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Reading Between the Lines on East Side’s Missing Bike Lanes

5:34 PM EDT on September 15, 2010

New bikes lanes dont make it above 34th Street in current plans for the East Side, though they extended to 125th originally.

Select Bus Service remains on track to debut on October 10, confirmed NYC DOT and the MTA at a meeting of the project's Community Advisory Committee last night. Bus service improvements along the corridor are as crucial as ever and will be bolstered by camera enforcement, which DOT announced would be in effect starting in November. The changes that take effect in 25 days, however, won't be the full complete streets package originally promised. Above 34th Street, bike lanes and pedestrian refuge islands were unceremoniously stripped from the plan some time this spring.

When pressed last night by Scott Falk, the secretary of Transportation Alternatives' East Side Committee, to explain why protected bike lanes had disappeared from the street design between 34th and 125th, DOT Director of Transit Development Joe Barr had this to say:

We still remain committed to getting that plan done. That's our goal. We're learning a lot from this summer's implementation. Right now, we're just focused on making 10/10/10 a success. Once that's passed, we'll be in a better position to say what next year's plan will be, what we can get done, what the community's reaction will be. The success to date, seeing more cyclists out there, the number of complaints about the implementation has been very very low. That all points to being able to expand that treatment successfully next year.

It's worth parsing that statement more closely. Barr came across as wanting to see the original bike lane plans carried out and was clearly choosing his words very carefully.

Though he said the city is "committed" to the full safety treatment, it's still just a "goal," not a promise. Barr mentioned "being able to" bring bike lanes all the way uptown. What, or perhaps more relevantly, who, is preventing that? Whoever's decision it is, Barr gave a glimpse of the political considerations at work. Safe cycling uptown depends on "the community's reaction." (Streetsblog has a request in with DOT about who will decide whether to extend the lanes and what the criteria will be.)

Perhaps part of the problem is that some of the people with a stake in complete streets aren't being heard. At last night's CAC meeting, members of Midtown's Community Board 6 said loud and clear that their top concern with plans for First and Second Avenue are new left-turn bans for vehicles at four intersections in their neighborhood.

No one from East Harlem's Community Board 11, however, spoke up about their concerns last night. It wasn't clear whether anyone from CB 11 even attended the meeting. If they had spoken up, however, DOT might have received an earful of that community's anger at having safety improvements offered and then taken away. Which community will the city listen to?

One other interesting exchange from last night's meeting came after a discussion of bus lane enforcement. Susan Stetzer, the district manager of Community Board 3, noted that in her neighborhood, police vehicles have blocked the new bus and bike lanes. What could be done about that, she asked.

"There are a couple of locations along the corridor where we've had to move police parking or police storage of stuff, off Second Ave in particular," explained Barr. "The broader issue of police vehicles or other city vehicles deciding that's a great place to stop while they run into a store, that's a more complicated issue that we're trying to work on." Just a peek into the inter-departmental politics of New York City…

A few details about SBS operation you may be interested in:

    • It will be in operation from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. northbound and 5 a.m to 10 p.m. southbound. Where the bus lanes are curbside, they will only be in effect from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.; the midday gap is for commercial loading.
    • Headways will be 4-5 minutes at peak hours and 7-8 minutes off-peak.
    • A preliminary enforcement blitz will accompany the launch, and police will be targeted cyclists as well as drivers who use the bus lanes.
    • It will be legal for cars to stop in the bus lane to quickly pick up or drop off passengers.

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