Demonstrators on Fifth Avenue in midtown create ‘human-protected bike lane’

More than 100 demonstrators created a
More than 100 demonstrators created a “human bike lane” on Fifth Avenue on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017, as they called for the city to add bike lanes to the busy corridor. Photo Credit: Getty Images for Turner / Craig Barritt

There’s no bike lane on Fifth Avenue in midtown, so advocates simply stepped into the street and created their own.

More than 100 demonstrators briefly commandeered the two easternmost lanes of Fifth Avenue, from 50th Street to 43rd Street, on Tuesday to call for the city to install real bike lanes on the busy corridor.

“It’s a testament to the strength of this movement. We’re trying to demonstrate numbers,” said Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, which organized the event. “You can’t just be about policy or about passing legislation, you have to be about putting bodies in rooms and bodies on streets and we’re so lucky to have so many dedicated New Yorkers who care so deeply about safe streets.”

Advocates lined the streets, linking arms in neon green vests to form a so-called “human-protected bike lane” after hearing that the city’s Department of Transportation plans to redesign the stretch of Fifth Avenue without adding any bike infrastructure. The department has proposed adding a second bus lane to the avenue, from 61st Street to 34th Street, to accommodate its heavy volume of bus traffic.

But at the same time, the DOT is ignoring cyclists in a congested part of Manhattan that is already lacking appropriate bike accommodations, organizers argued. They’re calling for a parking-protected bike lane to be installed on the street.

In a letter addressed to Transportation Alternatives and other advocacy groups dated Oct. 10, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said she was “surprised” by the opposition to the redesign. She pointed out that groups like Transportation Alternatives generally support new bus infrastructure and that the dual Fifth Avenue lanes will be a benefit to 75,000 bus commuters who ride along 39 routes on the avenue.

“The bus routes on Fifth Avenue serve New Yorkers from all five boroughs. Many of those riders commute from low-income neighborhoods with few transit options and, as a result, face very long travel times,” Trottenberg wrote. “I am sure you would all agree that population is most in need of improved commuting options.”

A bike lane could still be on the way. Trottenberg ultimately said the agency is “also working through the engineering questions” to build a bike lane on Fifth Avenue. But that analysis is “months away,” she added, and the city didn’t want to delay painting the new bus lanes. Elsewhere in the city, the administration is on pace to install 25 miles of physically protected bike lanes this year, a DOT spokeswoman said.

The human-protected bike lane was in place on Fifth Avenue for about 20 minutes, giving cyclists on the street a human buffer from car traffic beginning shortly after 6 p.m. It was the second time in recent weeks that Transportation Alternatives has created human bike lanes as a form of advocacy. The first was a smaller demonstration on Second Avenue.

Manhattan Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the council’s Transportation Committee, borrowed a bicycle to ride down the makeshift lane.

“The street does not belong only to car owners. It belongs to pedestrians; it belongs to cyclists,” he said.

Hindy Schachter, a member of the group Families for Safe Streets, said her 75-year-old husband, Irving, died in 2014 in part because of a “faulty” road design. Irving was struck by a teen cyclist as he ran on a Central Park path. She wants to see a safer Fifth Avenue for pedestrians and cyclists.

“I wear his watch to remind me of his memory. The watch is too big for me, but it’s very appropriate because I’m here tonight for a big campaign,” Schachter said, saying that the city was delaying lifesaving measures on Fifth Avenue. “Tic tock goes the watch.”