Fight for Completed East Side Bike Lanes Comes to City Hall Steps

Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito holds 2,500 handwritten letters to Mayor Bloomberg, urging him to complete the First and Second Avenue bike lanes. Behind her are Sen. José Serrano and Assm. Brian Kavanagh. Photo: Noah Kazis.
Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito holds 2,500 handwritten letters to Mayor Bloomberg, urging him to complete the First and Second Avenue bike lanes. Behind her are State Senator José Serrano, left, and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, right. Photo: Noah Kazis

After rallying on the steps of City Hall this afternoon, Transportation Alternatives delivered 2,500 handwritten letters urging Mayor Bloomberg to complete the protected bike lanes on First and Second Avenues. Joined by elected officials and more than forty supporters, T.A. called on Bloomberg to fulfill the promise of safe walking and cycling on Manhattan’s East Side and to complete the bike and pedestrian improvements up to 125th Street.

T.A. Executive Director Paul Steely White said he’s urging the city to complete the corridor by the end of next year. To meet that goal, he said, an announcement from the city needs to come in the next six weeks or so.

A completed corridor has received strong support from the East Side. Before designs for First and Second were announced, 19 electeds signed a letter calling for protected bike and bus lanes for the length of the route. After the plan was first released with protected lanes from Houston to 125th, every community board along the corridor supported the design, said White.

The fight to complete the unfinished lanes has earned the endorsement of 39 organizations, including transportation and planning groups, environmental advocates, and public health organizations like the New York Academy of Medicine and the East Harlem Aging Improvement District.

Today, elected officials continued to press for safer cycling and walking. Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh said he was “calling on the city to finish what they started.” The city had already budgeted funds for the full corridor’s construction and received community approval for the full plans, said Kavanagh. “We don’t want bike lanes to nowhere,” he argued.

State Senator José Serrano argued that shifting street space from the automobile to biking and walking would improve health in his neighborhoods. “If we reduce carbon emissions along these stretches of First and Second,” he said, “we can reduce asthma in East Harlem.”

City Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito highlighted the inequity of the city’s approach to installing bike infrastructure. “Why should Midtown get the benefits of these bike lanes and pedestrian islands?” she asked.

Between 1998 and 2008, nearly 4,900 pedestrians and cyclists were injured or killed on First and Second Avenues between Houston and 125th Streets, according to data compiled by the state Department of Transportation. Most of those injuries and fatalities — 72 percent — took place on the unfinished stretch between 34th and 125th streets.

Rally participants spoke for those whose lives have been harmed or taken away on streets with very long crossing distances and no provision for safer cycling. Sabrina Bishop recalled coming home to New York City on August 19 excited to find the new bike lanes in front of her home downtown. Only one week later, however, she found herself waiting for her friend Bob Bowen to arrive. “He didn’t show up,” said Bishop. “He had been hit by a flatbed truck.” That crash occurred at Second and 59th, where the promised bike infrastructure was not built. Bowen died on August 30.

Mt. Sinai pediatrician Kevin Chatham-Stevens highlighted the effect of East Harlem’s street design on the community’s children, who suffer the highest rates of asthma hospitalization in the city, as well as elevated obesity rates. “When I talk to them about cycling,” he said, “they often say that they don’t feel safe cycling in East Harlem due to speeding traffic and the lack of protected space.” With protected lanes, he argued, it might be possible to increase physical activity in the neighborhood.

  • Chris

    I hope this happens. With rising subways fare, I think I’d rather just bike to/from work rather than take the subway and this would definitely make that more of a reality. There is no east side bike connection between 59th and 34th on the east side at all (the East River Greenway has a 25 block gap there in mid-town).

  • ((125 – 34) / 125) * 100 = 72.8%

    Just sayin’…

  • meb

    I’ve been riding midtown east and the UES for years for my commute. 1st and 2nd have always presented real issues and have never been a nice ride. Now that Select Bus is in place and I’m trying to “do the right thing” by staying out of that lane it feels substantially less safe, especially around the Queensboro Bridge feeders from 1st and 2nd.

    I range between being disappointed with the city and feeling outright anger at the complete lack of common sense when they rolled out Select Bus on the east side and left people like me in this position.

  • JK

    Kudos to TA. There is no substitute for community organizing. This is really solid work. This kind of support is cumulative. It’s something DOT and the Mayor can point to when they get the inevitable complaints.

