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Last Night’s CB Action: A Big Vote of Confidence for Protected Bike Lanes

Manhattan Community Board 8 issued a strong call for safer streets on the Upper East Side last night, voting 38 to 1 for a resolution supporting protected bike lanes. The reso asks DOT to come back to the CB with a neighborhood bike plan that includes physically protected lanes, though it refrains from mentioning specific routes.

painted_lane_madison.jpgPainted lanes are not enough, East Siders told CB8 last night. Photo: BicyclesOnly/Flickr.

For New Yorkers awaiting the day when it's safe for all ages to bike the East Side's wide avenues, last night's vote signals a big step forward. Especially when you consider that it comes from a board which has not always embraced the notion that the interests of cyclists and pedestrians are aligned. 

Thanks to groundwork laid by Transportation Alternatives' East Side committee, yesterday's proceedings offered further evidence that, as Charles Komanoff wrote a few weeks ago, cyclists are shedding their status as "the embattled minority." By and large, the discussion lacked duke-it-out drama. During the public comment period, eight speakers testified in favor of the resolution, including TA's bike advocacy director Caroline Samponaro, who delivered a few hundred signatures for good measure. None spoke against. And when it came time for the board to take up the matter, a few CB 8 members identified themselves as bike commuters.

People spoke movingly about their harrowing experiences trying to ride in their own neighborhood, and about the inadequacy of un-protected bike lanes. "Painted lines on the road are not safe," said Jack Russell, 62, a 29-year resident of Yorkville. Given the lack of protected space and the disconnected state of the East River greenway, several cyclists testified that they ride far out of their way -- over to the Hudson River path -- to get downtown. Anthony Romer, a recent transplant from Madison, Wisconsin, told the board that he just doesn't ride as much since he moved to New York: "If I ride here, I put my life on the line."

It's true that community board members were not asked to render a decision on a specific route. But they had plenty of real New York City examples to draw from (not just tales from Europe) as they formulated their votes. Anyone who's ventured outside in Manhattan recently can picture the Ninth Avenue bike lane and the newly transformed Broadway, which were invoked on more than one occasion last night. If last night's vote is any indication, it's hard to argue with the impressive safety records of these existing Class 1 bike facilities. They provide solid proof that safer streets for cyclists are safer for pedestrians too.

Three years ago, when local resident and activist Glenn McAnanama approached CB8's transportation committee about better bike lanes for the neighborhood, the idea that bike infrastructure makes streets safer didn't gain much traction. "Whenever cycling came up they turned it into a discussion of scofflaw cyclists," he said. "Increasing the number of cyclists in the neighborhood was not on their agenda." He views last night's vote as a sign that the CB has committed to street safety and wants to "get more iterative with the DOT."

The vote of confidence in protected bike lanes would never have happened without the advocates and volunteers working on TA's East Side campaign. "Last night was really the culmination of a year-long effort by our East Side committee to be more engaged with the community board," said Samponaro. "Going to your community board and advocating for these things at a local level can bring change."

For Samponaro, the signature moment of the night came when 11-year-old Clark Vaccaro talked about the dangers he faces on his ride to school. "I don't think the CB expected that," she said. "It becomes very hard to vote against these measures when you see the faces of people who are asking for them."

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