Bill Thompson, Business Owners Decry Phantom Bike Lane

IMG_6519.jpgGreenwich Avenue: Plenty of commerce-loving cyclists, no bike lane.

At a recent campaign stop in Greenwich Village, city comptroller and mayoral candidate William Thompson got an earful from local merchants about the hardships of running a small business. While Tea & Sympathy owner Sean Kavanagh-Dowsett calling Chris Quinn "a whore," and Thompson’s reaction, made headlines citywide, The Villager’s account of the forum contained this interesting nugget:

Shop owners also protested that bicycle lanes have made deliveries difficult if not impossible. A pizzeria on Greenwich Ave. that used to depend on cabbies stopping at the curb to get a quick slice has lost the trade and is closing shop, someone reported. Thompson agreed that bike lanes have been a nightmare in places like Astoria and in Manhattan, especially on Grand St. in Little Italy.

So Bill Thompson, opponent of East River bridge tolls and pedestrian safety improvements in Chinatown, apparently also thinks bike lanes are a "nightmare." If Thompson is out to establish himself as not-Mike Bloomberg, he’s making a lot of headway when it comes to livable streets.

One thing, though: Thompson may want to tour Greenwich Avenue himself. It doesn’t have a bike lane.

It could be that the "someone" in the crowd meant Greenwich Street, which does have a lane. Or maybe it was a typo. The larger issue, regardless, is whether current comptroller and mayoral aspirant Thompson really believes that business communities in cyclist- and pedestrian-rich places like Greenwich Village rely on auto traffic for their survival.

We asked Community Board 2’s Ian Dutton (his letter to The Villager was already on its way) about the impact of actual bike lanes on business in his home district. Here’s what he had to say:

It’s no news story that businesses are having a tough time with the
current economic state in our neighborhood and around the country, on
streets with bike lanes and on streets choked with traffic. I find it
hard to believe that the presence of a bike lane scares off customers
in cars, upon which Village businesses rarely depend, but embracing a
street design that leads to a more pleasant experience for pedestrians
and bike riders might just be a jackpot for a business.

Tourists and local residents make up the lion’s share of shoppers and
diners in our neighborhood and you’d have to work hard to convince me
that they’d stop patronizing a business that had a safer, quieter,
neighborhood-oriented streetscape. Attributing an individual business’
failure on a bike lane, particularly in an economy with shuttered
storefronts on every block, is simply passing blame while ignoring
reality.

  • Even on Greenwich Street, there’s only two pizzerias listed on Google Maps: Pintaile (510 Greenwich Street, just south of Spring), and Tribeca (378 Greenwich Street near North Moore). Anyone have time to swing by them on their way home and check it out?

  • The incident occurred while Thompson was visiting Tea & Sympathy, which is on Greenwich Ave., so I don’t think the location of the pizzeria in question would have been mistaken for Greenwich St. (though it is a common mistake).

  • Ambivalent Voter

    Despite my appreciation of all of what Bloomy’s DOT has done under Sadik-Khan I was still on the fence about voting for him. Bill Thompson just changed that. I will do my part, along with Bloomy’s billions, to make sure Thompson gets drummed out of public office.

  • Does anyone question these claims? It seems that anyone who owns a business can get their name in the paper by telling a reporter that two stripes of white paint on the street are causing their business to fail. I’m still putting my money on the crippling recession.

    I do think that bike lanes and other street improvements should come with more bells and whistles. How about an entire row of trees or some really nice ornamental iron work to go with your new bike lane? What about some extra seating space created by getting rid of some parking? How about nice stone stone pavers or curbs?

  • The problem, Dan, is that when they put in bike lanes, the DOT frequently reassures motorists that “no parking will be removed.” Forget extra seating space or trees, they often avoid removing parking even for safety or convenience reasons. I’m not convinced it’s good politics.

  • Peter Flint

    There are no pizzarias on Greenwich Street in the West Village currently. There was one at Charles Street, but it closed well over a year ago, long before the current bike lane was installed. Whether there are any on Greenwich AVENUE is moot since there isn’t a bike lane there anyway.

    I’m getting a little tired of hearing local businesses try to pin their problems on bicycle lanes. With a very few exceptions, most small businesses are not surviving based on cabbie business. These business owners should know that the more they whine about the lanes, the less likely I am to go in their store.

    As a side note, The Villager generally does a decent job covering local news, but does tend to have an anti-bicycle slant at times, as has been noted here and in their own letters pages.

  • t

    Where’s all the outrage about the “No Standing” zones scattered throughout the city? Don’t those do more to harm in-and-out auto traffic and quick runs for slices than bike lanes?

  • Stand Here

    t (comment #7) No Standing, No Stopping and hydrant parking spots are actually what park and dash shoppers use because the rest of the curb is always full.

  • Personally I really can’t stand that bike lane on the BQE. It’s bad for business.

  • With respect to this story, a thought surfaced tonight at a local meeting (accompanied by a laugh): maybe bike lanes in close proximity to Wall Street caused last year’s global economic meltdown!

    Someone call Fox 5!

  • gecko

    Bleeker Street has a wonderful bike lane and seems busier than ever. These bikes lanes are transforming the city to a much nicer place. Kind of wonder where these people are coming from who don’t like them. Maybe they should get out more.

  • Undecided

    Re: #3

    I completely agree. Though I appreciate some of the things that Bloomberg and Sadik-Khan have accomplished, I’ve been no fan of the way he muscled his way through term limits, and was very receptive to hearing what Bill Thompson had to say this year. This certainly doesn’t help his case.

