Manhattan Community Board Rejects Bike Lane Extension, But "We're Not Done With This"

Wednesday, December 12, 2012 - 06:40 PM

(photo by Kate Hinds)

Over 100 people turned out Tuesday night for a marathon community board hearing to discuss extending the Upper West Side's only on-street protected bike lane. The city wants to extend the Columbus Avenue lane from its current terminus at 77th Street down to 59th Street, where it would connect to a bike lane on Ninth Avenue, giving Upper West Side bikers a protected ride to Midtown Manhattan.  The city would also lengthen the Columbus Avenue bike lane up to 110th Street.

Many of the attendees wore stickers supporting the Columbus Avenue lane, and over the course of the meeting, dozens of people -- including the former "Ethicist" columnist for the New York Times -- spoke out in favor of a proposal to double its length. But by the time the three hour meeting was over, the transportation committee of Community Board 7 failed to pass a resolution supporting it.

Here's how it went down.

First up: the  New York City Department of Transportation presented data about the Columbus Avenue protected bike lane as it exists now.  The DOT's Hayes Lord painted a rosy picture: cycling has increased by 48 percent since the lane was installed. Vehicular speeding is down. The travel time for cars has improved. But the real benefit, Lord said, is that while total crashes have increased slightly, pedestrian injuries along the corridor have dropped by 41 percent. Moreover, he said, the bike lane is good for business: the retail occupancy rate for the Columbus Avenue BID south of 82nd Street is at 100 percent.

("I don't believe a word of it," hissed a man sitting next to me, one of the relatively few naysayers in the audience.)

Josh Benson (L) and members of Community Board 7 (photo by Kate Hinds)

In fact, said the DOT's Josh Benson, who was up next to talk about the lane's extension, the biggest problem with the lane is its "lack of connectivity" to the city's bike network.

As Benson got into the nuts and bolts of how the lane would be extended, two facts immediately stood out:  to accommodate necessary turning lanes and pedestrian islands, he said, the DOT would need to eliminate about 61 parking spaces along the east side of Columbus Avenue -- affecting 24 percent of the available parking. Also, because of the way Columbus and Broadway intersect, the bike lane south of 69th Street would not be protected. Instead, he said, it would be an "enhanced shared lane" -- meaning cars and bikes would mix together in a travel lane, with the understanding that cars won't be allowed to pass bicyclists. And south of 64th Street, ongoing long-term construction projects would hamper the installation of a permanent lane.

Crowd at CB7 meeting (photo by Kate Hinds)

When the public comment period opened, most people spoke out in favor of the extension. School children talked about commuting to school on the protected lane. The manager of the local Patagonia store said "it has been nothing but a positive for our business." The worries of a business owner -- who operates a moving company -- were assuaged by the DOT's assertion that it could create loading zones for moving trucks.  Two future City Council candidates spoke in favor of the lane. Even Randy Cohen -- the former "Ethicist" columnist for the New York Times-- said supporting it was a moral imperative.  "The improvements in safety are so fantastic," he said, "it seems like an ethical responsibility." But even that impassioned plea couldn't save the proposal.

When debate opened, it became apparent that committee members were divided. The loss of parking was a major objection. There were other, more arcane concerns: if the lane is on the left side of the street, one wondered, how would bicyclists safely make right turns? And some worried about the safety of the proposed enhanced shared lane. "Perception is everything," said board member Ken Coughlin. "If the lane is perceived as being unsafe for cyclists, it's not going to be used by cyclists." He presented a resolution in support of the lanes -- and asking the DOT to look into turning the shared lanes into protected lanes when construction of the water tunnel is done. But Coughlin made clear, "I would rather see an enhanced shared lane than nothing."

Nothing was what he got. When it came time to vote, Coughlin's resolution didn't get the majority it needed for committee support.

But Mark Diller -- the chair of Community Board 7 -- said it's not over.

"The resolution failed -- for tonight," said Diller. "But there's still potential for other resolutions, so we will continue to work on it."  Because the community board had to be out of the space by 10pm, the clock ran out. At future meetings, Diller said, "I'm sure somebody else will present another resolution, and I'm sure that will be discussed and hopefully we'll finally get to one we can approve."

Andrew Albert, co-chair of the transportation committee, said the board wanted more details about parking, loading zones, and its outreach plans for local businesses. "When DOT gives us the information we asked for," he said, "next month there will probably be a very different kind of vote."

"We're not done with this," added another board member, "by any means."

For a PDF of the DOT's presentation, click here.


Comments [5]


I have a dilemma that I am hoping that you will assist me in resolving.
I believe that in order to reduce traffic in my neighborhood we have to educate people as to why public transportation is so carbon friendly, so efficient, so safe, so cheap and why it should be used whenever possible, Based on what i heard at the various discussions at CB 7 Bike riders, for the most part, agree. Why is it then that every time the Department of Transportation has an opportunity to promote the use of public transportation they encourage people from outside the city to bring their vehicles in and park here.
Secondly it is true that suv's are dangerous, that use more gas, they take up more space, and they pollute. Yet the DOT gives them a discount for parking here assuming they live and register their car in the city. Therein lies my dilemma.
Tom Peters a noted business consultant says that a company can't just say that they are design conscious when they have a bland product, bland offices, a bland letterhead, or a bland business card. He would say the same thing about a business=city, municipality- that wishes to promote environmentally conscious behavior. How can the elected officials present themselves as environmentally conscious when they promote parking and promote the use of suv's on city streets.

