City backpedals on Jay St. protected bike-lane plan

City backpedals on Jay St. protected bike-lane plan
Department of Transportation

This is going to be an uphill battle.

The Department of Transportation is backpedaling on its popular plan to install a two-way protected bike path on Jay Street between York and Prospect streets in Dumbo, leaving locals grinding their gears over its new proposal — for Downtown-bound cyclists to ride against car traffic with naught but a painted line between them and the 3,000-pound steel machines.

“Can you imagine walking uphill and the only thing separating you from cars coming downhill are lines on the street?” said Hilda Cohen of Community Board 2’s transportation committee, where the agency presented the new change Thursday.

The meeting marked the fourth time the city has presented the panel with a new bike-lane plan for this single block of Jay Street.

Transportation officials in March last year agreed to wedge a bi-directional green bike track in between the curb and a lane of parked cars on the stretch — earning the committee’s unanimous support — after local cyclists objected to an earlier proposition for riders and drivers to share lanes.

But almost 12 months later, officials have only just realized that waterfront-bound riders zooming downhill in that configuration won’t be able to see much over the barrier of stationary vehicles, and could collide with motorists when they merge into shared lanes at York Street, agency reps told the board.

“They’re going to go right into each other,” said Dan Wagner, coordinator for the transportation department’s pedestrian projects. “As you’re going faster, it’s hard for you to look over your shoulder and see if they’re going faster or not.”

Now they’re proposing a waterfront-bound bike track painted green on the York Street station side of the street, and a Downtown-bound “contra-flow” bike lane — that is, headed in the opposite direction of traffic — on the other side, separated only with a pair of yellow lines.

But the panel members hated the idea of pitting uphill riders against downhill traffic so much, one said he’d prefer to use the generally reviled “sharrows” system — where painted markings denote a shared lane for motorists and cyclists — if it frees up space for a more-necessary parking-protected Downtown-bound lane.

“Sharrows on the downhill for this one block doesn’t strike me as a bad idea,” said committee member Brian Howald.

But bike activists say there’s no need to scrap the two-way lane at all — the city could just take away a couple of parking spaces at the York Street end to ensure cyclists can see before they merge.

“The protected bike lane is the best plan and I don’t understand why it’s being taken off the table,” said Luke Ohlson from bike advocacy group Transportation Alternatives after the meeting. “If it means taking away a parking space or two where cyclists would have to merge back into traffic then so be it.”

He thinks the new proposal is a disaster waiting to happen.

“Anyone who has ever been on a bike lane and had a car coming towards them, it’s one of the most frightening experiences you can have getting around New York City,” said Ohlson. “You’re absolutely powerless in that moment.

The committee didn’t vote on the plan — Wagner said he just wanted to get its feedback before presenting what will be the fifth iteration of the bike lane at a future meeting.

Along with whatever lanes end up going in, he also announced that the city is finally putting in a signal and crosswalks at Jay and Prospect streets.

The agency had been hoping to make the additions for years, and a spike in pedestrian traffic thanks to developer Jared Kushner’s new Dumbo Heights office complex nearby finally sealed the deal, he said.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill
Going up: This diagram shows the transportation department’s widely hated plan to paint a contraflow lane for bike riders going uphill towards Prospect Street.
Department of Transportation