A Safer Carmine Street? Break Out the Pitchforks!

Plans for a protected bike path on a short stretch of Carmine Street are in jeopardy following a public hearing held by Manhattan Community Board 2’s transportation committee last night. The proposal enjoys unanimous support from committee members and has already won approval from both the full CB and the local block association. But the riled-up crowd that commandeered last night’s proceedings may have the final word.

The plan would protect the existing bike lane between Seventh Avenue and Sixth Avenue by restoring on-street parking to the south side of Carmine and converting the two-way street to one lane east-bound. The idea first surfaced two years ago, after merchants balked at the removal of parking to make way for the original bike lane. The parking-protected bike lane had since cleared no fewer than three public votes held by CB2 and the Carmine Street Block Association, which represents the merchants.

"Everyone on the transportation committee said very strongly that this will result in a safer, quieter, more pleasant street for pedestrians and bicyclists," said CB2’s Ian Dutton. "In the end we said we would write a letter thanking DOT and agreeing
with them, but apparently, due to neighborhood hysteria, now is not the
time to endorse."

Here’s a taste of some of the arguments opponents put forth last night, as recounted by Dutton. The new configuration will make it impossible to execute illegal U-turns on Carmine. The elimination of the west-bound lane will increase traffic flow. Trash bags will slide into the bike lane, making it slippery and dangerous for cyclists.

This last point was scored by a former saxophone shop proprietor who goes by the name "Dr. Rick." Dr. Rick currently runs this website and last night was heard boasting that he’s spent 18 hours a day for the past month convincing people of the dangers that will ensue from the Carmine Street plan.

That’s what it takes to drum up a crowd loud enough to cow supporters of safer streets. "Apparently there were some people there to speak in favor of the plan, and they were threatened enough that they didn’t speak," said Dutton. "The problem is that the people who show up to these meetings are those
who are trying to defend their driving. Nevermind the thousands of
people who walk across those intersections every day."

DOT now finds itself in the position of deciding whether last night’s mob-like display should override three prior public votes and the proven safety benefits of similar street designs. City offices are closed for the holiday and we weren’t able to obtain comment from the agency as of this afternoon. Said Dutton: "We realize that this sets a really bad precedent — a community board asks for a safer street and DOT delivers, and then a few people overturn it."

  • Jonathan, thanks for the suggestion. Oddly enough I’ve used that route coming home from the High Line but it doesn’t usually occur to me when I’m coming home from the Greenway.

    Another variation, from Christopher, is across W. 10th to Seventh Avenue South, then east on West Fourth Street. There’s no bike lane but you can do some bike-friendly open-air banking at the cash machines in Sheridan Square.

  • Vin, I’ve looked at the audio and video on the Carmine Street page. In my experience, the CB2 process is pretty much the same as the way CB7 and CB8 operate. In the audio, it’s explained that CB 2 “approved the one-way design in concept” in November 2007, that the DoT then made a practical study of feasibility; and now there is an opportunity for the block association to say it concurs or does not concur with the final plan. All that is correct and consistent with the CB process, and what happened. One person says that DoT will not go forward with the plan unless the block association concurs, without citing any basis. Unless it is a DoT representative speaking, it is obvious that such a statement can’t be relied on literally. How would it be if DoT, in order to create a truck route, a bike route or any other kinds of route, had to go block by block and get the approval of every block and neighborhood association along the way? No routes for anything would ever be established. You just can’t run city government that way.

    That’s not to say that the CB process is meaningless, but it is a matter of persuasion, not of veto power. I personally don’t think that the arguments put forward by the opponents, while certainly sincere or heartfelt, are particularly compelling; how is the two-way as opposed to one-way vehicular traffic on Carmine is essential to its character? I can’t see how the patterns of vehicular traffic on any street can be taken as “essential” to their character, except in a bad way (for example, Canal is ruined by vehicular traffic).

    Maybe the DoT will view it differently. But if DoT decides to go forward with a one-way design, the community can have a definite influence on how DoT implements its plans, can successfully urge DoT to modify the details to lessen impacts and address community concerns. That is what happened on the East 91st Street bike lane; DoT modified the manner in which the boike lane was designated on the pedestrianized block to meet some of opponents concerns. But DoT did not accept the argument that increasing bike traffic on the block would ruin the experience of other users, because that was simply a frivolous argument. When opponents’ “input” is limited to “not in my backyard,” their opportunity to shape even the details is limited.

  • I stayed for the “executive” community board session, after almost everyone went home. The transportation panel agreed that the majority of the community was opposed to the plan, and voted “no” on the resolution.

    That’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard in a while. A few angry people at a meeting, whatever uniforms they may be wearing, don’t tell you anything about what the majority thinks in a community of thousands.

  • Vin

    Cap, There are in excess of 1000 personally signed petitions, 35 of which are commercial establishments, some of which attended the meeting. These petitions were gathered inside of a week. I believe that speaks for itself.
    I am not opposed to the bike lane and have never been. The bike lane opposition was reactionary when it replaced the meters, by a minority of concerned businesses. Thus followed the secret resolution to change the dynamics and traffic flow of Carmine Street.
    If the 20% of Westbound traffic were to have to continue strait on Bleecker, the next outlet west would be McDougal or Thompson to Houston, then West to Varick. Trucks and buses would need a few maneuvers to attempt these turns, thus causing disastrous backups for the entire area. Carmine Street is a predominately mixed use real estate stretch that calls for and handles the commercial traffic well. Elbow room is essential.

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