By Sabina Mollot
The traffic safety enhancement project along 20th Street, east of First Avenue, which has so far included creating two protected bike lanes on the north side of the street and moving a bus stop to an island outside the bike lanes, apparently isn’t making neighborhood residents feel any safer.
In fact, many residents have been complaining to Council Member Keith Powers that they’re now more afraid for their safety now that they have to cross the bike lanes to catch the bus. Additionally, at least 15 drivers have contacted Powers to say they’ve gotten tickets, usually for $115, for parking in spots that were legal up until very recently. A few people have also been towed at an additional pickup fee of up to $225.
The project, which began in October, was aimed at making the streets safer in anticipation of increased bike and pedestrian traffic to the Stuyvesant Cove ferry landing once the L train shutdown begins on April 27.
But from what Powers has been hearing, the general response has been that the work seemed unnecessary.
“I have heard from a lot of people who are concerned about the new configuration of 20th Street and of course I’ve seen it myself,” said Powers, who lives in Peter Cooper Village. “They’re concerned about crossing two bike lanes and limited options to turn vehicles or to get around vehicles in narrower streets.” In particular, he said he heard about drivers having to swerve to avoid double parked cars or cars making a drop-off.
Powers said he recently walked the work site, where, as Town & Village reported back in October, 12 parking spots have been lost, with representatives of the Department of Transportation. “We told them some of the changes would not be well-received by the community.”
As for the people who’ve gotten parking tickets, usually they’re for parking in what used to be spots along the north side of 20th Street near the former Petite Abeille restaurant. However, Powers said he was able to get the DOT to draft a note explaining that that the spots people have been parking in when ticketed were recently legal, and those individuals have been using the note to successfully fight their tickets in court. However, Powers noted, the onus is still on tenants to fight the tickets if they continue to receive them, though he has been pushing to get neighbors a grace period.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” said Cheryl Gross, a resident of Stuyvesant Town, adding that she felt the DOT could have at least put a shelter on the new stop, since it can get very windy on the little island. “It’s completely different.”
As a driver, she also is concerned about the loss of free, local parking. “The Citi Bikes are taking up all the parking spots,” she said.
Her husband, Bill, who’s blind, has already made the trek across the bike lanes to the bus shelter a number of times on his commute to work, after having Cheryl and a friend give him an exploratory tour. So far, he describes the new stop as “a pain.”
“I’m concerned about bikes,” he said. “I have to wait for somebody to cross me, because I can’t hear the bikes, especially the e-bikes.”
Recently, a bus driver, upon seeing Bill, got out of the bus and guided him across the street to his building. But, he added, “That was above and beyond. I don’t expect anyone else to do that.” Bill agreed with his wife that a shelter at the bus stop would go a long way in terms of making the wait more pleasant in increasingly cold weather, and “it would make it easier to find.”
He added that he thought it was a hazard for others as well, even without a disability. “I don’t know anyone who thinks this is great.”
In response to the concerns, a spokesperson for the DOT reiterated to T&V that the new layout was designed with safety in mind.
“The street improvement project, including a two-way bike path on East 20th Street, creates a safe, accessible option for cyclists, pedestrians, and bus riders and will provide ancillary benefits during the L train closure,” the DOT said. “The design between First Avenue and Avenue C includes standard bus boarding islands along the route for M23 and M9 stops, as well as expanded pedestrian space and a shortened pedestrian crossing distances at Avenue C. At First Avenue, the project slightly enlarges the bus stop and implements an additional westbound right turn lane. The pedestrian crossing is improved by separating the east-west pedestrian and bicycle crossing phase from the westbound vehicular right turn phase.”
The agency also said the reconfigured street was designed with the visually impaired in mind.
“In keeping with citywide standards, the design includes detectable warning strips located on both the pedestrian ramps from the sidewalk, and the ramps onto the bus boarding islands are designed to alert visually impaired pedestrians that they are entering or exiting the pedestrian space. The bike path also narrows behind the bus boarding islands, encouraging cyclists to slow down.”
The DOT added that more signage and markings will be installed along the street and that the agency would “continue to monitor the location.”
Along with the bus boarding island and protected bike lanes, the project also includes a curb extension and a pedestrian island at Avenue C to shorten crossing distances, upgraded pedestrian ramps on Avenue C and 18th Street and updated traffic signal timing on First Avenue and 20th Street.