Since last year, the city’s Department of Transportation has unveiled a variety of “boulevard bike” layouts across the city, including those on Jackson Avenue in the Bronx, 39th Avenue in Queens, 20th Street in Brooklyn and a next one on Underhill Avenue in Brooklyn. But the specific elements of DOT bike boulevards differ by location. Last month the agency unveiled a plan to convert the existing Berry Street ‘open street’ into a real ‘cycle boulevard’, but what does that mean? Let Streetsblog guide you…
First, an overview
The DOT appeared before the Community Board 1 transportation committee on June 30 to present what it dubbed an update on the open street of Berry Street – part of the covid era initiative to provide crowded city dwellers with more outdoor recreation space without high-speed cars. The stretch of Berry Street between South Fifth and North 12th streets proved to be one of the agency’s most successful and enduring open streets.
In a survey last year, area residents told DOT they like their open street for an occasional stroll, and 77% of residents said they visit the open street daily or multiple times. per week. (The agency said 93% of those surveyed lived in the neighborhood — a significant statistic because opponents of open streets at the community board meeting claimed the DOT only listens to strangers. )
In the survey, 76% of respondents want the future layout of the open street to allow “walking” and 56% want it to be improved for cycling, while only 19% of residents want the roadway to benefit the “conduct”.
Open streets have proven to be much safer for pedestrians and cyclists than regular roads filled with cars. In the full five years before the open streets were created, 409 accidents were reported on Berry Street, just between South Fifth and North 12 streets, injuring 30 cyclists, 21 pedestrians and 69 motorists, or about 24 injuries per year.
But in 2021, there were only 17 crashes reported during street hours, injuring just five people, a decrease in average annual crashes of 80%, and a decrease in injuries also of 80%. Cars are, of course, still allowed on Berry Street for parking and driving, as shown in the photo below:
Despite all this, the community council committee – after spending almost four hours debating other issues that evening – tabled a discussion on the cycle boulevard until its July meeting (date to be determined). Here’s what’s on the agenda that night:
The new bike boulevard would run between Grand and North 12th Street, with a south spur on Grand between Berry and Domino Park and a north spur on North 12th between Berry and Bedford to create what the DOT calls a “park-to-park connection.” (see map, right).
Four blocks of the proposed bike boulevard would be converted from a one-way northbound to a one-way southbound through the placement of a painted (and possibly raised) pedestrian island. A fifth block from Berry to the entrance to the corridor – between South Sixth Street and Broadway – would also be changed to one-way south, but that’s off the bike boulevard (for now).
Unlike Vanderbilt Avenue on weekends, Berry’s Open Street is not entirely pedestrianized, although pedestrians and cyclists far outnumber drivers. According to the DOT, on a typical weekday afternoon, 431 pedestrians, 105 cyclists, and 32 drivers use the block of Berry Street between North Sixth and North Seventh streets (see graph below).
Additionally, residents complain that cyclists and delivery people are speeding through the area due to the lack of designated routes. But compared to existing conditions along the corridor, the DOT plan promises significant improvements in safety. Here is a primer:
The defining element of a DOT bike boulevard is the way it redirects motorists to eliminate through traffic. On one-way northbound Berry Street, this would be accomplished with “inversion blocks”: North Sixth to North Seventh, North Third to North Fourth, and Grand Street to Metropolitan Avenue will be rerouted south for traffic only (the cyclists can always go both ways).
The directional switch prevents drivers from using Berry as a through street, which the DOT says also reduced the speed and volume of cars along a corridor – a strategy that has seen significant success on the 39th Avenue in Sunnyside, which was once a major driver’s shortcut and has reverted to a low-density residential street.
“Right now it’s very difficult to enjoy the open street because I feel like I have to be much more on my guard than if I’m on a sidewalk,” said Christian Philippone, complaining about car traffic on the open street. “As I’m walking down Berry Street, I’m like, ‘Oh, that could be a bike, that could be a car, or that could be a scooter. I would rather be on the sidewalk.
Other locals who understand the concept love it.
“It’s fun because there are people, just for fun, going through and around these barriers all the time,” resident Doug Krehbiel said. “Now they will have nowhere to go.
