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Reason Prevails at the End of Upper East Side Bike Lane Meeting

The committee ultimately voted in support of bike lane pairs on 70th/71st, 77th/78th, and 84th/85th. Image: DOT
In July, DOT will install painted bikes lanes on 70th, 71st, 77th, and 78th Streets. Image: DOT

Bringing some resolution to one of the more absurd bike lane stories in recent memory, last night the Manhattan Community Board 8 transportation committee voted 9-2 in favor of a DOT plan to add three pairs of crosstown bike lanes on the Upper East Side.

First came many protestations about how these bike lane stripes have no place on the neighborhood's streets. But supporters came out to the sanctuary of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church too, and their comments buoyed the committee.

DOT's plan removes no parking or car lanes, it just adds some thermoplast to create a bit more order and designate some street space for cycling. Nevertheless, this was the third CB 8 meeting devoted to the project. Given the drawn-out process and histrionics about plain old bike lane stripes, you have to wonder if it would have been any more difficult to advance a more ambitious project, like a 72nd Street protected bike lane.

As with previous meetings, many speakers insisted that specific streets could not possibly accommodate a striped bike lane -- the presence of a school, a hospital, a religious institution, or fire station supposedly disqualified these streets. Lenox Hill Hospital on 77th Street, Wagner Middle School on 76th Street, a Citi Bike station on 84th Street -- the list was endless.

“It will be an awful story if we have to come back and say a bike rider hit one of our young children,” said one woman, who identified herself as an administrator at St. Ignatius Loyola School. “You really need to think about the children.”

Early in the meeting, DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione highlighted the number of bike lanes next to schools, police precincts, fire stations, and hospitals. "We have dozens and dozens and hundreds of them, actually, and we have never found a safety concern, a response time concern, or any other issue related to having bike lanes in various other [areas]," she said.

In March, the transportation committee called opponents on their bluff by asking DOT to study bike lanes on as many crosstown streets as possible. The full board rejected that resolution in favor of a simpler request for three alternative pairings, which is what DOT presented last night.

It was a big crowd (even Woody Allen was in the house -- he did not share his cranky bike lane thoughts at the mic), but it wasn't all anti-bike silliness last night. The committee also heard a number of supportive comments before voting in favor of bike lanes on 70th/71st, 77th/78th, and 84th/85th.

The 70th/71st pair was one of DOT's new options -- the other two pairs had been proposed before. Unlike DOT's original proposal of 67th/68th, the 70th/71st pair includes one direct connection to the East River Esplanade.

"People are going to be riding bikes, whether we have these bike lanes or not," committee co-chair Chuck Warren said. "Even if there weren't these painted lanes, you're still going to see bicycles on some of these streets that we're all talking [about] here."

The full board will take up the committee's resolution at its May 18 meeting at 6:30 p.m. at New York Blood Center at 310 East 67th Street.

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