On the Upper East Side, community board members are willing to vote for safer streets, so long as they can vent about cyclists beforehand.
After a discussion that emphasized bad bike behavior, the transportation committee of Community Board 8 voted 9-2, with one abstention, to support the construction of a protected bike lane on First Avenue from 60th Street to 96th Street.
Above 72nd Street, First Avenue already has a buffered bike lane. Upgrading to a protected lane requires only that DOT flip the lanes for bikes and parking, while maintaining existing lanes for drivers. Between 60th and 72nd, though, there isn’t any bike lane at all. Filling that gap between the shared lane through Midtown and the buffered lane further north would be DOT’s top construction priority, said Ryan Russo, DOT assistant commissioner for traffic management. Construction could start as early as this fall.
DOT is neither building nor presenting plans for a new bike lane on Second Avenue, and won’t until Second Avenue Subway construction is complete years from now. Even in the few blocks below the construction zone, where DOT had originally planned to paint a shared lane, Russo said the combination of subway and water tunnel construction meant that no changes would be made.
To some extent, the limited scope of the redesign contributed to the committee’s endorsement. “I see 72nd to 96th Street as a no-brainer,” said committee co-chair Jonathan Horn. “There’s already a bike lane there. We’re trading a few parking spaces to get pedestrian islands which shorten the crossing for seniors and other people.” A 2009 resolution from the community board said that if bike lanes were to be built on the Upper East Side, they should be protected lanes.
Even so, for many committee members, the idea of drawing more cyclists to the neighborhood was tough to tolerate. “Unless you enforce the laws and make the penalties enough to deter people from doing what they’re currently doing, you should not be encouraging bicycling,” said board member Elizabeth Ashby.
Barry Schneider told the story of a friend of his who was hit by a cyclist 20 years ago and urged that the state register cyclists. “Be an advocate for that,” Schneider told DOT. “Make them part of the vehicular culture.”
“The bike lanes are preceding education,” complained another board member. “You have given us the perfect picture to look at, but in reality it’s really not a perfect picture.” She asked for a public service announcement on safe cycling, and when informed that “Don’t Be A Jerk” ads were already running demanded far wider distribution.
Many board members who complained about cyclists nevertheless voted for the lanes. In the end, the proven increase in safety from the new design further downtown and the desire for pedestrian refuge islands carried the day. In fact, a proposed compromise put forward by Horn, in which the protected bike lanes would be built north of 72nd while a shared lane would be built south of 72nd, was shot down because it wouldn’t improve pedestrian safety.
“In our area, I’m one of them, there are more and more seniors,” explained Judy Schneider. “I like having a shorter street to cross.”
Public testimony, which was overwhelmingly in favor of the protected lanes, surely helped swing some votes in favor of the lanes as well. “It is very tough to go on the streets of Manhattan and without having a protected bicycle lane, it is very dangerous,” said Upper East Side bike commuter Steven Moss. He explained that while he rides in the protected lanes further down on First and Second, uptown he often ends up riding in the Select Bus Service lane for safety reasons, slowing down transit riders in the process. “I’m not supposed to be there,” admitted Moss, “but what is a bicyclist to do?”
The committee’s resolution does request additional cyclist enforcement on First and Second Avenue (specifically praising the 19th precinct for its borough-leading level of bike citations), as well as a stronger education campaign. The committee will discuss a proposal to require licenses for all bike riders at next month’s meeting.
The full board of Community Board 8 meets to vote on the issue on September 21.