Strong Majority Supports Protected Bike Lanes at East Harlem Hearing

Dwayne Marshall, an East Harlem elementary school student, was one of many neighborhood residents who stood up in support of protected bike lanes last night. Photo: ## Safaris##

At a long and at points contentious public hearing last night, a clear majority of speakers came out in support of protected bike lanes on First and Second Avenues in East Harlem. In addition to local residents, the public health community came out in force to demolish the opposition’s claim that installing bike lanes could worsen the neighborhood’s asthma rates.

Community Board 11 had previously voted overwhelmingly in favor of the lanes, then rescinded its vote in the face of business opposition. Last night’s testimony sets the stage for another vote on the project, perhaps in January.

More than 30 people spoke in support of the bike lanes, while only seven spoke against. The larger audience, a packed room of over one hundred, seemed to have a similar proportion of supporters to opponents. Local activist James Garcia also brought a petition with 850 signatures in support of the bike lanes, an amount he said only took seven hours to gather.

The community’s elected leadership continued their sustained fight to bring safer streets to East Harlem.

“Our public roadways are a public amenity that belong to every single individual who lives in our community,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, who stayed for the full three-hour hearing. She argued that building complete streets not only protects people who already bike but also helps seniors cross the street and lets parents feel comfortable having their kids get on bikes. “I believe very strongly that this is a social justice issue. Our community doesn’t deserve any less than any other community, and our children don’t deserve any less.”

“As cycling becomes more popular among city dwellers,” State Senator José Serrano said in a prepared statement read by an aide, bike riders “deserve to have safe travel like pedestrians or drivers.”

The bike lanes had two strong bases of support in the neighborhood’s student population and in the public health community. Speaking first last night in order to be able to make it home for bedtime were seven elementary school students from the Concrete Safaris afterschool program. “Biking is good because you don’t get diabetes and pollute the air,” said a girl named Abigail. “I think East Harlem should have bike lanes. You get a ticket if you ride on the sidewalk and it’s extra-scary when you have to ride in a car lane,” argued Dwayne Marshall.

Three students from the Coalition School for Social Change, a high school located on First Avenue, also spoke in favor of the lane. They had participated in a DOT-led visioning process for the street and saw the bike lanes as part of a larger project to enliven the street and improve safety. “We would love them,” said one student. “Please approve them so that we can ride our green wheels safely to schools.”

Last night’s speakers also debated the public health implications of installing protected bike lanes. East Harlem suffers from elevated rates of asthma, diabetes and obesity, so health is a top concern for most families there. Erik Mayor, the owner of local business Milk Burger, again appealed to those concerns in arguing against the bike lanes. “The traffic conditions will get worse. It’s common sense,” he claimed. “Greater congestion creates greater emissions from vehicles.”

However, a parade of experts each testified that the lanes would, in fact, improve public health. “There is no evidence to suggest that bike lanes increase asthma rates,” said Joanne Eichel of the New York Academy of Medicine. “On the contrary, we know that riding a bike has extraordinary health benefits.”

Discussing both the expected safety improvements from the protected lanes and pedestrian refuge islands and the increased physical activity that comes from more walking and cycling, Eichel said the installation of the bike lanes would be “a major step toward improving the health of people of all ages in the community.”

La’Shawn Brown-Dudley, the deputy director of the Department of Health’s local district public health office, said her office hadn’t seen bike lanes worsen asthma anywhere in the city, but did see them as a way of encouraging healthy lifestyles. “We at the Health Department support the inclusion of these bike lanes,” she said. The bike lanes also won endorsements from Javier Lopez, the director of the New York City Strategic Alliance for Health, and two Mt. Sinai pediatricians, Kevin Chatham Stevens and Cappy Collins.

The opposition to the bike lane was fierce, if not widespread, and included every anti-bike lane trope in the book. “I love bicycles, it’s just not for First Avenue,” argued Frank Brija, the owner of Patsy’s Pizzeria who wanted to move the lanes to Pleasant and Paladino Avenues, which run for ten non-contiguous blocks east of First.

Mayor not only argued that the bike lanes would worsen traffic, but that they would block ambulances, prevent plowing, endanger senior citizens and sit unused. Rejecting evidence that the lanes work well in other countries and other New York neighborhoods, Mayor responded, “That’s not El Barrio, that’s not East Harlem, that’s not Spanish Harlem.” Mayor even cited the opposition of former transportation commissioner Iris Weinshall to the Prospect Park West bike lane to claim that DOT’s data couldn’t be trusted.

