A Green Wave Crests in SoHo

Image Courtesy Andrew Hinderaker

A ride along Prince Street’s bike lane includes plenty of challenges. There are pedestrians forced from the sidewalk, cars jockeying for position and traffic lights that have an unfortunate habit of turning red at just the wrong moment. But the local community board recently passed a resolution that could dispel all three of those concerns with the push of a few buttons.

It’s called a “green wave” — a catchy way of describing reprogramming traffic signals so that they better match a cyclist’s travel speed—and if activists and community members in SoHo have their way, it’ll soon splash down Prince Street.

“A green wave would not only benefit cyclists. It would also encourage motor vehicle traffic to drive more slowly and create defined periods of time when pedestrians could expect bikes to pass by in the bike lane,” said Ian Dutton, a proponent of the project. “It’s a win, win, win,” he added.

The plan, which was first proposed to the Department of Transportation when the Prince Street bike lane was installed in 2007, would change traffic signals along Prince Street where it does not intersect with major north/south thoroughfares—west of Broadway and east of Lafayette Street—to turn at a pace encouraging travel speeds of 10-15 miles per hour.

In December, the local community board’s transportation committee approved a green wave for Prince Street, and in January, the full board passed a resolution asking the DOT to study the project’s feasibility.

Although it would be the first of its kind in New York City, a green wave along Valencia Street in San Francisco has proven wildly popular, and cyclists, pedestrians and motorists in Copenhagen and Amsterdam have enjoyed their efficiency for years.

“Green-wave style retimed signals paired with smart signage could help turn the treacherous stop-and-go traffic in SoHo into a safer and more orderly system for everyone who lives, works and shops in the area,” Dutton said. “With a well-designed green wave, you can get there faster by traveling slower.”

The DOT hasn’t officially responded to the community board’s resolution, though several people with knowledge of the situation have confirmed that the department is interested in green waves.

“People in other parts of the city have been e-mailing me about my presentation,” Dutton told Reclaim. “I can imagine one on Dean Street and a complementary one on Bergen Street in Brooklyn. They’d calm traffic, slow speeds and send a message that cyclists are important street users at next-to-no cost and in a way that and in a way that actually made car travel smoother. What could be better?”