Community Board 7’s West 87th Street office was packed with avid bicyclists, some clutching their helmets, some wearing them. Many donned neon pink and yellow stickers to show their support for protected bicycle lanes on Columbus Avenue.
Yet the board’s transportation committee did not deliver enough votes to support a protected bike lane that members had asked the Department of Transportation to design six months ago.
The two committee chairs argued that adding protected bicycle lanes to Columbus Avenue, between West 77th and 96th streets, would add congestion to an already crowded avenue and could snarl delivery trucks.
“We do need protected bike lanes,” said committee co-chair Dan Zweig, according to the West Side Independent. “This is not the right place and time to do it.”
The board passed a resolution last year asking the department to study bicycle lanes for Columbus and Amsterdam avenues. The city picked this swath of Columbus Avenue because a lane of traffic may need to be removed on Amsterdam Avenue. This Columbus Avenue bicycle lane would be a pilot program.
The plan would add a bike lane on the east side of the street next to the curb. Bicyclists would be separated from traffic by a 5-foot buffer zone and a “floating” parking lane. There would still be four lanes of moving traffic, but each lane would be cut to 10 feet from 12.
Bicycling enthusiasts dominated the meeting and implored the committee to support the plan. The Upper West Side has a few bicycle lanes, but they are painted on the street, which offers no protection from traffic. The city has installed protected bicycle lanes in Chelsea, Soho and Brooklyn.
“We all have to live together. We’re all pedestrians as well as cyclists,” said Grace Lichtenstein. “I’ve been to the Ninth Avenue bike lane and it makes a huge difference for us and pedestrians.”
Clark Vaccaro, a 12-year-old student who lives on the Upper West Side, testified to the committee that traffic moves fast and motorists are impatient and honk their horns.
“The proposed cycle track will make it possible for me to ride to school without getting into conflicts with motorists,” Vaccaro said.
Even business owners, who tend to be opponents of protected bicycle lanes, attended the meeting in support of the design. Joy Lewis, who manages Patagonia, an outdoor clothing retailer on Columbus Avenue between West 80th and 81st streets, said she had already spoken to her delivery truck drivers about the potential change. She believes a bicycle lane would be a boon for the store.
“A lot of businesses are so supportive knowing our traffic will increase,” Lewis said.
But the owner of Food City, Paul Berger, complained that a bicycle lane would interfere with his “all day” unloading of 5,000 to 6,000 cases of merchandise.
Robert Josman, a financial consultant, told department officials that he believes bicyclists are constantly breaking traffic rules.
“The bikers do not follow them,” he said.
Michael Auerbach, president of environmental group Upper Green Side, said he hopes that the bike lane plan is approved by the full board.
“You’d like to see a community board represent the majority of constituents. I don’t think that was the case there. But it was just it was committee vote,” Auerbach said. “What I’m hoping is that the voice of the majority is heard by the [full] community board.”