When bike lane opponent Pablo Guzman started to complain that bike lane supporters — the elected officials, DOT representatives, and students — were allowed to speak ahead of the regular order of speakers, the event briefly broke out into chaos. Charges of slander flew and the core of bike lane opposition led by Brija and Mayor stormed out of the room.

Mostly, though, the environment was one of thoughtful speeches and good nature. Harry Bobbins, a cyclist and bike lane supporter, even brought two Patsy’s pizzas in to show the bike community’s support for local businesses.

One issue raised that clearly needs more work, for example, is the parking regulation along First and Second Avenue. Though the installation of the bike lanes will include some new loading zones, the majority of the parking along the two avenues will remain unmetered alternate side parking, which DOT Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione called “very unusual for a commercial corridor.” The lack of meters means double-parking is worse than it needs to be and finding a short-term parking space much harder. Metering the spaces “would be a tremendous benefit,” said Forgione, but not an action DOT will undertake without community support.

Altering the parking regulations was also a key post-implementation adjustment put into place along Columbus Avenue, one which helped calm an angry business community and create a popular new piece of infrastructure. “We had a learning curve,” said Mel Wymore, the former chair of Community Board 7, who spoke in favor of the bike lanes based on his experience on the Upper West Side. “I think you’ll see more and more, as bike lanes become the norm in New York City, just like in Times Square, all the businesses say business actually improves because of the life on the street.”

With a strong majority in support of the bike lanes, last night’s public hearing probably helped build some momentum for the community board to return to its previous stance of support for the project and for DOT to eventually move forward on installation. “The vast majority of the people in this room are very supportive of the lanes,” noted Forgione at the end of the hearing.

The hearing also provided a lesson for Diego Quiñones, a resident who was hit by a car while cycling on First Avenue in July. “Wow,” he said. “Change is scary, huh?”

  • Anonymous

    Yeah!  Ironically, my first trip on the East Harlem bike lane will be to Patsy’s.

  • @HamTech87:disqus  Likewise. It’s been ten years since I’ve had a Patsy’s slice. It was so good, I’m willing to overlook Frank Brija’s intellectually dishonest assault on livable streets as soon as I can get to his pizzeria safely on a bike.

  • Hainline’d

    I don’t understand why we need a pizza place on First Avenue when there are perfectly good pizza places on Pleasant and Paladino Avenues.

  • Glenn

    Good business people should reflect the communities they purport to serve. Instead may are not from the area and import their suburban values into the urban core. In fact, often they are the biggest obstacle to open spaces in front of their stores. The most frequent meter feeders I see are local shopkeepers and their staff.

  • J

    When I lived in the neighborhood, I would occasionally go to Patsy’s. Every single time was on bike, but it was never a pleasant experience, given the lack of decent bike facilities. I would have surely gone more often if I didn’t feel like I was risking my life to get there.

  • A note from the front lines: people in the community really are open to having bike lanes on their avenues. Of the people who actually took the time to hear what we were asking them to endorse, the vast majority liked the idea and signed. I think 850 signatures in 7 hours speaks to that. 

  • J

    Also, I’m glad to see business owners making the connection between bike/ped improvements and increased business. DOT is basically giving the street a free upgrade at no cost to the businesses, providing new street trees and easier pedestrian and bike access. These will attract far more customers than a few parking spots and certainly more than the lane of moving traffic ever brought. Seriously, do business owners expect that cars moving in the center lane of traffic will ever stop at their stores?

    It won’t be long before businesses are falling over themselves to get these free improvements.

  • h b

    There is already a bike lane there. A small percentage of Patsy’s customers who drop in are double parking anyway, or blocking the lane, it is already happening, this would not change that. The protected bike lane will only be a greater amenity for all and inducement to visit. We bought some pies, on our bikes, and brought them to the meeting…

  • One of my favorite stops after my usual 20 mile ride is Ben’s Pizza. I can wheel up to the window, order a couple of slices to go, and they wrap it up in a bike friendly bag that I can hang from my handlebars. I haven’t been to Patsy’s but maybe they could learn a thing or two from Ben’s Pizza about customer service. Not everyone who enjoys pizza travels on four wheels.

  • lucette

    If Patsy’s and their friends do not understand what a great improvement in the community bike lanes are, I personally am planning to boycott them – and I mean all their locations.
    I invite all to do the same and to let them know why.
    Asthma indeed.  their concern for the health of the neighborhood is quite touching.
    Stupidity and hypocrisy: a winning combo!  Lucette


  • J

    @ca435c90c15d4cb2d9755359b0762a0a:disqus I think the Patsy’s on 1st Ave is under different ownership than the rest of the Patsy’s in NYC, so you should be careful so as to not boycott restaurants that don’t have any problem with East Harlem bike lanes.

