CB8 Shoots Down Upper East Side Crosstown Bike Route Plan

On Monday, July 9 the transportation committee of Community Board 8 on Manhattan’s Upper East Side took up the issues of congestion pricing and a new pair of crosstown bike lanes.

Congestion pricing, it turns out, was the evening’s non-controversial issue. Even after a series of impassioned speeches against Mayor Bloomberg’s traffic reduction plan the committee voted to support it, 10 to 4 with one abstention.

"You’ve treated us to quite a debate," Dept. of Transportation Bike Program Coordinator Josh Benson said as he stood up to present the 90th and 91st Street bike route plan (download it here).

"You haven’t heard anything yet," heckled one member of the crowd.


Ryder Pearce sells DOT’s Upper East Side bike route plan to a skeptical Community Board 8.

Benson then introduced DOT staffer Ryder Pearce, a youthful member of the City’s Urban Fellows program, making his first-ever Community Board presentation.

As a part of the City’s ongoing bike network build-out, Pearce said, DOT plans to stripe new, Class II bike lanes along E. 90th and E. 91st Streets with a small segment running along E. 89th Street near the East River and a special treatment for the pedestrian-only block of 91st Street between Second and Third Avenues.

"As you can see there are no crosstown routes on the Upper East Side right now," Pearce said, pointing to the New York City bike map. The new lanes would connect the East River Greenway directly to Central Park’s 90th Street entrance, also known as the Engineer’s Gate. Along the way, the bike route would link Carl Schurz Park, Gracie Mansion, Asphalt Green and the Guggenheim Museum and "would provide for the growing residential population" living in new towers around York and East End Avenues, a long walk from the nearest subways.

Controversy over the bike route centered around the one-block stretch of 91st St. running through the Ruppert Yorkville Tower Condominiums. The block has been closed to motor vehicle traffic since the 1970s and is considered by many to be a neighborhood "play street."




Recognizing the community’s concerns, DOT presented the Board with four different design options for the pedestrian street: no markings, a marked bicycle lane, directional pavement markings and signs. DOT’s preference, Pearce said, is "to keep the residential feel" of the "shared space" by not putting down a bike lane or any other markings. For a number of people in the room, none of the options were good.

"There are children and elderly who consider that street a park," one Yorkville Tower resident said. "People want to walk there without having to look both ways and worry about getting run over. I am absolutely opposed to this bike path."

Pearce pointed out that cyclists on the westbound street would be traveling up a rather steep hill. He observed the street during several site visits, noting, "You don’t see cyclists shooting through. You don’t see them running people over." An older man in the crowd shouted back, "Oh, yes they do!"

Four or five community members stood to speak on behalf of the bike route plan. As seems to be the case in most New York City bike lane battles these days, supporters had youth on their side, opponents had New York City accents.

Glenn McAnanama, president of the Upper Green Side said he thought DOT had chosen the ideal crosstown bike route. "Ninety-first Street is the natural connection from the Greenway to the Park," he said. "If you go too much further north you’re getting into a lot of traffic at 96th and further south, you’re not connecting to the Central Park entrance."

"The fears are overblown," McAnanama said. He pointed to the new bike route running through Carl Schurz Park at East End Avenue and 86th Street as an example of "shared space" working in the neighborhood. "People were very afraid before the lanes were put in, but there haven’t been any problems," he said. "Cyclists know and sense a shared space.

Members of the Community Board weren’t convinced. One Board member said, "I for one believe bicycling is a recreational activity. I don’t believe that it is a legitimate mode of transportation."

As the meeting wound down and it became clear that DOT’s plan wasn’t going to gain CB8’s blessing on this night, a man in the crowd began dictating a motion to committee chair Chuck Warren:

Whereas illegal biking is found more often than legal biking; Whereas biking causes danger to children and old people; Whereas bicyclists should be licensed in the City of New York and an extensive education program should be inaugurated and the bicycle laws strictly enforced at all times so that they obey the traffic laws…

The committee’s final resolution didn’t include this language. It rejected DOT’s plan and asked the agency to go back to the drawing board. Community Boards, it is important to remember, only have "advisory" power over city agencies and City Hall has said that it would go forward with its bike network build-out over Community Board objections.

