‘Green wave’ bike plan has Soho leader seeing red

A cyclist traveled alongside vehicular traffic in the Prince St. bike lane near Sullivan St.  Downtown Express photo by Sam Spokony

A cyclist traveled alongside vehicular traffic in the Prince St. bike lane near Sullivan St. Downtown Express photo by Sam Spokony

BY SAM SPOKONY | Community Board 2 is calling on the city’s Department of Transportation to study the possibility of resequencing traffic lights along Soho’s Prince St. bicycle lane, saying that synchronized timing on the red-to-green light progression could create a more consistent traffic flow for both cars and bikes and, in turn, increase safety for cyclists and pedestrians.

The concept, referred to as a “green wave,” would involve changing the timing of signal progression along Prince St., from Bowery to Sixth Ave., in order to move traffic at a steady pace of roughly 10 to 15 miles per hour — a typical speed range for bikes. Advocates say that the more even, predictable flow would cut down on congested stop-and-go traffic, while discouraging cyclists from slipping through red lights and also discouraging drivers from speeding through yellow lights.

If it were to be implemented in the future, the green wave would be the city’s first. The practice has already caught on in several bike-friendly cities, such as San Francisco, where cyclists have celebrated several so-called waves in recent years.

A resolution requesting that D.O.T. perform a study on the feasibility of the green wave passed C.B. 2’s Dec. 20 full board meeting, albeit in a somewhat contentious 19-to-16 vote. In fact, the final resolution only asked for a study of the concept — rather than its actual implementation — because of a last-minute amendment put forth by board member Jo Hamilton.

The original resolution, which was passed by a 10-to-0 vote by C.B. 2’s Traffic and Transportation Committee earlier last month, did actually ask D.O.T. to execute the green wave plan. But Hamilton proposed the change after some board members voiced concerns about the proposal.

“I thought it was a pretty fair way to amend it,” said Shirley Secunda, the C.B. 2 Traffic and Transportation Committee chairperson, who added that her committee had been considering a green wave resolution for several years.

It was fitting, then, that the plan was proposed by Ian Dutton, the committee’s former vice chairperson, who has since moved to Brooklyn. Among other things, Dutton’s presentation at the committee’s December meeting pointed out that D.O.T. had reportedly expressed potential support for a green wave on Prince St., dating back to 2007 (when the bike lane was created), but has not yet taken any real action on the concept.

A D.O.T. spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Sean Sweeney, director of the Soho Alliance, spoke out strongly against the green wave idea during C.B. 2’s full board meeting. He said the bike lane never should have been run through Soho on Prince St., but belongs on Houston St., which D.O.T. considers too dangerous for bicycles.

In an interview last week, he said that he believes Soho is unfairly used as a “petri dish” for transportation experiments.

“D.O.T. should do their job by addressing our broken crosswalks before they worry about any kind of green wave,” said Sweeney, who has a history of opposing pro-cycling developments in the neighborhood. He went on to say that he’d recently spoken with a D.O.T. representative who said that the agency isn’t actually interested in pursuing the concept — but Secunda dismissed that notion when asked about it.

“I’m not sure where Sean got the idea that D.O.T. doesn’t like it,” she said, “because, even though they’ve been dragging their feet, they’ve always seemed interested to me.”

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