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Ben Kallos

The Upper East Side Can Still Deliver an Old-Fashioned Bike Lane Kvetchfest

Let the griping begin. Photo: David Meyer

True to form, last night's Upper East Side community board meeting about bike lanes was a ridiculous carnival of kvetching. But oddly, most of it had nothing to do with the main project up for discussion: DOT's plan to fill the gap in the Second Avenue bike lane from 68th Street to the Queensboro Bridge [PDF].

By and large, the people who came out to complain about bike lanes to Manhattan Community Board 8 wanted to bash a revived plan for painted, unprotected crosstown lanes on 84th/85th and 65th/66th streets.

These types of bike lanes don't alter streets much at all, they just designate official space for cycling -- which drivers treat more like a suggestion than a rule. But the 2016 plan to stripe three crosstown pairs of bike lanes in the neighborhood set off months of vituperative whining at community board meetings. Striping thermoplast to mark off bike lanes would jeopardize kids and seniors, opponents said.

Of course, experience has proven them wrong. DOT went ahead and installed bike lanes on 70th/71st and 77th/78th streets in 2016, without an endorsement from CB 8, and the impact on safety has been overwhelmingly positive, according to city data.

Total crashes on those streets declined 46 percent last year, and pedestrian injuries dropped 54 percent. Council Member Ben Kallos said his office received zero complaints about the bike lanes since installation.

None of that seemed to matter at last night's meeting, which was dominated by complaints about cyclists running red lights, anecdotes about collisions and near misses, and demands that cyclists be licensed and insured like motorists -- who pose far more danger on Upper East Side streets.

The Upper East Side is the epicenter of complaints and policing against the city's immigrant delivery workforce. Police already ticket cyclists there more than in any other neighborhood, yet the night was sprinkled with demands for even more enforcement -- including a request that the NYPD set up a permanent ticketing operation at the foot of the Queensboro Bridge. After DOT Bicycle Program Director Ted Wright finished his Second Avenue presentation, CB 8 Chair Alida Camp, an 84th Street resident who opposed the crosstown lanes in 2016, zeroed in on cyclists disobeying traffic laws.

"It seems if you stand on Second Avenue or you stand in Central Park, you stand anywhere, bicyclists are rarely paying attention to signals -- they're decoration," she said.

DOT seems unlikely to get the board's support on the crosstown lanes, and an endorsement of the Second Avenue project may also be a stretch. No committee members spoke positively about either proposal.

Image: NYC DOT
Image: NYC DOT
Image: NYC DOT

The Second Avenue redesign fills a nine-block gap by the Queensboro Bridge, but the parking lane that provides physical protection won't be in effect during the morning or evening peak. From 7 to 10 a.m. and 3 to 8 p.m., the project still maintains five travel lanes for cars. By prioritizing motor vehicle flow over the safety of cyclists, the design falls short of full-time protected bike lane segments on Second Avenue north of 68th Street, where the number of people cycling is up 105 percent, compared to just 36 percent on the segments without protection during rush hour.

Council Member Ben Kallos and members of Transportation Alternatives' Manhattan committee to urged board members to endorse DOT's redesign. They argued that incremental improvements were better than nothing.

"I appreciate the effort to clean up this very difficult intersection," said Lois Kauffman, who lives on East 72nd Street between Second Avenue and Third Avenue. "The situation that has been proposed here leaves the bicyclist most vulnerable at peak times... It's terrifying."

"I know that folks would like to see a protected lane go all the way down to the 59th Street bridge. I'm hoping that this initial pilot... will take us the step in the right direction," Kallos said.

Like CB 6 last week, the committee declined to vote on the Second Avenue plan, requesting a walk-through with DOT and pushing any possible endorsement to the fall. DOT is aiming to implement the project in November.

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