  • anon

    “As seems to be the case in most New York City bike lane battles these days, supporters had youth on their side, opponents had New York City accents.”

    WHAT AN ARROGANT STATEMENT. New York accents? Is that such a bad thing in say, New York? Move back to Topeka or Ohio if you don’t want to deal with real New Yorkers. This isn’t just a play area for yuppies and rich kids who move here from college.

  • Anon,

    I think you are misreading that sentence.

    What it says, or means to say, is that Community Board bike lane opponents often appear to be older, native New Yorkers compared to supporters. But that having a born-in-NYC accent at a New York City community board meeting seems to me to be a benefit, a strength, a thing that these bike lane opponents have on their side.

    Your "Yuppies go back to Topeka" response kind of demonstrates the point, no?

  • Hilary

    What a disturbing story. What is the legal status of this right-of-way?

  • Nya-nya

    I don’t believe that automobiles are a legitimate form of transporation.

  • Bicycles are already legally allowed on that one block stretch of 91st St. Bike lanes on the rest of E. 91st would simply funnel more cyclists to the play street.

    I understand why residents are concerned, but let’s be straight about something. That “play street” is really just car-free. People don’t really play on it, because it’s on a big hill. People do walk up & down, or sit on the sidewalk benches, but it’s unlikely that cyclists would endanger anyone if they start to use it in increased numbers.

  • Also, if this doesn’t work out, how about an alternative plan.

    There can be two crosstown bicycle arteries. One a little farther south, say in the mid 70’s, and another one on 102nd St., which has a East River Greenway entrance on the east & a Central Park entrance on the west.

  • mikes

    I personally read it that the people opposing bike lanes tend to be old school, more as a statement of fact and not as a slam. However, bike riding was very popular in NYC over 100 yrs ago, so maybe the bicyclists are the “real” old school. Sorry if I’m offending your delicate sensibilities anon. They do have a point about safety but I believe that the more accepted biking becomes in the city the better people will behave. The bike culture as it exists now grew up on Darwinian overload, fighting for survival. As more diverse elements take to biking en masse there should be a taming effect to the overall behavior.

  • For the record, I can turn on my native New Yorker accent whenever I want.

  • over 50

    As a political strategy, when these hearings come up in the future, I suggest putting a call out for silver-haired seniors with pearls and folding bikes. There are more of us than you think, and we’d be happy to be the face of cycling in neighborhoods where you need us.

  • brooke

    I grew up on the Upper East Side and went to school on E. 91st Street. I didn’t learn to ride a bike until I was 23 years old because there were so few safe places for children to ride.

    Over a decade has passed since I lived there and so little has changed. While other neighborhoods are embracing bike lanes and experimental street designs as amenities that improve their quality of life, the Upper East Side continues to be an aging dinosaur with CB8’s stubborn attitude.

    Isn’t learning to ride a bicycle a quintessential part of child’s play? A safe connection between Central Park and the “play street” on 91st would be an enormous benefit to neighborhood kids.

  • Sproule Love

    I ride through that block all the time and I rarely see anyone in the middle of that lane. People tend to gather on the sidewalk and the benches along the route. And, yes, it is a very steep hill, so half the bike traffic there moves really slowly.

    Sure, we all know that the cycling community has to get better at obeying traffic laws, but the transgressions of cyclists simply pale in comparison to the shockingly dangerous behavior of drivers all over this car-centric town. I for one breathe a sigh of relief when I turn on to this section of car-free street to enjoy a few moments without the fear of being run over by motorists too ignorant to know that cyclists have just as much right to take up a lane, with much less pollution and resource use to boot.

  • psynick

    I’m scratching my head as to why there’s even a plan in the first place. There are so many relatively quiet, low traffic (yes, low traffic) cross streets on the UES, I can’t see any need or value in a striped crosstown route. Granted, I’m no fan of striped lanes to begin with, but this seems especially pointless.

