Need for Protected Lanes on 5th and 6th Avenues

When it comes to protected bike lanes in Manhattan, the ones that physically separate cyclists from traffic, I sometimes feel like a running back who can sweep left or sweep right, but can’t run the ball up the middle.

There are protected lanes on stretches of First and Second Avenues to the east and on Eighth and Ninth Avenues to the west, but through the central business district of Manhattan? Well, there’s the Broadway bike lane, but it is often clogged at the midsection with pedestrians, which makes Fifth and Sixth Avenues the more logical choices – despite their lack of protected lanes.

An optimal bike lane network would give all New Yorkers the ability to travel efficiently and in safety, especially along the major north-south corridors.

The New York City Department of Transportation’s recent commitment to add a protected bike lane to Sixth Avenue between 14th and 33rd Street is a huge step in the right direction. We have Mayor Bill de Blasio, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, and supportive city council members, community board members and advocates to thank for making that possible.

Safety Makeover for Fifth and Sixth Avenues

But as bicycle commuting continues to gain in popularity and as the bike share program expands, the future need for additional protected bike lanes is clear.

It is backed by new data presented on Thursday by the cycling and walking advocacy organization Transportation Alternatives, which has been calling since 2012 for protected lanes on the Fifth and Sixth Avenues. While thanking the city for its commitment to the new protected lane on Sixth Avenue, the advocates called for redesign of both avenues around safety for bicyclists, pedestrians and transit users, not only with bike lanes, but also additional space for pedestrians and dedicated bus lanes.

A summary of manual counts conducted by volunteers for a total of 32 hours in the spring and summer, the T.A. study provides insights into how Fifth and Sixth Avenues up to 59th Street are used by bicycles and vehicles.

Read the T.A. Fifth and Sixth Avenue Bicycle and Traffic Study. [PDF]

Street Usage by the Numbers

The findings show that bikes account for 10 percent of vehicles on Fifth and Sixth Avenues (top graphic) and that the launch of Citi Bike in 2013 increased bike use in the central business district of Manhattan. About a quarter of the bikes counted on both avenues were Citi Bikes.

Notably, the stretch of Fifth Avenue between Washington Square Park and 23rd Street had the highest share of total bike traffic at 16 percent.


The overall share of bicycles among vehicles along Fifth and Sixth Avenues remained relatively consistent throughout the day. Bike share trips showed more ebb and flow according to peak commuting hours, with twice as many bike share trips in the 7 – 10 a.m. and 4 – 7 pm time periods.

Protected bike lanes have been proven to increase street safety for all users, not just people on bicycles, but also pedestrians and drivers.

What’s more, study after study shows that safe places to ride are key to getting more women to embrace two-wheeled transportation.


According to the T.A. data, twice as many women cyclists used protected bike lanes compared with unprotected conditions in simultaneous counts on First, Fifth, Sixth and Ninth Avenues at 38th Street.

Win for All Street Users

Fortunately, there has been substantial progress on the protected bike lane front. This year, the city is slated to install a record 12 miles of protected bikes, more than double the annual target. The tally of protected bike lanes by the NYC DOT as of September 2015 is 385.8 miles.

The most recent data shows the need to keep up the good work. Creating safer conditions all along Fifth and Sixth Avenues would be a win for all New Yorkers.

More than 16,300 people have signed a T.A. petition in support of protected bike lanes on Fifth and Sixth Avenues. You can add your voice by clicking here.

Source: Graphics from T.A. Fifth and Sixth Avenue Bicycle and Traffic Study

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