East Harlem to Bloomberg: Protected Bike Lanes Must Extend Uptown

East_Harlem_Bike_Lanes.jpgEast Harlem will only be getting a bike lane upgrade on First Avenue this year (top). Protected lanes like those slated for downtown (bottom) have not been guaranteed.

East Harlem residents are outraged by the city’s backtracking on plans to bring protected bike lanes to their neighborhood. 

At a public meeting about the re-design of First and Second Avenues held by Community Board 11 last
night, neighborhood residents demanded that safe cycling conditions
extend uptown, but DOT representatives were unable to guarantee future improvements. Up until this week, DOT had publicly indicated its intention to construct protected bike lanes on the corridor in East Harlem, in conjunction with the rollout of Select Bus Service. But three days ago, Mayor Bloomberg announced a re-design for the avenues that specifically called for protected bike lanes only between Houston and 34th Streets — a stretch that will itself be compromised on nine blocks of Second Avenue (more on that later).

From the beginning, East Harlem residents expressed anger about the Bloomberg administration’s neglect of their neighborhood. James Garcia, a local bike commuter, testified first and denounced the lack of protected lanes north of 34th Street. "I pay my taxes like everyone else, and we deserve the same treatment north of 96th Street," he said. "We deserve the same development that Lower Manhattan gets." 

DOT bike coordinator Josh Benson first explained the scaled-back plans by telling the group that there’s only so much construction that can be completed in a year, and that completing the full corridor this summer would be impossible. 

But that answer didn’t satisfy those in attendance. "Why don’t we start in East Harlem?" asked one community board member. 

The response from Joe Barr, DOT’s director of transit development, was that the agency prioritizes the extension of bike infrastructure where it already exists, in order to build an interconnected network. "My sense is that — and this isn’t a fair answer for this community — we have a lot of bike infrastructure leading up to First and Second Avenue" from the south, he told the crowd.

This too met with a determined call for equitable access to safe streets. "There’s always some reason that the people making these decisions start in the areas that already get excess attention," said CB 11 transportation committee chair Peggy Morales, "while ours gets put on the back burner." Later, noting the high rates of obesity and asthma in her neighborhood,
Morales asked Mayor Bloomberg to "stop telling us what’s wrong with us
and help us fix it."

Further disappointing neighborhood residents, officials were unable to make a firm commitment to eventually building protected lanes uptown. The target is 2011, said Benson, but when pressed to make guarantees, he demurred.

"It’s good to keep that pressure up," Barr told the disappointed crowd. "The more we hear from the community that, ‘Yes, we want this,’ the more likely it is that it gets done next year." 

After the meeting, Morales said she was ready to take a resolution demanding protected bike lanes in East Harlem to an official meeting of her committee. She had no doubt that such a resolution would pass.

  • JW

    Why havent we seen consideration of reverting the avenues back to two-way traffic?

  • Great news that a majority minority area like East Harlem is so attuned to the basic safety and public health issues involved of bike lanes.

    With the lack of good bus service in that NE corner of Manhattan, especially east-west buses, creates a real need for crosstown biking/ped safety infrastructure as well.

  • Bolwerk

    If we’re getting this elaborate, wouldn’t it make more sense to simply extend sidewalks further into the street and put bike lanes on them? Get the bikes off the street as much as possible. People are used to parking next to curbs, so it should be less of a problem.

  • Mike

    What is this about 9 blocks of 2nd Ave?!

  • Larry Littlefield

    “We deserve the same development that Lower Manhattan gets.”

    Hopefully they’ll apply that same thinking to the Second Avenue Subway, though it requires a greater appreciation of deferred gratification.

    In the not too distant future (as these things go), the signals on the Lex will either fail or replaced. By that time, one would hope that the full top half of the SAS, including the transfer to the Lex and MetroNorth at 125th Street, would be finished.

    That connection might also mean fewer physicians working in the institutions along the East River traveling by car.

  • J

    The wealthy Upper West Side CB BARELY passed a resolution supporting a tiny 1 mile protected lane, and they’re going to get it this summer. Meanwhile the asthma-choked and obesity-ridden East Harlem is practically begging for for the 2.5 miles of protected lanes they were promised a year ago, and yet they’re getting the shaft. Someone explain to me how that ISN’T discrimination.