Pedestrian and bicycle improvements
Along the proposed Berry Street Cycle Boulevard, pedestrian zones (initially painted, but perhaps one day more) will be placed at each intersection, creating a shorter crossing distance for pedestrians and narrowing the street as a whole, calming traffic speed. Curb extensions slow drivers down by widening the steering angle and, at least in theory, force the driver to execute the turn more cautiously. In addition, a wider angle allows drivers to see pedestrians better.
The Berry Street Bike Boulevard will not have a completely separate bike lane, as seen on Sunnyside Boulevard, but cyclists will have a designated corridor at the intersections between the new pedestrian islands and the sidewalk. The objective is to organize the circulation of bicycles and other forms of micro-mobility along the shared street. See graph below:
Cyclists put up with such paint treatments.
“There are a lot of restaurants here and they have a lot of bike delivery people. I’m one of them, so we cycle up and down this street all the time,” said Nate Williams. “Having a better design for the bikes would be great.”
Residents also complain that Berry Street currently suffers from excessive double parking by commercial vehicles, a result of too many car owners using the roadway for storage of their vehicles all day.
To mitigate double parking, the DOT will reserve some curbside space on Berry Street as commercial loading zones.
The DOT hasn’t said how many zones it will create, but Krehbiel wants a lot.
“I can’t stand people being able to store their ugly polluting cars in the neighborhood for free,” he said.
Park-to-Park Corridor Improvements
Separate from the Bike Boulevard, the DOT will add safety upgrades to better connect the new Domino Park and the long-existing McCarren Park for pedestrians and cyclists. And some of these intersections along this corridor beyond Berry Street really need it:
The southern end of the ‘park-to-park’ connector – the entrance to Domino Park at Grand Street and Kent Avenue – is currently a mess, as pedestrians looking to cross Kent have to wait for cars that are only checked by a flashing red light and a two-way bike lane with no stop signs. As a result, pedestrians have the least priority – and feel like it too.
“It’s like Frogger,” said Jarryd Boyd, who, perhaps ironically, works for a tech company as he compared crossing Kent to the 1981 arcade game. you’re almost run over by a bike.”
As Streetsblog looked at the intersection on a recent day, many motorists speeded through the intersection, either recklessly or simply not realizing that a flashing red light means stop.
Thus, at the intersection in question, the DOT offers two large pedestrian areas, with planters, to reduce the crossing distance and give pedestrians a place to wait safely (also like Frogger). But nothing in the DOT’s proposal suggests that motorists will be better controlled, although a pedestrian crossing will be added in Kent.
“I actually said at the community council meeting that I was in favor of them doing the upgrades,” said Brent Bovenzi, a resident. “But the DOT probably needs to do more.”
Is it sufficient?
A full reaction will not be clear until the community council returns in July for a discussion of the proposal, but for now residents interviewed by Streetsblog are supportive of the project.
“It’s a good idea,” said Megan Lytle, who works in greener energy. “In this part of the city, pedestrians should be given more priority. I think the vast majority of people don’t drive to the waterfront park, and [Kent Avenue] shouldn’t be a racing circuit.
Jesse Spellman, another area resident who walked near the notorious Kent Avenue/Grand Street intersection, also agreed.
“It makes perfect sense,” Spellman said. “We absolutely must make it a more pedestrian and cycle-friendly city. Any changes to help with this I would be in favor of.
Some residents want more.
“My problem with the upgrades along Berry Street is that they stop at Grand Street,” Bovenzi said. “We’ve made Berry Street this long open street, so we should be making these new improvements along that length.” (The DOT said it hopes to extend Grand’s Bike Boulevard to South Fifth Street next year.)
Jason Linklow, another area resident, said safety treatments need to be done at all Kent Avenue intersections near Domino Park.
“Nobody knows what to do,” he said, referring to the dangerous dance of cyclists, pedestrians and motorists. “I don’t think anyone thinks that [the blinking redlight] even means anything. And the problems go all the way [Kent Avenue] and all Domino Park entrances.
One of the problems for the DOT will be dealing with significant opposition to street safety measures from the Hasidic community on the south end of the neighborhood.
— with Gersh Kuntzman