NEW YORK—As part of continuing efforts to link unconnected bicycle lanes together into a larger network, officials with the city’s Department of Transportation have been seeking to extend a lane on Columbus Avenue both north and south.
A protected lane on the avenue between 77th and 96th streets exists, but lacks continuity into the bigger network of lanes, according to the department’s presentation to Community Board 7’s Transportation Committee.
The proposal would extend lanes north to 110th Street and south to 59th Street, with mostly protected lanes (lanes that are separated from vehicle lanes by a buffer zone and a parking lane).
But the committee did not pass on Tuesday evening a nonbinding resolution approving the project, instead voting 5–4 in favor with one abstention, which basically counts as a tie.
“I felt like the will of the people was definitely ignored, and people were really frustrated and quite angry that their testimony seemed to not matter at all to this community board and this committee,” said Lisa Sladkus, director of the Upper West Side Renaissance, a safe streets advocacy group.
About 150 people packed into the meeting, said Sladkus, and about 85 percent of them spoke in favor of the extensions.
But the committee was concerned with some of the information presented by the DOT, including how 42 parking spaces in the areas where the lanes would go would be eliminated. Among the committee, co-chair Dan Zweig said he wanted more information about the proposed lanes before he would vote yes.
“He has done that for every project that’s brought before him,” said Sladkus. “He will ask for more and more information, and no matter what you do, no matter how much outreach you do, no matter how many people you convince, he will say he needs more information.”
Committee Ran Out of Time
The committee ran out of time because the venue they were in needed to prepare for business the next day, according to Mark Diller, chair of Community Board 7. Yet the way the three-hour meeting went turned out to be a good thing in the end, he added.
“Having an interruption in the meeting gives the DOT a chance to answer some of the questions that were posed in the evening that needed follow up,” said Diller, adding that the DOT wouldn’t begin work until the spring, anyhow. The committee plans on continuing discussion in January.
Many members of the public shared their thoughts, leaving little time for committee discussion, which usually happens in reaching a consensus, according to Diller.
Diller himself, who doesn’t vote in committees as the chair of the board, said that he saw “a lot to like in the proposal,” but also “saw some really serious areas of concern, so I absolutely understand why we need to do additional work.”
White Says ‘Move Forward’
Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, a bicycling, walking, and public transit advocacy group, said that CB7 ignored the wishes of the community by not approving the proposal, and so the DOT should move forward anyway.“It’s time the city circumvented this backward thinking board and installed this lane and pedestrian improvements,” White said in a statement. “The people have spoken and their community board continues to ignore them.”
DOT spokesman Nicholas Mosquera said in an email that the agency “will continue to work with the board as they provide feedback to us and develop a recommendation.”
Steve Vaccaro, a cyclist and lawyer, agrees that the DOT should consider moving forward.
Next…Some Opposition Valid, Maybe
Some Opposition Valid, Maybe
Vaccaro does see valid concerns from some of those currently in opposition. One is the danger of getting into a collision with a cyclist for children who have to cross the bike lane. Vaccaro encourages more education for cyclists, especially about awareness of pedestrians.
“But those kids cross four big wide lanes of fast moving traffic on Columbus Avenue to get to school now,” he said. “Having them cross a bike lane, I don’t think that it adds appreciably to the danger.”
Statistics from the DOT show drivers have slowed on average from 26.8 miles per hour to 22.3 miles per hour, according to Streetsblog, an advocacy media, citing the DOT. Also, although total crashes have risen slightly, pedestrian injuries have dropped by 41 percent, with an almost 50 percent increase in the number of cyclists using the street.
The original span of protected bike lane, from 96th to 77th streets, received praise but also concern from business owners. The Columbus Avenue Working Group, which includes persons from CB7 and the Upper West Side Renaissance, found about a year after the 2010 installation of the lane that out of 26 business owners who responded to a survey, 72 percent thought the new configuration had a negative impact on their businesses.
Barbara Alder, executive director of the Columbus Avenue Business Improvement District, told the committee that the protected lane has been a safety enhancement but merchants are still concerned about losing parking in the new proposed lanes. The DOT has looked at turning lanes in the proposal and was able to make them shorter, meaning one less parking space lost per block.
“We are grateful for that, but sorry that we could not reach a more equitable compromise to help our merchants on the avenue, who are the ones who really make the area all that it is today,” Adler said, according to a copy of her remarks. “It would be good to have more respect for them and their needs.”
Vaccaro, who doesn’t own a car, disagrees with the notion that less parking equals less business.
“They don’t have any statistics to show that or prove that—I will not believe that until I’m shown it,” he said, comparing it to hard data the DOT typically provides. “I believe the vast majority of retail shoppers on the Upper West Side are getting there by mass transit or they’re walking or they’re biking, and they’re not driving to get there.”
However, some businesses legitimately are concerned with loading and unloading spaces, said Vaccaro, this time echoing Alder. That’s something the DOT addressed while configuring the design for the first lane and must make sure to do again with the proposed ones, he said.
Most of the concerns originally listed from the working group have been addressed, according to Sladkus of the Upper West Side Renaissance.
And that’s how the proposed lanes should be done, she said—put them in, then tweak the design later on based on feedback. If anyone in the community has concerns, they can talk to the area’s elected officials or the community board and the design can be tweaked.“It’s not like it goes in and you say ‘Okay great it’s in,’” she said. “There’s communication, there’s transparency around it.”
Dehanna Rice, who lives in the city, was riding along Columbus Avenue near 79th in the bike lane Wednesday.
“I love it,” Rice said. “Let’s be more like Berlin! It is a little more humanitarian for commuters. I think all of New York’s streets should have bike lines.”
Additional reporting by Benjamin Chasteen
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