East Village to City: Protect Cyclists Better Now

A cyclist experiences the fresh hell of Avenue A, which has only a painted bike lane. Photo: Vivian Lipson
A cyclist experiences the fresh hell of Avenue A, which has only a painted bike lane. Photo: Vivian Lipson

East Village politicians and residents are demanding that the city Department of Transportation bring life-saving protected bike lanes to Avenues A, B and C — the three dozen blocks where there were hundreds of crashes last year alone thanks to narrow roadways, too much on-street parking and not enough cycling infrastructure in an area filled with kids.

The neighborhood’s State Senators, Assembly Member, Council Member and two Congresswoman (plus a Borough President for good measure) recently called on the DOT to add protected bike lanes, citing “urgently needed” safety, the blog EV Grieve reported — and dangers on the roadways have long been known to locals.

“It’s hectic, unsafe,” said Danika Underhill, whose daughter attends elementary school in the neighborhood. “Trucks block traffic, so you have to go into oncoming traffic to go around them. There’s low visibility. There’s a lot of people walking young children. It’s like Frogger.”

Last year, there were 261 crashes on the three avenues alone, resulting in injuries to 27 cyclists, 23 pedestrians and 27 drivers. If you include the side streets, there were roughly 100 more crashes.

Another cyclist relies on city paint — and his own prayers. Photo: Vivian Lipson
Another cyclist relies on city paint — and his own prayers. Photo: Vivian Lipson

The problem starts with bad design. On Avenue A, cars and trucks frequently park on the painted bike lane, forcing cyclists into traffic. Avenue B, which is narrower, does not have a bike lane of any kind in either direction, but it does have plenty of on-street car storage which, again, allows double-parkers to block the roadway and endanger cyclists.

But Avenue B remains a corridor that cyclists want: According to a recent count by Transportation Alternatives, riders comprise 27 percent of road users on weekdays — and even 13 percent of road users on weekdays with bad weather. There are so many cyclists because the roadway borders Tompkins Square Park and is home to many schools.

“The cars are unsafe. They’re always going very fast and never stop for bikes,” said Underhill’s 7-year-old riding partner Francis. “I feel safer when I’m riding in an area where there aren’t so many cars and there’s a bike lane.”

The politicians’ July 10 letter followed earlier activism by local parents, some of whom bike far out of their way just to be safe.

“Sometimes we go over to the East River to go uptown,” said parent David Bass. “Taking my kids on Avenue B would be easier. It’s a straight shot up to their school.” Bass also pointed out that his safer route — along the East River — will be eliminated by the city when it rebuilds East River Park as part of the “resiliency” project. (Cars will still have full access to the FDR Driver during construction, naturally.)

Transportation Alternatives has been leading the fight for better infrastructure.

“We are wasting our time thinking we’re serving our cyclists fairly by keeping the road design as it is,” Manhattan organizer Chelsea Yamada told Streetsblog. “We have a lot of capacity and potential to move people on Avenue B and improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists while doing so.”

Or, as the group of politicians put it, “It is crucial that we take the safety of cyclists seriously.”

The Department of Transportation declined to comment for this story or to provide a response to the letter from Assembly Member Harvey Epstein, Council Member Carlina Rivera, State Senators Brad Hoylman and Brian Kavanagh, Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Nydia Velazquez, and Borough President Gale Brewer.

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