NYC's East Harlem Bike Lanes Hit A Speed Bump

Sunday, November 27, 2011 - 08:36 AM

A protected bike lane along the West Side's Columbus Avenue (photo by Kate Hinds)

Another bike lane battle is brewing in New York City. This time it comes in East Harlem. After voting in favor of a pair of protected bike lanes along First and Second Avenues, from 96th Street to 125th Street, Community Board 11 voted last week to rescind that support.

Matthew Washington, CB11's chair, sounded exasperated when asked about the turn of events. Washington supports the lanes, and he said the board voted overwhelmingly in favor of the lanes just two months ago.

"For members to vote one way in September, and then pull that vote away two months later," he said, "to me says the members weren't paying attention to what they were doing."

He said the official position of the community board is now "neutral" -- at least for now.

City Council member Melissa Mark-Viverito, who has rallied at City Hall in support of expanding the city's bike lane network, represents the neighborhood. She called the recent CB11 vote "a temporary setback" and that she wasn't concerned.

"What I believe occurred," she said, "was that there were two people with self-interest that completely misled and created a lot of confusion at the prior board meeting. This issue had been voted on...and at this last board meeting, the issue was brought back up on open business at 9:30 at night, people were tired, it had been a long meeting, a lot of information that was misrepresented was thrown out there, I think it created some level of confusion among some board members.”

The two people in question, Frank Brija and Erik Mayor, are two local business owners who also sit on the community board. They said that the DOT had not done enough outreach to local businesses and produced a petition against the lanes. Brija, who owns Patsy's Pizzeria (on First Avenue and 117th Street) was quoted in DNA Info as saying: "All we do is complain about traffic, all we do is complain about asthma. Now the DOT is going to create more traffic."

Washington disputes that characterization. "I just don't even understand how people are constructing these ideas," Washington said in a phone interview with Transportation Nation. "They're saying traffic on First Avenue is not moving and going to get worse -- but traffic can't really get worse than not moving."

Another concern for local businesses is parking. The website for Patsy's Pizzeria states: "Plenty of on street parking is available around the neighborhood, so drive on in!" Brija did not return a call seeking comment.

Melissa Mark-Viverito said she wants businesses and residents to understand that the lanes can expand, not narrow, the appeal of the neighborhood. "Somehow [they hold] the idea that the only people who go to businesses are people that drive," she said. "Having protected bike lanes, and creating a safe space for bikers to come, we actually may be encouraging people from outside our community to come and venture and go to the businesses, go to the restaurants, to avail themselves of the services that are key here, so we have to see bikers, and creating a level of protection for them – not only for the residents that live in my community – but potentially for people who want to come and visit our neighborhood."

The DOT had initially planned to install the Second Avenue lane in the spring of 2012. Viverito said that schedule was still doable -- provided it re-passes the community board. And she's optimistic: “I feel very confident that this will pass overwhelmingly,” she said.  Washington agreed. "There's still opportunity for the board to work out some of the kinks, some of the issues that people feel are relevant and move forward."

The DOT said in a statement that the agency "will return to the board soon to review the presentation and explain how we plan to address merchant concerns."  And Washington said that representatives from the DOT will be at the next transportation committee meeting, scheduled to take place at the CB11 office on December 6.

"But I think we're going to have to relocate it," he said, "because I anticipate we will have large attendance at this meeting."


Comments [5]


It's obvious that none of you live near 1st or 2nd avenue in East Harlem. If you did, then you wouldn't even argue with the fact that we suffer from terrible air quality due to highly congested streets, 2nd ave subway construction, FDR drive tire rubber particles in the air and commercial diesel trucks in droves storming up first avenue. East Harlem is recognized to have the highest Asthma rate in the nation!!! It doesn't take a rocket scientist to prove that removing a traffic lane on 2nd avenue will create more traffic in an already congested avenue. Anything that will exacerbate an already painful health crisis should be voided and not even considered unless you are a tyrant and forcing this "eminent domain" style of bike lane implementation. But let me get this right, you much rather provide safer biking conditions for a few bikers while affecting the lives of over 150,000 people that live in East Harlem!?!?!? How the hell does this make any sense?
Why don't you go visit the Asthma Center in East Harlem and tell them that next week they should start getting used to breathing through a straw! You will KILL US WITH THIS STUPID IDEA!!! Ride your bike up the esplanade, or through Central Park or up Madison Avenue that doesn't have commercial traffic but you dont need to REMOVE TRAFFIC LANES to create bike lanes.

Dec. 03 2011 11:17 AM

If Brija embraced bike lanes, and put a rack in front of his restaurant (and a bike share kiosk when they come in 2012), Patsy's would become a lunch time destination for lots of people who can't reach it now.

Think about it: The biggest employers near Patsy's are the hospitals (Mt.Sinai, Metropolitan, Harlem, even Lincoln in the Bronx). Employees who drive to their jobs are not going to pull their cars out of the lots to go to Patsy's; it takes too much time and probably raises the parking cost. They're also not going to walk or take transit because those take too much time.

But with a bicycle, Patsy's is about 10 minutes away from all the hospitals, easily enough time for employees to ride over there, get lunch, and get back within an hour. Plus the employee gets some exercise.

So bike lanes can broaden Patsy's customer base enormously. If only Brija could see that.

Nov. 28 2011 10:56 AM

Time for a boycott of these two junk food dumps.

Nov. 28 2011 10:45 AM

Every person who values health and who really understands what causes asthma and obesity should boycott Milk Burger and Patsy's.

Nov. 27 2011 03:05 PM

Two purveyors of burgers, shakes, fries, and pizza are worried about asthma? How low can bike lane hate sink? Shame on Milk burger and Patsy's.

Nov. 27 2011 12:58 PM

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