  • J

    Let us not forget that as late as April 5, 2010, DOT was giving presentations on how to connect the full 1st Ave route from Houston to 125th.

    June 6, 2010: 8.6 miles of protected lanes installed this year
    June 7, 2010: 2.9 miles of protected lanes this year, no guarantee of ANY future protected lanes.

    Still progress, but oh what a turnaround.

  • fdr

    Obviously no one has faith that Sadik Khan will get the bike lanes extended north.

  • I just wish there was a bit more transparency. If DOT came out and was very honest about how they simply don’t have the construction manpower to complete the ambitious full corridor this construction season, and provided a timeline for the extension uptown, I think everyone involved would feel a lot more comfortable.

  • Mike: It looks like the CB11 presentation last night showed that the 2nd Avenue bike lane will not be physically-separated between 14th and 23rd.

  • What Jeff said.

  • J

    Anyone go to the CB 6 meeting on Monday? I’d like to hear why the bike lane is curbside from 23rd to 14th Street. That area currently has metered parking. The new design will remove all parking on that stretch, which will make the new lane a guaranteed double parking spot. Businesses will hate it, bikes will hate it. It’s just generally a poor plan.

  • So it will be separated from 34-23 and 14-Houston but not from 23-14? That seems really strange.

  • AA Minus

    I say start in Harlem.

  • Why don’t they build expressways like this?

    “The BQE will take you from Staten Island to the bottom of Brooklyn Heights, but then you have to take local streets for ten blocks, and the expressway will pick back up in Clinton Hill. If you choose to proceed into Queens, you must dismount your automobile and walk it across the Greenpoint Ave bridge. And don’t worry if there are bicycles parked in front of the entrance ramps to the expressway, which cause an inconvenience at best, and a visibility hazard at worst (That blue compact SUV thing that parks at the Brooklyn mouth of the South multi-use path on the Willy-B almost every day, anyone?).”

  • Larry Littlefield

    “The BQE will take you from Staten Island to the bottom of Brooklyn Heights, but then you have to take local streets for ten blocks, and the expressway will pick back up in Clinton Hill.”

    Ha. That one is coming due to the need to reconstruct the highway under the promenade.

  • Steve Vaccaro

    Thanks you for the great summary and analysis, Noah. The dedication of Streetsblog’s reporters to cover these events all over the city is impressive and much appreciated!

    I do interpret the responses of the DoT reps to the questions about the status of the overall Houston=>125th corridor a little differently than you. You reported that:

    officials were unable to make a firm commitment to eventually building protected lanes uptown. The target is 2011, said Benson, but when pressed to make guarantees, he demurred.

    “It’s good to keep that pressure up,” Barr told the disappointed crowd. “The more we hear from the community that, ‘Yes, we want this,’ the more likely it is that it gets done next year.”

    In my view, Josh Benson and Joe Barr unequivocally stated that the DoT presently intends to build the entire six-mile, two-way corridor, and plans and hopes to do so in 2011, but cannot commit to a specific completion date. That’s about as firm a commitment I would expect from public officials (especially on the heels of Monday’s embarrassment) that the city will “eventually build[] protected lanes uptown.” Naturally, the fact of an uncertain completion date means plenty of opportunities for things to change. But at least at present, the Department has given fair reassurances that it is still committed to the 6-mile plan.

    This is very significant, because some aspects of Monday’s announcement called that commitment into question. As J pointed out, there was fuzzy language in Monday’s press release suggesting that the segment from Houston=>34th might include “curbside bike lanes” instead of parking-protected cycle tracks. Last night, Benson and Barr stated unequivocally that Houston=>34th would be parking-protected cycle tracks. In addition, there have been concerns that the buffering of the First Avenue lane from 72nd to 125th–which as explained last night would involve a reconfiguration of most of the lanes on First Avenue–involved too much of an investment for DoT to turn around the following year, tear it up, and install parking-protected cycle tracks. Josh Benson gave a reasonably credible answer when asked about this, conceding that it was inefficient on a certain level, but emphasizing that the reconfigured Avenue conformed to the specs for a cycle track and in fact would “set up” the further upgrade. When asked about the possibility that the project will run out of money by the time the DoT works its way up to Harlem, Barr emphasized that the cycle tracks have dedicated federal funding and were independent from the city’s and the MTA’s finances.