    Speaking of complaints, was Marcia Kramer there? Or will she only show up in two years when the guy who owns the pizzeria on 2nd avenue gets pissed when he gets a double parking ticket after the protect lane is in?

  • meb, I agree the situation is worse, and the reason is that the termination of the bike path at 34th street was not planned, but rather abruptly decided through some opaque process late last spring. To make matters worse, the Greenway “wayfinding signs” on the right hand sides of First and Second Avenues between 37th Streets and 55th Streets were removed when the SBS lanes went in, and were not replaced on the left-hand side of those avenues. Not that they afforded any protection, but they were at least a reminder to drivers that these avenues are a designated cycling route. This most dangerous stretch of First and Second Avenues through midtown is now actually worse due to the abrupt and mismanaged termination of the bike facility at 34th Street.

  • This thing costs virtually pennies for transportation with less than 1% the environmental footprint of cars.

    If NYC is serious about mitigating climate change the East Side route should be completed ASAP.

    Business-as-usual is far from acceptable.

  • Sean

    I altered my commute to take advantage of the First Avenue lane in the morning and Second Avenue lane in the evening. They’re faster and safer than my previous route. Overall, I think the DOT did a nice job.

    A stretch of Second Avenue that I use, beginning at 23rd Street and extending five or 10 blocks south, is an unprotected lane. I wish this was different because it feels less safe than the protected sections and invites motorists to park in it. Hopefully, DOT will upgrade this section to a protected lane in the future.

    On all parts of the lanes, you do need to watch for left-turning vehicles and wayward pedestrians. The sight lines with drivers are good though. I wave and point that I’m going straight. They usually nod in approval. I was expecting the intersections to be difficult, but this has been much easier than expected.

    At times, pedestrians stand in the lane. It’s annoying, but I think this will be less of a problem in time. I’m polite. I point out that there’s a bike lane here, I have a green light, and they’re blocking my way. Most are actually cordial in return and step back. I see no point in antagonizing them and giving them reason to complain about cyclists and the lane.

    The most striking aspect of my new route though are the few blocks to/from my office on 38th Street to where the lanes begin/end on 34th. These few blocks are miserable to ride on and I often just get off my bike and walk it on the sidewalk. Having these (mostly) protected lanes makes such a difference. I’m really grateful to the DOT and TA for making them a reality. They deserve to be extended.

  • You have to believe that the advocacy is completely corrupted by the fossil fuel industry and that climate change will gravely affect all aspects of civilization, transportation inclusive.

  • Glenn

    Kudos to Steve Vaccaro and the rest of the TA East Side Committee for channeling the anger and frustration of the administration’s decision to stop the improvements at 34th Street into something productive. Solid work all around!

  • Yes, got to hand it to the East Side Committee. Great that those electeds were there, and that is a damn good turnout for the middle of a workday!

    After success on this front, then it’s time to get some good bike lanes higher up in Harlem.

  • Ditto — great work, Steve and the East Side Committee. I was glad to be able to attend and make a tiny repayment on the great support for the Oct. 21 PPW rally.

  • On behalf of the Transportation Alternatives East Side Committee, thanks for the kind words, Glenn and ddartley. This letter-writing drive would have been impossible without the help of so many great volunteers from the East Side (and from elsewhere, like Glenn). And it’s thanks to the superb support from the T.A. staff that rally came off so well yesterday, and included such a great line-up of speakers.

    But even with all that help, the most remarkable thing to me about this campaign was how readily the average cyclist and pedestrian was willing to donate time and effort and write a letter by hand to the Mayor. About 70% of the cyclists solicited, and 10-15% of the pedestrians solicited, wrote a letter. Even before the Digital Age, marshaling 2,500 people to each write an individualized grievance on an ostensibly prosaic topic like street design was very unusual. There was nothing of this magnitude in support of the anti-Westway campaign in the 1970s. Given the strong preference for digital communication now, it is all the more surprising that so many cyclists and pedestrians were willing to stop for several minutes and write a letter by hand. Other efforts, like the large 8:00 a.m. turnout at the Prospect Park West demonstration a few weeks back, and the 100,000+ signature petition to get cars out of Central Park, further demonstrate the depth of support for livable streets issues.

    It seems that right now, livable streets is THE defining issue for many pedestrians, and virtually all cyclists. The big question is whether people can mobilize around this issue in sufficient numbers to reliably influence public officials. For those who want to personally explore the answer, please sign up for our no-cost East Side Committee discussion group to learn how to get involved!

  • Klessnau

    I want more bike lanes!

    It is great for everybody!

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