  • Anonymous

    @BenFried:disqus As others have posted, Brija is being very short-sighted because bike lanes will be very good for his business.  The bike lanes, and Bike Share once it spreads to East Harlem and the Bronx, will dramatically increase his potential pool of lunchtime customers.  
    The biggest employers near Patsy’s are hospitals, but all of the hospitals (except maybe Metropolitan if a bus comes quickly) are too far to reach during a typical lunch hour on foot or by bus.  And few car-driving employees will waste time pulling their car out of a hospital’s parking lot to drive to Patsy’s for lunch, even with free on-street parking in East Harlem.

    But with safe bike lanes and a strong bike rack in front of Patsy’s (and a Bike Share dock in the future), these major employers will be about 10-15 minutes away from Patsy’s (according to Google Maps bike directions):

    Metropolitan (4,000 employees)
    Mt. Sinai (8,000 employees)
    Manhattan Psychiatric (2,000 employees)

    With another 1-2 minutes:
    St. Lukes-Roosevelt
    New York Presbyterian/Cornell
    Hospital for Special Surgery

    The 3 employee counts are from a mid-90s report I found on the net, and it only looks at the hospitals, not the affilated medical schools.  But you get the idea.  By making it difficult and dangerous to travel to Patsy’s by bicycle, Brija is shunning the biggest pools of potential customers in and around East Harlem.

  • J

    @HamTech87:disqus Interesting point. At my last job, I made a lot of my coworkers jealous because I would bike to get lunch. I worked in SoHo, but I’d often get lunch in the East Village, which was easy to get to by bike, but way too time consuming to get to by any other means.

  • David

    Hello Team – Do we know when these would likely be completed?

  • Cyclists would not be demanding the installation of Bike Lanes if Drivers were more courteous and cautious.

  • Anonymous

    @Uptowner13:disqus @BenFried:disqus Another angle for Patsy’s is the tourist business.  Once Bike Share is implemented, Patsy’s could become a mecca for bike-riding tourists in midtown hotels.  
    The tourism angle hit home for me while watching the Minneapolis bike share Streetfilm.  The owner of the cafe who put a Bike Share dock in front of her restaurant was so convincing.  Someone should give Brija this video!

  • Anonymous

    @Uptowner13:disqus somehow my post below had me responding to an “uptowner13” whoever that is.  

    Bikes expand ones physical horizon far more than walking does.  I was in Arlington, VA, a great place with wonderful walkability and transit-oriented development.  Now they’ve added Complete Streets with bike lanes.  

    I was able to bicycle (they have Bike Share too) from Arlington to Georgetown in 10 minutes.  Who knew they were so close?

  • A bike lane that camouflages cyclists from motorists’ view (by allowing
    parking between the lane and the road) and which therefore exposes them
    to an increased incidence of right hooks and left crosses cannot be
    seriously described as ‘protected’. This kind of installation is a dangerously exposed bike
    lane – a bike lane that only ‘seems’ protected to those who are
    relatively new to cycling. A more accurate description might be a
    ‘cyclist trap’, designed to lure new and unseasoned cyclists into a
    corridor so that they can be most easily killed. Essentially,
    infrastructure like this is an open air, free range cyclist

    lanes ‘feel’ safer, so there’s a demand for them, and cycling will
    indeed increase due to infrastructure like this – but injuries and
    deaths will increase exponentially. Anyone who knows the real risks
    knows that bike paths and bike lanes are at least twice as dangerous as
    riding on the road with traffic. Studies by Aultman-Hall (1998 &
    1999), Wachtel (2001), Jensen (2007) and Agerholm (2009) have all
    confirmed this time after time (please, look them up).

    I’m all for
    increasing mode share, but not if it means employing methods that have
    been proven to kill between 2 and 12 times more cyclists than would die
    while cycling on the road. I would rather leave cycling levels as they
    are than risk even one life by promoting dangerous infrastructure.

  • Joe R.

