“This is one of the most important projects going on in the city right now” – Ryan Rousseau.

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Residents of the Hell’s Kitchen and Chelsea neighborhoods were not short on opinions at a Manhattan Community Board 2 meeting after they were told about “one of the most important projects going on in the city right now”: “The Eighth Avenue Complete Street Re-Design” that includes a bike path on the city’s west side.

In the proposed design, bicycle lanes would be established and pedestrian refuge islands would be inserted at intersections. Ryan Rousseau, a project manager, explained the project with the aid of a power point. Rousseau, who wore a dark brown suit with a cream and blue tie, said the project would benefit residents, cyclists and drivers within the area because turn signals would be clearer, the crossing distance would be shorter and the overall safety of pedestrians and cyclists would be enhanced. Said Rousseau, “This is one of the most important projects going on in the city right now.”

Project Developers want to create a bike path to run along the left side of 8th Avenue, extending from West 14th Street to West 23rd Streer. It is a part of Mayor Bloomberg’s plan for greener transportation in New York City. In the new plan, bike lanes would be larger and placed in between the sidewalk and parked cars. Rousseau explained from a traffic operations perspective that there would be no loss of moving traffic lanes; the number of lanes that currently existed would remain the same. He spoke at the Fulton Guild Community Center on 9th Avenue between 17th and 18th Streets on December 19 at 6 p.m.

There were three major points to the plan. Firstly, project managers want to create a higher quality and safer experience for cyclists. They want to attract new cyclists in an attempt to advance cycling in New York City. The second part of the plan calls for the creation of a secure and pleasant pedestrian experience. Refuge islands placed in between intersections would make crossing the street much safer, not to mention the pleasant visual impacts the islands provided. The third major point of the plan calls for the creation of safe turning movements. In the completed design the left turn lane would be separated the bicycle lane.

“This would provide much clearer guidance for motorists which would reduce the stress level for motorists,” Rousseau said. “A large portion of pedestrian accidents and fatalities happen at intersections with turning arrows.” The disadvantage of the plan was that less than 10 parking spaces would be displaced where potential turn bays would be. This caused a 21 percent loss of parking. In the new plan, if the left turn were restricted there would be reduced convenience for motorists. But five more parking spaces would open up and pedestrian and cyclist safety would be increased.

Rousseau compared the proposed project to a similar completed project on 9th Avenue between west 16th and 23rd streets. The two plans resemble one another but the layout of the 9th Avenue project was slightly different. A bike path and pedestrian refuge islands were successfully constructed there. Within the first year of the projects completion cycling increased by 50 percent in the area. From 2007 to 2008 there was a 35 percent increase in cycling city wide because of projects like this.

NYPD police sergeant Robe Gault said, “There have been many safety improvements with the 9th Avenue bike path. The NYPD has reported that the number of fatalities has decreased and vehicle accidents have gone down 40 percent.” [Editor’s Note: Additional info here about the path]. While some residents favored the plan, other expressed less enthusiasm. The latter said they were concerned over reduced parking and wondered how the neighborhood streets would be plowed in the winter.

Margaret Forgioni, who is involved in project planning, said that her organization was working very closely with the 10th precinct. “The plow would be oriented towards the buffer,” said Forgioni, who wore wearing a grey suit and a blue button down shirt. She meant that that the safety of pedestrians and cyclists wouldn’t be hindered.

Seniors were extremely concerned over pedestrian refuge islands that would be installed. Several said they were confused about the islands and feared they wouldn’t know how or when to cross the streets. They discussed how many senior citizens suffered from poor vision and hearing. They wanted to know what else would be done to improve accessible pedestrian signals. Said Forgioni, “We currently aren’t able to install accessible pedestrian signals because it’s not financially feasible.”

Forgioni said that a training group could help seniors concerned about crossing the streets once the pedestrian refuge islands were in place. She also said that they would love the new system after they took the class and that other seniors with whom she spoke with who took the training program found it to be easier, safer and appreciated theshortened the distance across the street.

Forgioni said the next steps were to seek more community input and for a refined design of the project, and if all went well, the project would be implemented this spring.

Editor’s Note: Click here for the city planning department’s New York City Bicycle Lane and Trail Inventory (2007) as well as plans for parking bicycles.


Ava DiApice can be reached at ADD8813@aol.com.