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Rosy Data on Columbus Avenue Bike Lane Can't Quite Quell Qualms

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Columbus Avenue bike lane (photo by Kate Hinds)

Bicycling has increased by 56% since a protected bike lane was installed on Columbus Avenue a year ago. And car crashes have dropped by 34%.

But that didn't stop members of Manhattan's Community Board 7 from hammering the New York City Department of Transportation, which was on hand to present preliminary data about the mile-long Upper West Side lane at a transportation committee meeting.

A screen shot of the NYC DOT's Columbus Avenue six-month bike lane data (photo by Kate Hinds)

The year-old bike lane  was approved last June by the full community board despite failing in committee. It's the only protected on-street lane on the Upper West Side.

The DOT attended the meeting at the committee's request, but it was clear that it wasn't the agency's idea. Ryan Russo, a deputy DOT commissioner, said "this is a preliminary analysis. Six months of data is generally too soon. The board asked us to come here, the board asked us to say what the data is saying, but it really takes a full year from when the project's completed -- a minimum of a full year -- to say how are things truly going."

As soon as the DOT was done presenting its data, Ulma Jones, a member of CB7's transportation committee, offered up a "laundry list" of issues, including complaints about new configurations for metered parking on sidestreets, traffic congestion, and bike riders going the wrong way in the lane. Others expressed incredulity that the numbers of bicyclists had increased -- especially in a lane that doesn't connect with the rest of the city's biking network.

But others were delighted with the redesign. CB7 committee member and cycling advocate Tila Duhaime hailed the lower incidence of speeding cars on the redesigned street. "It's fewer than one in ten?" she asked. "That's phenomenal." George Beane, an area resident and a member of the Columbus Avenue Business Improvement District, said the DOT had worked to make loading zones more accessible to local businesses. "I think it's so much safer, it's economical, and it's healthy, and I think the DOT has should be commended. They've done a wonderful job. I appreciate it."

The DOT is preparing to implement a large bike share system, and a number of the city's community boards have recently voted to build or extend protected bike lanes.  So when one committee member last night asked the DOT if the Columbus Avenue lane might be extended north and south, the response was basically 'get in line.'

"We would be thrilled if the board would ask us to extend it, but again, we actually have a full plate," said the DOT''s Naomi Iwasaki. She said the DOT is working on bike lanes on First, Second, Eighth and Ninth Avenues, as well as lanes in other boroughs.

New York City Council Member Gale Brewer -- who said the bike lane is now "part of our DNA" -- presented results of a local survey that showed bikers felt the lane was a huge safety improvement. But pedestrians who took part in the anecdotal survey were split, and motorists felt the lane did not enhance their safety at all.

CB7 chair Mel Wymore offered some perspective on the phone the day after the meeting. “Bike lanes, dog runs, food trucks, all go to the same topic: sharing of public space," he said. "No matter how you slice it there’s a lot of opinions.” But Wymore said that moving forward, he'd be looking to extend the Columbus Avenue lane -- especially since neighboring Community Board 4 voted to extend their protected bike lanes  north to 59th Street. "We’re hopeful that we can have this connect to the whole network.”

 

 

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Transportation Nation

Politicians: We Like the Columbus Avenue Bike Lane, We Just Want Tweaks

Sunday, February 06, 2011

NY Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, pharmacy owner Ivan Jourdain, Community Board 7 chair Mel Wymore, and NY City Councilwoman Gale Brewer unveil recommendations to improve the bike lanes. (Photo by Kate Hinds)

(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:

COLUMBUS AVENUE STREET REDESIGN_ Recommendations for Mitigating Unintended Impacts-1
Columbus Response From Janette Sadik-Khan

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: A Birds-Eye View of the Marathon, LaHood Threatens to Pull WI Stimulus $, and FTA To NJ: Where's Our $271 Million?

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Ray LaHood's "congratulatory" phone call to Wisconsin's governor-elect, Scott Walker, involved threatening to yank $810 million in stimulus money if Mr. Walker doesn't soften his opposition to a high-speed rail line between Milwaukee and Madison (Wall Street Journal). Don't worry, Wisconsin--Illinois will take that federal money off your hands.  (But hey! New York already called dibs on that cash!)

Speaking of money, the Federal Transit Administration sent New Jersey a bill for $271 million for the canceled ARC tunnel, plus the promise of an audit. (AP via WSJ)

Illinois senator Dick Durbin wants the EPA to investigate complaints that toxic diesel pollution is inundating commuter rail cars and Chicago's two major rail stations. (Chicago Tribune)

Last night's Community Board 7 meeting about the new Columbus Avenue bike lane focused on complaints from business owners about parking--and an admission from the DOT that the actual number of spaces taken was 67, not the 55 that was originally projected. (DNA Info)

New York's MTA put together a birds-eye view of Sunday's marathon, weaving together footage from its traffic cameras.

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