    @twitter-148763010:disqus You actually make a great point here.  Cyclists are often told that sidewalk riding is more dangerous because they’re hidden from motor traffic, but move faster than pedestrians, hence surprising motorists turning at intersections.  Functionally, a protected bike lane presents the same hazards as riding on the sidewalk.  And even if that weren’t the case, the cyclist is still exposed to the same risk at intersections as they would be without the protected bike lane.  Most cycling accidents happen at intersections, not in between.  If we really want to make cycling safer, then we would build infrastructure which totally separates bicycles from everything else, avoiding intersections with motor vehicles altogether.  Incidentally, such infrastructure would increase bike mode share far more than any other solution.  Look at how many cyclists go out of their way to use the bikeways on the Hudson and East Rivers.  If we had similar bikeways throughout the city, we could easily get bike mode share past 20%.

  • Anonymous

    Not all protected bike lanes are created equal. It is true that some have resulted in increased risk of crashes at intersections due to poor visibility. However, the ones now being installed in New York are a modern design that has hopefully learned a few useful lessons from previous attempts. The new lanes include “mixing zones” at the end of the block that try to ensure that cars have to mingle with bikes before turning, to avoid right/left hooks. When entering the mixing zones, cars encounter yield signs (whether they care about them is a separate question.)

    I had read some of the criticism against protected bike lanes and practiced vehicular cycling before I even got on one, but when I happened to try the 1st Avenue bike lane I was actually pleasantly surprised. It seemed to work better than I expected. (One problem, however, is when crazy drivers choose to drive or park on the protected bike lane. I haven’t encountered that when I’m riding the bike, but I’ve seen it as a pedestrian.)

  • Local

    Ian and Joe clearly aren’t familiar with NYC DOT’s designs that offer daylighting through ‘mixing zones’ or offer separate signals. Save your anti-facility screeds for your vehicular cycling message boards. Though even one of your own- John Allen- gave the thumbs up to the designs here.

  • Joe R.

    Actually, the “mixing zones” are a terrible idea because they once again put cars into the mix when the whole point of protected bike lanes is to take cars out of the mix.  And as I said, cyclists still deal with the hazards of vehicular cross traffic, in this case literally every  260 feet, and they still encounter red lights way too often (whether or not they obey them is of course another story).  If there has been any decrease in traffic related injuries on account of protected bike lanes, then it’s solely because motor traffic on the narrowed street is now moving more slowly (a worthwhile goal in its own right).  Note that some cyclists avoid these protected lanes because they say they’re much slower than just riding in the street.  Safety is a laudable goal, but good designs avoid sacrificing much travel speed in the quest for safety.

    The only protected bike lane I’m aware which has a good design is the one at PPW.  Here cyclists don’t encounter motor vehicles or traffic signals for 19 blocks.  There are also several totally separate routes, but they are unfortunately way too short, and disconnected from each other.

    I don’t see what vehicular cycling has to do with anything here.  I’m in favor of more cycling only infrastructure, but only infrastructure which makes cycling faster/safer/more efficient.  The only kind of infrastructure which can satisfy all three of these criteria would be bike routes which are totally separate from motor traffic, and have no stop signs or traffic lights for miles-the point of these routes being to allow cyclists to get from point A to point B far faster than they could riding on regular streets with myriad sources of delay.  If we want this “bikes as transportation” thing to work long term, then we need to think in terms of both safety and speed, same as with any other form of transportation.  “Protected” bike lanes could still serve as part of this, but mainly to go the last blocks to/from the final destination after taking the bike-only highways for most of the journey, not as the primary route.

  • Anonymous

    Ian has pasted his above post almost verbatim in more than one place. I replied to it elsewhere ( ) so I won’t repeat it here.

  • dporpentine

    Everyone should read @qrt145:disqus ‘s response to Ian Brett Cooper. It crushes Cooper into dandruff–especially about the studies that “support” Cooper’s claims.

    Thanks for sparing us the work, qrt145.

  • Joe R.

    I read through the entire string of comments over there, and even posted a response.  One thing being overlooked here which should give pause is the fact that quite a few experienced cyclists are avoiding these protected lanes, even sometimes riding with motor vehicles on the same street.  From a public relations standpoint this is a disaster because you’ll have critics complaining the protected lanes cost a traffic lane, and despite that not all cyclists are using them.  That in turn gives fodder to those who would have them removed.

    Cycling-specific infrastructure is a good thing to be sure, but we must make sure in the future to build infrastructure which is usable and appealing to all levels of cyclists.  The Hudson and East River greenways provide fairly good examples of this, although even those can be improved upon.  The nascent network of cycling superhighways being built out in the Netherlands is probably the best example yet of what we should be building a lot more of.  On those roads you’ll find both families with small children cycling for pleasure, as well as experienced riders on velomobiles traveling many tens of kilometers at high speeds.  In other words, the roads are useful to all types of riders.


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