Photos (see inset) by Allan Rosen. Click to enlarge

Photos (see inset) by Allan Rosen. Click to enlarge

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.

What Happens?

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.

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  • James Donohue

    I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the way people drive. Let me ask it this way. When you see the amount of paint used on these Bike Lanes, do you get maybe the idea that someone, a motor vehicle driver specifically, had a little trouble steering his car?
    Most drivers pass my bike with seven to ten feet of clearance. One motorist in ten thousand needs lines painted like this to show him which way to go. It would be cheaper to revoke his drivers license .

    • Allan Rosen

      I really do not understand what you are trying to say.

      • James Donohue

        I’m saying, most drivers can see a painted line, and avoid crossing it. Double Lines, with zebra stripes in-between, are *Excessive*.

        • Allan Rosen

          The zebra stripes are there to make it clear you should not use the lane to drive. Many drivers find them confusing as I do. Why is one side solid and the other side broken? That makes no sense. Either both lines shoud be solid or both broken.

          • just-think-its-not-hard

            One side is striped for bike traffic to leave the lane to make a turn or avoid obstacles, the other is solid so cars don’t cross into the bike lane. Your confusion comes from thinking that the only vehicles on the road are motor vehicles.

  • RIPTA42

    Two lane highways are 55 in rural upstate New York because they’re in rural upstate New York. There’s nothing rural about any roadway in New York City – urban features like driveways, intersections, signals, pedestrians, and parking make 55 unsafe almost anywhere – even on limited access highways, where lane width, shoulder width, curves, and ramp spacing call for lower speed limits.

    And if you’re going off the road at 5 mph over an advisory speed, it’s either signed wrong or you needed new tires about 30,000 miles ago. The advisory speed is determined by the level of comfort around the curve, measured by the angle of deflection of the driver’s body. The MUTCD even acknowledges that advisory speeds are typically exceeded by 7 to 10 mph.

    • Allan Rosen

      When was the last time you were on a rural 55 mph road? There are frequent hazards there just as in the city, such as driveways every 200 hundred feet or quarter-mile. The difference is there they post signage warning you of every single hazard. That’s not to say that the speed limit here should be 30 mph on local roads, but there are many roads that can be signed higher, but aren’t because we believe in the lowest common denominator speed limit to save on the cost of extra signage.

      When I got my masters in urban planning I was taught that speed limits were specifically designed to be ten miles per hour lower than what the road is designed for to allow some speeding without there being any accidents so anyone going a few miles over the speed limit is not doing anything dangerous.

      Also, here as soon as there are a few accidents, the first thing we do is lower the speed limit so that it becomes unrealistically low and no one abides by it like we did on Queens Boulevard. There are many diagonal intersections that need to be redesigned but that is not done because it would cost money. Changing speed limit signs are cheaper. If DOT really cared about safety like they profess to do, it would not take three months to repair lights on highways that are not functioning and they would fix other road hazards that need attention.

      • Ann

        You’re wrong about rural roads. When was I last on one? A few hours ago.

      • RIPTA42

        The last time I was on a 55 mph two lane road was Sunday. In the areas where there were frequent hazards, the speed limit dropped.

        It’s ridiculous to assert that speed limits are set a certain value to save on signage. It’s not like the City is doing the same with parking regulations or one way streets, which also require signs. As I recall, you also asserted in another article that the City was posting *excessive* signage by supplementing overhead street name signs with pole-mounted signs that pedestrians could see. I’m further confused by your assertion that the City is saving money by not posting speed limit signs and is also saving money by changing speed limit signs.

        This is why it’s 30 –

        When you got your Masters in Urban Planning, you weren’t taught entirely correctly. Speed limits are designed to be within 7 mph of the speed that 85 percent of traffic is traveling at or below. That’s not necessarily 10 mph below the design speed, although designing a road for 10 mph over the desired speed limit is good practice.

        If by “lights” you mean streetlights, Con Ed is responsible for electrical problems.

        • Allan Rosen

          In upstate, speed limits are lowered near towns and around schools, and around curves. Otherwise for most roads the standard is 55. There are frequent signs to warn of hazards such as driveways and intersecting roads but the speed limits are not lowered everytime there is a driveway. You will also see warning signs like Autistic or Deaf child if one lives nearby.

          Here we have areas with high concentrations of senior citizens, yet no warning signs. There should be pedestrian warnings on Brighton Beach Avenue because everyone is continuously walking on red lights.

          If the city were not trying to save on signage, all narrow one way streets such as in Brooklyn Heights would be signed at 15 or 20 mph because 30 is too fast on those streets. And more streets woud allow 35 mph instead of 30.

          On highways, I believe a contractor such as Wellsbach is responsible, not Con Ed, but it is the city’s responsibility to make sure the work is done timely and many times it is not.

          The city is not paying for te excessive street name signage I referred to

          • RIPTA42

            In New York City, everything is “near towns” so no local streets should be 55. Narrow streets don’t need to be signed lower than 30 because physical constraints are probably already keeping speeds where they should be. On certain streets where that isn’t the case, NYCDOT is installing 20 mph signs.

