Tribeca bike lane plan almost ready to go

Three Community Board 1 committees are supporting these proposed new bike lanes. Image courtesy of NYC Dept. of Transportation.

By KAITLYN MEADE  |Originally published Sept. 19, 2013 |  A city proposal to add bike lanes in Tribeca is back on track after stalling with mediocre support at Community Board 1’s last full board meeting.

The proposal would create a continuous route between Tribeca and Greenwich Village by way of Church St., W. Broadway and Varick St., which the Dept. of Transportation would implement through posting signs, repainting roadways, an in some cases, street construction.

D.O.T.’s adjusted plan was approved by three Board 1 committees Sept. 10, and if as expected, the full board also endorses the changes Sept. 24, the new lanes are likely to be installed soon after.

The original plan was approved by the Tribeca Committee on July 30 with objections to some components. However, the entire proposal was voted down at July’s C.B. 1 full board meeting.

“It seemed there were enough questions that hadn’t been answered for what happened in the south,” said committee member Jeff Ehrlich, who said he voted for the proposal initially at the Tribeca Committee, but changed his vote at the full board.

The full board instead asked for the D.O.T. to return with new plans, which it did on Sept. 10, before a combined meeting of C.B. 1’s Tribeca, Planning and Quality of Life Committees.

The first change to the proposal addresses one of the board’s most strenuous objections on the first go-around — a plan to divert the bike lane from the street onto a little-used sidewalk near Capsouto Park so that cyclists could avoid the road’s cobblestones.

The city is proposing granite on part of Varick St.’s cobblestones, after Community Board 1 rejected the idea of running the bike lane on the sidewalk near Capsouto Park. Image courtesy of NYC Dept. of Transportation.

“I oppose any bike lanes on the sidewalk,” committee member Adam Malitz told Downtown Express, though he said he generally supports the proposed changes.

That was the reaction of several committee members, and some of the full board, who thought sidewalk cycling was not a safe option.

“Apparently, the D.O.T. dealt with a lot more and came back with a much better solution for the block around Capsouto Park,” said Ehrlich.

The compromise, as detailed in the D.O.T. PowerPoint, would be a 30-inch strip of granite for a smoother ride that “preserves historic character” on cobblestone streets. It would merge naturally into the existing bike lane and would cut down on, though probably not eliminate, the projected 45 percent of cyclists currently using the sidewalk.

A signal change at the intersection of Varick St. and W. Broadway at the approach to Leonard St., which was proposed in previous meetings, has already been implemented.

“There’s a spot where people come down from two different directions and the lights changed at the same time. They’re having them alternate,” explained Ehrlich.

The plan also includes a painted curb extension to increase pedestrian safety at the intersection of Church and 6th Ave. The existing curb would be brought out to the crosswalk, and might discourage pedestrians from stepping out in the middle of the street.

As for the bike lanes, there were few changes to the planned routes. Separate and buffered lanes will run next to parking lanes where possible. For example, a buffered lane will be put along Church St. from Warren to Franklin St., slightly narrowing the moving lanes and reducing one of the parking lanes to an 8-ft. width.

In other instances, shared lanes will simply designate a side lane to be usable by both bicycles and cars.

At least one of these streets is still cause for concern, according to committee member Bruce Ehrmann. The one-block section of Varick St. from Watts to Canal Sts. looks as though it will be much the same, with bicycles sharing a side lane with cars, only now that lane is called an “enhanced shared lane,” and will have a bicycle emblem painted at intervals along the roadway.

“I want to know how this will work in front of Spring Studios,” Ehrmann said, referring to the gigantic studio and event space that will open on Varick between Ericsson Place and Laight St. in October.

Image courtesy of NYC Dept. of Transportation.

The Tribeca Committee has been trying to address concerns about Spring Studios’ traffic with the operator and surrounding neighbors. Ehrmann said that the bike lanes did not take any of that planning into account and left the question unanswered, along with many others.

The plan, despite objections, looks poised to pass in the full board meeting on Sept. 24.

“I’ve been wrong many times, but I expect it to be accepted,” said Ehrlich.

Even though the D.O.T. is still waiting on approval from C.B. 1, “work on the Community Board 2-supported section of the project is scheduled to begin next week, weather permitting,” said D.O.T. spokesperson Nicholas Mosquera in an email to Downtown Express.

The C.B. 2 portion of the project includes Washington Square Park and two bike routes on LaGuardia Place/W. Broadway. It enters C.B. 1’s domain south of Canal St., with the southbound portion running down Varick St. and transitioning onto W. Broadway until Warren St. The northbound route begins at Warren St. and runs up Church St. before transferring to 6th Ave. when the two intersect at Franklin St.

“This piece of the bike map is

an obvious gap… and will bring some connectivity to complete what was planned, which is to connect the Village and Lower Manhattan,” said Caroline Samponaro, the director of campaigns and organizing for Transportation Alternatives, a New York advocacy group which has been rallying support for the plan.

“We see it akin to sidewalks,” she said. “If you had a sidewalk network that ended at the end of one community board’s area, it wouldn’t help as many people.”

The Dept. of Transportation hopes to put an “enhanced shared” bike lane like this one on Varick St. between Laight and Beach Sts.
The Dept. of Transportation hopes to put an “enhanced shared” bike lane like this one on Varick St. between Laight and Beach Sts.