DOT, CB 12 Hold Firm as Cranks Attack Fort George Hill Bike Lane

Some residents of Fort George Hill were upset by a new protected bike lane. Image: DOT [PDF]
Fort George Hill co-op owners had a freak-out over a new protected bike lane at a Manhattan Community Board 12 transportation committee meeting Monday evening.

The bike lane, installed earlier this year to provide a safe two-way connection between Washington Heights and Inwood, was among a handful of streets CB 12 suggested to DOT for bike lanes in 2012. The agency came back with a proposal for Fort George Hill last year, and received the board’s sign-off before installing it this spring. Installation is still underway.

That didn’t keep some residents of Fort George Hill co-op buildings from getting upset about the change. About 25 people packed Monday’s meeting to show their displeasure. “How come we didn’t have an open meeting with the buildings before this thing was built?” asked Paul J. Hintersteiner, president of the co-op board at 17 Fort George Hill. “Nobody knew anything about it until it happened.”

Things escalated from there, with some residents yelling at DOT staff and demanding that the bike lane be removed.

“They don’t care about anybody in the neighborhood. They care about putting in the bike lanes,” said Abraham Jacob, 58, who didn’t like the street redesign because his car gets snowed in during the winter. (The bike lane was installed this spring.) “When the winter comes, I don’t like to take the subway. I don’t take the subway. I haven’t taken the subway since I graduated high school in 1974,” he said. “So I have the choice of either taking the subway or losing my job. So where’s DOT’s concern on that?”

The audience applauded in support. “Thank you,” said CB 12 member Jim Berlin.

DOT and most CB 12 members tried to take the verbal abuse in stride. “We understand that it is a very upsetting situation for the residents there,” replied committee chair Yahaira Alonzo. “Going back to the way it was is not an option.”

Some spoke in support of the changes. Fort George Hill residents Sergiy Nosulya and Jonathan Rabinowitz spoke separately about how grateful they they are to be able to ride bikes down the hill legally and without heading straight into oncoming car traffic.

DOT conducted a walk-through on May 26 with Fort George Hill residents upset about the changes, and heard concerns about entering and leaving angled parking spaces, difficulties exiting driveways on Fort George Hill, deliveries and ambulettes blocking traffic, and worries about crashes.

Monday evening's Manhattan CB 12 transportation committee meeting. Photo: Stephen Miller
Monday evening’s Manhattan CB 12 transportation committee meeting. Photo: Stephen Miller

“A lot of people say, ‘Well, what’s wrong with having a lot of extra space on the street?’” said DOT project manager Preston Johnson. “It allows people to speed. It allows people to drive recklessly.”

The street handles 550 vehicles during a peak hour, which can easily be accommodated in a single traffic lane. There were three crashes earlier this year before the street was redesigned, including two pedestrian injuries, Johnson said. There have been two crashes, none with injuries, while the lane was being installed last month.

“Our experience when we make changes to streets is that people are uncertain at first. Maybe they are surprised that there is only one lane,” Johnson said. “Sizing Fort George Hill to the amount of traffic that it gets is going to improve safety and reduce reckless driving.”

DOT is considering tweaks to the street, including “hidden driveway” signs, speed humps, convex mirrors to improve visibility, new striping to direct uphill drivers away from angled parking, and additional loading zones closer to building entrances.

“Historically, the way the hill is, there’s always been issues,” CB 12 chair George Fernandez said after the meeting. “Nobody likes change. I know that.”

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