Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Houston St. dilemma

Whats the story with Houston St? Its a mess, cyclists have died on it and it claims to be one of the most dangerous roads in NYC for cyclists and pedestrians. There has been a lot of city council and local community activity to get the Department of Transportation to make infrastructure for cyclists (bike lanes) on H street as part of what seems to be endless construction in this major thoroughfare

The DOT has said they are NOT going to put bike lanes on Houston Street, and that from an engineering point of view it is IMPOSSIBLE.

There is now a plan to put bike lanes one block North on Bleeker and one block South on Prince. Some feel that any bike lanes are a good thing but this doesn't address the unsafe issues of Houston St. and how the city continually refuses to take action against problematic traffic situations...especially when the construction is all ready underway.

Tonight there is a city council meeting of community board 2.

Time’s Up! encourages cyclists and pedestrians to attend the CB2 meeting Tuesday, and demand safe passage across the entire breadth of Southern Manhattan via Houston Street. A protected bikeway on Houston Street is both technically feasible and urgently needed. The exclusion of such facilities will only result in more unnecessary deaths.

Meeting Details:
CB2 Transportation Committee meeting
Tuesday, April 10, at 6:30pm
LGBT Community Services Center, 208 W. 13th St. between 7th Ave. and Greenwich Ave. (ask at the front desk for the room assignment).

More info from the Time's Up website, which has been working hard on this issue.

You have the right to travel safely on Houston Street!—This is a big issue for us and many others; Speak Up!

The city's Department of Transportation bureaucrats now say that moving bike lanes to narrow, congested side streets will somehow address the safety problems on Houston Street. Such a plan prioritizes Houston Street for cars and trucks rather than non-polluting cyclists and pedestrians, and is clearly not in the best interests of a city afflicted with staggeringly high rates of asthma and concerned about the effects of climate change and resource depletion. If you thought Houston Street was bad already, get ready for something far worse! Time's Up! supports any expansion of the city's bicycle network, but the community will not settle for lesser routes at the expense of long-overdue Houston Street facilities.

Despite the fact that Houston Street has been a proposed/designated bike route since 1997, nothing has been done to prevent ongoing injuries and deaths to cyclists. In 2005-2006 3 cyclists were killed on this street, and from 2002 to 2004 82 cyclists were struck. At a press conference in August, 2006, CB 2 Transportation Committee members, community groups and elected officials took a step in the right direction demanding safe bike lanes be worked into the DOT plan for Houston Street. That was a great start.

Unfortunately, measures to protect cyclists on Houston have now been suddenly deemed unfeasible. Abandoning the call for protection on this ‘boulevard of death,’ the new DOT plan calls for ‘alternative routes’ on narrow unprotected bike lanes, mainly on Bleecker and Prince Streets that zigzag through narrow, congested streets and do not provide continuous transit. As much as this may be the goal, the new plan does little to advance safety.

The reality is that cyclists will continue to travel on Houston Street even if it remains life-threatening for them and pedestrians. Houston Street already is known as one of the most dangerous streets in NYC. Nevertheless, it remains a preferred route for cyclists because in contrast to most other cross-town streets, it is wide, sunny, direct, and completely traverses a very wide section of Manhattan from river to river. It is also the most efficient route to a wide range of destinations, bridges and avenues on the east and west sides of Southern Manhattan, and in many cases the only viable route from one place to another.

Given the facts, it seems obvious that a protected bike lane should be the highest priority for NYC potentially providing a safe, non-polluting way to travel to shopping entertainment, and work in the East and West Villages, SoHo, the Lower East Side and East River Bridges as well as East and West side Greenways. Abruptly reneging on the 10-year promise for safe bike lanes on a newly paved 8 lane Houston Streets is quite literally, a life-or-death decision.

It is clear that this is not a question of technical feasibility, but rather a question of political priorities. Some of the D.O.T. engineers who would be involved in this project are commuter cyclists themselves, but these engineers have sadly been directed by their D.O.T. supervisors to propose mediocre “alternatives” on account of unproved claims regarding the technical feasibility of a Houston Street bikeway. We know that a safe, protected bikeway can be implemented on Houston Street and we know that D.O.T. engineers have the know-how and imagination to provide the community with what it really needs.

The Facts:

Bleecker Street is a favored route for double decker tour buses and charter buses while Prince Street is congested daily with street vendors, automobiles and pedestrians, all of which would impede bicycle through-traffic.

A major construction project for water-main replacement is currently underway along Houston Street and a redesign of the roadway, medians and sidewalks is slated to follow. This is best chance in decades the community is going to get to demand proper cyclist and pedestrian safety measures. So far, D.O.T. bureaucrats have been ignoring community pleas on this issue for years, but it's time to take a stand.

A bikeway can integrated with a system of traffic calming measures to create a safer, cleaner and more attractive Houston Street for pedestrians, businesses and residents. A median bikeway would allow for flexible travel both east and west, and a combination of electronic sensors and dynamic automobile turning restrictions could tame this Robert Moses playground that has historically been such a people-unfriendly thoroughfare.
The lanes on Prince and Bleecker wouldn't be physically-protected from automobiles, allowing police patrol cars, delivery trucks, and private cars to illegally park in the way of cyclists.

News links: The villager article from 2005.
streetsblog coverage of 2006 rally for bike lanes on Houston St.
The villager coverage of the rally.
Streetsblog shows the DOT reasons for Prince and Bleeker bikelanes


Blogger Mike said...

The way I see it, unless there is a clause in the statutes downgrading bikes as vehicles then the dot is not fulfilling their mandate to provide safe and efficient transportation if they fail to maintain bike lanes. The legislature should withhold funding until policies are changed to make things right.


1:01 PM  

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