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.

9th Avenue Hell's Kitchen
Work is nearing completion on 9th Avenue to give pedestrians an extra 11 feet of sidewalk. Photo: Phil O’Brien

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. 

Proposed changes to 9th Avenue presented by DOT

“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. 

Christine Berthet 9th Avenue Hell's Kitchen
Community Board 4 Transportation Committee co-chair and Chekpeds founder Christine Berthet on 9th Avenue yesterday afternoon. Photo: Phil O’Brien

“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.” 

9th Avenue Hell's Kitchen
The changes to 9th Avenue will give much more space for walkers on the east side. Photo: Phil O’Brien

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!?  

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  1. I feel bad for the people who live along 9th avenue on those affected streets when the traffic starts to clog and people begin laying on the horn from the traffic build up, lol

    1. That’s already the case on these streets, every weekday; ~4:30-6pm Mon-Thu & ~4-6pm Fri. I don’t see how it could get much worse. I suspect it’ll be indistinguisably different, but at least with this change there should be less clogging on the sidewalk and bike lane.

      1. Nobody cares about bike lanes. People ride their bikes on sidewalks, bus lanes, car lanes etc. Might as well not even have them. Cyclists are one of the worst things to happen to city streets, especially in Hells Kitchen.

        1. If you give bike riders safer, dedicated lanes they’ll use them. Even the delivery guys. As for biking in bus lanes – same reason – often no other option. BTW – bikes are not legally required to use bikes lanes. They/we can use the ‘car’ lanes too. I’m optimistic that everyone will be happier with the coming changes.

          1. you are right they are not legally required to. I think what upsets most people are the bikes on the sidewalks. 2 of my elderly neighbors were badly hurt recently just walking on the sidewalk. the kicker was there was a protected bike lane on that street non-obstructed for those grown adults to ride their bikes. persons over 12 are not legally allowed to ride on the sidewalk.

  2. But folks want their ecommerce delivered right?
    E-commerce is responsible for the explosion of vehicles (not to mention Uber, luxury overdevelopment etc)
    And BTW delivery vehicles need to get to/from the tunnel.

    Would seriously suggest that w42st interview people about their ecommerce use and expectations here

    1. Delivery trucks can still come and go. Drivers of private vehicles will hopefully choose to take transit like everyone else. Sidewalks are way too congested, and most residents and visitors of this area do not own cars or drive.

      1. Maria,
        My point is that people could actually reduce their ecommerce use and shop locally and reduce vehicles – but they won’t. Easier to have some low-paid worker do the hard work while the privileged get deliveries and eat at restaurants.

        BTW many ecommerce deliveries – including Instacart, Amazon last mile and other – are made by gig workers in their own vehicles so they do not have commercial plates.

        No one drives in Manhattan for fun.

  3. They should have just widened the sidewalks on both sides of the street. I would have given people more room to walk and restaurants on both sides more room for outdoor dining. Seems like this wasn’t well thought through.

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