  • Eric

    Anon,

    Perhaps Aaron would’ve been more (politically) correct by writing that opponents had gray hair. That was largely the delineation in the recent fight over bike lanes on 9th Street in Park Slope, where, I’m happy to say, opponents lost. As of press time, I haven’t heard of any 9th Streeters being run down by cyclists, by the way.

    Perhaps the answer is to put a Class I lane through the “play space” on 91st Street. That way, it would be clear to everyone that cyclists would be using the space, and it would make it easier to avoid conflicts. From the photo above, it doesn’t look like a few feet of bike lane would seriously deprive other users of the space.

    As for the vehement bike opponents, have any raised objections to the presence of that police trike in the photo? I think I’d rather get run over by a Cannondale than that thing.

    Nice to see that Community Boards in Manhattan are so enlightened. At the going rate, I’m going to become a big fan of DOT before too long.

  • Anon makes a point that I would like to debate.

    The Upper East Side, despite many people’s stereotypes, is a very young place. The 2000 census data shows that over 43% of CB8 are under 35 and 60% are under 45.

    I would dispute the idea that New York should not be a welcoming place to all people, of all ages, races and backgrounds. Balancing the needs of all these different groups is what makes New York a great place and the destination for our nation’s best and brightest after college.

  • Charlie D.

    Unfortunately, older people who tend to be resistant to change or new ideas are the ones who attend community meetings and speak up most vehemently, even when they statistically hold a minority opinion.

  • Steve

    I ride thourgh this area and the carfree block next to Rupert towers regularly. Sure, there are kids playing there, but many of them are riding on bicycles and skateboards (downhill). There are plenty of delivery guys who ride there bikes here as well. A one-way bike lane uphill would not create significant added danger, it would channel and slow the existing bicycle traffic and make it safer. Anyone who tried to claim that there isn’t significant bike, skate and skateboard traffic on this closed-off block already doesn’t know what they are talking about.

    Psynick (#12), even though many of the UES are relatively calm, these are exactly the kinds of streets where Class II lanes make a difference by calming the traffic that much further and creating a cycling opportunity so safe that families with children, older people and beginning cyclists can take advantage of it. In my view, installing a class II crosstown lane on, say, 86th Street would not significantly clam traffic on that street because it would be ignored by motorists. That is largely what happens with the Class I on First Avenue north of 72nd Street.

    A Class II on 90th/91st would be a huge boon to bicycling on the UES, and upper Manhattan generally, because it connects the key Class I paths that the DoT commissioner keeps telling us are the “backbone of the cyling network.” The proposed lanes would have created the only “Class II or better” river-to-river crosstown bike route in Manhattan, apart from the recently installed 20th/21st street crosstown. I have seen a large uptick in cycling on the UES in recent years. I hope the DOT puts the lanes in anyway–they are needed and will definitely bring new cyclists out onto the street.

  • Jim

    Every cyclist in the city should read this post and think of it the next time he or she decides to run a red light or cruise the wrong way down a street. (I am a cyclist.)

    In that meeting room, and in others like it, the above-the-law arrogance of too many NYC cyclists has COME HOME TO ROOST. This is why people hate us, and this is what happens when they do.

    Please, NYPD, drop your fixation on Critical Mass and start ticketing cyclists for the laws they’re actually breaking. The city will have a record surplus in no time, and the grey-hairs who remember the Third Avenue El and the Ruppert brewery won’t create civic obstructions like the one we read about here.

    BTW: I live a block from the proposed route. (A) I never feel threatened riding on the streets, only the avenues, which this plan wouldn’t really address.
    (B) the “pedestrian-only” block of 91st St. is not used as a park, unless you count skateboard rats (scatter ’em in terror, I say) and private security lugs helping make sure their electric Cushman carts don’t blow away in the wind. To hear these people talk, you’d think we were putting a bike lane through an English garden.

  • The solution!

    Jim suggests the brilliant solution! Make this an English garden with a bike lane through it! When pedestrians/sitters complain about a bike path, they should be accommodated with something that enhances their ped/sitting experience. The result will be win win for everyone.

