Let’s get physical! Cyclists call for solid buffers along both ‘protected’ bike lanes coming to Grand Street

Let’s get physical! Cyclists call for solid buffers along both ‘protected’ bike lanes coming to Grand Street
Department of Transportation

This street redesign isn’t as Grand as it seems.

The city must install barriers stronger than paint to protect all of the bike riders expected to pedal along Grand Street on their way to and from Manhattan during the shutdown of the L train’s East River tunnel, cyclists demanded at a Wednesday public meeting about the closure, which is less than a year away.

“Paint is not a magic seal that keeps cars away. To encourage as much as cycling as possible, we want to have a physical separation that makes it safer,” said Williamsburg pedal pusher Philip Leff, a member of the pro-cycling group Transportation Alternatives, which is staging weekly bike commutes over the river up to and throughout the looming L-pocolypse.

City transit leaders in January revealed a major redesign of Grand Street — where three cyclists died in crashes since 2016 — that included nixing one of two current parking lanes to make room for two new so-called protected bike lanes in each direction between Morgan Avenue and Rodney Street.

But only riders heading towards the Williamsburg Bridge will reap the benefits of a lane buffered by a row of parked cars, because the current plan calls for just a strip of white paint to protect those cyclists cruising deeper into Brooklyn.

And the painted buffers are incapable of saving lives, according to Leff, who pushed officials to come up with a safer scheme, referencing a fatal 2016 hit-and-run when a now-convicted motorist killed cyclist Matthew von Ohlen on Grand Street after the driver swerved over paint into the road’s current bike lane.

“What can we do to make both sides protected?” he said to the Department of Transportation and Metropolitan Transportation Authority leaders hosting the meeting.

The problem with physically protecting both of the new Grand Street bike lanes boils down to geography, according to a Transportation Department bigwig, who said the stretch is simply too narrow to accommodate solid barriers buffering each pedaler’s path.

“The width of Grand Street is such that there’s not enough room for a parking-protected bike lane on both sides of the street,” said Eric Beaton, the agency’s deputy commissioner for transportation planning and management. “What we want to do is create parking-protected on one side of the street, and a large buffer where we can use delineators and other things to try to keep traffic separate from the cyclists on the other side.”

But officials are still brainstorming, according to Beaton’s boss, who said she and her colleagues will continue seek cyclists’ input on ways to make Grand Street even safer.

“We’ve talked to a lot of folks about getting those protected bike lanes,” said Transportation Department head Polly Trottenberg.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.