    Again, this is not to say that the extension of cycle tracks north of 34th Street will not take two, three or even more years; that the buffering of First Avenue north of 72nd will not lead DoT to delay upgrading this section of the corridor to full cycle track status until the very end of the project; or that delays won’t run so long that we find completion of the project is entrusted to a new administration that doesn’t share the commitment of the current one to bike infrastructure. As Barr stated at the meeting, cyclists have to “keep that pressure up” in order to avoid these outcomes and get what they thought they already had won–a six-mile, two-way cycle track. Very frustrating to fight that battle again, over a protected period of time that is sure to deliver some surprises to advocates and opportunities to opponents, yes–but the ultimate prize makes almost any effort worth it. (Plug: to get involved, join the discussion group for TA’s East Side Committee here and attend our monthly meetings at 6:30 p.m. on the first Tuesday of each month at the Vanderbilt YMCA, 224 E. 47th Street).

    No question, this delay is particularly frustrating for the East Harlem community, which (as was forcefully explained last night) seems to always end up in line behind wealthier, whiter communities to the south when it comes to public improvements, sometimes never getting those improvements at all. One of the explanations given by the DoT reps last night for starting the cycle tracks at Houston and working up to Harlem–that DoT is merely following the flow of traffic, which begins at Houston and moves uptown to Harlem–reflects a surprising lack of appreciation of this fact. (I was reminded of Eurocentric cartographers of the 16th Century, who put Europe at the “top” of the globe. The obvious response was quickly shouted by several community members: from their perspective, traffic “starts” at 125th Street in Second Ave and flows southward). Even the more thoughtful response given by Barr–that DoT is working from the already established infrastructure on Allen and Chrystie–is questionable, given the existence of (1) important bike network elements that this project could “connect up” with in Harlem without much detouring, such as the Third Avenue and RFK Bridges, the Central Park Loop, and the East River and Harlem River greenways; and (2) plenty of disconnected bike infrastructure elsewhere in the city, such as the class II facilities on Allerton Ave. (Bronx), 34th Ave. (Queens) and E. 56th Street (Brooklyn).

    DoT should carefully consider whether backburner-ing SBS improvements for Harlem while delivering them on schedule to the East Village, Stuy Town and Murray Hill is justified, when compared to those other communities, Harlem (1) is underserved in terms of public transportation, taxicab availability and bike infrastructure, (2) faces public health issues which could be addressed through increased cycling which are less of an issue downtown, and (3) has bike commuter rates two or more times higher than those communities to the south, and is led by a community board that appears to be deeply devoted to promoting cycling (in contrast to some other Community Boards I know).

  • J, Mike, and Mike Epstein: Where can I find something in print about the 9 blocks on Second Avenue? If there isn’t anything, what do you know about it?

  • Noah Kazis

    Steve, as I interpreted it, you’re right to say that Barr and Benson are “committed” to expanding bike lanes north, but that’s different from offering a firm commitment to the community. There wasn’t a promise you could take to the bank. They used language like “we hope” and “we’re targeting” to build the rest of the lanes in 2011; their desire to finish the project was quite clear, but there’s no guarantee there. The “keep the pressure up” quote is the give-away that it’s not a done deal.

  • All I’ve found is in the CB6 presentation linked near the bottom of http://www.nyc.gov/html/brt/html/next/first_ave.shtml

  • The DOT screenline counts don’t include anything north of the Queensboro Bridge. Improvements in East Harlem won’t budge the screenline, so why should DOT make them?

  • This is the sound of the cognitive dissonance of all the people who say JSK didn’t try to put SBS on 125th Street because Harlem is too pro-car.

  • This outcry for safe public cycling infrastructure is absolutely wonderful and must resound throughout the city indicative of an awareness and a movement gone viral.

    Put up the traffic cones and make the streets safe for the people.

    Turn up the volume of life in this city and in the process create the first hyper-mobile vision of the future powered by the people.

    Permanent infrastructure can be put in place later whenever possible.

  • #17 Steve Vaccaro’s long comment is excellent.

    “Barr emphasized that the cycle tracks have dedicated federal funding and were independent from the city’s and the MTA’s finances.”