  • The Opoponax

    The funny thing is that, because only certain streets have bike lanes, and because traveling by bike keeps me aboveground rather than hurtling below street level on the subway, I’m much more likely to NOTICE businesses I didn’t before if they’re on my bike route.

  • Cliff

    Anyone who would argue that their business lost its trade because cabbies are unwilling to stop briefly in a bike lane obviously doesnt’t get out into the real world all that much. When was the last time you saw a cab hesitate to use a bike lane as a pick-up/drop-off/temporary parking spot? That said, I am disappointed that Thompson would chose to catagorize (some) bike lanes as “nightmares.” Once again it seems that the inability to envision the use of public space in a less car centric manner completely eludes people.

  • Car Free Nation

    What about the Grand Street bike lane pisses people off so much? Is it that it’s different, maybe a little confusing for drivers?
    I’m disjointedness with this reaction, since the Grand Street solution is perfect for so many streets in the city.

  • M

    Precisely, Cliff, precisely. Nobody issues tickets for bus lane violations, let alone a bike lane violation. Speaking as though cab drivers are the most traffic-law-conscious individuals in the city is nothing short of hilarious.

  • gecko

    Coming up Third Avenue 5am this morning to Grand Central Station to catch a train it was apparent that having a cycle track on Third Avenue or any of the major Eastside avenues going uptown is truly a life-and-death issue.

  • It doesn’t make any sense… the bike lane hasn’t reduced the number of parking spaces. If the cabbies were grabbing a quick slice and the bike lane is preventing them, that means they must have been double parking. Last time I checked not legal.

  • Lincoln

    The Villager is not anti-bike as Peter Flint suggests. The Villager supports creating more bike lanes and making the city more bike friendly, whenever and wherever possible. Read our past editorials. However, if Little Italy merchants are upset about a bike lane on Grand St., we will cover it — fairly and objectively — as a news story, because it is news.

  • Today’s City Room writes about how Staten Island retailers are suffering, but interestingly enough, the new Greenbelt bike path isn’t blamed.

  • It really would be interesting to pin Thompson down, at a similar forum but with less hysteria, and get him on the record explaining exactly where he stands on expanding the bicycle network, pedestrian malls like Broadway Plaza, or whether would even continue Summer Streets. If Thompson’s position is that bike lanes in Astoria and Manhattan have been “a nightmare” I suspect Janet Sadek-Khan probably wouldn’t be his first choice for DOT Commissioner.

    I’ve been seriously considering voting for Thompson but, if it means going back to the way things were eight years ago, I’ll probably wind up voting for Bloomberg again.

  • The Opoponax

    For those who are appalled by Thompson’s stance against human-friendly streets but don’t want to vote for Bloomberg, why not consider voting for Reverend Billy? His campaign is pro-livable streets, otherwise liberal, and not a proto-fascist term limits violator. They’ve been pretty visible at SummerStreets, too, and Rev. Billy has often worked with bike advocacy groups.

  • And Rev. Billy has gotten what results?The Naked Cowboy seems to be a big fan of car-free Times Square too.

    I’m not a single issue voter and I wouldn’t switch my vote over a single paragraph in one newspaper, but I certainly would love to hear more learn more about all the candidates positions on livable streets issues.

  • The Opoponax

    Considering that Thompson can’t even be arsed to advertise against Bloomberg, I’m not sure the whole “zomg but who votes for THE GREEN PARTY?!” thing is really apt in this particular situation.

    Bloomberg is going to win whether people like us vote for him or not. I’d rather cast my vote for someone whose platform actually reflects my values than hold my nose and vote for an equally tokenistic candidate.

  • scared of cyclists

    I take every opportunity to harp on this because, it seems, as cyclists you want more and more and are unwilling to follow rules yourselves. I have lived in the West Village for 6 years and have been terrorized by cyclists the entire time. Bike lanes? Who cares, you make your own bike lanes by riding on the sidewalks. This is not only illegal, but dangerous. I have been struck by a cyclist every year because they ride on the sidewalks.

    Also, I have no sympathies when a cyclist is killed when I see so many of them zipping in and out of cars, riding in the opposite direction of traffic, not stopping at stop signs and not obeying traffic signals – all illegal and all contributing to your death. And why is it so difficult for you to stop your bike and SIT at a red light and not circle around in the crosswalk like sharks? You act like you’ve got a battery on there that will die if you don’t keep your wheels in motion.

    I am not pro-car, I would be very happy to eliminate most of them from NYC. But I’m pro-pedestrian. And I simply can not support a culture that has no consideration for the safety of those who choose to use two feet instead of two wheels.

  • The Opoponax

    “I have been struck by a cyclist every year because they ride on the sidewalks.”

    And, as a cyclist who NEVER (everevereverever) rides on the sidewalk, I hit a pedestrian approximately once a week because pedestrians would rather dick around with their blackberries than look both ways before they jaywalk. Bells make no difference. Screaming “HEY YOU! GET OUT OF THE WAY!” does nothing. Luckily I ‘hit’ these peds at miniscule speeds, similar to the impact you would get if a fellow pedestrian ran into you on the sidewalk.

    Between the Lemming effect and the fact that a lot of pedestrians prefer walking in bike lanes to walking on sidewalks, I’m starting to figure out why certain pedestrians seem to think cyclists have it out for them. Because THEY’RE the ones breaking the traffic laws.

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