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Bike Lane Made Columbus Avenue Safer, and UWS Residents Noticed

5:09 PM EDT on October 12, 2011

Pedestrians surveyed on the Upper West Side thought the Columbus Avenue bike lane made them safer. Image: Office of Gale Brewer.

The Columbus Avenue bike lane is both safe and popular, according to two assessments released at a meeting of Community Board 7 last night. Representatives from the Department of Transportation presented data showing that the street redesign reduced the number of crashes on the street by 34 percent, while 73 percent of Upper West Siders surveyed by City Council Member Gale Brewer said they think the bike lane and pedestrian refuge islands improved the street.

The bike lane on Columbus was installed last year between 77th Street and 96th Street following a vote of approval from CB 7. When some merchants complained about parking and loading issues after the lane was installed, a task force made up of local elected officials and community leaders put forward a series of tweaks to the design.

Along that mile of the Upper West Side, safety has greatly improved, according to a new evaluation of the redesign's effects from DOT [PDF]. Crashes have decreased by 34 percent where the bike lane was installed, and total traffic injuries are down 27 percent. On the blocks of Columbus Avenue to the north and south of the bike lane, 29 percent of motor vehicles were clocked speeding, but only between eight and 17 percent of vehicles on the stretch of Columbus with the bike lane were measured going faster than 30 miles per hour.

In addition to improving safety, installing the bike lane has also encouraged cycling on Columbus Avenue. Bike counts are up by 56 percent on weekdays, while sidewalk riding has plummeted. Double-parking, too, is way down.

The safety benefits of the bike lane have not gone unnoticed. Of the 908 people surveyed by Brewer, 40 percent said the current design works for all users, 33 percent said it was a good start but needed some changes to work better, and only 27 percent said it doesn't work well. Around 45 percent of those surveyed thought the redesign made it safer to cross Columbus, while 27 percent felt less safe.

Brewer's survey isn't a scientific poll of the neighborhood, but did reach a broad segment of the population. Her office put the poll online and publicized it to senior centers, merchants, local business associations, AAA, and delivery cyclists.

While every group surveyed said that the redesign made them feel safer, opinions varied based on the way respondents normally got around. Pedestrians said, by a margin of 56-32, that it increases pedestrian safety, while drivers said it increased driver safety by a slimmer margin of 48-36. More than 90 percent of cyclists said the bike lane made their trips safer.

Based on the survey, Brewer called for a few additional tweaks to the lane, including additional signage promoting safe behavior by all street users and better enforcement of parking rules by the police.

"We all know that change is hard," said Council Member Brewer, "but 70 percent of our respondents think that the bike lane is going in the right direction."

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