Eighty five years after the opening of the Lincoln Tunnel, 9th Avenue is reclaiming a lane of traffic back for pedestrians, as the Department of Design and Construction (DDC) and the Department of Transportation (DOT)’s sidewalk expansion and water main repair project makes progress.
A chaotic thoroughfare of traffic, street obstruction and of course, construction, 9th Avenue has long been a pedestrian predicament. While implementing repairs on the city’s water mains from W59th Street through W50th Street, the DDC and DOT made the decision to utilize the time to simultaneously expand the eastern sidewalk 11 feet, shift the bike lane and pedestrian island/parking lane (including space for outdoor dining) to the center of the roadway and to move the bus and car travel lanes to the western side of the avenue.
The agencies also plan to repave the bike lane and create offset pedestrian crossings below W50th Street, citing 252 pedestrian injuries and 71 cyclist injuries occurring in the area between 2015 and 2019 as well as the rise of outdoor dining sheds as creating an increased need for a redesign.
“As soon as there’s a sliver of opportunity, we jump into it,” said Christine Berthet, Community Board 4 Transportation Committee co-chair and founder of pedestrian advocacy group Chekpeds. She has been at the forefront of the fight for improved sidewalk safety for New Yorkers for 40 years, and is optimistic that the expansion will significantly improve pedestrian, cyclist and traffic flow in Hell’s Kitchen.
“It’s a super-wide and permanent design,” which is different from the simple repaving that will occur below W50th Street, said Berthet, who argued that the raised pedestrian island would slow down cars turning onto the avenue more than subtler renovations. While there was initial resistance from some cycling activism groups who preferred a “mixing zone” intersection where they wouldn’t have to stop for the light, cycling deaths around the city realigned them with Chekpeds.
“People realized that they could be killed at any intersection,” said Berthet, “and once the cyclists changed their minds, we were able to work with an architect from the Upper West Side to present a design to the DOT, and it’s now the standard.”
Work began on the project in May, with 9th Avenue business owners required to remove outdoor dining structures prior to the project and ahead of their busiest tourist months. Some restaurant owners on the avenue are still awaiting clarity on the future of their structures amid ongoing uncertainty of the city’s permanent outdoor dining program.
While the project was slated to be complete by November, “It’s still a work in progress,” said Berthet, who added that the construction was causing some pedestrians and cyclists to weave into traffic. W42ST reached out to the DDC and the DOT for an estimated timeline for completion — a DDC spokesperson confirmed that the majority of work will be completed by Thanksgiving.
When the project is complete, Berthet believes the redesign will bring much-needed clarity to the chaos of 9th Avenue. “The east side of 9th Avenue is going to be a superior walking experience,” she said. “We’re going to have so much space – it won’t quite be like the Upper West Side’s broadness, but it will be very different than it is now.”
Once the expansion is completed, she hopes others will join her in advocating for the same wide redesign below W50th Street and beyond, “Whenever they resurface 9th Avenue – to jump into that opportunity and see what we can implement,” said Berthet. “What’s exciting is that this lane was taken from the community for the Lincoln Tunnel, and we have finally claimed back one lane from the tunnel – nothing makes me happier than that.”
Next on the 9th Avenue docket – the return of the EL train!?