By Maria Rocha-Buschel
The Department of Transportation will begin implementing safety improvements on the FDR Service Road that include a two-way bike lane between East 25th and 33rd Street this month. The improvements specifically address the Greenway along Waterside Plaza, the Water Club at East 30th Street and the East 34th Street intersection near the heliport.
The DOT made the announcement about the project on Twitter last Thursday, although the plan was originally presented to Community Board 6 two and a half years ago in November 2016. The DOT had also announced plans last September to start implementation of the project in the fall but later said in November that it would be pushed back to this summer.
A spokesperson told Town & Village that the then-two-year delay was not unusual, given that the project was especially “complex” and the agency was still working out construction scheduling and the final designs. The DOT also attributed some of the delay to changes in the plan to the design around the Water Club.
Manhattan DOT Community Coordinator Colleen Chattergoon told members of Community Board 6 last fall that the Water Club didn’t want bike traffic directly in front of their entrance, so the design was adjusted to include granite planters and a Jersey barrier as buffers. The restaurant also agreed to relocate a large container currently in their parking lot so that the DOT could more easily implement the bike lane changes.
Waterside residents also had concerns about the bike lanes crossing traffic near the entrance to the United Nations International School and sharing space with vehicles in that area, especially because cars and buses are stopped in this area throughout the day.
Last November when the DOT told Town & Village that the project would be pushed to this year, the agency said that the intersection is stop-controlled and the DOT will be updating the markings and way-finding signage to clarify the greenway connection at that intersection. Bikes will be allowed to continue across the intersection to access the two-way bike lane on the FDR Service Road.
Michael Arnon, a resident of Waterside Plaza and vice president of the Waterside Tenants Association, has been in touch with the DOT about the proposed design specifically around this intersection because he still feels that the plan doesn’t adequate address safety concerns.
“I do not believe that DOT has adequately addressed the safety issues that are present and that, if anything, will be worsened with the implementation of this plan,” he said, adding that the impact of the changes will also be different in the summer compared to the traffic patterns during the school year. “The plan does not appear to give adequate consideration to important safety issues including how bicyclists are required to cross lanes of traffic by the entrance to the United Nations International School (east to west) and again before reaching the Water Club (west to east). Cars and school buses typically stop park there illegally for extended periods and clog this thoroughfare multiple times each day. (…) This leads to two lanes of traffic out of three being closed to vehicles. It is at precisely this junction that bicyclists will be forced to share lanes with all of the other vehicles while diverging and also crossing from east to west.”
One of the main goals for the project is to correct the Greenway path near Waterside because it isn’t intuitive and is only protected on the southbound side, the DOT said.
The southbound lane has a concrete barrier but riders heading northbound technically share a narrow lane with large vehicles, although cyclists often ignore using the lanes as currently designed and already use the protected southbound lane to head north as well.
The proposed design would make the protected southbound lane a two-way bike lane by replacing the concrete barrier with flexible delineators, adding two feet of space to the lane, and the concrete barrier would be moved to the other side of the lane to protect cyclists against traffic on the Service Road.
The existing protected bike lane is five feet across, but with the concrete barrier shifted to the other side, cyclists traveling in each direction would have 3.5 feet of space.
Improvements also include a shared bike and pedestrian path from East 33rd to 34th, a pedestrian island/curb extension at East 34th Street and traffic-calming measures at the FDR Drive exit. The design for East 34th Street includes a two-way shared bike and pedestrian path on the median to the east of the FDR off-ramp and the installation of a new painted pedestrian area and crossings. The proposed design also includes improved access to and from the Greenway from the protected bike lanes on First and Second Avenue at East 37th Street.
The DOT did not respond to requests for comment on further updates to the project regarding the bike lane around the UNIS entrance or regarding any other changes since last fall.