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More Bike Lane Changes Coming to West 55 

Representatives from the Department of Transportation (DOT), Community Board 4 (CB4), Midtown North Precinct and Corey Johnson's office met at 4 pm yesterday to conduct a walk-through of the new bike lane on West 55th Street. I attended as Block Association president. 

Lots of issues were raised but all agreed that the situation on weekends is the biggest traffic problem, followed by the safety issue of people now having to contend with bicycles and electric bikes whizzing by when they step into the curb or exit a parked car on the south side of the street.

As a side note, DOT did not realize that police officers have for decades parked on the north side of the street--which is technically a no-parking lane--during the work week. This has been a good practice for the block (additional security as officers walk to and from their vehicles) as well as a great help to the precinct. Until recently, retired police officers were also allowed to park on the block but that is no longer the case--which is why you see fewer cars parked on either side of the street now during the work week. 

DOT reps said the protected bike lane is staying but they are going to propose some design modifications that might help the situation (see below for details). They will send a copy to the West 55th Street Block Association in the next couple of weeks, which I will forward on to everyone. Then we can discuss.

Weekend Traffic. Because parking on both sides of the street fills up on weekends, a single vehicle stopping in the one remaining lane can bring traffic to a standstill. Last Saturday, when an ambulance had to stop in mid-block, traffic was halted for a good 45 minutes, according to residents. (See photo below)

DOT is open to the idea of having staggered loading zones, where no parking would be permitted, on both sides of the street. This would allow taxis and deliveries to stop briefly to drop people and packages off. The loading zones will be painted with white stripes (see photo below) and cannot be in front of every building but DOT will draw up a diagram and send to us. At present, they are likely to be adjacent to the three fire hydrants on the north side of the block. Because the south side doesn't have any fire hydrants, there will be more flexibility as to where to put these. 

Detective Mike Dugan, our community liaison with the Midtown North Precinct, was happy with this solution because it still allows active police officers to park their personal vehicles on the street during the work week. (Fewer officers are at the precinct on weekends). He promises the police will not park in the striped loading zones. 

Having the loading zones staggered would allow ambulances, delivery folks and taxis to pull out of the flow of traffic or allow others to more easily maneuver around them. It would also allow people to hail taxis/car services from mid-block instead of having to walk to the avenues. 

Safety. The speed with which some bicyclists--particularly electric bikes--race down the bike lane (in both directions) has led to several close calls over the past few days since the bike lane was put in. Solutions here were more difficult to come up with. It seems clear that the protected bike lane is staying. 55th street provides a good connection between the East and Hudson Rivers for bicycles. So we have to figure out how to make things safer. One solution DOT offered was installing speed bumps in the bike lane to slow bike traffic down. Several residents commented that warnings painted in the buffer lane advising pedestrians to "Look Both Ways" as is done in Britain, or "Watch for Bikes!" with arrows in both directions might help.

Anyway, that's where things stand at the moment. Will keep everyone updated. 

Staying informed. One thing I'd like to do so that we don't get surprised by these sorts of changes in our neighborhood in future is to gather a group of volunteers to take turns attending key CB4 meetings on a regular basis and take notes that we can share with the rest of the block. DOT says they flyered the neighborhood to let us know about the CB4 meeting at which the new bike lane was proposed and approved but somehow we all missed them.

If we had 5 to 7 volunteers (do I dare say citizen reporters?), I think we could come up with a schedule where any one individual would only need to attend 3 or 4 meetings a year--and probably only for an hour or two. If you're interested, please email Christine at
An ambulance (arrow) was called to an apartment mid-block last Saturday and had nowhere to stop but in the traffic lane. So traffic was halted for 45 minutes. Now imagine that another car had stopped mid-block and it was the ambulance that couldn't get through. (Photo credit Gail W-A)
This is an example of a striped loading/unloading zone on Eighth Avenue near 57th Street. Something like this (but smaller) could be set up in staggered fashion at a few places on West 55th street. 
Copyright © 2019 West 55th Street Block Association, All rights reserved.

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