Kate Hinds is an Associate Producer for WNYC News. She also reports for WNYC and Transportation Nation, a public radio reporting project that combines the work of multiple newsrooms to provide coverage of how we build, rebuild and get around the nation.
Politicians: We Like the Columbus Avenue Bike Lane, We Just Want Tweaks
Sunday, February 06, 2011 - 11:23 PM
(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) The Columbus Avenue bike lane, which stretches from 96th Street to 77th Street on Manhattan's Upper West Side, has been the source of neighborhood tsuris since is was put in last summer -- despite the fact that the community actively sought its installation. Now a new report may help pave the way for mitigating what some call the "unintended consequences" of the lane.
It didn't take long after the lane was installed for elected officials and Community Board 7 to begin hearing complaints from businesses about all things parking: trucks were having a hard time making deliveries, customers didn't understand the new signage, no one could find a spot to quickly run in and grab something. So CB7, with local politicians and residents, formed the Columbus Avenue Working Group (CAWG) to survey local businesses about the lanes. Sixty-five businesses on the east side of Columbus Avenue, adjacent to the lane, were approached and asked to fill out questionnaires; 36 completed it.
The responses weren't pretty: of the businesses surveyed, 72% responded they believe the street redesign had a negative impact on their business, compared to only eight percent who felt the lane was positive.
"Everybody complained about parking and loading zones," said Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. "Meaning: there had to be real change."
So local politicians brokered what seems to be a compromise: an agreement from the city's DOT to return some parking spaces, tweak some signs, and reprogram meters. In a response to CAWG's recommendations, DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan sent a letter to all of the stakeholders, going through their recommendations one by one.
State Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal said today that "bike lanes have recently gotten some bad publicity in the city." This could be an understatement: in just the last few days, the DOT has been threatened with a lawsuit over the Prospect Park West bike lane, and Janette Sadik-Khan was the subject of yet another tabloid editorial on Sunday, accusing her of being secretive in how -- and where -- bike lanes are installed, a charge she has repeatedly denied.
Standing in front of Ivan Pharmacy on Sunday, Scott Stringer said the lessons learned from the Columbus Avenue bike lane represent a model of collaboration that should be repeated throughout the city. "This study and this working group may finally break new ground in bringing together the Department of Transportation and communities," he said. "It is very clear to all of us, that you cannot design a street -- design a community -- simply by having downtown experts tell us what should be in the street grid. We have learned, in a very painful way, what happens when you impose a bike lane on neighborhoods without doing proper due diligence."
"If they follow this model today around the city," he said, "we are going to be able to mix street design and bike lanes with businesses, pedestrians, and cars. And that's how you change what a city looks like -- through collaboration."
City Council member Gale Brewer was more conciliatory. "The Department of Transportation -- I want to be very clear -- was very responsive, even early on in the game." And the chair of CB7 also voiced strong support for the lane. "I want to be clear that Community Board 7 voted in favor of the bike lane, just because it's the right thing to do," said Mel Wymore. "This is an opportunity for all of us to make it work for everyone."
But it's clear that even within the pro-bike lane CAWG there are some disagreements. During today's press conference, Scott Stringer complained about the pedestrian islands. "(They are) I believe, a big error," he said -- only to see his colleagues at the podium start shaking their heads. "No," said Gale Brewer. "We like them." "Well, this is my opinion," amended Stringer. "I think 28 or so are perhaps too many, we think there should be a discussion. You see, that's what community consultation is all about."
And so far no one has filed a lawsuit.
You can read the Columbus Avenue Working Group's report below, as well as see NYC DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan's response to the group's recommendations:
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