  • SPer

    I’m all for being polite on your bike, but the rage at cyclists is so misplaced. People get angry at cyclists because they are inured to the far greater injuries to quality of life perpetrated by automobiles. As a pedestrian, I have never been made to fear for my life by a bicycle, but I have nearly been killed by a car on several occasions.

  • psynick

    SPer,

    I _have_ been made to fear for my life by cyclists. As a pedestrian, I’ve had countless near misses, and one actual collision while legally crossing a street. As a very experienced cyclist I have been forced into near-death encounters with cars by idiot bikers on countless occasions. I have a lot of sympathy for all non-motorized modes, but truly, there are a lot of bikers out there who are a menace. Go spend some time on the promenade by the 79th St. boat basin with a toddler on a weekend afternoon, and then tell me that all cyclists are saints. Sure, overall, cars have far more negative impact. But in the PR wars, cyclists are their own worst enemies, day in and day out.

  • Pat

    psynick, I totally agree with your comment and concluding sentence about cycling advocates being their own worst enemy…especially when they make insulting elitist coded references to native New Yorkers whom they expect to tolerate their infantile vision of the city as one big FAO toy store.

    I don’t agree with anon’s characterization of them as yuppies, however. Yuppies, for all their obnoxious obsessions with yellow ties, jelly beans, power breakfasts and telling off waiters at cheap Indian restaurants, at least had a work ethic. Yuppies would never dream of riding a bicycle as a means of transportation like their good for nothing, lazy bum, idling off spring do in obvious juvenile rebellion.

  • nobody

    Pat, visualizing a City where those who choose an environmentally-benign, fitness-promoting and yes, fun, form of transportation are not only not penalized, but promoted, is not thinking of New York as one big toy store. It’s called modeling other successful cities like Amsterdam, London, etc. A bicycling city is not only a more enjoyable city, it’s also a more efficient city.

    There are a lot of older people riding bicycles out there, and it would be great if there were a lot more. Take a look at the bicycling rates of seniors in places like Amsterdam or Copenhagen – very high. Will we get there? Maybe not, but it’s something to aim for, and foolish to deride as impractical, and ignorant to cast as infantile.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Nobody, please don’t feed the trolls. Pat, do you ever have anything constructive to say?

  • mikes

    Pat needs to eat more greens – sounding a little constipated.

  • Ed Crotch

    Bike lanes are a waste of money. They become nothing more than double-parking lanes. Most bicyclists bike where they please without regard to bike lanes. As for obeying traffic laws, well if the police enforced the traffic laws on motor vehicles then bicyclists would be more apt to obey laws. But when I see 15 illagally parked cars in a five block stretch and the police doing nothing because they think they are out there protecting us from murderers so they have the right not to do anything and when I see the police behave like they are above the law, then well, what do you expect? I will run as many lights as I can on my bike. When anarchy rules, you just have to join in.

  • CB Observer

    Pat,

    Have you been to a Community Board meeting lately? Pop in to the next CB8 transpo committee meeting in Manhattan and then tell me who in that particular room is the “elite.”

    It definitely isn’t anyone who rides a bike.

    The elite seems to be a group of people whose greatest goal in life is nothing more than to have free, convenient, on-street parking on the Upper East Side.

    And, yes — they’ve mostly got gray hair, New York accents and quite a bit more wealth than the majority of UES cyclists who, by the way, happen to be new immigrant delivery guys and young professionals who live too far from the Lexington Ave. subway or don’t want to be a sardine.

  • jojo

    This is why the East Side sucks.

  • Mitch

    In the general scheme of things, it’s true that cars are worse for our quality of life, and the world in general, than bikes. But there are reasons why some pedestrians — especially in places like NYC — are angrier at bikes than at cars, and it’s in our interest to figure out what these reasons are, and to address them.

    I think one reason for this hostility is that bikes and pedestrians interact more closely. Cars can do a lot more damage, of course, but bikes tend intrude routinely on pedestrian space, while traveling at speeds that are not extreme, but are fast enough to make walkers and sitters uncomfortable.