    Then make it so.

    There is no clear and apparent reason the first prototype of this extremely important life-saving and affirming upgrade cannot immediately be put in place.

  • # 1 – Very good question! But I am curious if single-direction for motors and bi-directional for hearts can be a good option, as it would be less shock for drivers and would give cyclists an advantage which also parallels walking. Seems that having a walking route which can accelerate to cycling speed or the reverse is logical… even natural.

    At best NYC constructs separated paths or lanes based in part on the Danish or Dutch model, and this is nice… BUT in those countries are there big one-way streets with the next one going the opposite direction a couple hundred yards away? (I realize that there are no Manhattan-style grids.)

    Single direction big streets and little ones which do not permit contraflow will simply continue to encourage dangerous “salmoning” and will prevent decreases in cycle journey times. It seems that these issues do not get the attention which they deserve.

  • Two-way bike lanes would be a big improvement.

  • To be clear I mean bi-directional big streets – not lanes – for cyclists… and of course the extra space has to come from somewhere.

  • Todd: staring at Copenhagen on Google Maps, I don’t see any major one-way street, no.

  • #28 Thanks.

    Getting separated bike lanes is a major success. but have there been any studies on cycling in, for example, a Manhattan with the possibility to travel both directions on virtually all streets vs. one only having separated lanes with existing two-ways?

  • I have no idea.

  • #27 Todd Edelman,

    “To be clear I mean bi-directional big streets — not lanes — for cyclists . . . and of course the extra space has to come from somewhere.”

    Todd, You have just answered you own question. The extra space has to come from somewhere.

    Without doing a detailed study, it seems that it is just more practical to permit contra flow for cyclists occupying much smaller spaces than for cars, buses, trucks, and emergency vehicles.

    Of course, there is a caveat for everything and in this case “beware the obvious” but, it does seem to be something a transportation engineer might look into to fine-tune some “ideal” efficiency and write a paper about but, not something of practical importance dealing with dynamics of a human-centric “real world”.

    Lacking real-world data, if this really seems important, simulating the systems you propose might be a first option, of course with maintenance, upgrade, and extensibility considerations in addition to human-based constraints to determine practicality.

    You likely know all too well why New York City converted to one-way streets so you may want to consider how cycling contributed or might contribute to this consideration which probably did not exist at the time of conversion. Further, is “salmoning” really that bad in protected bike lanes or, even better, in areas where there are sufficient protections from the dangers of automobiles; and, that cyclists are completely capable of traveling at the same slow speeds as pedestrians, often function quite well in dense pedestrian situations such as New York City’s Brooklyn Bridge walkway and bikeway, City Hall Park, and Hudson Greenway; and, are even capable of morphing into pedestrians if necessary?

  • @Gecko: Thanks for your thoughtful response.

    The simple answer is that bikes get high-quality two-way travel on big streets as a compromise vs. making the whole street bi-directional!

  • #32 Todd Edelman,

    Another simple answer is to not use heavy machinery for personal transport!

  • #33 Gecko – That is what I would prefer, or at least no personal, private urban transport.

  • bicyclesonly

    The problem with riding counterflow in bike lanes is that it renders them less efficient, with everyone having to slow down. Differently designed roadways support different speeds/efficiencies of bike travel. An experienced rider can take the lane of a multi-lane avenue and proceed efficiently at 15+ MPH with a minimum of danger and harassment. On a road with a 14’parking lane and not too much double parking (right side of 5th Ave. 110=>86), you can ride in the unused margin of the parking lane at 8 MPH or so, proceeding efficiently at that speed while still being able to avoid injury from dooring. Same is true of the typical dooring zone unbuffered bike lane (except when there are counterflow riders/pedestrians invading).

    The “gap” in safe, efficient designs is for intermediate cyclists who cruise at 8-15 MPH. They are too slow to take a lane without harassment and too fast to ride safely in the dooring zone. Cycle tracks would fill this gap–but not if they have counterflow riders, pedestrians and trucks invading them.

  • Hardly the sort of thing to get all huffy and self-righteous about but no sooner than when DoT opened its newly painted protected lane at Second Avenue and 14th Street that the Kermit green lane was filled with about a half-dozen Red Bull Can-vehicles in a mini-marketing sidewalk-street blitz.