THE COMMUTE: As the MTA contemplates today and on Wednesday how many more service reductions from 2010 they will restore, let’s focus today on a local matter.
During the past two weeks, NYCDOT repainted the much maligned and nearly totally worn out zebra stripes and bicycle lanes on Oriental Boulevard. This was the first restriping in about nine years since four traffic lanes were reduced to two.
So it appears that the DOT has no intention of removing these lanes despite continuous objections from Community Board 15, the Manhattan Beach Community Group, and the Manhattan Beach Neighborhood Association, and the fact that no one was informed or consulted prior to the installation of the bicycle lane and zebra stripes. These were installed under the administration of Commissioner Iris Weinshall. The current commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, has refused all requests to have the lanes removed. Unlike other bike lanes, which did go through a community review process, these are only three quarters of a mile long and are not connected to the rest of bicycle network.
The community board and both neighborhood groups have, at one time or another, requested DOT to relocate the bike lanes one or two blocks north to Shore Boulevard. There it would be possible to connect them to an existing bike lane on Neptune Avenue, utilizing two blocks of Cass Place, rather than having them float in space as they do now, beginning at West End Avenue and ending at Kingsborough Community College.
Shore Boulevard was constructed with a dual sidewalk. Many believe that the original intention of this dual sidewalk was so it could function as a bicycle lane similar to what now exists along Ocean Parkway. Off-street bicycle lanes are also much safer than ones adjacent to traffic, which cars still have to cross when parking. It is not known why a bicycle lane was never constructed on Shore Boulevard, which today would just require some paint and signage since the sidewalk already exists. DOT has not provided an explanation as to why they would not relocate the bicycle lane from Oriental Boulevard. They only insist that it is currently in the correct place.
A few years after the bike lanes were constructed along Oriental Boulevard, DOT changed the “No Standing” signs in front of Manhattan Beach Park to “No Stopping.” Presumably that was done to keep the bike lanes clear. It never worked and was never enforced. That lane is still is used by cars, which temporarily stop there so people could unload their beach gear. On weekdays during the summer, school buses park there all day while summer day camps utilize the beach and park, despite the “No Stopping” signs. The parking lane is also used by cars waiting to enter the beach parking lot on busy summer weekends. All these activities block the bicycle lane.
Recognizing this, DOT unceremoniously moved the bike lane away from the curb in front of the park to be in line with the rest of the bicycle lane. It took them nine years to realize there was a problem.
The problem now is that although the bicycle lane is no longer near the curb, the “No Stopping” regulations still remain, so that those who temporarily stop to unload beach gear risk a summons by doing so. We do not know how long it will take until DOT realizes that, by realigning the bike lane, they have caused another problem that needs correction. Will the “No Stopping” regulation remain for another nine years or will it ever be returned to “No Standing?” Personally, I never understood why there even needs to be “No Standing Anytime” for the entire length of Manhattan Beach Park, and why additional parking spaces could not be provided where there are no entrances to the park and no bus stops. There are no other parks I can think of where there is no parking alongside it. What makes Manhattan Beach Park so special?
Highlighting Another Problem
This highlights another problem relating to signage and parking regulations, regulations that just make no sense. For example, why is parking permitted over some streets that go over the Bay Ridge Division of the LIRR and not on some others, or are outdated altogether? I have long noticed that work zone speed limits are not changed back to the normal speed limit, sometimes for three months after work has been completed. They are also unrealistically set so low that they are virtually ignored by every single driver despite numerous signs that two violations will result in a license suspension. No one drives 35 MPH in such a work zone when 40 and 45 are perfectly safe. It becomes a problem when drivers continue to drive 50, 55, or 60, although there are narrow lanes and no shoulders causing danger to everyone when the road is crowded. They are also placed 600 feet before the work zone begins rather than a few feet before the zone. Why should it be necessary to slow down so far in advance?
This is not a problem unique to DOT. Driving back from Atlantic City on the Garden State Parkway last week, I noticed numerous work zones where 35 MPH is the speed limit. No one does less than 60 MPH in any of them and anyone who actually tried to drive at the speed limit would create a hazard for himself and for others under these circumstances. There was even one work zone that extended for 20 miles with a 35 MPH speed limit. The worst thing was that the work had already been completed and the lanes already returned to their normal width with shoulders returned. Yet the signs were never removed.
What Should Be Done
Instead of an unrealistically low speed limit of 35 MPH, signs should be posted that actually reflect what a safe speed limit would be: 40 or 45. If a small stretch with curves, for example, needs to be 35, then that section should state “35” rather than the entire road work area. Signs should be promptly removed when work is completed, not three months later, and should not be placed so far in advanced of the restricted zone, that when someone actually arrives at the narrow lanes they even forget there is a hazard. This is the case on the Gowanus Expressway, where signs warn you that slow speeds are in effect a mile or so before the narrow exit to the Belt Parkway at 65th Street.
Because of all these unrealistic speed limits and misplaced and outdated signage, drivers become accustomed to just ignoring speed limits altogether and believe the speed that you are allowed to travel is as fast as you can until you can catch up to the car ahead of you. Drivers who weave in and out of lanes travelling 20 MPH faster than everyone else are never ticketed. In my more than 40 years of driving, I have never seen someone pulled over for it.
It is not like this in other parts of the country. Upstate two lane highways are routinely signed at 55 MPH. If they were in New York City, they would be signed for 30 MPH. When there is a sign for a reduced speed of 30 around a curve, they mean it because if you try it a 35, you may find yourself off the road. When I was in Arizona a number of years back on one of those narrow, 55 MPH two-lane roads, I was passed by someone doing 65 or 70 and I thought it was dangerous. Two miles up ahead I passed the guy again as a police officer had pulled him over and was writing him a summons.
If the speed limits here were realistic and were enforced, as they are in other parts of the country, the signs would actually mean something. Drivers would respect them and we would all be a lot safer.
The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA / NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).
Disclaimer: The above is an opinion column and may not represent the thoughts or position of Sheepshead Bites. Based upon their expertise in their respective fields, our columnists are responsible for fact-checking their own work, and their submissions are edited only for length, grammar and clarity. If you would like to submit an opinion piece or become a regularly featured contributor, please e-mail nberke [at] sheepsheadbites [dot] com.