    It’s not unreasonable to expect to walk — on sidewalks, or the 91st St. “play street” or the paths around the Boat Basin, or wherever — without having to look both ways or over your shoulder to keep from getting run over. Bikers should respect this desire, and traffic engineers and bike advocates need to find ways for bikes to get where they want safely, without running into pedestrians.

    Bikers’ and pedestrians’ interests are not identical, but they have a lot in common; so it’s sad to see them sniping at each other like this.

  • Concerned Parent

    To the residents of the Ruppert-Yorkville community, 91st is known as “The Promenade.” During warm weather children, seniors, and even young-urban-professionals casually stroll, despite the steep grade, this graceful cobblestone walk. Elementary and middle school children play tag. The children of multimillion dollar condos mix with kids from the housing projects. Senior citizens grapple with walkers and canes before settling down in one of the Promenade’s comfortable benches. And parents with jogging strollers get in a work out. A natural extension of Ruppert park, it is a breadth of open space in an area of constant high-rise construction and Second Avenue Subway disturbances. Bicyclists cover a great deal more ground than strollers or walkers. Let the Promenade remain — undisturbed by mountain bikers.

  • CB Observer

    Concerned Parent,

    Why not focus your concern on the real problem in the neighborhood: The massive glut of motor vehicles clogging our streets, ruining our city and degrading oour children’s future on this planet.

    Bicyclists and pedestrians are perfectly capable of mixing without a whole lot of trouble. Playing tag and bicycling both happened on my street growing up. They weren’t mutually exclusive activities.

    DOT’s plan is no big deal. Let’s stop the ped-bike infighting and nitpicking and start focusing on the real problem that’s all around us: A city that’s basically given over virtually all of its public space to motor vehicles.

  • Pat

    Nobody: What you are saying I agree with. And I dare say you would be a much better “model” of a cycling advocate than some of the petulant, tantrum throwing models that currently represent the genre (and to whom my half joking comment was directed). Listening to a recent Brian Lehrer show on ‘intramodal conflict’, my jaw actually went agape as the cycling and pedestrians advocates practically dissolved into a roll on the floor brawl while the well spoken guy from Triple A just sat back in bemused amazement.

    I do think, however, the comparison of NYC to some European cities with regards to cycling is somewhat strained in the context of the social models that govern them and scale and the climate. What did Bloomberg say recently while promoting congestion pricing…”Hey, it is a capitalist system.”? That is just not the starting point of policy making in the places you mentioned. European income taxation rates bare witness to that and effect to dampen disproportionate distribution of wealth among its citizens by means of earnings. As a result, a bicycle is just an affordable alternative to an automobile to an extent unimaginable in the U.S.. Secondly, the places you mentioned, even London, are not the metropolis (?) that New York is. Central Amsterdam is probably no bigger than Greenwich Village in area and density and Copenhagen not much larger. London is big, but does it have any high rise buildings? Lastly, and most importantly, the moderate climate in Europe is much more conducive to cycling as a day in day out way of getting around than what we experience in NYC. In London, 80F is considered a heat wave, and 40F an artic blast.

    Personally, I have always thought the Italian personal transport of choice – Vespas and motorbikes – a much more NYC adaptable and practical and fun means of getting around and reducing the congestion problem except again for the winter weather factor, and the CB complaints about the noise.

  • Dem Uppity Cyclists

    Pat,

    You sound like a 1960’s southern gentlemen complaining that all those newly activist African-Americans are too "uppity."

    Of course you don’t like how cycling advocates deliver their message. You don’t like the message.

    Your stuff about European climate is silly. In Copenhagen it’s rainy for 6 months of the year, in Paris it’s broiling in the summer and the density is comparable by some measures, the weather in Berlin isn’t all that different than NYC.

    NYC could easily be one of the world’s best biking cities.

  • Steve

    Concerned Parent,

    I have brought my kids (age 5 and 9) to play to this closed-off block of 91st Street a number of times; we do so whenever we have take a trip to the post office. I’ve never heard anyone refer to it as a “promenade,” but the name reflects the pride you rightfully take in this wonderful amenity, a car-free block next to a playground. I’m all for open space like this for kids, and its nice to have a mix of age and socio-economic groups (although to me, the mix on the “promenade” is not all that different than what you see at other playgrounds in this area, such as Seabury or Hunter in the off-season).

