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Transportation & Environment

Proposal by the New York City Department of Transportation for creation of southbound busway traffic restrictions on Fifth Avenue

At the regularly scheduled monthly Community Board Five meeting on Thursday, September 09, 2021, the following resolution passed with a vote of 29 in favor; 0 opposed; 1 abstaining; 1 present not entitled to vote:

WHEREAS, The New York City Department of Transportation ("DOT") is planning on introducing new traffic restrictions as part of their Fifth Avenue busway proposal; and

WHEREAS, At the June 21, 2021, meeting of the Transportation & Environment Committee of Community Board Five, DOT gave a presentation on the lane reconfiguration of Fifth Avenue, including creation of a protected bike lane, improved curb access, and pedestrian improvements including wide painted sidewalk extensions and the reduction of one travel lane from 57th Street to 34th Street; and

WHEREAS, At the June 21, 2021, meeting, the Transportation & Environment Committee declined to take a position regarding the lane reconfigurations for three main reasons: first, the proposed changes did not include anticipated busway restrictions, and therefore represented only a piecemeal element of all changes planned for Fifth Avenue; second, the three-day advance notice and timeframe in which the community was asked to evaluate the proposed Complete Street was far too short to allow for a full consideration of the issue, as Community Board Five had not heard a full update on the project from DOT since August 2020 after DOT had cancelled their promised presentation at the September 21, 2020, meeting; and finally, the June 21, 2021, presentation did not address long-standing concerns regarding enforcement of existing bicycle regulations to ensure pedestrian safety, as DOT has failed to address Community Board Five’s requests to brief on data collected and efforts to address the behavior of cyclists with regular education and enforcement; and

WHEREAS, Initial versions of DOT’s busway traffic restrictions proposal, presented in prior months to Community Advisory Board (“CAB”) meetings including community residents, retailers, and business advocacy groups, said that only buses, bikes, and emergency vehicles would be able to travel through on Fifth Avenue between 57th Street and 34th Street, and that all other vehicles could access individual blocks from side streets, but would have to make the next available turn off of the busway; and

WHEREAS, The updated and current proposal from DOT calls for scaled-back traffic restrictions at a limited number of locations and reduces vehicle traffic along the corridor to ensure bus speeds are maintained, reduce conflicts between buses and right turning vehicles, and allow for added bike lane and pedestrian space, and the updated proposal allows vehicles to travel through the corridor in two segments and maintains vehicle access to all blocks; and

WHEREAS, DOT is planning the busway implementation for September 2021 and anticipates increased traffic congestion and slower speeds due to the return to office for many workers, full in-person school learning, and the holiday season; and

WHEREAS, The new busway restrictions maintain that vehicles traveling southbound on Fifth Avenue are required to turn before 55th Street—where no vehicles will be allowed to continue southbound—and entering vehicles south of 55th Street are required to turn before 45th Street—where no vehicles will be allowed to continue southbound; and

WHEREAS, The busway restrictions also maintain existing holiday turn restrictions that vehicles are prevented from turning right at 51st Street, 49th Street, and 47th Street to keep bus lanes clear of vehicle conflicts and to improve pedestrian safety; and

WHEREAS, DOT will enforce busway restrictions and maintain traffic flow as well as start in-person monitoring to make live signal timing adjustments and will continue to record traffic data to compare volumes on Fifth Avenue and adjacent corridors as well as monitor traffic and bus speeds along the corridor; and

WHEREAS, The Fifth Avenue Association believes that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, now is not the time to “experiment” on Fifth Avenue, and that the introduction of short-term traffic reduction measures may result adversely in added confusion and further depressed economic activity; and

WHEREAS, The Fifth Avenue Association is proposing a capital project to construct Fifth Avenue into a green corridor from Central Park to the New York Public Library Main Branch that encourages diverse sidewalk use and proposes a reconfiguration of the street with permanent materials to create a boulevard where New Yorkers can work, eat, and play by prioritizing pedestrians over cars and making sure that the new Fifth Avenue can jump-start the recovery of Midtown, entice tourists back, bolster retail sales and businesses, and fortify the City’s tax base; and

WHEREAS, The Fifth Avenue Association suggests that DOT not focus on the busway and turning restrictions, but rather focus on a re-imagined vision for Fifth Avenue and hopes that all city agencies will work together to create this vision; and

WHEREAS, Members of the public consistently expressed support for the proposed busway as well as other street reconfigurations, such as the creation of the protected bike lane, as they protect both cyclists and pedestrians by removing a lot of vehicles from the corridor and with the attempt of reducing pedestrian/cyclists conflicts with vehicles; and

WHEREAS, While there were calls by members of the public to expand the proposed busway restrictions to twenty-four hours a day and to extend the busway further south to 34th Street, Community Board Five does not call for these extensions at this time; and

WHEREAS, DOT indicated that CAB meetings to engage the community would continue, throughout the implementation of the busway rules and prior to any further changes on the Fifth Avenue corridor; and

WHEREAS, Community Board Five judges the short-term, scaled-back busway traffic restrictions proposed by DOT to not conflict in any way with the proposed permanent reconfiguration imagined by the Fifth Avenue Association, and that the lane reconfiguration implemented by DOT in July is extremely consistent with the long-term vision of pedestrian, bicycle, vehicular traffic, and bus lane use imagined in the Fifth Avenue Association vision; and

WHEREAS, Community Board Five strongly endorses the goals of the Fifth Avenue Association vision for a long-term capital project, including increased greenery, a holistic approach to street use planning on the Fifth Avenue corridor, a focus on growing economic activity for the coming decides, and a global view of competitiveness for the city’s premier retail district; therefore be it

RESOLVED, Community Board Five recommends approval of DOT's proposal for the implementation of busway and traffic restrictions on Fifth Avenue from 57th Street to 42nd Street starting in September 2021, contingent that DOT continue CAB meetings with the community after implementation and prior to further changes, to hear and implement ongoing community feedback appropriately; and be it further

RESOLVED, Community Board Five supports the vision of the Fifth Avenue Association for a capital project to implement a long-term vision for Fifth Avenue between Central Park and Bryant Park, and further expresses an intent to work with the Fifth Avenue Association on the funding and community engagement for such a plan, and encourages DOT to work with the Fifth Avenue Association to design and implement a plan that meets both short-term traffic needs and long-term street use plans, as a potential model for future permanent pedestrianization and beautification plans on city streets.

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