’s Community Board 8. “It has a lot of pedestrian injuries and deaths. And that’s a big part of why we’re here.”

Third Ave at 84th St as it looked in July 2022Google Maps

Hundreds of cyclists still use the corridor on any given day despite the lack of a bike lane. Dozens of buses with tens of thousands of passengers travel the route at peak times, but the journey is anything but pleasant: the M102, which travels northbound on Third Avenue, was deemed the slowest bus in the city this year by the Straphangers Campaign, puttering along at a pathetic 4.6 miles-per-hour between the East Village and Harlem.

The department hopes to have the improvements installed along the corridor in 2023.

A rep for local Councilmember Keith Powers told the board that the pol is in support.

“This project will expedite commute times, improve pedestrian safety, increase spaces for bikes, and ensure that cars, buses, and bikes can share the road in harmony,” said the rep, Jessie Kay.

Following the presentation, the Board’s Transportation Committee voted 12-to-1, with one abstention, in favor of advancing the proposal for a vote by the full Community Board.

Public comments from local residents during the board meeting were largely positive. Many residents, in fact, were urging DOT to go further, such as by taking away an additional lane for car traffic in order to create a two-way protected bike lane.

“Don’t delay this, and don’t water it down,” said Hindy Schachter, a longtime Upper East Sider who hopes to ride the new bike lane with her granddaughters. “This time, let’s fix a degenerate block before there’s deaths.”