The transportation committee of Manhattan Community Board 11 wants to see protected bike lanes on First and Second Avenues, which the city promised for East Harlem last year and then delayed. Joined by City Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, who spoke strongly in favor of the project, the committee endorsed plans to build protected lanes between 96th Street and 125th Street on both avenues in a vote of 5-1, with two abstentions.
Officials from the Department of Transportation presented plans to build parking-protected bike lanes on both avenues to the committee last night, saying they would have the same design as on First Avenue south of 34th Street. On that stretch of road, said DOT, the protected bike lanes and pedestrian islands have greatly improved safety — injuries are down 37 percent there — without leading to increased congestion.
DOT bike and pedestrian director Josh Benson said that construction could start as soon as next spring, though he didn’t commit to building out all thirty blocks of each avenue at once. Because First Avenue already has a buffered bike lane, he said, work would start on Second. No work would be done in the Second Avenue Subway work zone south of 100th Street until construction there was complete.
Mark-Viverito took the floor immediately after DOT’s presentation to highlight her support for the plan. City streets need to balance the needs of everyone in the community, she said, “and bikers are a part of that.” In East Harlem, she argued, the need for safe cycling is particularly acute: The neighborhood has high obesity and asthma rates as well as a large senior population in need of shorter road crossings. She also noted that East Harlem was only getting these lanes after being dropped from the early rounds of construction and added back in after sustained activism from the community.
Mark-Viverito also forcefully laid out the case for parking-protected bike lanes. “I don’t think what we have in this community are bike lanes,” she said. “They don’t offer a level of protection and they’re not respected, since they’re just painted on the ground.”
The debate wasn’t unanimous — one community board member worried that with the bike lane, a double-parked car would narrow an avenue to only two through lanes, and a local health teacher complained about the 166 parking spaces that would be removed in the plan — but most who spoke were in favor of the plan.
“I’m not only a cyclist but a mom with four kids who all cycle, and also a driver. It makes complete sense,” said committee chair Peggy Morales, who voted for the lanes, after the meeting. Morales was only a block away when local cyclist Marcus Ewing was doored and killed by a truck last October. “We should be able to go cycling without having to take our lives into our own hands,” said Morales. “This is long overdue.”
The full board of CB 11 will vote on the bike lanes on September 20th. The transportation committee of the Upper East Side’s CB 8 will vote on the lanes in their district tonight.