By Dan Rivoli
Community Board 7 backed the Department of Transportation’s plan to install protected bicycle lanes on a mile stretch of Columbus Avenue after a contentious three-hour debate.
The board’s support, though advisory, cleared a major hurdle for the city’s bike lane plan, reversing a vote earlier in May by the board’s transportation committee opposing the plan. Without any formal opposition, the department can now start creating the lane between West 77th and 96th streets.
The vote, which took place at the June 1 full board meeting, was 23 in favor of the protected lane and 19 opposed. Actor Matthew Modine, star of Full Metal Jacket and a former Upper West Sider, came to the meeting to speak about the health benefits of bicycling and how it helped his career.
“I used to bicycle to get to auditions,” he said. “I may not have had a career if I didn’t have a bicycle.”
Installation of the bicycle lane is expected to start in early fall, when the city resurfaces the streets, a department spokesperson said.
City officials, including the department’s Manhattan borough commissioner Margaret Forgione, got a rousing round of applause from bicyclists in the lobby of Fordham University, where the meeting was held.
Tila Duhaime, who organized support for the protected lanes, called the Columbus Avenue facilities a good start.
“Hopefully, this will expand north and south so this can be a destination for cyclists,” Duhaime said after the meeting. “There are hundreds of cyclists on that corridor and they have no help whatsoever right now.”
The bicycle lane would be added on the east side of Columbus Avenue, next to the curb. A painted buffer zone would be created on the other side, followed by a lane of parked cars, then traffic. The department has met with businesses that would have deliveries interrupted. While some stores will be able to use side streets as a delivery zone, businesses can continue to receive goods by crossing the bike lane, similar to how deliveries are made across a sidewalk.
The plan also includes six pedestrian islands that will give elderly or impaired pedestrians a place to rest mid-street. Those will be installed at West 77th, 81st, 82nd, 86th, 91st and 96th streets.
Though the plan eliminates 55 parking spaces, the city will replace parking meters with muni-meters that allow more cars to park.
All but several of the dozens of people who testified to Board 7 supported the bicycle lane.
Robert Josman, a financial consultant who has often been the lone voice of opposition to bike lanes at Board 7’s meetings, called the bike lane vote an absurdity.
“The city just doesn’t have the money. If you’re going to spend it, spend it on paving roads or hiring teachers,” said Josman, a financial consultant who works on Columbus Avenue and West 96th Street. “This is a goodie.”
Josman’s complaints about the bicycle lane mirrored that of the 19 community board members who voted against the plan. They worried that traffic would slow because lanes would have to be cut to 10 feet from 12. They also pointed to scofflaw bicyclists as a reason to oppose the lanes, though the department said similar protected lanes in Chelsea cut sidewalk riding dramatically.
“What looks good on paper doesn’t look good in practice,” said Andrew Albert, co-chair of Board 7’s transportation committee.
The other co-chair, Dan Zweig, downplayed the show of public support at the June 1 meeting.
“I’m sorry, I simply do not believe this is a cross section of the community,” he said, to hisses from the packed audience.
Detta Ahl, who said she rides her bicycle everywhere, was excited for the new lane and hopes it will be expanded.
“I’m disappointed it was so close,” said Ahl, who studiously counted each vote from her seat. “If it was a true representation of the community it would have been 90 percent [in favor].”