Upper East Side Bike Lane Meeting, or Surreal Performance Art?

If you ever go to an Upper East Side community board meeting about bike lanes, bring some popcorn.

Last night, the Manhattan Community Board 8 transportation committee called the bluff of crosstown bike lane opponents. After a parade of people spoke against DOT’s plan to stripe bike lanes on their blocks, even though they support the general concept of bike lanes, the committee asked DOT to explore bike lanes on as many east-west streets as possible. This would spread the “burden” of bike lanes equally.

DOT wants to install three new crosstown dedicated bike routes on the Upper East Side [PDF]. Image: DOT
How many school children will die if DOT stripes crosstown bike lanes on the Upper East Side? Map: DOT
DOT’s plan calls for three pairs of east-west painted bike lanes: on 85th and 84th streets, 78th and 77th streets, and 67th and 68th streets [PDF]. The only change on these streets would be the addition of some thermoplast to delineate space for cycling. After ruling out bolder ideas like a protected lane on 72nd Street, DOT’s proposal is as tame as you can get, with no impact on motor vehicle lanes or parking.

Nevertheless, the mere thought that more people might bike on these crosstown streets was too much for some people to bear.

For nearly two hours, a succession of building managers, block association presidents, school administrators, and even a hospital liaison ticked off their reasons why a simple painted bike lane won’t work on the streets where they live and work.

Denise Goodman, manager of community affairs at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, which is located on 67th Street between First and York, spoke on behalf of her hospital. “We are partners with the DOT, we support these bikes lanes, but really this is the wrong street,” she said. Later in the meeting, a number of administrators, staff, and parents from St. Ignatius Loyola School on 84th Street, including an assistant principal, claimed more bike traffic would put young students in jeopardy.

In one of the night’s more surreal moments, DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione had to allay these fears. “We have been installing bike lanes for many years and we have not had instances of collisions with school children,” she said.

Most of the arguments against the bike lanes focused on why conditions on a specific street — like parking abuse by Fox 5 employees on 67th Street or the concentration of schools on 84th and 85th Streets — purportedly make it a bad candidate for more thermoplast. And many people expressed general support for biking infrastructure — just not in their backyard. Some speakers suggested installing bike lanes on every street so as not to concentrate bike traffic.

That led committee member Sharon Pope to ask: Who opposed specific bike lanes but supported the installation of crosstown lanes in theory? More than 30 hands went up.

Committee co-chair A. Scott Falk pointed out the absurdity. “When we were doing the Citi Bike station siting we had people tell us that busy streets were inappropriate — that we had to put them on quiet streets,” he said. “Except the people on quiet streets told us quiet streets were inappropriate — they had to put them on busy streets. The people on the avenues told us they were only appropriate for the cross streets, but the people on cross streets told us they were only appropriate for the avenues.”

The committee’s final resolution called the NIMBYs on their bluff, turning down DOT’s proposal in favor of a request that the department study and propose bike lanes on every crosstown street in the neighborhood. The resolution passed by a vote of 10 to 3, with two abstentions.

As a statement about ridiculous objections to simple street projects, the resolution works brilliantly. As a way to move things forward, it might not work so well. If DOT takes the resolution at face value, another cycle of studying, presenting, and arguing about painted bike lanes will follow before anything gets striped.

Meanwhile, neighborhood bike advocates like Hindy Schachter are stuck waiting for DOT to do something. Schachter said she was supportive of any proposed bike infrastructure improvements, but that DOT’s proposal could go further to ensure safety for cyclists.

“The East Side needs protected bike lanes, the lanes that actually inspire safety for cyclists, pedestrians and for motorists,” she said. “We’ve been told that we’re not getting protected lanes. We’ve been told that 72nd is off the table. So I’m here tonight to try to get what we’ve been told we’re getting.”

  • This is also the meeting where, allegedly, an anti-bike lane speaker told a pro-bike lane 17-year-old that she wanted to run him over. The thread starts here.

  • Brian Howald

    Committee co-chair A. Scott Falk took bike lane opponents to task at the end of last month’s meeting by explaining to residents and other board members that the problems of each individual street are opportunities for different designs which may in fact solve these problems. He then reiterated how bike lanes were some of the best options to reduce the numerous complaints of driver behavior, that seem to be the preface to any anti-bike lane comment.

  • The people from DOT who make these presentations deserve a Nobel Peace Prize.

    I’m hoping they go out for stiff drinks after having to endure this madness week after week, month after month, and year after year.

  • MatthewEH

    For what it’s worth, the existing lane on UWS westbound on 91st Street (specifically between Amsterdam and Columbus) is pretty useless at school dropoff time, due to the large number of overwide schoolbuses, monster SUVs, etc., all jockeying for position to drop off at the Trinity School. Generally, in fact, I try to organize my east-west morning cycling travel in the UWS based on which cross streets have schools and which lack them. This is also a problem further downtown, on the similar segment of westbound 77th Street, though the dropoff scene at that school (a public school) is not so intense as at hoity-toity Trinity.

    So given a choice between a school-free street for a lane and a school-less route for a lane, I’d opt for the school-free one. Sometimes there isn’t a good alternative, though.

  • MatthewEH

    I don’t see that it’s a safety issue for students on foot, tho; just a safety issue for me and other cyclists.

  • David Meyer

    Yup, there was a lot of nonsense last night. Wish I could capture every insane soundbite but wouldn’t want to distract from the news and opinions that actually matter here.

  • HamTech87

    This intrusion of unelected community boards into issues of safety has hit rock-bottom. Time for them to be cut out of the process before more lives are lost.

  • BBnet3000

    How would these people feel about a proposal to eliminate through-traffic on their streets, reserving them for driving by residents only to park and access their buildings?

