Protected Bike Lane, Take 2

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Another pitch for city’s Columbus Avenue cycling plan

By Dan Rivoli

The city will take another shot at pitching a protected bike lane for Columbus Avenue this week.

Community Board 7 is slated to take up the proposal at its next full meeting June 1, three weeks after its transportation committee rejected the idea.

At that meeting, held May 11, 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 the plan.

The city hopes to install a protected bike lane like this one on Columbus Avenue. Photo by Andrew Schwartz

Yet the committee did not deliver enough votes to support a protected bike lane, which the full board had asked the Department of Transportation to design six months earlier.

The two committee chairs argued that constructing protected bicycle lanes for Columbus Avenue, between West 77th and 96th streets, would add congestion to an already crowded avenue and could snarl delivery trucks.

“If they wanted to do a trial, this wasn’t the place to do it,” said Dan Zweig, the transportation committee co-chair. “We feel they chose the most traffic intensive and heavily traveled place.”

Despite the presence of protected bicycle lane supporters at the meeting, Zweig said he felt that other members of the community were inadequately represented.

“We feel we need to hear from other parts of the public aside from bike riders and bike advocates,” 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.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Transportation said the plan will be presented to the full board without any changes. Department officials will answer board members’ questions and concerns in greater detail than before.

The board’s resolution last year asked the department to study bicycle lanes for both Columbus and Amsterdam avenues. The city picked this swath of Columbus Avenue to try out first because a lane of traffic may need to be removed from Amsterdam Avenue for the project to move forward.

The pilot program for Columbus Avenue 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 committee meeting and implored members 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, a member of the public who attended the committee meeting. “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 committee 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 at the committee meeting that he believes bicyclists are constantly breaking traffic rules.

“The bikers do not follow them,” he said.

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  • Michelle Orman

    It's completely inaccurate to say that business owners tend to be opponents of protected bike lanes. The business owners in this neighborhood understand that these type of street improvements increase foot and bike traffic which correlates to more people shopping, eating, and passing through their neighborhood. The small percentage of businesses who oppose this get way too much press and should realize that they don't have a god-given right to double-parking trucks for deliveries. The street is PUBLIC space, not space for an individual businesses. One other small nit, the room at the Transportation Committee was not just filled with bike supporters…many speakers, in fact, touted the benefits for pedestrians, parents traveling with small children, and the mobility-impaired.

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