            Welsbach is a contractor for ConEd and DOT. They do the work, but it’s ConEd’s responsibility to address the problem.

            It appears that NYCDOT’s sign maintenance program is funded by the State but administered by the City, so whatever signage is being installed is being paid for out of the same pot of money. Anyone with better information is welcome to correct me if I’m wrong.

          • Allan Rosen

            I agree that no local roads in NYC should be 55 which is what I stated earlier that just because the limit on rural roads is 55 doesn’t mean it should be 55 here, but some roads are signed too low.

            More could be 35 and a few could be 40. One exception I could think of is that empty stretches of the Conduit at least on the south side where it is practically a highway could be 50. Instead it is 40, but everyone does 50 anyway. The straight portions of the BQE should be 50, but it is all 45 north of 65 Street, because they dont want to place additional 45 signage around every curve.

            Lowering The limit on Queens Blvd to 30 was ridiculous and no one abides by it anyway.

            I’m pretty sure the Feds pay for at least part of the signage. It is probably just distributed by the State.

          • RIPTA42

            Straight or not, the BQE has 10½ foot lanes, no shoulders, and terrible ramp junctions. According to the AASHTO Green Book, 11 foot lanes and 4 foot shoulders are the minimum for a 45 mph design speed.

            If you’re talking about Conduit from Sutter to Cross Bay, there are intersections and signals in there. Stopping distance from 50 mph is 425 feet, which can be significant coming up to the back of a queue at a signal or when someone turns out of a side street with no acceleration lane or shoulder.

            Again, the Feds aren’t paying for the signage. State aid comes from the General Fund and Thruway Authority bonds. Regardless, the “excessive” street name signs and the “saving money” speed limit signs would be funded out of the same pot of money.

          • Allan Rosen

            So according to your numbers, above Park Avenue, the BQE would have to be 64 feet wide. If so when they were reconstructing it, how did they manage to squeeze in two extra lanes because no lanes were shut down and the road was not widened? Each open lane would have had to be only 8 feet wide during reconstruction which would have not been possible. The fact is that during reconstruction the lanes were still at least 10 feet wide so the width of the roadway has to be at least 80 feet wide which is wide enough for 12 foot lanes and four foot shoulders which is what it is in that location and along the reconstructed portions in Williamsburg and in Queens.

            I am talking about South Conduit Avenue east of Cross Bay for about two miles where there are no intersecting streets and the speed limit is only 40 mph and everyone goes at least 50 anyway because 50 is perfectly safe there.

          • RIPTA42

            I was referring to “north of 65th Street” on the BQE, as in over Third Avenue. The rebuilt stretch over Park Avenue loos like it has 12 foot lanes and an 8 foot shoulder – still not up to standards but certainly better. According to Google Traffic it’s going 16 mph now. Even assuming the free flow 85th percentile speed is 50, that’s a whole three quarters of a mile between sharp curves and substandard geometry – not enough for a speed zone.

  • Andrew

    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?”

    FYI: Unloading beach gear at a “No Standing” sign is no more legal than unloading beach gear at a “No Stopping” sign.

    This is how “No Standing” is defined: “Sign indicates that vehicles may NOT stand at this location. You may not wait or stop to load/unload packages or merchandise at curbside. You may stop to expeditiously drop off or pick up passengers.”

    Presumably, what you want is “No Parking”: “Sign indicates that vehicles may NOT park at this location at any time. You may stop to load/unload packages or merchandise at curbside and you may stop to expeditiously drop off or pick up passengers.”

    • Allan Rosen

      You are correct. My mistake.

      But it still seems that the No Standing signs there were pretty arbitrary. Why shouldn’t someone be able to stop to unload their beachgear? I even questioned by the entire side of the street even needs to be No Parking Anytime.

      • RIPTA42

        I’m guessing residents didn’t want people unloading their beach gear there, given that a sizeable parking lot is provided for beachgoers.

        • Allan Rosen

          During the week you are allowed to park on the streets so there really is no reason to pay the parking fee. I also don’t see why residents should have the power to decide what the parking regulations should be when it doesn’t concern their cars. The beach is public and so are the streets and are maintained by taxes from everyone.

          • RIPTA42

            You’re allowed to park on the streets where the signs say No Stopping Anytime?

            I don’t know if the residents petitioned to have the parking regs put in place or if there is another reason; it’s just a guess based on the fact that on-street parking is restricted around public beaches almost everywhere, especially when the beach has its own paid parking. But if you think the residents shouldn’t have a say in the parking regs, why do you think they should have a say in where the bike lanes are striped?

          • Allan Rosen

            Don’t understand your first question. I already admitted my error.

            On street Parking is not restricted around public beaches almost everywhere. Around here the only two are Manhattan Beach and Belle Harbor. It is allowed at Coney Island, Brighton Beach, rest of Rockaway, Staten Island beaches, etc. Orhard Beach and Riis Park have no residential streets nearby because they are located in parks.

            Having a say is different from determining the regulations.

          • RIPTA42

            I should have qualified that – beaches with large paid parking lots.

            Having a say is different from determining regulations, but determining regulations includes having a say.