    In the US this is called a bike boulevard and local streets without bike lanes that serve as through-routes for cycling and walking via filtered permeability are a large part of the cycling network in bike friendly cities. It’s about time for our local advocates and planners to get on board.

  • HamTech87

    “reserving them for driving by residents only to park and access their buildings”

    I’d bet these community boards would embrace such a proposal. It would guarantee their parking spots by removing competition from others.

  • BBnet3000

    I mean, people could still circle for parking onto blocks where they don’t live but it would be exactly that, circles: they couldn’t use the street to go straight through to anywhere. It would have the effect of tending to keep people from elsewhere from parking on the block. It’s definitely a selling point for the car-centric.

  • J

    You know how many bike lane opponents bothered to show up at the PPW hearing? ZERO. Why? Because everyone from children to grandmothers uses it, and you’d look like an absolute monster to keep fighting against it.

    I’d never let children ride in the lanes DOT has proposed, and they won’t have any power to change hearts and minds. I say we save our political capital for supporting real Dutch-style bike infrastructure. These crappy bike lanes are not worth the fight.

  • HamTech87

    Can’t believe there is not one east-west street for a protected lane. wtf?

  • Brian Howald

    Actually, on this topic, I think this is the rare case of a community board (committee) being more progressive than the residents who show up to speak at their meetings.

  • “If children were struck by cyclists, they might be injured, which is painful and unpleasant. Unlike getting squashed by a car, which is often fatal, much more humane.”

  • Alexander Vucelic

    47 people spoke

    30% strongly in favor of DOT proposal
    25% against
    10% hate all bikes all the time
    20% wanted lanes just not on my street
    5% wanted less parking more lanes
    4% wanted lanes on every street

  • Alexander Vucelic

    I heard the ‘death threat’. It was really said by a grumpy filthy older woman

  • ZB

    A. Scott Falk is a goddamn hero.

  • DRDV

    How embarrassing for a place like Memorial Sloan Kettering to be represented by someone like this. Let’s hope their oncologists follow science and data more than this “community affairs” flack.

  • DRDV

    And David, it’s worth a follow-up to MSK to see if this is really MSK’s official position on bike lanes — if this hospital is really opposed to bike lanes and safe streets, that’s something the community deserves to know. Would also be interesting know on what sort of safety data they’re basing this position on.

  • cjstephens

    As an Upper East Side native, I am regularly appalled at the behavior of my neighbors at Community Board 8 meetings – until I have to go to a Community Board meeting elsewhere and I realize that this kind of craziness is par for the course.

    One important takeaway from last night’s meeting, which was the second on the subject of crosstown bike lanes: at the first meeting residents brought up the same litany of objections (schools! hospitals! police precincts! bus routes!). Last night, DOT came back with detailed maps and statistics showing how many schools, hospitals, etc., had bike lanes in front of them without any problems (hundreds and hundreds, it turns out). You would think that this would have silenced some of the naysayers, but apparently not. Kudos all the same to the DOT for doing their homework.

  • Andrew

    You would think that this would have silenced some of the naysayers, but apparently not.

    You seem to assume that bike lane opponents are rational. That assumption appears to be in error.

  • BBnet3000

    without any problems

    Other than rampant double parking blocking the lanes.

  • cjstephens

    I think that condition isn’t found only in front of schools, precincts, etc. It happens anywhere entitled drivers congregate, alas.

  • cjstephens

    Sorry, my mistake. Sigh.

  • walks bikes drives

    You mean: on streets.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    CB8 already voted in favour of a crosstown protected bike land installed in 2017

  • Alexander Vucelic

    CB8 transportation committee is very pro-bike. They skillfully managed the Citibike approval and now got a resolution passed for bike lanes on every street !

  • Lincoln

    CB8 is leaps and bounds ahead of CB7.

  • John D

    one real impact of painted lanes to mitigate is the streetsweeping chaos that happens for an hour-and-a-half each week.

    If the UES has the same “courtesy double parking” as Park Slope during this time period, then you end up with (from l-to-r) parked cars, bike lane (still enforced by ticket agents), double-parked cars, narrow travel lane … basically a street impassable to large cars and trucks. And forget it if even one car fails to move on the entire block

    Obvious result: MUCH honking/shouting, etc. for the residents of the block

    We live it on Berkeley Place every Tuesday from 11:30 to 1

  • J
  • Alexander Vucelic

    nope

  • Alexander Vucelic

    It’s a nuanced story

    CB8 asked for 2 things in Nov:

    First – painted bike lanes by Spring 2016

    Second – DOT study and implement protected bike lane asap ( implied by 2017)

    nothing has changed this,in fact the CB8 Trans committee just passed a resolution calling for DOT to install bike lanes on every possible crosstown street.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    Drivers are causing problems: . damn Bikes ! is evidently your analysis.

    obvious solution to obnoxious drivers fighting for parking is to install smart meters to charge a market clearing price for parking. Freeloaders go away and plenty of spaces open up for people who really need them

  • Tyson White

    What if they did perpendicular parking (or angle parking) on one side, and no parking on the other side, leaving room for a bike lane protected by plastic bollareds?

  • Miles Bader

    Parents shouldn’t be driving their kids to school, so how about just making the street schoolbus only…?

  • Alexander Vucelic

    up until 1952 it was illegal to park overnight in Manhattan – why not revive this civilized policy ? Streets will be quieter at night, safer, and private property will be stored where it belongs

  • Tyson White

    I agree. The majority of parking on the upper East and West sides are free.

    The main nimby oppostion to the Amsterdam bike lane was, as they said, parking spaces would be lost for people who need them, such as people who work in places not accessible with public transit. The reality is, that those who actually get the parking spaces are people who are NOT employed, or work from home, and have plenty of free time to play the alternate side parking musical chairs game. All the building supers have cars!

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