    I think you are wrong in suggesting that a one-way marked bike path uphill on this block of 91st Street would “disturb” things. Compare John Finley Walk, along the East River at 81st-90th Streets. That’s a Class I (segregated) bike lane. If anything, the level of bike traffic there is far greater than what you would see on 91st Street with a Class II (painted) lane. There you have bicycles, kids, seniors (including lots of wheelchair and walker users), dog walkers, yuppies, etc. all mixing together. Why do you assume bicycles would be a problem on your block if they aren’t on John Finley Walk?

    Also, you have not responded to the comments about the kids who ride their bikes and skateboards down the hill on this block (at very high speeds). I had to pull my little one out of the way of skateboarders more than once on this block. The bicyclists who would use the proposed one-way bike path up this hill would not add to the danger that is already there. I don’t know whether your comment about “mountain bikers” was intended to be ironic but in fact there are few mountain trails presenting as a steep a grade as this block. Bicyclists preceding up the proposed path would in most cases move at pedestrian speed.

    Your comment that bicyclists “cover a great deal more ground than strollers or walkers” makes it sound like you are not around bicycles or bicyclists very much, and you are harboring many unwarranted and unstated assumptions about how bicycles mix with pedestrians. Check out John Finley some time and then try to tell me why you bicycles work there but would not on East 91st Street. You have not made a case that a one-way Class II bike lane on this block would be a “disturbance.”

  • Pat

    D.U.C.: You compare bicycle advocates to “all those newly activist African-Americans [that} are too “uppity.”? Oh please, don’t flatter yourself.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Regardless, Pat, the point about your comments being nasty and judgmental stands. I still haven’t seen you offer anything constructive to the discussions on this blog. Vespas, is that all you’ve got? Why should anyone take you seriously after the turd that you laid in comment #21?

  • Steve

    Pat’s apparent goal is to divert the conversation away from the proposed 90th/91st bike lane and toward him/herself, like a neglected child searching desperately for attention whether good to bad. We all know the therapy that works for this behavior problem. 😉

    My daughter attends a very small nursery school/summer not far from the block under discussion. We are one of four families in a class of 21 that regularly bicycles with their kids to school. The school’s staff confirmed to me that up until 2004 or so, at most there might be havwe been one parent bicycling in. This is admittedly an unscientific poll and may reflect coincidence, but I believe there has been a dramatic uptick in neighborhood/family cycling on the UES over the last few years that is not captured by the screen line run by DoT further downtown. Installing this bike lane on 90th/91st street would increase cycling even more on the UES.

    I’m glad to see the coveage today indicating that DoT recognizes that the people how happen to live next to this car free block don’t have some kind of absolute veto as to what use it can be put:

    “A spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation, Molly Gordy, said the city has installed bike lanes on the Upper West Side and the Lower East Side despite community opposition to the plans. “We find after installation the projects fit well in these communities,” Ms. Gordy said in an email message.”

    Amen.

  • Steve

    Installation of the eastbound section of this bike lane (on 90th Street) began yesterday. Must admit I thought I’d never see the day that this neighborhood got a bike lane. Let’s see if they have the guts to paint it chartreuse!

    I believe this lane has appeared as a “proposed” Class II route since the Bike Master Plan was issued about 10 years ago, and as you can see from the vintage green signage this was designated as a bike route back in the 1980s under Koch. Thanks DoT–better late than never.

    Pix here:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/43954081@N00/962836837/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/43954081@N00/962837187/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/43954081@N00/962837063/

    There’s nothing on East 91st yet, so we’ll have to wait and see whether the opposition to running the lane up the 91st Street “promenade” is effective.

    Aaron, can you post a diagram of the alternative route for the westbound lane using 89th streets that opponents have proposed?

  • gary

    Just been to Copenhagen and the women are sooooo fit. Maybe you lot can start working on getting out of top spot as worlds fattest country.

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