What do you think.

( let me also suggest for those of you who haven't heard it, listen to the discussion that NPR aired on the history of public transportation.)

Dec. 26 2012 05:39 PM

I am not against bike lanes, i am against bike lanes on Columbus Ave.. There a many reasons why amongst them are; congestion, air pollution, and dangerous to pedestrians. There's more. One item that stands out is how no one talks about the residents of the neighborhood. Talk about business, talk about bikers, but not a word about "is this good for the neighborhood." There is never thought given to the fact that most bike riders extolling the bike lanes are not neighborhood residents, but rather people "passing through" and who appear to enjoy the tension and division that this program has created.
As a resident of "the neighborhood" I am concerned about traffic, and am concerned about why the city, dot, transportation alternatives, and bikers don't talk about public transportation and why it is that every time the city has the opportunity to encourage people to use public transportation they make it easier to park. My neighborhood has an excellent public transportation system at its disposal. We have 5 train lines and a myriad of bus lines that are accessible if people used them instead of driving their vehicles in from the outside world.
We need to try resident parking IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD as another solution to the problem that isn't discussed but should be. Resident parking will reduce congestion, make crossing the streets safer, reduce carbon pollution, and add hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars to the city's financial coffers. Rather than discussing this, and adding it into the mix, our elected officials would rather subsidize commuters. The same local politicians who bemoaned w the failure of commuter tax have an opportunity to create a similar program, but they refuse.
In "My Neighborhood" 20% of the cars parked legally on the street are registered out of state. Given that there are 600 spots that means that 120 parking spots are taken up by individuals who can/should use public transportation, or if not, can park at muni meters or garages. Our elected officials are magnanimous treating these out of towner's to free parking. Depriving the city of untold millions of so sorely needed dollars.
That there are many different types of vehicles-cars, buses, trucks, taxi's, limousines, car services, sorry if i left one out that use city streets as a means of securing a livelihood. The 120 extra spots would allow for commercial zones that would eliminate buses, trucks, and taxi's from congesting our streets and avenues.
Unfortunately, unlike our local elected officials who appear to know everything, I can't promise that resident parking is the panacea I create here. But it is definitely worth the try

Dec. 22 2012 06:19 AM

Few Naysayers? A lot of them walked out in disgust because the moderator would cut off the board members who questioned the existing lane and failed to take questions
from the attending standing room only audience.
The lane is failure because of what it has done to the tenants of Columbus Avenue. The noise level has increased due to the lane. Try to move out of your apartment if you live on Columbus Avenue. Scott Stringer said it was an experiment for a year. Almost two years later people on Columbus live with the increased noise and stalled traffic. Longer waits for the buses that provide a needed method of transportation for the elderly, school students, and those in wheelchairs has not been helped by the lane. The lane should not be extended and should be dismantled. Return the curb. Improve the bike lanes in Central Park. If transportation requires rush hour lanes for bike riders they can employ traffic cones for the rush hour period. They do it for tunnels and bridges. After two years, the lane is not used. Return the curb. Return the curb. Return the curb.

Dec. 19 2012 09:10 AM

There are a few inaccuracies here that should be cleared up.

The "enhanced" shared lane has nothing to do with the water tunnel construction. The lane needs to go "unprotected" due to the geometry of the intersection of 65th street, Broadway and Columbus. The protected lane would not be installed south of this intersection until after the construction is complete, but it is in the plan. There is no expectation that the bike lane *through* the bowtie intersection could be protected, even after the water construction is complete.

The parking issue is somewhat less severe than portrayed in the article - 24% of spots on the east side of the street would be reduced, while the west side would be untouched. The plan as it stands would probably reduce *overall* parking on the street by about 10%-15% or so.

All this said, Hayes Lord came across as extremely dishonest, as articulated by the community member quoted in the article. His dismissal of the 30% rate of cyclists avoiding the bike lane was absurd (he suggested that they were mostly turning right), and he totally misrepresented a survey by Councilmember Brewer that found most neighborhood residents wanted the lanes fixed or changed (he said that most residents "liked" them). Further, his reference to the success of the Columbus Avenue BID was bizarre, as the vast majority of that area lies outside of the current bike lane area, and of the small stub of the BID that does have a bike lane is dominated by AMNH.

This bike lane may ultimately be the right thing to do here, but neighborhood residents deserve complete and accurate information, not spin.

Dec. 13 2012 12:08 PM

Disappointing, but not surprising. I'm sure it's only a matter of time though.

Glad to hear that loading zones are part of the discussion. Double-parking is a major hazard to everyone. Loading is a much better use of curb space than private vehicle storage.

Dec. 13 2012 08:50 AM

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